Editor's Pick

31 March, 2024

ON 4 APRIL 1949, representatives of 12 European and American nations signed the North Atlantic Treaty—being negotiated here, a few weeks earlier—in Washington. The agreement resulted in the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has since expanded to include 20 additional countries.

The Second World War had significantly depleted the economic and military capabilities of most countries in Western Europe, even as the Soviet Union began to increase its influence over the eastern part of the continent. In March 1948, Britain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed a collective defence treaty in Brussels, with all parties obligated to act if one of them was attacked. Two months later, Arthur H Vandenburg, the chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a potential candidate for the Republican nomination during that year’s presidential election—the party had lost the four previous elections, partly because of its isolationist stance—introduced a resolution that advised the Harry Truman administration to seek mutual defence agreements that were not constrained by a Soviet veto in the Security Council.

The US government began negotiating with the signatories of the Brussels treaty, eventually expanding the talks to include other North Atlantic nations, such as Canada, Denmark and Norway. Washington wanted any military assistance it provided to be contingent on regional cooperation. Meanwhile, the European nations wanted the United States to commit to automatically intervene if any of them were attacked, despite the US Congress having the sole power to declare war. Upon being re-elected, Truman authorised the acceleration of negotiations.

Soon after the NATO was formed, Truman released $1.4 billion in military aid for Western Europe. The outbreak of the Korean War led to the establishment of a centralised command and further expansion. After the Federal German Republic joined, in 1955, the Soviets responded by forming the Warsaw Pact.