Defence alliance and community built on shared values

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Questions and answers about NATO Defence alliance and community built on shared values

NATO’s strength comes from its cohesion. 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.

5 min reading time

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

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

Photo: IMAGO/Xinhua

What is NATO and what does it stand for?

NATO is the most important security alliance in the world. NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, the alliance that has linked the security of Europe and North America 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 itself a reliable partner and played an important role in the efforts to de-escalate tensions 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 on 4 April 1949, when the foreign ministers of 12 states signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington DC. The treaty brought ten countries in Western Europe in to a conventional military alliance with the USA and Canada during times of peace. 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. Article 5 of the NATO Treaty sets out the duty of collective defence: “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 31 member state states of NATO are: Albania (joined 2009), Belgium (1949), Bulgaria (2004), Canada (1949), Croatia (2009), Czech Republic (1999), Denmark (1949), Estonia (2004), Finland (2023), France (1949), Germany (1955), Greece (1952), Hungary (1999), Iceland (1949), Italy (1949), Latvia (2004), Lithuania (2004), Luxembourg (1949), Montenegro (2017), The Netherlands (1949), North Macedonia (2020), Norway (1949), Poland (1999), Portugal (1949), Romania (2004), Slovakia (2004), Slovenia (2004), Spain (1982), Turkey (1952), United Kingdom (1949), USA (1949).

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Finland and Sweden (which had out of tradition refrained from joining any military alliances for many years) applied to join NATO. The two Scandinavian countries were officially invited to join NATO at the NATO summit in Madrid in June 2022. Finland officially became the 31st member of NATO on 4 April 2023.

The Hungarian parliament has now given its consent to Sweden’s membership, clearing the way for Sweden to join NATO. Now that all member states have agreed, the Secretary General of NATO will officially invite Sweden to join NATO. For the accession procedure to be concluded, Sweden must approve its accession under its own national procedures and lodge its instrument of accession with the US State Department.

What is the role of the NATO Secretary General?

The NATO Secretary General is the public face of NATO. Among other duties, they oversee the International Secretariat and chair the Nuclear Planning Group. The NATO Secretary General can also decide issues to be discussed by the committees which they chair. They are responsible for reconciling any differences of opinions and conflicts within the alliance. 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. For this reason Germany must invest in the readiness of its armed forces. It contributes financially to the joint NATO budget, and also sends its troops and materiel on joint missions abroad.

The Federal Armed Forces are involved in international NATO missions such as in Kosovo and also in alliance defence operations. Germany often takes on leadership responsibilities within NATO, such as in air policing operations over Estonia and in its role as a framework nation for a multinational NATO group in Lithuania.

What is a NATO summit?

NATO summits bring together the heads of state and government of all member state 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. To mark NATO’s 75th anniversary, the 2024 summit will take place in the organisation’s birthplace, Washington DC. 

Why was the work of the NATO-Russia Council suspended?

The alliance has suspended the work of the NATO-Russia Council since the Ukraine crisis began in April 2014. Nonetheless, political channels remain open at ambassadorial level.

Formed in 1997, the NATO-Russia Council provided a forum for close practical cooperation to ensure transatlantic security. The council was created by the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in Paris in 1997.

What is the NATO-Ukraine Council?

NATO and Ukraine signed the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership in 1997 which created the NATO-Ukraine Commission. The Charter brought NATO and Ukraine into a military partnership agreement. Ukraine expressed interest in becoming a member of NATO at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008. The NATO-Ukraine Council was set up at the 2023 summit in Vilnius to put the partnership on a new level. NATO has agreed to start holding regular discussions through the new NATO-Ukraine Council. This institutional cooperation between NATO and Ukraine makes it very clear that NATO stands in solidarity with Ukraine.