What is NATO?

What is NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military-political alliance of 28 countries from North America and Europe, committed to fulfilling the goals of the North Atlantic treaty. It was founded on April 4, 1949.

The fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means. It safeguards common values of democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and peaceful solution of disputes. It provides a forum where allied countries can consult together on security issues and take joint actions.

The alliance defends its member states against aggression and an attack against one member would be considered as an attack against all. The Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty quotes:

"The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."

NATO is an inter-governmental organization, in which member countries retain their full sovereignty and independence. All decisions are taken by the member countries on the basis of consensus. NATO's most important decision-making body is the North Atlantic Council where the sessions are lead by the Secretary General. Each member country participates fully in the decision making process, on the basis of equality. Decision making procedures are determined by the North Atlantic Treaty and other existing agreements. Each member state sends a delegation or a mission to Brussels, the NATO Headquarters. Periodically, the Council conducts higher level sessions, where Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs or heads of governments participate. During these sessions decisions are typically made concerning NATO policy. Despite the level of the sessions conducted at the Council, its decisions are equivalent in force.

The Partnership for Peace

Partnership for Peace (PfP) is a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) program aimed at creating trust between NATO and other states in Europe and the former Soviet Union. It was first proposed as an American initiative at the meeting of NATO defense ministers in Travemunde, Germany, on 20–21 October 1993.

On 10-11 January, 1994 NATO launched the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme of practical bilateral cooperation between NATO and individual Partner countries, which allows Partner countries to build up an individual relationship with NATO, choosing their own priorities for cooperation (Brussels, Belgium).

Based on a commitment to the democratic principles that underpin the Alliance itself, the purpose of the Partnership for Peace is to increase stability, diminish threats to peace and build strengthened security relationships between individual Partner countries and NATO, as well as among Partner countries.

The formal basis for the Partnership for Peace is the Framework Document, which sets out specific undertakings for each Partner country. Each Partner country makes a number of far-reaching political commitments to preserve democratic societies; to maintain the principles of international law; to fulfill obligations under the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Helsinki Final Act and international disarmament and arms control agreements; to refrain from the threat or use of force against other states; to respect existing borders; and to settle disputes peacefully.

Specific commitments are also made to promote transparency in national defence planning and budgeting to establish democratic control over armed forces, and to develop the capacity for joint action with NATO in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

Alliance and its Partner countries forces exercise together and serve alongside each other in the NATO-led operations. And they are working together against terrorism. They also cooperate in areas such as defence reform, countering the proliferation of weapons, curbing the threat posed by landmines and stockpiled munitions, disaster preparedness, and scientific research.

Partner countries have made and continue to make signficant contributions to the Alliance's operations and missions. In order to ensure that partner forces are capable of participating actively in NATO-led operations, they regularly take part in NATO exercises and training programmes.

The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council

The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), a NATO institution, is a multilateral forum created to improve relations between NATO and non-NATO countries in Europe and those parts of Asia on the European periphery. The member states meet to cooperate and consult on a range of political and security issues.

NATO member states in 1997 made a decision to establish The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council which succeeded the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) set up in 1991 just after the end of the Cold War. This decision reflected NATO's desire to build a security forum better suited for a more enhanced and operational partnership, matching the increasingly sophisticated relationships being developed with Partner countries.

The EAPC brings together the 28 Allies and 22 Partner countries. It is a multilateral forum for dialogue and consultation on political and security-related issues among Allies and Partner countries. It provides the overall political framework for NATO's cooperation with Partner countries in the Euro-Atlantic area, and for the bilateral relationships developed between NATO and individual Partner countries under the Partnership for Peace programme.

Meetings of the EAPC are held monthly at the level of ambassadors, annually at the level of foreign or defence ministers and chiefs of defence, as well as occasionally at summit level.

Longer-term consultation and cooperation takes place in a wide range of areas within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Work Programme (EAPWP). These areas include crisis-management and peace-support operations; regional issues; arms control and issues related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; international terrorism; defence issues such as planning, budgeting, policy and strategy; civil emergency planning and disaster-preparedness; armaments cooperation; nuclear safety; civil-military coordination of air traffic management; and scientific cooperation.

NATO Structure

The work of member states' delegations and missions is supported by NATO's International Staff and International Military Staff, based at the Headquarters. Representative of each state has a specific seat during the Council sessions and at the exasting committees and are conferred full sovereighnty during decision making precess. Respectively, they are responsible for the decisions made.

NATO Headquarters is the political and administrative centre of the Alliance and the permanent home of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's senior political decision-making body.

The NATO Headquarters is where civilian and military representatives from all the member states can come together to make political decisions on a consensus basis. It also offers a venue for dialogue and cooperation between partner countries and NATO member states, enabling them to work together in their efforts to bring about peace and stability.

The Secretary General heads the IS but is also, from an administrative point of view, a member of the IS. He has a Private Office that includes a director and staff, the Deputy Secretary General, the Office of the Legal Adviser and a Policy Planning Unit.

When the decisions taken by member countries have military implications, NATO has the military infrastructure and know-how in place to respond to demands. The Military Committee recommends measures considered necessary for the common defence of the Euro-Atlantic area and provides guidance to NATO's two strategic commanders.

NATO is governed by 28 member states. Hereby, decision making procedures are determined by the North Atlantic Treaty and other existing agreements. Each member state sends a delegation or a mission to Brussels, the NATO headquarters. Head of each delegation is known as a permanent representative. Permanent representetives from a NAC-North-Atlantic Council, which sits in once a week and is vested with authority to make political decisions for NATO.

Periodically, the Council conducts higher level sessions, where Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affaris or heads of governments participate. During these sessions decisions are typically made concerning NATO policy. Despite the level of the sessions conducted at the at the Council, its decisions are equivalent in force.

There are approximately 4200 people working at NATO Headquarters on a full-time basis. Of these, some 2100 are members of the national delegations of member countries and staffs of national military representatives to NATO. There are approximately 1200 civilian members of the International Staff and just over 500 members of the International Military Staff. Civilian staff employed by NATO worldwide, including the staff of NATO agencies located outside Brussels and civilians serving on the staff of the military commands throughout NATO, number approximately 5200.

NATO enlargement

NATO's "open door policy" is based on Article 10 of its founding treaty. Any decision to invite a country to join the Alliance is taken by the North Atlantic Council, NATO's principal decision-making body, on the basis of consensus among all Allies. No third country has a say in such deliberations.

NATO's ongoing enlargement process represants no threat to any country. It is aimed at promoting stability and cooperation, at building a Europe whole and free, united in peace, democracy and common values.

NATO's door remains open to any country in a position to undertake the commitments and obligations of membership, and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area. Since 1949, NATO's membership has increased from 12 to 28 countries through six rounds of enlargement.

The first three rounds of enlargement – which brought in Greece and Turkey (1952), West Germany (1955) and Spain (1982) – took place during the Cold War, when strategic considerations were at the forefront of decision-making.

NATO enlargement was the subject of lively debates in the early 1990s. Many political analysts were unsure of the benefits that enlargement would bring. Some were concerned about the possible impact on Alliance cohesion and solidarity, as well as on relations with other states, notably Russia. It is in this context, that the Alliance carried out a Study on NATO Enlargement in 1995.

Based on the findings of the Study on Enlargement, The Alliance invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to begin accession talks at the Alliance's Madrid Summit in 1997. These three countries became the first former members of the Warsaw Pact to join NATO in 1999.

At the 1999 Washington Summit, the Membership Action Plan was launched to help other aspirant countries prepare for possible membership.

Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia and Slovenia were invited to begin accession talks at the Alliance's Prague Summit in 2002 and joined NATO in 2004. All seven countries had participated in the MAP.

Albania and Croatia, which were invited to join NATO at the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, formally became members when the accession process was completed on 1 April 2009.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has, like Albania and Croatia, been participating in the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for a number of years to prepare for possible membership. At Bucharest, Allied leaders agreed to invite the country to become a member as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the issue over the country's name has been reached with Greece.

In December 2009, NATO foreign ministers invited Montenegro to join the MAP and assured Bosnia and Herzegovina that it will join the Membership Action Plan, once it has achieved the necessary progress in its reform efforts.

A number of other important decisions concerning enlargement were taken at Bucharest. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro were invited to start Intensified Dialogues on their membership aspirations and related reforms. Allied leaders also agreed that Georgia and Ukraine – which were already engaged in an Intensified Dialogue with NATO – will become members in future.