NATO flag

NATO flag

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded in 1949, in the early years of the Cold War, as a collective defense institution, as defined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The essence of the NATO Treaty is found in Article 5, which declares that an attack against any member of the alliance shall be considered an attack against them all, and that they may then decide to take collective action, including the use of force, in their defense against the act of aggression.

Cold War strategy

NATO’s strategy and tactics were geared to the assumption that a European conflict would involve a threat, or actual military attack, by the Soviet bloc upon one or more members of the alliance.

Post Cold War changes

With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, NATO remained after 1991 the only significant multilateral military organization in Europe. Since then, NATO has reconfigured itself to meet the demands of the new security situation in Europe.

NATO’s major transformation has been visible in the following areas:

  • Partnership-for-peace (PfP)
  • Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC)
  • Peacekeeping and peace enforcement
  • Expansion to 28 members, including former Warsaw Pact members
  • NATO – Russia Council
Current strengths

NATO has used PfP and the EAPC to assist transformations in the former communist states, and has included contingents from them alongside NATO forces in peacekeeping and enforcement roles in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Overlap with OSCE

With the entry of Albania and Croatia into NATO on April 1, 2009, NATO has 28 member states, which are also participating states in the OSCE. Therefore, half of the OSCE participating States are also NATO members. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has also been invited to join NATO after a solution is found to a dispute with Greece over its name. Moreover, 49 countries, all OSCE participating states, participate in NATO’s North Atlantic Partnership Council, embracing a wide range of cooperative activities between NATO’s full members and other states in the region.

NATO’s major functions do not overlap with the OSCE’s. NATO is a defensive organization with significant military capability. The OSCE has no military forces of its own except those that can be made available by participating states or military organizations in which they participate, such as NATO and to a far lesser degree, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

When matters go beyond preventive diplomacy, peaceful resolution of disputes, and cooperative security, it will be necessary to call for military forces with capability such as those provided by NATO. The fact, however, that NATO is both a military organization and one that excludes certain key states (such as Russia) from its central decision-making institutions means that many political functions in enhancing security and cooperation cannot be performed by NATO, at least not as easily as they can be performed by the OSCE. At the same time, Russia does have a special consultative relationship with NATO, defined in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security. In 2002, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., this relationship was further institutionalized through creation of the NATO-Russia Council.

NATO relations with Russia have become strained in recent years in part due to plans to include former Soviet republics bordering Russia, and the Bush Administration’s decision to deploy components of a new missile defense program in Poland and the Czech Republic. The decision taken by the Obama administration in September 2009 to substantially modify the missile defense program was met with a positive response from Russia, and it led to new initiatives by NATO to enhance cooperation between NATO and Russia in defending against a potential threat from Iran.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Missions like the recent one in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) represent a model for institutional cooperation that may be emulated elsewhere. NATO took the lead in bringing the war to an end in 1995. The OSCE, along with the High Representative of the international community (effectively of the European Union), then assumed a lead role in virtually all political and arms control measures, while NATO held responsibility for peace enforcement.

NATO’s military forces are best used for military missions, rather than to run elections, promote human rights, assure freedom of the media, assist in the repatriation of refugees, or engage in many of the other activities eventually undertaken by the OSCE Mission in BiH. The OSCE presence, therefore, served a useful division of labor and contributed to improvement in the political conditions that necessitated IFOR (Intervention Force)/SFOR (Stabilization Force) deployment in the first place. At the same time, given the tensions and insecurity that existed in BiH after the war, it would have been impossible for unarmed OSCE mission officers to fulfill their mandate without the security provided by IFOR/SFOR troops.

The joint missions in BiH illustrate effectively the principle that peace and security can be built best when institutions each specialize in doing what they can do most effectively, dividing the labor among themselves, and cooperating to assure that all essential tasks are fulfilled with a minimum of overlap and duplication of effort.

NATO turned its peacekeeping mission in BiH over to the European Union’s EUFOR in December 2004, leading to the withdrawal of virtually all U.S. troops stationed in BiH since 1995. NATO continues to maintain a presence in BiH through a Military Liaison and Advisory Mission (NATO HQ Sarajevo) to assist with defense reform.