On April 3-4, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is celebrating its 60th Anniversary, 60 years of success building a Europe free and united in peace. Whereas once its mission dealt primarily with security within Europe’s borders, today the alliance recognizes that threats to Euro-Atlantic security can come from across the globe.
Thus it is not only reaffirming its core mission of the collective defense of its Allies but is bringing greater security to Afghanistan and continuing to prepare itself to meet new threats and challenges ranging from cyber attacks to terrorism.
On April 4th, 1949, representatives of 12 former World War Two allies gathered in Washington, D.C. to sign a mutual defense pact, the North Atlantic Treaty, in response to the perceived threat from another former ally, the Soviet Union. The Treaty pledged its members to maintain international peace and security, and to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area. It is the cornerstone document of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, the longest lasting defensive alliance in history.
At first, NATO was mostly a political organization. But in the 1950s concerns about the intentions of the Soviet Union increased, and NATO chose to integrate its members' armies to form a unified military force.
Over the following decades, NATO stood as the primary deterrent to Soviet expansion into Western Europe and the Atlantic. Its membership increased as more European countries felt the need to protect themselves against the military might of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, NATO maintained its emphasis on collective defense but began to accept East European countries. In the 1990s NATO sought to establish a cooperative relationship with Russia, including via the landmark NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997, and establishment of the NATO-Russia Council in 2002, in an effort to continue to strengthen Euro-Atlantic security. The most recent additions to the Organization, Croatia and Albania, increased NATO's membership to 28.
"The NATO Alliance has been the cornerstone of trans-Atlantic security for the past 60 years," said President Barack Obama in a written statement. "The United States is committed to its success, and knows that it is through close cooperation with Allies and partners that we can overcome our most difficult challenges."