The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 North American and European countries. The organization implements the North Atlantic Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949. NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. NATO Headquarters are located in Brussels, Belgium, while the headquarters of allied command operations is near Mons, Belgium.
The combined military spending of all NATO members constitutes over 70% of the global total. Members have committed to reach or maintain defence spending of at least 2% of GDP by 2024. An additional 21 countries apart from the members participate in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, with 15 other countries involved in institutionalized dialogue programs.
NATO has twenty-nine members, mainly in Europe and North America. Some of these countries also have territory on multiple continents, which can be covered only as far south as the Tropic of Cancer in the Atlantic Ocean, which defines NATO’s “area of responsibility” under Article 6 of the North Atlantic Treaty. During the original treaty negotiations, the United States insisted that colonies such as the Belgian Conga be excluded from the treaty. French Algeria was however covered until their independence on 3 July 1962.
Twelve of these twenty-nine are original members who joined in 1949, while the other seventeen joined in one of seven enlargement rounds. France remains the only NATO member outside the Nuclear Planning Group and unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, will not commit its nuclear-armed submarines to the alliance. Few members spend more than two percent of their gross domestic product on defence, with the United States accounting for three quarters of NATO defence spending.
New membership in the alliance has been largely from Central and Eastern Europe, including former members of the Warsaw Pact. Accession to the alliance is governed with individual Membership Action Plans, and requires approval by each current member. NATO currently has two candidate countries that are in the process of joining the alliance: Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Macedonia. In NATO official statements, the Republic of Macedonia is always referred to as the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, with a footnote stating that “Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name”.
Georgia was also named as an aspiring member, and was promised “future membership” during the 2008 summit in Bucharest, though in 2014, US President Barack Obama said the country was not “currently on a path” to membership.
Russia continues to oppose further expansion, seeing it as inconsistent with understandings between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and European and American negotiators that allowed for a peaceful German reunification. NATO’s expansion efforts are often seen by Moscow leaders as a continuation of a Cold War attempt to surround and isolate Russia, though they have also been criticised in the West.
All agencies and organizations of NATO integrated into either the civilian administrative or military executive roles. For the most part they perform roles and functions that directly or indirectly support the security role of the alliance as a whole.
The civilian structure includes:
- The North Atlantic Council(NAC) is the body which has effective governance authority and powers of decision in NATO, consisting of member states’ permanent representatives or representatives at higher level. The NAC convenes at least once a week and takes major decisions regarding NATO’s policies.
- NATO headquarters, located on Boulevard Léopold III/Leopold III-laan, B-1110 Brussels, which is in Haren, part of the City of Brussels municipality.
The military structure includes:
- The Military Committee(MC) is the body of NATO that is composed of member states’ chiefs of defence (CHOD) and advises the North Atlantic Council (NAC) on military policy and strategy. The national CHODs are regularly represented in the MC by their permanent Military Representatives (MilRep), who often are two- or three-star flag officers.
- Allied Command Operations (ACO) is the NATO command responsible for NATO operations worldwide.
- Allied Command Transformation (ACT) is responsible for transformation and training of NATO forces.
- The Rapid Deployable Corpsconsist of a number of military corps, all of which report to Allied Command Operations.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) is a body that sets broad strategic goals for NATO, which meets at two session per year. NATO PA interacts directly with the parliamentary structures of the national governments of the member states which appoint Permanent Members, or ambassadors to NATO. It is officially a different structure from NATO, and has as aim to join together deputies of NATO countries in order to discuss security policies on the NATO Council.