From the Cold War to Ukraine: A Brief History of NATO

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PARIS — NATO is the largest military alliance in the world, bringing together 30 European and North American countries that pledge to defend themselves in the event of an attack.

The alliance was formed at the start of the Cold War to protect Western Europe against the threat of Soviet aggression, but its remit and scope expanded over time.

Here is a brief history of the Brussels-based organization:

Countering the Soviet Threat

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded on April 4, 1949 by 12 countries alarmed by the Soviet Union’s desire to install communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe.

The first signatories of the founding Washington Treaty are Belgium, Great Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the States -United.

Next come Greece and Turkey (1952), West Germany (1955) and Spain (1982).

The key article 5 of the treaty states that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against all of them”.

It requires other members to take “any action he deems necessary, including the use of armed force”.

Moscow’s response to the creation of NATO is to create a rival club of 12 communist countries called the Warsaw Pact.

go to war

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO set out to develop ties with former adversaries in Eastern Europe and to help end the Balkan Wars.

In 1994, the alliance carried out its first combat operation, sending fighter jets into Bosnia and Herzegovina to impose a no-fly zone. American fighters shoot down four Serbian planes, the first time NATO has opened fire.

A year later, the alliance puts its boots on the ground for the first time when it deploys peacekeepers to Bosnia.

In 1999, he led a 78-day bombing campaign in Serbia following Belgrade’s bloody crackdown on the separatist province of Kosovo.

Serbian troops duly withdraw from Kosovo, which is under UN administration.

The 1990s also saw NATO attempt to break the ice with Russia.

In 1997, the alliance signed a political “founding act” with Moscow pledging to build a “stable, peaceful and undivided Europe” and emphasizing that they “do not consider each other as adversaries”.

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

‘War on Terror’

NATO’s “one for all and all for one” promise was invoked for the first time after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

NATO joined the US-led ‘war on terror’ in 2003, leading the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployed to Afghanistan to eradicate al-Qaeda and other Islamist militants .

As the European Union grew, so did the alliance: Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2004.

The admission in the same year of the three ex-Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania particularly annoys Russia.

Albania and Croatia follow in 2010 and Montenegro in 2017.

Afghanistan and Libya

In 2011, he received a UN mandate to use “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from the wrath of embattled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

NATO’s seven-month campaign of airstrikes leads to the overthrow of Gaddafi.

The alliance also contributes to the fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa, the monitoring of human trafficking in the Mediterranean and the fight against cyberattacks.

Its combat mission in Afghanistan largely ends in 2014.

But the NATO allies did not fully withdraw until seven years later, causing a collapse of Western-trained Afghan forces and a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

“Brain Dead” Alliance

Relations between NATO and Moscow suffered a severe setback in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for a rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

In 2016, NATO is deploying four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic States, marking the largest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defenses since the Cold War.

At the same time, the relevance of the alliance is increasingly questioned, with former US President Donald Trump calling it “obsolete” and French President Emmanuel Macron declaring it “brain dead”.

In March 2020, North Macedonia becomes the 30th member of NATO.

Russia invades Ukraine

On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine, a NATO partner country that had been trying for years to join the alliance.

NATO is urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the “senseless war”, but says it will not send troops to Ukraine.

He pushes back against kyiv’s demands to impose a no-fly zone over the country, fearing being drawn into a confrontation with nuclear-armed Moscow, but agrees to send weapons.

On March 15, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declares that his country should agree not to become a member of NATO.

Meanwhile Finland and Sweden, neutral for decades, say they are considering joining the club.


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