After 75 years of mutual defence, NATO eyes an uncertain future

Seventy-five years after it was founded on 4 April 1949 in the wake of World War II, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – better known as NATO – is bigger than ever. But allies worry that a rising current of isolationism in American politics could lead to a drop in financial support from the defence alliance's leader.

NATO was born in 1949 out of growing concern over increasing Soviet control over Eastern Europe.

Against the backdrop of a communist coup in Czechoslovakia and Moscow's blockade against West Berlin, 12 countries in Western Europe and North America – wartime allies the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal – signed the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO's founding document, on 4 April 1949.

The core of the treaty is Article 5, which states that "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all".

That, in turn, triggers the right to individual or collective self-defence.

Effectively, the alliance placed Western Europe under the so-called "nuclear umbrella" of the US, raising the threat of a large-scale nuclear response to any attack.

This – it was assumed – would deter Soviet aggression on the continent.

In response, the USSR created the Warsaw Pact with its satellites Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, and communist allies Romania and Yugoslavia.

France's uneasy NATO membership

France, which hosted NATO for 15 years, always had an uneasy relationship with the alliance.

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