Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Origins and Formation of

Multinational politico-military organization, the mission of which is to safeguard freedom and security in the transatlantic region. In 1945, the United Nations (UN) was founded on the assumption that the big powers would be able to reach agreement on major issues and that none of them would seek any territorial aggrandizement. Neither of these premises came to pass once the Cold War began.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed his concerns over this as early as 1945, as he witnessed Soviet policy in action and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Europe. In 1947, numerous conciliation efforts between the Western powers and the Soviet Union concerning the future of Germany failed, and that same year President Harry S. Truman announced in what became known as the Truman Doctrine that the United States would support free people in resisting subjugation by outside forces. As such, Greece and Turkey soon received American aid to wage the fight against communism.

In general, in the immediate postwar era, West European economies and military establishments were weak and almost wholly uncoordinated. Thus, the idea of European economic and military cooperation and integration began to emerge. Churchill mentioned the idea of a defensive alliance between like-minded nations as early as 1946.

In a bid to encourage Western cooperation, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall initiated the European Recovery Program, also known as the Marshall Plan, in June 1947. The 1947 Dunkirk Treaty was a sign of collaboration between Britain and France, serving as a basis for Britain's proposal for a Western union, which would consist of a network of bilateral agreements. This concept was fine-tuned at a March 1948 meeting in Brussels among Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. A few days later, leaders of these states signed the Treaty of Brussels, which set up a joint defense system and strengthened economic and cultural ties to resist ideological, political, and military threats.

U.S. involvement and commitment in such arrangements was still open to question, however. The Vandenberg Resolution passed by the U.S. Congress in June 1948 bridged the legal gap and made it possible for the United States to enter into an Atlantic alliance in time of peace. Preliminary talks on the Atlantic Treaty began on 6 July 1948 in Washington, D.C., and by the end of October the principles of a defensive pact for the North Atlantic area had been agreed upon.

The drafting of the treaty began 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 invited Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, and Portugal to join the North Atlantic Treaty, signed on 4 April 1949 in Washington, D.C.

The treaty is a classic diplomatic document, offering wide areas of cooperation among its members. Its purpose was to establish a just and lasting peaceful order based on the commonly shared values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. It committed each signatory to share the risks and responsibilities, as well as the benefits, of collective security. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) currently has twenty-six member nations.

Anna Boros-McGee

Further Reading
Duignan, Peter. NATO: Its Past, Present, and Future. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2000.; Kaplan, Lawrence S. NATO and the United States: The Enduring Alliance. New York: Twayne, 1994.

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