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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

What is NATO?


NATO is a political and military alliance of 28 North American and European countries, bound by shared democratic values, that have joined together to best pursue security and defense. In addition to the United States, the other NATO Allies are Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. The principle of collective defense is at the heart of NATO and is enshrined in Article 5 of the Alliance’s founding Washington Treaty, which asserts that an attack on one Ally is to be considered an attack on all. NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the first time in its history following the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

Founded in 1949, NATO played a unique role in maintaining stability and security in the trans-Atlantic area during the Cold War. Since the end of the Cold War the Alliance has transformed itself to meet the security challenges of the new century, continuing with adoption of a new NATO Strategic Concept at the Lisbon NATO Summit in 2010. Today, NATO’s operations include leading the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan, ensuring a safe and secure environment in Kosovo through the KFOR mission, and contributing to international counter-piracy efforts off the Horn of Africa through Operation Ocean Shield. In 2011, NATO successfully carried out the UN-mandated mission in Libya to protect civilians, enforce a no-fly zone, and enforce a maritime arms embargo. NATO has also provided airlift and sealift support to the African Union (AU) missions in Somalia and Sudan, has engaged in a number of humanitarian relief operations in recent years, including delivery of over 100 tons of supplies from Europe to the United States following Hurricane Katrina, and leads the counterterrorism Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean Sea.

Recognizing that the security challenges Allies face often emerge beyond Europe, NATO has become the hub of a global security network, establishing partnerships with over thirty countries. These ties provide opportunities for practical military cooperation and political dialogue. Partners have contributed significantly to NATO operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, and Libya.


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