1949: The Formation of Nato
(Created by Tony Peluso, History 135, August 1998)
Canada Germany France Greece Denmark Italy Norway Iceland Portugal Turkey Spain United Kingdom United States Belgium Luxembourg Netherlands
Assignment Overview Timeline WWW Sites Recommended Books Related Topics

Why did the United States and other European countries initially form NATO, and why has it remained active until today?


After World War II, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. occupied much of Europe. Most of the continent's governments had fallen to the Nazis during the war, so the two superpowers were left with the responsibility of setting up new governments. Each promised to allow free elections, but in the end, did not. This left eastern and western Europe divided by style of government (eastern was communist, western was not) and left Germany divided between the two superpowers.

Eventually, as tensions rose between the superpowers, the Soviets cut off their area of Germany, and closed access to West Berlin, which was located deep within the Soviet zone of occupation. The allies aided the citizens of Berlin with supplies during the Berlin Airlift of 1948. This was a combined effort between the USA, Britain and France to keep the city alive. In the end over two million tons of food and supplies were dropped.

Soon after, when the Soviets began withdrawing from other countries around the world, it became evident that they were not going to go quietly. The USSR demanded oil concessions from Iran in exchange for withdrawal, but did not get them. In a similar manner, the Soviet leaders demanded that Turkey allow them to utilize its resources to spy on the western world. The Soviets also supported a communist revolution in Greece that led to a bloody civil war. Soon after that, there was a communist coup in Czechoslovakia, which was not a Soviet initiated venture, but quickly received full Soviet support. Western European nations countered this chain of events and the apparent growing Soviet threat with the Brussels Treaty, which defensively linked Britain, France, and Benelux.

The expansion of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe and the threats against Greece and Turkey aroused growing alarm throughout Western Europe. As a consequence, in April 1949, in accordance with the United Nations Charter, 12 nations established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to coordinate the military defenses of member nations against possible Soviet aggression. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United States (with Greece, Turkey and the Federal Republic of Germany joining afterward in 1952) agreed to consider an armed attack against any one of them as an attack against all. The territory covered included French Algeria, and there were also provisions in the treaty to protect the "occupation forces in any party of Europe." In December 1950, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed the Supreme Commander of NATO military forces with a unified command of 50 combat divisions.

  • 1947 -- March 4th -- Anglo-British treaty of alliance 
  • 1948 -- March 17th -- Britain, France and Benelux sign 50 year alliance (Brussels Treaty) 
  • 1949 -- April, 4th -- NATO signed by 12 Nations 
  • 1950 -- June 25th -- Korean War begins 
  • 1950 -- February -- Chinese/Soviets sign friendship treaty 
  • 1951 -- September 1st -- ANZUS is created for Pacific Security 
  • 1951 -- President Eisenhower appointed by Truman to Overall Command of NATO 
  • 1952 -- February -- NATO conference approves the idea of a European army 
  • 1954 -- September, 8th -- SEATO of 8 nations links South Eastern Asia in much the same manner as NATO 
  • 1955 -- May -- Federal Republic of Germany enters NATO 
  • 1955 -- CENTO 
  • 1955 -- February 24th -- Baghdad pact (Turkey,Iraq and later Pakistan and Iran) sponsored by Britain security vs Soviet, Iraq withdrew in 1958, others became 1959 CENTO with US 
  • 1963 -- France and Germany sign Treaty of Friendship 
  • 1966 -- France withdraws from the NATO military structure

WWW Sites

NATO maintains its own official page where you can find just about everything you would ever need to know about the organization, past and present. There is also a page with the latest information about the NATO. The actual treaty which defined the creation of NATO is available at that site, as well as divided and indexed at Yale University. The NATO Handbook describes how NATO is structured and controlled. Also take a look at the site for NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe.   Finally, if you must, you can check wikipedia.

Some other sites:

Recommended Books
The following book is highly recommended for information on the creation of NATO: D. Cook, Forging the Alliance: The Birth of the NATO Treaty and the Dramatic Transformation of US. Foreign Policy between 1945 and 1950 (Secker & Warburg, I989)

The memoirs of one of the principal architects of the alliance should be read: Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation (Norton, 1969)

See also A. Grosser, The Western Alliance: European-American Relations since 1945 (Macmillan, 1980); James Huston, One for All: NATO Strategy and Logistics through the Formative Period, (1949-1969) (University of Delaware Press, 1984), Douglas Stuart and William Tow, The Limits of Alliance: NATO Out-Of-Area Problems Since 1949 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990) and John Baylis, The Diplomacy of Pragmatism: Britain and the Formation of NATO, 1942-1949(Kent State University Press, 1993)


Related events image.

Cold War
Berlin Airlift
Truman Doctrine

This page is copyright © 2010-12, C.T. Evans and A. Peluso.
For information contact cevans@nvcc.edu