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Defence alliance and community of shared values

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Questions and answers on NATO Defence alliance and community of shared values

Cohesion is what makes NATO strong. It has guaranteed Europe’s security for more than 70 years and will continue to be vital to security in the future. What does NATO stand for? And how does the Federal Government contribute to the North Atlantic Alliance? A summary.

4 min reading time

Flags of NATO member states flying in front of the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

NATO headquarters in Brussels: the member states are committed to peace, democracy, freedom and the rule of law.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Steins

What is NATO and what does it stand for?

NATO is the most important security alliance in the world. NATO is the “North Atlantic Treaty Alliance” – the alliance that has linked Europe’s and North America’s security to one another for more than 70 years. It stands for joint security and defence, joint operations and international cooperation with partners, and embraces multilateralism in practice. NATO also sees itself as a community of shared values among free democratic states. Under the North Atlantic Treaty, members commit to peace, democracy, freedom and the rule of law.

Why is Germany a member of NATO?

The cohesion of NATO has guaranteed Europe’s security for more than 70 years. NATO  will continue to be vital to our security. During the Cold War, the Federal Republic of Germany proved to be a reliable partner and played an important role in the détente efforts between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. After this came to an end, Germany too was willing to participate in military operations outside its national territory and that of the Alliance. 

What does the principle of collective defence mean?

NATO was founded in 1949 after the Second World War. The most important principle of the Alliance is collective defence: member states agree to protect each other and respond jointly in the event of conflict. This collective defence clause is laid down in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”

Who are the member states and when did they join?

The 30 member states of NATO are: Albania (joined 2009), Belgium (1949), Bulgaria (2004), Canada (1949), Croatia (2009), Denmark (1949), Estonia (2004), France (1949), Germany (1955), Greece (1952), Iceland (1949), Italy (1949), Latvia (2004), Lithuania (2004), United Kingdom (1949), Luxembourg (1949), Montenegro (2017), Netherlands (1949), Northern Macedonia (2020), Norway (1949), Poland (1999), Portugal (1949), Romania (2004), Slovakia (2004), Slovenia (2004), Spain (1982), Czech Republic (1999), Turkey (1952), Hungary (1999), USA (1949).

What is the role of the NATO Secretary General?

The NATO Secretary General gives NATO a public face, heads the International Secretariat, and chairs the “Defence Committee” and the “Nuclear Planning Group”. The Secretary General is appointed for a four-year term by NATO members. This period can be extended to five years, however. 

The second important post is that of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). The SACEUR has the power to decide on military operations. 

How does the Federal Government contribute to NATO?

Germany wants to keep NATO strong and is committed to the unity of the Alliance, so it has to invest in the readiness of its armed forces. It contributes financially to NATO resources and the joint NATO budget, and also sends its soldiers and equipment on joint missions abroad.

The Federal Armed Forces are involved both in international NATO missions such as in Kosovo and in Alliance defence operations. As in the case of its air policing in Estonia or, since 2019, as the “framework nation” of a multinational NATO unit in Lithuania, Germany often assumes leading responsibility within NATO.

What is a NATO summit?

NATO summits bring together the heads of state and government of all member states. The latter are joined by the respective foreign and defence ministers as well as the representatives of allied partner countries. The purpose of these summits is essentially to agree on security policy strategies and to strengthen the cohesion of the Alliance based on final declarations.

The first summit took place in Paris in 1957. In recent years, NATO has invited the heads of state and government of its members to a meeting approximately every two years.

What is the role of PESCO – permanent structured cooperation within Europe?

The purpose of PESCO is to be able to conduct joint European operations independently of NATO. The aim is in no way to work against or in lieu of NATO, but to establish an additional European pillar within NATO.

What is the NATO-Russia Council?

NATO is not only a defence alliance but also a platform for security cooperation. Previously, NATO and Russia pursued close practical cooperation within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council (from 1997 onwards) in order to ensure Euro-Atlantic security. However, the Alliance suspended this cooperation when the Ukraine crisis started in April 2014. Nonetheless, political channels of dialogue remain open at the ambassadorial level.

What is the NATO-Russia Founding Act?

The NATO-Russia Founding Act is a declaration of intent under international law between NATO and Russia which was signed in Paris on 27 May 1997. After the end of the Cold War, this enabled a partnership to be established to overcome a relationship previously dominated by mistrust and mutual threat. In addition, the aim was to strike a balance between the security interests in Europe, the USA and Russia.

What is the NATO-Ukraine Commission?

NATO and Ukraine signed the “Charter on a Distinctive Partnership” in 1997: this established the NATO-Ukraine Commission and meant that NATO and Ukraine entered into a military partnership agreement. At the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, Ukraine expressed interest in becoming a member of NATO.