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America and the North Atlantic Alliance

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 1998 – The United States has always played a major role in NATO, a bulwark of international defense cooperation for nearly half a century.

Since NATO's inception, American service members have worked side-by-side with allied counterparts, manning divisive borders during the Cold War, improving interoperability through multinational training exercises, and more recently, enforcing peace in the troubled Balkans.

At present, nearly 7,000 U.S. troops serve as part of the NATO- led stabilization force in Bosnia. American units, more than 20,000 strong, took the lead when NATO's peace implementation force first crossed the Sava River into Bosnia more than three years ago. In all, thousands of Americans have served up to three six-month tours in the land victimized by ethnic strife. American forces may soon help end the fighting in another Balkan hot spot -- Kosovo.

The United Nations and NATO now agree the crisis in Kosovo threatens regional stability. If NATO determines military action is necessary to end the fighting, all NATO members will contribute military assets. Today, as in 1949, collective defense remains at the heart of NATO's Article V security pledge. It's all for one and one for all when it comes to defending member nations' territory and interests.

Founded in the aftermath of World War II, the alliance is committed to mutual defense. Having withstood Hitler's aggression, 12 Western European and North Atlantic nations created a new partnership. The allies aimed to defend their countries' freedom and independence from future foes. They recognized that the end of World War II did not mean the end of threats to their security.

Unlike the United States and other nations that cut military forces after the armistice, the Soviet Union maintained full military might. Soviet forces blockaded Berlin and later invaded Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

In the Central and Eastern European countries under their control, Soviet leaders repressed democracy, freedom and civil rights. The Soviets' aggressive expansion policy led to what became known as the Cold War. It also served as the impetus for the Brussels Treaty of March 1948.

To counter the Soviet threat, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom agreed to develop a common defense system. The treaty's goal was to strengthen international ties to resist ideological, political and military threats to their common security.

A year later, the United States and Canada agreed to form a North Atlantic alliance with the five European nations. Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway and Portugal were also invited to participate. The 12 new allies signed the Treaty of Washington in April 1949, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was born.

Greece and Turkey joined NATO in 1952, followed by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982.

As NATO evolves to meet the new challenges ahead, many more nations may join NATO's security circle. To date, 27 nations have joined NATO's Partnership for Peace, a first step on the way to alliance membership.

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