The Emergence of NATO

According to allunitconverters, the foundations for NATO were laid in the years shortly after World War II. The Allied victory over Nazi Germany quickly turned into a cold war between the West, led by the United States, and the East, which was controlled by the Soviet Union.

In 1948, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom concluded a pact on common self-defense and enhanced economic cooperation, the Brussels Pact. For the United States, the Brussels Pact was a sign that the countries of Western Europe were prepared to jointly seek a solution to their security problems. This was a prerequisite for American commitment to Europe’s future security. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, perceived the pact as a threat.

At the end of 1948, the Brussels Pact States negotiated with the governments of the United States and Canada to include them in enhanced defense cooperation. The North Atlantic Treaty (or North Atlantic Treaty) took shape. Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway and Portugal were also invited to sign the agreement.

Despite Soviet pressure to prevent the agreement, the Atlantic Treaty could be signed by representatives of the twelve states at a meeting in Washington on April 4, 1949.

Through the fifth paragraph of the Atlantic Treaty, the so-called Article 5, the states undertook to regard an armed attack on any of them as an attack on all of them. Furthermore, the Atlantic Pact drew up guidelines for areas of co-operation that were not directly linked to defense co-operation. The states would improve their mutual economic relations, build democratic institutions and thus contribute to a peaceful world order.

When communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, the allies immediately drew parallels to the risk of Soviet threats to Europe. Therefore, it was decided to give the Alliance’s organization, which until now had only consisted of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), a firmer form. General Dwight D Eisenhower (American and Allied Commander-in-Chief during World War II) was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the European Command, ie the Allied forces that would defend Europe. In the spring of 1951, these were given a permanent headquarters outside Paris. The entire NATO headquarters was also located here in 1952 and the British Lord Ismay became its first Secretary General. In the same year, Turkey and Greece joined the alliance.

In order to strengthen the alliance against the Soviet Union, the United States considered that the then West Germany should be allowed to contribute to the NATO defense with its own military forces. In early May 1955, West Germany formally became a member of NATO.

Nine days later, the Soviet Union signed a defense alliance, the Warsaw Pact, together with Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany. This cemented the division of Europe and the so-called Cold War between East and West came to shape security policy in Europe until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Spain became a NATO member in 1982 but did not decide until 1986 to join military cooperation.

Internal contradictions

Within NATO, the issue of nuclear control was fraught with conflict. It has been so ever since NATO decided in 1954 that US nuclear weapons were necessary for the Alliance’s defense. The United States assured that it would fire its nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union if Europe was attacked (the nuclear guarantee).

However, France viewed the US nuclear guarantee with great hesitation, both because it was not considered very credible and because it was highly dependent on the United States. France began building its own nuclear force in 1958 and in 1966 chose to leave NATO’s military cooperation. The French forces would thus not be able to be automatically mobilized by the NATO Command in Europe in the event of war. NATO was forced to move its headquarters from France to Belgium. However, France continued to participate in NATO’s political cooperation, and in 2009 France rejoined military cooperation except for nuclear weapons.


In 1972, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed on restrictions on strategic nuclear weapons, the so-called Salt I Agreement (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks). A Salt II agreement on continued restrictions on strategic weapons was signed in 1979. But the rearmament of the Warsaw Pact – not least by nuclear robots – continued to worry NATO nations. Especially the new Soviet medium-range robots SS-20 were perceived as a serious threat.

That is why in 1979 NATO took the so-called double decision. According to this, NATO would deploy 572 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) in West Germany and the United Kingdom, among others. Since these could reach large parts of the Soviet Union, while the Soviet SS-20 robots could only reach targets in Western Europe, the Soviet Union would be deterred from an attack.

If, on the other hand, the Warsaw Pact promised to reduce its arsenal of medium-range robots in Europe, NATO would reduce the scope of the new deployments. This was the second part of the double decision. In practice, this meant that the Soviet Union would withdraw a large number of nuclear weapons, without any other consideration from NATO than that no new robots were deployed in Western Europe. The Soviet Union rejected the bid as unreasonable.

The deployment began in 1983. The day after the first robots arrived in West Germany, the Soviet Union suspended all disarmament negotiations with immediate effect, announced plans for the deployment of new nuclear weapons in Europe, and refused to set a date for new negotiations with the United States.

The fall of communism

When the disarmament negotiations on medium-range weapons resumed in early 1985, conditions had changed dramatically. Mikhail Gorbachev, who had made himself known for a completely new security policy thinking, had now taken over power in the Soviet Union.

Relations between the superpowers improved markedly, and after lengthy negotiations, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed at the end of 1987 that all US and Soviet Union medium-range nuclear weapons would be destroyed on a global basis. At the same time, the United States and the Soviet Union were talking about halving the number of long-range nuclear weapons.

At the initiative of Gorbachev, the Warsaw Pact decided in 1989 to make major cuts to its conventional forces in Europe, which were numerically superior to NATO.

1989 was also the year of political upheaval in Europe. Communist governments fell in Eastern and Central Europe and the Berlin Wall – perhaps the clearest symbol of the Cold War and the division of Europe – was torn down.

The Emergence of NATO