Global and International Organizations: NATO

Subject: Politics & Government
Pages: 8
Words: 2060
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: College


NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization) comprises of 28 countries from Europe and North America which have come together to achieve the goals of the North Treaty of 4 April 1949. The alliance gives countries a forum to consult on security issues and after deliberations come up with joint action to tackle them. The organization of NATO is intergovernmental and each member state retains its sovereignty. This means that all the decisions made by NATO are based on consensus of all the members. The members of the alliance initiated a process to deal with the threats of the 21st century during a summit in 2002 and another one in 2004. This paper will focus on the role of NATO and its relevance today.

Historical background

The NATO agreement was first signed on April 4, 1949 in Washington but it did not come to full effect until August 24, 1949 when endorsement of all signatory parties was approved. After this was put in place, it was time to search for an emblem that would represent NATO. The search of the emblem took three years after the inception of NATO. A member of the International Staff did the primary design of the NATO emblem that was incorporated in a flag. An emblem that showed the values of the Atlantic community was their goal when they were searching for an emblem. The organization has two structures-civilian and military.

Original mandate

The original role of NATO was to protect member states against the then USSR which had strong military power. The initial policy of the alliance was to prevent the soviet union from expanding its military might (Meyer 1) The members felt that their security was at a threat and therefore agreed to come together to protect each other. They agreed that if any of the member states were attacked the rest of the members would help the country either privately or collectively. This meant that they could use armed force in order to restore security and in the end keep the North Atlantic region safe. The alliance feared that the communist countries were joining hands against them and thus they had to organize themselves and be ready in case of an attack.

Hierarchy and decision-making

All the member countries relate on an equal basis. However, some countries feel that the USA and Britain have a major say in the organization and this may have led the French to withdraw from the alliance protesting the dominance of the USA in the organization. This may have been caused by the fact that the other members had to adopt U.S. practices in the alliance. On the other hand, NATO has a basic principle that “all decisions are made by consensus” (“Consensus Decision-making “1). This means that before a decision is made all the member countries have to give their consent and that means that a NATO’S decision represents the joint will of all the member states. This principle is used at all committee levels within the organization, which has various structures. In so doing, NATO ensures that all the decisions made within the organization represent the will of all the member states and reflect their common aim. It is important to note that no voting takes place when making decisions at NATO and members have to reach an agreement over a certain issue through deliberations. Sometimes the members disagree to agree. Nonetheless, due to regular consultations among members decisions are easy to make because they understand the positions of each country prior to decision-making. The secretary-general of NATO has the responsibility of facilitating the decision making process.

Suez crisis

The tensions between the soviet union and the USA escalated during the Suez canal crisis when the later withdrew its support in the construction of the dam during in 1956 (Suez Crisis 1). Countries such as France, Britain planned to invade Egypt after learning of the Israel plan to attack Egypt. Later the U.S learns of the planned attacks and asks Israel to withdraw its plan. However, Israel ignored the message and began attacks on 29 October. Thus, the French and Britain forces attacked Egypt. The Soviet Union sent a message to the three countries and threatened to crush them and restore peace by use of force. The Soviet Union increased its attack and this made NATO to feel that it had a mandate to intervene and restore peace that was being threatened by the Soviet Union, which had military muscle.

Consequently, in 1962 spy planes discovered that the Soviet Union was in the process of constructing a surface to air missile (SAM) launching sites. Many soviet ships were seen going to Cuba and the United States’s government assumed that they were carrying weapons. This led the then president Kennedy to complain to the Soviet Union about its activities (Cuban Missile 1). The Soviet Union however could not be deterred in its plan and president had to take action. He ordered the air force to prepare for an attack in the Soviet Union and Cuba. This decision sent panic that a nuclear war was in offing. On the contrary, this raised his political ratings as it was during the election period in his country. Many considered it a political strategy. This crisis was the fiercest between the Soviet Union and the United States. However, the attack did not take place and this saw a shift in the relationship between the two sides. They became more open to communication to avoid such a situation in the future as it was based on propaganda.

Change after 1989

After the cold war ended, NATO had to change its operations as the course of its formation had ended. Thus, it came up with a strategy to expand its operations to Eastern Europe.

This led to other countries joining NATO such as Latvia (Vike-Freiberga 1). This shows that the alliance still felt that it had a role to play even though there was no threat at that time. It needed to change or become obsolete. Its enlargement brought about democratization of some of the former communist states. Ironically, NATO’s expansion has not meant peace and stability in the region because several countries have gone to war and that recent one between Russia and Georgia. This means that NATO has to rise to the occasion and tackle the emerging challenges (Scheffer 1).

This is because the threats that threaten security are many than those during the cold war era. This means that NATO has to evaluate whether it will remain focused on its original mandate or expand its role further. Moreover, many countries are trying to join the European Union, many treaties in Europe that is the Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties do not acknowledge NATO, and this puts a question on what role it has today. This is because “NATO stands s both an impediment and an intimidation to Europe’s future” (Meyer 4). Its relevance as an organization for peace has declined overtime. Furthermore, the shift in philosophies as well as interests between the U.S and Europe may not allow the alliance to survive. Many issues such as military power, environmental budget pose a major threat in the organizations as members have divergent opinions.

Kosovo war

In Kosovo, NATO responded to the crisis in a bid to bring peace and avoid war spreading to the neighboring countries such as Albanian and the then Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. War strikes were ordered against Kosovo to force Milosevic to withdraw forces and agree to cooperate to restore peace. However, after further consultations the air strike was halted, as this would result to more suffering of innocent citizens. In addition, NATO played a role in bringing peace in Herzegovina and Bosnia. This was done through the deployment of NATO troops during the wartime. However, the responsibility was later left in the hands of the European Union and this may lead one to question whether NATO is still relevant today as other organizations do the same role, it does (“NATO in Bosnia and Herzegovina” 1). On the contrary, NATO’s intervention in war often caused more harm to the citizens than good and a good case was NATO’s air strike in Belgrade Yugoslavia that killed three Chinese workers in an embassy after they made a mistake the building for the Yugoslavia bureau of supplies (Mandlebaum 3-5).

NATO and United Nation’s Security Council

The United Nations Security Council works with the NATO in trying to bring world peace, which is its main objective. However, NATO has to seek its approval before taking any military action in a country.

NATO’s response to 9/11

NATO responded to the 9/11 attacks in the united states by sending troops to Afghanistan to fight terrorism in support of the country as the agreement of NATO states.

This was done in attempt to try to tackle the terrorists’ organizations – the Taliban and al-Qaida. The threat posed by terrorism led NATO to cooperate with Russia, as there was a realization that they faced a common threat (Robertson 1).

Realist paradigm

Looking at NATO through a realist paradigm one can see why it was formed. It was formed to maintain the sovereignty of the member states by protecting them against attacks by outside aggressors. In the realist paradigm, preservation of state is very important as people like to protect things they are familiar with just like a prized possession. Furthermore, times may have changed but the world has not. The same reasons that led to the conflicts in the past still exist. The states have to defend their territory against attacks from powerful nations (International Relations 1).

Classical Realism

In classical realism, states always seek power. They will always seek to increase it and at the same time decrease that of their enemies. This is because of greed and insecurity. Nations that are powerful often have rivalry and this is happening between American and Europe as wells as between upcoming world economies like China and Japan. However, trying to defeat an enemy does not always end in war especially if the countries have equal strength as winning would be hard (Newmann 1). This rivalry can be seen in the relationship between Russia and America today (Meyer 5).


Furthermore, the behavior of states can be explained using the theory of neo-realism. It states that the rivalries evident between nations are because of the international system. This means that there is no central government to protect the states thus each must look out for its interest. This may be reason why Iran behaves the way it does as it tries to gain control of the Middle East. Nonetheless, countries fear each other and this restricts them from going to war. They would rather concentrate on making themselves secure with the resources available. This factor makes NATO unattractive because countries are expected to contribute towards it. Emerging countries have more issues to deal with than spend money on NATO (Meyer 6).

Hegemonic stability theory

The united state nation for a long time has been the hegemonic leader of the world. It is a powerful nation and is considered a sole superpower. It takes it as its role to prefect the world (Meyer 4). This has made many nations to be at logger heads with the U.S as it tries it impose its will on them. Its unilateralism has been challenged and it should change is tactic because it would be difficult to be leader if no follower (Drenzer 1) The hegemonic stability theory often puts the superpower in positions that are difficult and president Barak has said that the USA cannot solve the world’s problems alone as it has its own and therefore needs the cooperation of other nations.


Finally, NATO has to stop relying on policy that is outdated in its operations. If must work on the present threats especially terrorism which is beyond the threat of power shift between nations. The alliance seems to have outlived its usefulness as Meyer posits in his discussion and had become a “carcass of dead policies” (Meyer 1). The issues rocking states today need a fresh approach, which NATO does not bring to the table. The only way for the alliance to remain relevant and command, the authority it had before is by considering policies that make very unattractive and an impediment to development of its member states.

Works Cited

Cuban Missile Crisis. n.d. Web.

Consensus Decision Making at NATO. 2010. Web.

Drezner, Daniel W. The Cost of Being the Default Superpower. 2010. Web.

International Relations. n.d. Web.

Mandelbaum, Michael. “A Perfect Failure:NATO’s war against Yugoslavia.” Foreign Affairs 78. 5 (1999): 2-6.

Meyer, Steven. Carcass of Dead Policies: The Irrelevance of NATO. 2003. Web.

NATO’s Relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. n.d. Web.

Robertson, Lord. 2003. Transforming NATO. Web.

Schefer, Jaap de Hoop. Reflections on Riga Summit. Web.

Suez Crisis. 2010.Web.

Vike-Freiberga, Vaira. Reflecting in Riga. n.d. Web.