On April 4, 1949, the United States was joined by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom in signing the agreement. Since then, NATO members have remained committed to the collective defense principle — Article 5 of the treaty — that regards an attack on one member country as an attack on all member countries.
In recognition of the treaty’s anniversary, here are 10 things you might not know about NATO:
10. From 12 to 28 member countries
Over the 68 years since the original 12 countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty, an additional 16 countries have become members in the international agreement. Turkey and Greece were the first additional countries to join in 1952, followed by then-West Germany in 1955. Albania and Croatia are the most recent two countries to join NATO, becoming members in 2009.
9. Separate, yet derived from the United Nations
While NATO is a separate international organization from the U.N., it derives its authority from Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Article 51 of the charter reaffirms the rights of independent states to individually or collectively defend themselves.
8. NATO and the Warsaw Pact
Originally the Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation, and Mutual Assistance, the Warsaw Pact was created on May 14, 1955, in response to West Germany joining NATO, according to the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian. During the Cold War, nearly all of Europe was divided between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, with East Germany joining the Soviet Union for the pact. All former Warsaw Pact countries except for Russia — Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia — have since become NATO members, with East Germany reuniting with the rest of Germany in 1990.
7. Air policing in Eastern Europe
6. An integrated command
NATO maintains a permanent, integrated command in which both military and civilian personnel from all member countries work collectively. This includes two strategic commands based in Belgium and the U.S., joint force commands in the Netherlands and Italy, air command in Germany, land command in Turkey and maritime command in the U.K.
5. The only invocation of Article 5
“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,” reads Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
If a NATO member or members invoke Article 5, all members will assist the attacked party, which includes the use of armed force. The only time that Article 5 has been invoked was in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and Washington. In addition to military assistance in Afghanistan, NATO allies assisted with Operation Eagle Assist and Operation Active Endeavour. Eagle Assist ran from October 2001 to May 2002, consisting of NATO E-3 AWACS assisting with airspace defense and security over the U.S. Active Endeavour involved maritime patrols in the Mediterranean, with the goal of preventing movement of weapons of mass destruction and terrorists.
4. New NATO members around the corner?
Four countries want to join NATO: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia all aspire to join the treaty.
“Any European state which can contribute to the security and principles of the Alliance can be invited to join. It is up to the country concerned to decide if it wishes to seek membership,” according to NATO. The allied members assess NATO applicants and require “a wide range of political, economic and security reforms” to be implemented before they can join.
3. International partners
2. Supreme Allied Commanders always American
1. So who is paying for NATO?
NATO allies are meant to spend two percent of their gross domestic product on defense. In 2016, only five of the allies — the U.S., the U.K., Greece, Estonia and Poland — were at or above the minimum spending target. The U.S. spent 3.61 percent of its GDP on defense in 2016. Canada, Slovenia, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg all spent the least, respectively, with Luxembourg putting 0.44 percent of its GDP toward defense.
President Obama called on NATO allies to contribute their share as well, according to the Washington Post.
“[E]very NATO member should be contributing its full share — 2 percent of GDP — toward our common security, something that doesn’t always happen,” said President Obama during a April 2016 speech in Germany. “And I’ll be honest, sometimes Europe has been complacent about its own defense.”
In addition to President Obama, President Trump’s campaign opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also raised the issue of NATO members spending more on defense.