NATO, from the Cold War to the invasion of Ukraine

Founded at the beginning of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has developed into the most important joint military defense organization with 30 member countries in Europe and North America.

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Finland and Sweden could be next to apply to join, to stop their Russian neighbor from attacking them after the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Founded in Washington on April 4, 1949, NATO has 12 founding countries: 10 European countries, the United States and Canada.

The alliance wants to counter the Soviet threat, based on the principle of mutual solidarity of all its members, defined in Article 5: “The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them, taking place in Europe or North America will be considered an attack directed against all parties involved (…)”.

The organization gradually expanded: Greece and Turkey (1952), the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in 1955 and Spain (1982). France left its integrated military command without leaving NATO in 1966 (it rejoined it in 2009).

The USSR responded in 1955 with the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance with the socialist countries of Eastern Europe.

In 1977, the USSR deployed missiles with nuclear warheads, which put Western Europe under its “nuclear fire”. NATO responded in 1979 with Pershing missiles in Germany.

The crisis was resolved in 1987 with the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Elimination Treaty.

The Warsaw Pact disappeared with the collapse of the USSR in 1991. NATO signed a Partnership for Peace with its former members, including Russia, in 1994. A “NATO-Russia Founding Act” on peacekeeping and arms control followed in 1997.

NATO opened first fire on February 28, 1994, shooting down four Serbian planes in a United Nations-imposed no-fly zone in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On December 16, 1995, she conducted her first ground operation in Bosnia with 60,000 men.

On March 24, 1999, NATO carried out airstrikes to stop Serb repression against the Albanian population of Kosovo. This campaign without a UN mandate leads to the withdrawal of the Serbs from the province, which falls under the administration of the UN, with a NATO force of 40,000 men providing security.

In 1999, NATO welcomed the first countries of ex-communist Europe: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

After September 11, 2001, the United States was the first to invoke Article 5. NATO joined Washington in its “war on terrorism.”

As such, the Alliance assumed leadership of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) in 2003, the mission of which will last until 2014.

In March 2004, seven Eastern European countries joined NATO: Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania and three former Soviet republics (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia), whose accession particularly irritated Moscow.

Albania and Croatia joined in 2010, and Montenegro in 2017.

On March 31, 2011, NATO took command of the Western intervention in Libya, carried out under a UN mandate in the name of protecting civilians, which led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.

In 2014, following the annexation of Crimea and Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, NATO ended cooperation with Moscow.

In 2016, the alliance deployed four multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. This is the most important reinforcement of their collective defenses since the Cold War.

In November 2018, NATO is conducting its largest military exercise since the Cold War in Norway.

In October 2019, Turkey, without informing NATO, launched a military operation in northeastern Syria targeting Kurdish militias allied with the international coalition. French President Emmanuel Macron considers the alliance “brain dead”.

In November 2020, North Macedonia will become the 30th member of NATO.

On February 24, 2022, Russia attacked NATO partner country Ukraine.

The organization calls for an end to “this senseless war”. It refuses to send troops to Ukraine, but provides the country with military equipment, except for tanks and planes.

Despite Kyiv’s demands, it refuses to enforce a no-fly zone, which would imply its direct involvement in the conflict.

On March 15, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is asking for “unlimited military aid” from NATO, refrains from applying for membership. On March 23, the alliance reinforced its eastern flank with four new combat groups in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

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