(CNN) — NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, its full name, is a non-aggressive European and North American defense alliance created to promote peace and stability and protect the security of its members.
The organization, which is based in Brussels, Belgium, was created as the Cold War escalated. Its purpose was to protect the countries of Western Europe from the threat posed by the Soviet Union and to counter the spread of communism after World War II.
In April 1949, its 12 founders—the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and eight other European countries—signed the North Atlantic Treaty, pledging to protect each other by political and military means.
Since then, the coalition has grown: today it has 30 members. In alphabetical order, they are: Albania, Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, United States, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, North Macedonia , Montenegro, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Romania and Turkey.
Since the end of the Cold War, more than a dozen former Eastern Bloc countries have joined the alliance, including three former Soviet republics. Russia continues to view NATO as a threat despite the collapse of the Soviet Union. Amid recent tensions with the West, Russia has sought firm guarantees that the alliance will not expand further, which has been opposed by NATO members.
However, the declaration of support for NATO by Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin since May 2022 has led to greater tensions between NATO and Russia, when the Finnish government recently raised a national security issue in the country’s parliament. submitted a report outlining the route to inclusion. The alliance as one of Finland’s options amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Finland and Sweden submitted their applications to join NATO in May.
All 30 members of NATO must give their unanimous approval for a country to be accepted into the alliance.
What does the NATO doctrine of collective defense mean?
Despite the great geopolitical changes that have taken place since the founding of NATO, its purpose has remained the same. The main principle on which the alliance is based is that of collective defence: “an armed attack against one or several of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against all of them.”
The principle of collective defense is enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. This guarantees that the resources of the entire alliance can be used for the security of any member nation. This is important for many small countries, which would be helpless without their allies. For example, Iceland does not have a standing army.
Since the United States is the largest and most powerful member of NATO, any state in the alliance is effectively under the protection of the United States.
In fact, the first and only time Article 5 was invoked against the United States was after the September 11, 2001 attacks; As a result, NATO allies joined the invasion of Afghanistan.
However, NATO has also acted on other occasions.
It initiated collective defense measures in 1991 when it deployed Patriot missiles during the Gulf War, in 2003 in the midst of the Iraq crisis, and also in 2012 with Patriot missiles in response to the situation in Syria.
All three were based on Turkish requests.
Does NATO have its own army?
No. NATO relies on military contributions from its member states, meaning that it is essentially only as strong as each nation’s individual military. It is in the interest of the entire alliance to ensure that each country dedicates sufficient resources to its defense.
This has been one of the main stumbling blocks in the alliance, with the US and UK often criticizing the other member states for not doing their fair share.
US military spending has always dwarfed the budgets of other allies since NATO’s founding in 1949. But the gap widened when the US increased its spending after the 9/11 attacks.
Under NATO guidelines, each country must spend 2% of its GDP on defense, but most countries fall short of that target.
Former US President Donald Trump has been particularly vocal on the issue, demanding that European countries do more and, at one point, even suggesting that they blame the US for their past deficits. “pay back” the.
According to NATO’s most recent projections, seven member states – Greece, the United States, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania and France – will reach the 2% target by 2021.
Still, it’s a significant improvement. In 2014, only the US, UK and Greece spent more than 2%.
All member states below that deadline committed to increasing military spending to reach the target in a decade. Most of them are keeping their promise.
How has the role of NATO changed over time?
NATO grew and expanded after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Since then its members have served as peacekeepers in Bosnia, fought against human trafficking and deployed to intercept refugees in the Mediterranean.
The Alliance is also responding to new ways in which conflicts can play out, for example by creating a Cyber Defense Center in Estonia.
CNN’s Frederik Pleitjen and Nadine Schmidt contributed to this report.