U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Europe and Canada Bureau

95/05/19 Fact Sheet: NATO Partnership for Peace
Bureau of Public Affairs

Fact Sheet: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NATO Today

NATO remains the core of American engagement in Europe and at the heart of European security. It is the member nations' most effective instrument for coordinating defense and arms control and maintaining stability throughout Europe. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and the progress of European integration have not ended the need for NATO's essential commitment to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means in accordance with UN principles. The London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance, issued after the summit meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) in July 1990, signaled the vitality of the alliance in adapting to security needs in a post-Cold War world. At that meeting, NATO allies announced a fundamental review of strategy and invited the Soviet Union and the countries of Central Europe to establish regular diplomatic liaison and to develop a new partnership.

The November 1991 Rome Declaration on Peace and Cooperation further underlined NATO's intention to redefine its objectives in light of changed circumstances. The declaration took into account the broader challenges to alliance security interests, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional instability, and terrorism. It outlined its future tasks in the context of a framework of interlocking and mutually reinforcing institutions, including the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)_now the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Western European Union (WEU), the European Community (now the European Union), and the Council of Europe, working together to build a new European security system. The "New Strategic Concept" announced at the meeting stressed the alliance's mission in crisis management and mandated a more flexible force structure and reduced reliance on nuclear weapons. The Rome meeting also created the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) to develop an institutional relationship of consultation and cooperation on political and security issues between NATO and its former adversaries. This initiative culminated in the participation of Foreign Ministers and representatives from the 16 NATO countries, six Central European countries, and the three Baltic states at the inaugural meeting of the NACC in December 1991. At the second NACC meeting in March 1992, the new independent states of the former Soviet Union became members, except Georgia, which was admitted the following month. Albania joined the NACC in June 1992.

NATO Foreign Ministers affirmed their readiness to support peacekeeping activities under the auspices of the CSCE on a case-by-case basis in June 1992. The following month, the North Atlantic Council agreed on a NATO maritime operation in the Adriatic, in coordination with the WEU, to monitor compliance with the UN embargo against Serbia and Montenegro (upgraded to enforcement in November 1992 following UN Security Council resolutions to tighten economic sanctions). On June 8, 1993, agreement was reached to place the NATO/WEU Adriatic task force under the operational command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

On December 17, 1992, NATO foreign ministers agreed that NATO would be prepared to support a UN Security Council resolution on enforcement of the ban on military flights over Bosnia-Herzegovina. NATO has been enforcing the no-fly zone over that country since April 12, 1993. In the spring of 1993, NATO planned for a peace settlement in Bosnia under UN auspices once an equitable agreement is reached by all of the parties and put into effect.

On September 2, 1992, the NAC approved UN humanitarian relief efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In June 1993, NATO agreed to provide its air power to protect UNPROFOR forces in case of attack. In August 1993, in extraordinary session, the NAC agreed that air strikes could be used, as authorized by the UN Secretary General, to support UNPROFOR's overall mandate; to assist in the relief of Sarajevo, the safe areas, and other threatened areas in Bosnia; and to relieve the wide-scale interference with the UNPROFOR mandate and humanitarian assistance operations. NATO remains willing to consider positively any further requests by the UN for assistance in enforcing Security Council resolutions.

In June 1993, the U.S. proposed a NATO summit to discuss the Clinton initiative, which set an agenda for NATO's future work. The initiative included strengthening cooperation among the allies, developing relations with the former Warsaw Pact states, improving NATO's links with other institutions, and addressing threats to security that arise from outside the North Atlantic Treaty area. The January 1994 NATO summit endorsed several of the President's proposals that advance NATO's adaptation to the post-Cold War European security environment.

The summit launched the Partnership for Peace (PFP), which expands and intensifies practical political and military cooperation between NATO and the former Soviet bloc, as well as some of Europe's traditionally neutral countries, and allows them to consult with NATO in the event of a direct threat to their security. PFP does not extend NATO security guarantees.

As of May 1995, 26 countries have joined PFP: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The central organs of the Partnership are the Steering Committee at NATO Headquarters and a planning organ, the Partnership Coordination Cell, at Mons, Belgium (at the same location as Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe).

PFP has thus become a permanent and central feature of the trans- Atlantic security system. PFP military exercises began in fall 1994: Poland hosted the first PFP field exercise in a former communist state, and a PFP maritime exercise took place in the North Sea. The Netherlands hosted a PFP field exercise in late October 1994. NATO allies also have invited observers from PFP countries to a number of previously scheduled bilateral and multinational exercises.

At the January 1994 summit, NATO leaders welcomed an evolutionary expansion of NATO membership to include new democracies in the region. Participation in PFP does not guarantee entry into NATO, but it is the best preparation for states interested in becoming NATO members. For those countries that do not aspire to NATO membership, PFP will remain as a primary link to the alliance.

The summit also endorsed a concept of "Combined Joint Task Forces" designed to make NATO military structures more flexible and to encourage the development of "separable but not separate" European military capabilities that could undertake operations under the auspices of the WEU when an alliance response was not required. NATO and the WEU are working to develop this concept.

Finally, the summit directed immediate work to intensify and expand NATO's political and defense efforts against the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This led to agreement on a political framework for NATO actions which was approved at the North Atlantic Council ministerial meeting in June 1994. Consultations proceed on specific allied political and defense steps to combat and defend against the proliferation of such weapons.

Following on the summit's commitment to NATO expansion, the foreign ministers established a process in December 1994 to study NATO enlargement and to brief PFP partners on the conclusions of the study. NATO's role as a forum for political consultation and an association of nations committed to collective defense remains unchanged, even as its new responsibilities in the areas of peacekeeping and crisis management continue to evolve.

U.S.-NATO Relations: The Trans-Atlantic Partnership

The decision of the United States after World War II to participate in a regional peacetime, defensive alliance represented a fundamental change in American foreign policy. The United States recognized that its interests no longer could be confined to the limits of the Western Hemisphere: U.S. security was linked inextricably to the future of the West European democracies. Concepts of individual liberty and the rule of law, coupled with those of a common heritage and shared values, provided the foundation for the NATO alliance. These ideals, as well as the ongoing goal of each member country to achieve a just and lasting peaceful order in Europe, continue to link the fate of America to that of its NATO allies.

The history of U.S. engagement in NATO has been one of commitment by America and its allies to reduce tensions in Europe and to improve East- West relations. They have pursued a series of initiatives designed to lower levels of personnel and equipment and increase mutual confidence, while adhering to a policy of political cohesion and military strength. Arms control measures aimed at enhancing stability have included the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987 and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) in 1990.

The CFE Treaty between the allies and the nations and successor states of the former Warsaw Pact provides for an unprecedented level of transparency in the security field through an information exchange and obligatory inspections. Most importantly, it mandates a sharp reduction in conventional weapons throughout Europe. The NATO allies coordinate closely to meet their own obligations under the treaty and to ensure full compliance in its information, verification, and reduction provisions.

NATO has played a leading role in developing far-reaching proposals for CSCE's Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC). Alliance proposals on force planning, non-proliferation, and harmonization of existing arms control commitments already are being developed.

The United States supports the development of a greater European security identity and defense role as a means of strengthening the integrity and effectiveness of NATO. At the NATO summit in Rome, the alliance welcomed the prospect of a European political union with a greater security and defense dimension but underlined that this would not diminish the need for NATO. The alliance's "New Strategic Concept" also reaffirmed the essential nature of the trans-Atlantic partnership, recognizing as a basic principle the indivisibility of security of all its members. The U.S. proposed, and the January 1994 NATO summit agreed, that "separable but not separate" European capabilities be made available to undertake independent European missions, drawing as necessary on NATO collective assets when NATO-wide actions are not necessary.

The North Atlantic alliance and the American presence in Europe have helped keep peace for more than 40 years. Having helped to forge successful policies toward the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact since the foundation of NATO, the U.S. with its European allies must play a central role in building the framework of the new Euro-Atlantic architecture.

NATO Strategy

NATO collective security strategy was mainly based on the principle of deterrence. Defense capabilities were created to deter military aggression or other forms of pressure. Parties to the treaty agreed to consult whenever the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any party was threatened. They further pledged to maintain their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack and, should such deterrence fail, to defend the territory of the alliance. As a purely defensive alliance, NATO maintained only a level of military strength sufficient to be credible. Given the marked inferiority of allied conventional strength in Europe, the NATO guarantee rested primarily on the nuclear superiority of the United States.

At the conclusion of a 1967 comprehensive review of NATO strategy, the alliance adopted a revised approach to the common defense, based on a balanced range of responses, conventional and nuclear, to all levels of aggression or threats of aggression. This reassessment of the nature of the potential threat to member countries prompted the realization that the alliance must increasingly look to the dangers of more limited forms of aggression beyond the possibility of a massive Soviet attack. The basis of the new concept of "flexible response" was the belief that NATO should be able to deter and counter military force with a range of responses designed to defend directly against attack at an appropriate level, or, if necessary, to escalate the attack to the level necessary to persuade an aggressor to desist.

At the same time, the alliance accepted the recommendations of the report written by former Belgium Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel and titled "Future Tasks of the Alliance," which outlined the need to work toward the achievement of disarmament and balanced force reductions. The maintenance of adequate military forces would be coupled with efforts at improving East-West relations.

Soviet deployment of new mobile theater nuclear missiles (SS-20s) called into question the accepted NATO strategy of deterrence based on the concepts of forward defense and flexible response and lead to a decision in 1979 to modernize its defensive capability. The resulting "dual- track" decision by the alliance combined pursuing arms control negotiations with responding appropriately to the increased imbalance created by the new Soviet systems. Alliance governments agreed to deploy U.S. ground-launched cruise missiles in Western Europe.

The successful conclusion of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, while eliminating all Soviet and U.S. land-based, intermediate-range missiles, required a new appraisal of NATO policy. In response, the alliance developed its "Comprehensive Concept of Arms Control and Disarmament," which provided a framework for alliance policy in nuclear, conventional, and chemical fields of arms control and tied defense policies to progress in arms control.

In July 1990, the NAC issued the "London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance" to adapt to the new realities in Europe. The ministers pledged to intensify political and military contacts with Moscow and with Central and East European capitals and to work not only for the common defense but to build new partnerships with all the nations of Europe. They underlined the need to undertake broader arms control and confidence-building agreements to limit conventional armed forces in Europe. In recognition of the radical political changes in Europe and the improved security environment, the ministers mandated a fundamental review of the alliance's political and military strategy.

The "New Strategic Concept" was outlined at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in November 1991. The threat of a massive full-scale Soviet attack, which had provided the focus of NATO's strategy during the Cold War, had disappeared after the end of the political division of Europe. The alliance acknowledged that the risks to its security, such as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and acts of terrorism and sabotage, were now less predictable and beyond the focus of traditional concerns. The new strategy adopts a broader approach to security, centered more on crisis management and conflict prevention. It assumes completion of the planned withdrawal of military forces from Central Europe and the Baltics and the full implementation of arms control agreements limiting conventional forces in Europe.

In the context of changed circumstances, the alliance will maintain a mix of nuclear and conventional forces based in Europe, although at significantly lower levels. To ensure effectiveness, alliance forces will be increasingly mobile to respond to a range of contingencies. Forces will be organized for flexible buildup to react to regional instability and crises. Collective defense arrangements will rely increasingly on multinational forces within the integrated military structure. Nuclear forces will continue to play an essential role in allied strategy but will be maintained at the minimum level sufficient to preserve stability.

The new strategy reaffirms the principle of common commitment and mutual cooperation in support of the indivisibility of security for all alliance members and underscores the essential political and military link between European and North American members provided by the presence of nuclear forces in Europe. (###)

NATO Background

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed against the backdrop of emerging post-war tensions engendered by the threat of Soviet expansionism and concern over political and economic instability in Western Europe. On April 4, 1949, in Washington, DC, the Foreign Ministers of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, and United States signed the North Atlantic Treaty, the political framework for an international alliance designed to prevent aggression, or, if necessary, to resist attack against any alliance member. In 1952, Greece and Turkey acceded to the treaty, followed by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955 and by Spain in 1982.

This alliance of sovereign states pledges, through a combination of political solidarity and military force, to preserve its mutual security. Reaffirming faith in the principles of individual and collective self-defense embodied in the UN Charter, the parties to the treaty pledge to defend the common heritage and civilization of their peoples and to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area. While recognizing the need to maintain adequate military strength to safeguard the security of its members, the alliance also resolves to work toward the establishment of a just and lasting peaceful order in Europe. (###)

NATO Structure

North Atlantic Council The NAC is the principal forum for consultation and cooperation between NATO member governments on all issues affecting their common security. Its decisions are based on consensus, with each member having an equal right to express its views. The NATO Secretary General is chair. The NAC meets at least twice a year in ministerial session. It also meets weekly at the level of Permanent Representatives, who hold ambassadorial rank.

Defense Planning Committee (DPC) The DPC deals with overall issues of defense and is composed of representatives of all countries except France (which withdrew from NATO's integrated military structure in 1966). Like the NAC, it meets regularly at ambassadorial level and twice yearly, when member countries are represented by their defense ministers.

Nuclear Planning Group This group has authority for nuclear matters. All countries except France participate. Iceland participates as an observer.

Military Committee The highest military authority in the alliance; is composed of the chiefs of staff of each country except France, which is represented by a military mission. Iceland, which has no military forces, is represented by a civilian member. The Military Committee advises the NAC and the DPC on military measures necessary for the common defense and provides guidance to the NATO commanders.

Regional Commands The strategic area covered by the North Atlantic Treaty is divided into three regional commands: Allied Command Europe, Allied Command Atlantic, and Allied Command Channel, with a regional planning group for North America. With the exception of France and Iceland, all countries assign forces to the integrated military command structure. The NATO Defense area covers the territories of member nations in North America, in the Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer, and in Europe, including Turkey. However, events occurring outside the area which affect the preservation of peace and security in the treaty area also may be considered by the NAC.

North Atlantic Cooperation Council The North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) was established in November 1991 to conduct NATO's outreach program to the former Warsaw Pact states. Current members include the 16 NATO allies, seven Central European states (Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia), the 12 former Soviet republics, and the three Baltic states. It meets in minis-terial session at least once a year. Finland, Slovenia, and Sweden attend as observers.

May 19, 1995


Return to the Electronic Research Collection Geographic Bureaus Home Page

Visit the Electronic Research Collection Home Page

Go to the U.S. State Department Home Page

To top of page