Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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North Atlantic Treaty Organization, History of (1948–1990)

Preliminary discussions surrounding an Atlantic treaty among the United States, Canada, and the Brussels Treaty Powers (Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Britain) began on 6 July 1948 in Washington, D.C. By the end of October, the framework for a mutual defense pact for the North Atlantic region was agreed upon. Drafting commenced in December 1948, and the final text was made public in March 1949. On 15 March 1949 the United States, Canada, and the Brussels Treaty Powers formally invited Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, and Portugal to join the alliance. These nations all endorsed the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949, providing the legal basis for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). On 24 August 1949 the treaty entered into force, and the first North Atlantic Council (NAC) meeting took place in Washington on 17 September.

The first and primary task for the new organization was to put in place an effective and credible apparatus for collective defense. During NATO's first few years, efforts focused primarily on defense-related problems and their economic implications. The political process of cooperation, which was also a component of the alliance, remained largely undefined. In October 1949 President Harry S. Truman signed the Mutual Defense Assistance Act, setting the stage for U.S. involvement in NATO collective security arrangements. In January 1950 he approved plans for the integrated defense of the North Atlantic region and authorized the expenditure of a significant sum of money for military aid.

Other important tasks after NATO's founding were establishing its main organizations and bodies and making them operational. To this end, the NAC appointed U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) on 19 December 1950. In April 1951, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) became operational at Roquencourt, near Paris. Later that year, the NATO Defense College (NDC) was unveiled in Paris. In March 1952, British General Hastings Lionel Ismay was appointed NATO's first secretary-general. A month later, NATO opened its provisional headquarters in Paris and convened the first NAC meeting in permanent session. The first enlargement of the organization also took place in 1952, when Greece and Turkey were invited to join NATO.

On 31 March 1954 the Soviet Union requested membership in NATO but Britain, France, and the United States vetoed it. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany), on the other hand, was invited to join and became a member in 1955. By the mid-1950s, broad lines of intra-alliance cooperation on defense issues had been defined, and the main institutional bodies had been established. Thus strengthening the political consultation process and cooperation in nonmilitary areas was identified as the new priority for NATO. In 1956 the NAC approved the recommendations on nonmilitary cooperation within NATO. In 1957, Belgium's Paul-Henri Spaak succeeded Ismay as NATO secretary-general. At an NAC meeting later that year, member nations reaffirmed the principles and purposes of the alliance. In 1958 NATO defensive strategy was likewise reaffirmed, and in 1959 a new NATO headquarters was opened in Paris.

In 1961, Dirk U. Stikker of the Netherlands succeeded Spaak as secretary-general. In an NAC meeting that year, NATO members reaffirmed their support of West Berlin, strongly condemning the building of the Berlin Wall, and approved the renewal of diplomatic contacts with the Soviet Union. In the 1962 Athens Guidelines, the circumstances involving the use of nuclear weapons were reviewed. Toward this end, the United States and Britain agreed to contribute and integrate part of their strategic nuclear forces to NATO. In a NATO military exercise (dubbed Operation big lift) in 1963, the United States ably demonstrated how quickly it could reinforce NATO forces in Europe in the event of a crisis. The following year, Italy's Manlio Brosio became the new secretary-general.

In a move deeply troubling to other NATO states, French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew his nation from the integrated military structure of NATO in 1966. As a consequence, NATO offices were relocated. In 1967 the NDC moved to Rome, SHAPE relocated to Mons, and NATO's headquarters was established in Brussels. In 1967 the NAC also approved the Harmel Report, aimed at reducing East-West tensions by proposing a new military strategy for NATO. The new strategic concept of flexible response provided the alliance with myriad options to respond to many types of enemy aggression. NATO's old strategy had required a massive military response to any form of aggression. Improving East-West relations thus became a new priority for NATO. In 1968, NATO issued the Declaration on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR), an initiative to work for disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation.

In 1970 NATO's first communications satellite was launched, and at the ministerial meeting later in the year the United States announced that it would not reduce its forces in Europe unilaterally. In 1971, Joseph Luns of the Netherlands succeeded Brosio as NATO secretary-general, while Brosio was tasked with conducting exploratory talks with the Soviets and other governments vis-à-vis MBFR. In 1974, member countries signed the Declaration on Atlantic Relationships, reaffirming the partnership between Europe and North America and also ensuring the continued development of transatlantic cooperation. Also in 1974, Greece withdrew its military forces from the integrated military structure of NATO to protest Turkey's military intervention in Cyprus.

In 1976 the prospects for MBFR were discussed. Because of the relentless growth in Warsaw Pact forces, the NAC agreed to further strengthen NATO conventional defenses. Unfortunately, this decision interrupted the promising developments in the MBFR process. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan also endangered the improvement in East-West relations. The controversial double-track decision made at a special ministerial meeting in 1979 announced the deployment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in Europe, to be paralleled by an arms control effort to obviate the need for such deployments. In 1980 Greek forces were reintegrated into the NATO military structure. In 1982 Spain joined the alliance.

The first deliveries of IRBM components to Britain in 1983 were the ultimate result of the double-track decision. Deployment of the missiles proved highly controversial and sparked a considerable nuclear freeze movement throughout Western Europe. In response, the Soviet Union suspended negotiations on intermediate nuclear forces reductions. In 1984, Britain's Peter Alexander Rupert Carrington, 6th Baron Carrington, became the new secretary-general.

In the mid-1980s, East-West relations began to thaw. In 1986 NATO called upon the Soviet Union to help promote peace, security, and a productive East-West dialogue. A high-level task force on conventional arms control was established in 1986, and at the end of the year NATO foreign ministers issued the Brussels Declaration on Conventional Arms Control, calling for further negotiations on confidence-building measures and conventional stability. In 1987 the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was signed, which eliminated American and Soviet land-based IRBMs. The forward progress in East-West relations continued throughout 1988. NATO issued a statement on conventional arms control, calling for progress in eliminating conventional force disparities. In July 1988, West Germany's Manfred Wörner succeeded Carrington as secretary-general. In December, NATO foreign ministers welcomed Soviet reductions in conventional forces and outlined NATO proposals for negotiations on confidence-building measures and conventional stability.

In 1989 two new sets of negotiations were launched at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) follow-up meeting in Vienna: talks on conventional armed forces in Europe (CFE) between NATO and the Warsaw Pact and negotiations on confidence-building and security measures among all thirty-five CSCE members. In December 1989 NATO celebrated its fortieth anniversary at a special summit meeting in Brussels. NATO set forth new goals and policies in recognition of the recent and sweeping changes in the waning Cold War and to further extend East-West cooperation. In July 1990 NATO issued the London Declaration, which provided a road map to guide the transition of the alliance from the era of Cold War confrontation to the age of post–Cold War cooperation and partnership. A joint declaration and commitment to nonaggression was signed in Paris in November 1990. The transformation of the alliance in the new security environment was clearly reflected in its new strategic concept unveiled in November 1991. Cooperation and partnership with Central and East European nations thus became a central and integral part of NATO policies.

The roots of change in NATO's history can be traced as far back as the Harmel Report of the late 1960s. Throughout the decades, NATO continued to play an important role in providing the framework for consultation and coordination of policies among its member countries to diminish the risk of crisis and war.

Anna Boros-McGee


Further Reading
Mastny, Vojtech, Sven Holtsmark, and Andreas Wenger, eds. War Plans and Alliances in the Cold War: Threat Perceptions in the East and West. New York: Routledge, 2006.; Schmidt, Gustav, ed. A History of NATO: The First Fifty Years. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.; Schneider, Peter. The Evolution of NATO: The Alliance's Strategic Concept and Its Predecessors, 1945–2000. München: Institut für Internationale Politik, Universität der Bundeswehr München, 2000.; Smith, Mark. NATO Enlargement during the Cold War: Strategy and System in the Western Alliance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.
 

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