Evolving NATO

In Washington D.C. on April the 4th in 1949, the 12 founding members of NATO signed what became known as The North Atlantic Treaty. The agreement is short. It contained only 14 articles each characterized by internal flexibility. The treaty was founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. The signatories were determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage, and civilization of their people. 

In Article 1, the parties committed “to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” The Parties to the Treaty reaffirmed their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments.

To effect this peace initiative, Article 2 and 4 encourage the members to “consult together” whenever they might consider it necessary. This process of consensus-building was to include the practice of regularly exchanging information and consulting together, to strengthen the links between governments and share knowledge of their respective preoccupations, so that they can agree on common policies and take action.

In 1949, the primary aim of the Treaty was to create a pact of mutual assistance to counter the risk that the Soviet Union would seek to extend its control of Eastern Europe to other parts of the continent. According to Theodore C. Achilles, there was no doubt that operations could be conducted worldwide. This interpretation was reaffirmed by NATO foreign ministers in Reykjavik in May of 2002 as they considered the fight against terrorism. They said: “To carry out the full range of its missions, NATO must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives.”

Some drafters were informed by the post-mortem New York Times reporter Clarence K. Striet published about the League of Nations. They also were influenced by his 1939 book Union Now which advocated for a federation of democracies. They wanted more than just military cooperation between signatories. They wanted to expand the organization’s influence to social and economic cooperation. 

The criteria for membership includes “a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of minority populations; a commitment to resolve conflicts peacefully; an ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.”

Because collective defense was at the very heart of the Alliance, the drafters considered the strategic value of extending invitations to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Iceland and the Scandinavian countries. The alliance committed each member to share the risk, responsibilities and benefits of such mutual aid while promoting a spirit of solidarity.

The United States and the United Kingdom saw NATO as a regional organization while France thought it should take on a more global role. The negotiators had a difference of opinion concerning the area of responsibility although the geographical scope of the Alliance was partly conditioned on situations involving those countries that were more likely to fall to Soviet aggression. Sweden refused to have any links with NATO because of its strong commitment to neutrality.

In addition to the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, the founding members in 1949 included Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Italy, and Portugal. Greece and Turkey joined the Alliance in 1952. The drafters considered offering membership to Ireland, Iran, Austria and Spain, but the idea was dropped largely due to internal conditions in each country. Of concern to all was Germany, whose membership was not immediately considered due to the complexity of its internal situation. All member countries have joined freely in accordance with their domestic democratic processes.

And this brings us to the immediate situation. We must ask why Vladimir Putin objects so strenuously to NATO membership for any of the former Soviet states. NATO, with it’s commitment to consensus building in the interest of peace is not a threat to the Russian Federation. Authentic democracies don’t attack their neighbors. In Article 1, the parties committed “to settle any international dispute by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered.”

A functioning democratic political system based on a market economy is still part of the criteria for membership in NATO. The founding parties affirmed their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments. The real problem for Putin and Xi is that there is no veto power for authoritarians such as that which exists on the UN Security Council. They know that NATO will likely be a greater force, for the extension of democracy worldwide, than the UN could ever be due to the veto power of totalitarian states that are represented by inauthentic leaders. At some point, in the evolution of this planet, the only heads of state will be those who are elected to a government truly of, by, and for the people.

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