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What does NATO stand for and what is its purpose?

President Joe Biden is hosting NATO leaders who have gathered in Washington, D.C. this week on the 75th anniversary of the military alliance.

President Joe Biden is hosting NATO leaders who have gathered in Washington, D.C. this week on the 75th anniversary of the military alliance.
Nathan HowardREUTERS

NATO leaders are arriving in Washington D.C. for a summit that marks the 75th anniversary of the organization.

The conference is expected to focus on shoring up support for Ukraine in the war that Russia waged against the country, as well as China’s aggressive movements in the Asia-Pacific.

Aside from pressing international matters, the public’s eyes will also focus on host President Joe Biden, whose performance in the gathering would be an indication of his capability to lead the country. Another poorly perceived showing on such a stage will result in an even louder clamor to replace him with another candidate.

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What does NATO stand for and what is its purpose?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO came into being in 1949, four years after the end of the Second World War, with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington D.C. NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance formed by several countries from North America and Europe. The stated purpose of NATO is to promote peace and security among its member states through collective defense and cooperation.

Signatories to the treaty promised to “safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of the peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.” The treaty came in the aftermath of WWII, with a potential Soviet attack on Western powers in mind.

Twelve countries signed the agreement: Belgium (where NATO is now headquartered), Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the US. As such, these are now considered the founding nations of NATO.

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How many countries are NATO members?

NATO membership now stands at 32 states, the most recent of which was Sweden, which became a member in February of this year. The bulk of the alliance is made up of European Union member states, with Turkey, which, courtesy of the Montreux Convention of 1936, controls the Black Sea and therefore the Russian Navy’s access to the high seas through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits.

NATO is a collective security defensive alliance, with all member states duty-bound to come to the defense of any member state whose “territorial integrity, political independence, or security” is threatened.”

This was the case in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when NATO immediately moved to strengthen its eastern flank. The organization sent alliance troops to member states bordering Russia (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia) in a move described by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as enabling NATO “to deploy capabilities and forces, including the NATO Response Force [which consists of land, air, sea and special operations forces].”

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Here is the list of NATO member countries.

  1. Albania 2009
  2. Belgium 1949
  3. Bulgaria 2004
  4. Canada 1949
  5. Croatia 2009
  6. Czechia 1999
  7. Denmark 1949
  8. Estonia 2004
  9. Finland 2023
  10. France 1949
  11. Germany 1955
  12. Greece 1952
  13. Hungary 1999
  14. Iceland 1949
  15. Italy 1949
  16. Latvia 2004
  17. Lithuania 2004
  18. Luxembourg 1949
  19. Montenegro 2017
  20. Netherlands 1949
  21. North Macedonia 2020
  22. Norway 1949
  23. Poland 1999
  24. Portugal 1949
  25. Romania 2004
  26. Slovakia 2004
  27. Slovenia 2004
  28. Spain 1982
  29. Sweden 2024
  30. Türkiye 1952
  31. United Kingdom 1949
  32. United States 1949