Established in the aftermath of World War II, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance between 28 European countries and 2 North American countries and is headquartered in Belgium.
It implements the North Atlantic Treaty, which is a system of collective security, where its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party.
The most recent member to be added was North Macedonia on March 27, 2020. Since its founding on April 4, 1949, the admission of new member states has increased the alliance from the original 12 countries to 30.
In the event of a possible attack by Germany, a Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Assistance was signed by France and the United Kingdom in 1947. Later next year, the alliance was expanded to include Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, in the form of the Western Union.
In 1949, talks for the new military alliance which would include North America resulted in the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty. The Treaty included the members of the Western Union and the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
In May 1955, West Germany was permitted to rearm militarily, as they joined Nato, which was a major factor in the creation of the Soviet Union-dominated Warsaw Pact, delineating the two opposing sides of the Cold War.
In October 1990, East Germany became part of the Federal Republic of Germany and the alliance, and in November 1990, the alliance signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) in Paris with the Soviet Union.
The treaty mandated specific military reductions across Europe, which continued after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in February 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which removed the de facto main adversaries of Nato.
The Treaty was largely dormant until the Korean War initiated the establishment of Nato to implement it, by means of an integrated military structure, which included the formation of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in 1951, adopting the Western Union's military structures and plans.
PURPOSE OF NATO
According to Nato, its purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. By political, it means the organisation promotes democratic values and enables members to consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.
Militarily, Nato says it is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes, and if diplomatic efforts fail, it has the power to undertake crisis-management operations, under the collective defence clause - Article 5 of the Washington Treaty or under a United Nations mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries.
Article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, requiring member states to come to the aid of any member state subject to an armed attack, was invoked for the first and only time after the September 11 attacks, after which troops were deployed to Afghanistan.
THE ROLE OF NATO IN RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT
Among the 30 countries in the organisation, Ukraine is not a member, even though it has included three former Soviet republics -- the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
In 2008, Nato appeared to open the door to membership to two more former Soviet republics when its heads of government declared that Georgia and Ukraine "will become members of Nato."
Neither has formally received eventual membership, with a lack of consensus among members. Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Ukraine never join the alliance as he seeks to limit Nato’s presence in Eastern Europe.
Days before Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine in February 2022, he in a televised address linked the current crisis directly to Russia's Nato demands, which include a guarantee that the organisation stops expanding to the East and pull back its infrastructure from Eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War.
If the conflict goes beyond Ukraine and impacts Nato members, it could lead the organisation to invoke its mutual self-defence clause, i.e, Article 5 of the Nato treaty.