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UK and NATO

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UK and NATO

What is NATO? What does it do, and how has Britain contributed to it? An organisation that remains integral to the balance of geopolitics, NATO is an institution that was formed after World War II and has an enduring legacy that continues today.

NATO Stands For...

UK and NATO NATO logo StudySmarterNATO logo, Wikimedia CommonsAfter World War II, North American and European countries created the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to deal with the perceived threat of the Soviet Union, whose armies were stationed in Central to Eastern Europe along the "Iron Curtain". The founding members were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the USA.

Not only did NATO bring United States funding to Europe to compete on a military level with the Soviet Union, but the Treaty also had some key articles which have endured in their importance.

  • Article 5 stated that an armed attack against one NATO country represented an attack against all countries. Thus, NATO's armies would offer military protection to members.
  • Article 6 clarified that an armed attack would constitute NATO territory OR in any area of Europe if NATO occupation forces are provoked.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

- Winston Churchill on 5 March 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton

History of NATO

NATO emerged as an organisation as a result of the Soviet threat in Europe. Here we will look at its origins and some key events in its history before examining the role of the UK in the Treaty.

Year Event
1947
  • Britain and France sign the Treaty of Dunkirk to demonstrate their commitment to an alliance against German or Soviet aggression.
1948
  • March: This alliance is expanded to include Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in what was known as the Treaty of Brussels.
  • June: Soviet leader Joseph Stalin cut off transport links and supplies to the areas of Berlin controlled by Britain, France and the United States. Berlin could only be accessed by air, and keeping supplies up cost the United States $350 million and Britain £17 million. This was known as the "Berlin Blockade" and lasted until May 1949. The Cold War had truly begun.
1949
  • Amidst acknowledgement that the devolved European armies would struggle against the military might of the Soviet Union, they began lobbying the United States and President Truman signed the NATO Treaty with European countries in April. In January, the US and Canada had already drawn up the Treaty to fight communism in Korea. NATO coordinated its forces and was actively involved in the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 and 1953.
1955
  • NATO offered membership to West Germany which infuriated the Soviet Union as they were refused membership the previous year. This led to the creation of the Warsaw Pact between the Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania.
1957
  • At the height of the Arms Race and Cold War rhetoric between the United States and the Soviet Union, troops from NATO countries carried out a series of military exercises in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic Sea to demonstrate their might and simulate different theatres of war.
1966
  • France withdrew their military involvement with NATO but continues to provide financial commitments to the organisation.
1991
  • The Soviet Union collapsed, and the Cold War ended, meaning that NATO now had other priorities as the Warsaw Pact had dissolved too.
Since 1997
  • Gradually, ex-members of the Warsaw Pact and Communist bloc have been joining NATO. These include Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
2003
  • NATO embarked on its biggest military operation to date in Afghanistan. It lasted almost 20 years.

Whilst it may be easy to view the Warsaw Pact as the Soviet or communist equivalent of NATO, it is important to note some key differences. The Soviet Union had far greater control of their organisation, and its commanders were largely in senior positions. Besides, NATO had a policy of nuclear sharing in different strategic locations of their territories. The Warsaw Pact did not favour this. Whilst the United States was the key player in NATO, a number of other countries played a significant role, including Britain.

UK NATO Contribution

From the inception of NATO to the present day, the UK has remained steadfast and unwavering in its commitment to the NATO alliance. It has provided active participation in hours of need and also negotiated difficult moments, most notably the Suez Canal Crisis. Let's examine some different ways that the UK has helped and taken part in the activities of NATO.

Key Figures

Ernest Bevin

UK and NATO Ernest Bevin StudySmarterErnest Bevin, Wikimedia Commons

Ernest Bevin was Foreign Secretary of Britain in the immediate aftermath of World War II. He was instrumental in the Treaty of Brussels, which acted as a statement of intent to the United States that strong alliances needed to be forged in the face of the Soviet Union. With the French government in disarray in 1948, it was Bevin who carried the torch to the North American countries and strongly advocated their military aid. A compromise was reached with President Truman, with the addition of Article 5 providing adequate protection to Europe. Such was the role of the UK in brokering the Treaty that the first headquarters of the organisation was in London.

Bernard Law Montgomery

UK and NATO Bernard Law Montgomery StudySmarterBernard Law Montgomery, Wikimedia Commons

As we have already noted, the Soviet Union dominated the major roles within the Warsaw Pact. This was not the case in NATO as exemplified by Field Marshal Montgomery, who became NATO's first Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for Europe. Working under Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower of the United States, "Monty" was a decorated war veteran of World War II. He was known for his pragmatic and calculated approach and held the post from 1951 to 1958.

Lord Ismay

Lord Ismay, Wikimedia CommonsLord Ismay was the first Security General of NATO in 1952. Once the headquarters of NATO had been moved to Paris, the alliance determined that a British man should hold this new position. He was instrumental in the administration of the organisation and the fostering of public support in the participating countries. After retiring in 1957, his enduring legacy can be recognised in the four-compass point logo that he left behind. He also oversaw the famous "caravan of peace" that toured the UK and educated the public about different countries involved in the alliance.

Lord Carrington

UK and NATO Gorbachev and Reagan sign INF Treaty StudySmarterMikhail Gorbachev(left) and Ronald Reagan signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty in 1987, Wikimedia CommonsAnother important British figure in NATO was Lord Carrington. He served as the sixth Secretary-General from 1984 to 1988 and the final British one of the Cold War. He helped emphasise the importance of communication with the Soviet Union to President Reagan and encouraged him to sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. This was vital in diminishing the nuclear threat in Europe that had lingered for decades.

Military Contribution

Britain routinely contributes troops to different NATO missions around the world. Their first significant land contribution in Europe was in West Germany. The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) stood as protection for Western Europe from Soviet aggression from 1949, with around 55,000 troops stationed near the "Iron Curtain". Under NATO command from 1952, they remained active until 1992, on effective standby should they be required. In 1984, Exercise Lionheart saw 130,000 troops descend on the region to test their battle routines amid escalating Cold War tensions.

In addition, Britain has provided some key sites with a variety of different purposes for NATO. Their first central location was in London, but this was later moved to France and then Belgium. The most important of these which is currently functioning is at Northwood in London, which has been used since 1953 and serves as the headquarters for NATO's maritime operations. Communication depots in Scotland (Argyll and Bute) make Britain one of the eight countries where NATO has such offices. Lastly, since 1954 Britain has deployed NATO nuclear weapons on its territory.

Financial Contribution

NATO targets spending of 2% of a member state's GDP a year to help contribute to defence, ranging from operations to troops and other costs. The UK routinely meets this target and has actually increased its contribution from 2% in 2015 to 2.25% by 20211. It is important to consider that the target is not compulsory, though it does act as a show of commitment to the organisation. Other countries such as France regularly fall below this target. In fact, only eight of the 30 member states met this total in 2021. This may dramatically change in 2022 with the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

UK and NATO after Brexit

The Brexit vote has left some confusion about the future role of the UK in NATO. The European Union (EU) has its own defence organisation, the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), but NATO's operations regularly carry out missions on its behalf due to the financial and organisational muscle that it possesses. It is predicted that London may find itself in an isolated position, needing to provide more aid to maintain influence within NATO.

We can already see the increase from 2015 (pre-Brexit) to 2021. The issue is that Britain is no longer in the EU decision-making process, where it was previously a key player. France and Germany are keen to fill this vacuum. Furthermore, as NATO funding is dominated by the United States, there may be little substance in Theresa May's "Global Britain" suggestion unless it contributes an even greater percentage of its GDP to show its commitment.

Expert on Britain in NATO and the EU

We should intensify bilateral cooperation and work in small groups with EU and NATO members... we shall need to put forward attractive proposals for how we want to work formally with the EU as a whole: by linking our policy on sanctions to theirs; by settling our participation in police collaboration; by keeping operational military cooperation active; by participating in EU military operations and defence procurement."

- Simon Fraser, former permanent secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office , "What will Britain's role be now?"2

As an extension of NATO when it comes to defence, it is vital that Britain continue to keep close ties with the EU to avoid isolation. This needs to be done through action and not words for the country to continue to be relevant on a global stage.

UK and NATO - Key takeaways

  • The UK was a founding member of NATO in 1949, with Ernest Bevin a vital cog in the original alliance.
  • NATO has provided European and international security. Britain was particularly active in West Germany, with an army stationed there during the Cold War to prevent Soviet aggression.
  • British officials have held important posts in NATO, ranging from Field Marshall Montgomery to Lord Ismay and Lord Carrington.
  • The UK provides 2.25% of its GDP to NATO; this is over the requested threshold.
  • Since Brexit, it is suggested that due to being isolated by the EU, the UK may seek to play a greater role within NATO to continue to be involved in the global conversation.

References

  1. Esme Kirk Wilde, "UK defence expenditure", House of Commons Library. (2022)
  2. Simon Fraser, "What will Britain's role be now?", The World Today, Royal Institute of International Affairs. Vol. 73 No. 6 (32-33) (2017)

Frequently Asked Questions about UK and NATO

Britain joined NATO when it was established in 1949.

A key player and contributor to NATO, Britain has contributed by providing troops, holding office posts and providing money.

In the response to the Soviet threats to European security, Britain joined NATO to form a union with the United States to strengthen the position of Western Europe.

Yes, Britain is still part of NATO though her future role in the organisation remains unclear after Brexit.

Final UK and NATO Quiz

Question

Which country was NOT a founding member of NATO?

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Answer

West Germany

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Question

Which event in 1948 accelerated the need for the alliance?

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Answer

The Berlin Blockade

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Question

What does NATO stand for?

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Answer

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

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Question

What is NATO's logo?

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Answer

A compass

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Question

What did Article 5 state?

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Answer

An armed attack on one NATO country would trigger NATO military intervention.

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Question

Which of the following was NOT a reason why the Soviet Union sought to create the Warsaw Pact?

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Answer

To protect the countries near them from Allied bombing

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Question

Who withdrew their military commitments to NATO in 1966?

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Answer

France

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Question

What is NATO's biggest military mission to date?

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Answer

Afghanistan

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Question

Where was the first NATO headquarters?

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Answer

London

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Question

Who was the first Supreme Allied Commander of NATO?

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Answer

Dwight Eisenhower

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Question

What was the name of the NATO caravan that toured the UK?

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Answer

The caravan of peace

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Question

Who was not involved in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987?

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Answer

Lord Ismay

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Question

What did the BAOR do?

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Answer

Protect West Germany and Western Europe from Soviet attacks during the Cold War.

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Question

Where are the headquarters of NATO's maritime operations?

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Answer

Northwood

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Question

What has the UK done since Brexit?

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Answer

Increased the percentage contribution of its GDP to NATO to 2.25%.

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Question

What do experts predict could be the result of Brexit for the UK and NATO?

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Answer

The UK will rely more on NATO because it will be isolated by the EU.

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Question

Which former Warsaw Pact country has NOT joined NATO?

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Answer

Belarus

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