The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better known as NATO, was founded in 1949 with the aim of preserving peace in the North Atlantic area by deterring armed attacks on Alliance members. NATO works mainly to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. The organization has 30 member countries.
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NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is both a political organization and a military defense alliance. The original members of the Alliance in 1949 were ten Western European states, as well as the United States and Canada. NATO currently has 30 member countries, including 14 countries from the former Eastern bloc. The most recent country to join was Northern Macedonia, which became a member in March 2020.
The Atlantic Pact, NATO’s charter, does not explicitly point out any enemy, but its purpose was initially to prevent the Soviet Union from expanding the communist sphere of power in Europe. NATO countries’ coordination of Western, especially military, resources would deter the Eastern Bloc from armed attacks. If a Member State were attacked anyway, NATO would collectively come to its defense in the North Atlantic area. Collective defense still forms the basis of NATO.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the Cold War, NATO was faced with new forms of threat and the Defense Alliance took on new tasks, such as peacekeeping and peace-building operations in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. After the Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine in 2014, the focus has again been on Europe and the original task of collective defense. In recent years, NATO has increased its presence in the Baltic States and in Eastern Europe. A task force of 40,000 men is now ready to rescue the member state that is attacked. The command structure has been changed in order to be able to move large troops over land again and keep the sea routes between the USA and Europe open.
Consensus between all members (consensus) is a prerequisite for decisions to be made within NATO. However, some members have often had conflicting interests and views on key issues. The pursuit of unity has also not been facilitated by the fact that NATO contains two states that have long been hostile to each other, Turkey and Greece. Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia is also a problem.
In recent years, however, limited European resources have been the main source of discord. The United States’ share of NATO’s total resources has increased sharply since the days of the Cold War. US President Donald Trump has threatened to condition US defense guarantees unless the other countries start allocating two percent of their GDP to defense. Over the past two years, the United States’ share of spending has declined, but the budget is still a sensitive issue. Donald Trump’s statement that NATO is obsolete also contributes to concerns within the alliance.
At the same time, NATO is a historically very successful alliance. There are few, if any, similar examples of alliances that have worked and developed as long as NATO.
Russia high on the agenda
The Soviet Union was the original enemy when NATO was formed. After the Cold War, cooperation with Russia was a high priority for NATO countries, but for various reasons the cooperation has not been very successful. Russia disapproves of NATO opening its doors to countries from the former Soviet-dominated Eastern bloc, and in recent years antagonisms between Russia and NATO have intensified.
This is especially true of the conflict in Ukraine. Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in the spring of 2014 and continued aggression against several countries in Europe have led several members to speak out about the need for a new strategic concept for NATO.
Sweden’s new role
Since the 1990’s, Sweden has participated with forces in NATO’s peacekeeping operations. In 2014, Sweden became closer to NATO through a new form of cooperation agreement for specially selected partners. This means, among other things, that Sweden together with Finland in 2018 participated in the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War, on Norwegian soil.