Adapting to a New Era NATO Throughout History

Halil Serdar RECEPOĞLU

The North Atlantic Organization (NATO) stands as one of most significant security alliances in modern history. Since its establishment, aftermath of the World War II. Since it’s initiation, the organization has been playing a keystone role on maintaining security on its geopolitical landscape of the post-World War II era Europe. NATO has participated in many challenges of internal and external disputes, threats throughout its history. Ensuring the Western Europe’s safety against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, but these were soon to be changed. Within the changes in the global political scene and developments in the international relations have led NATO to readjust themselves challenges and the actions NATO took and faced has also shifted as the world changed, causing the organization to readjust their agenda to keep maintaining security and peace amongst their members. 

To understand the position NATO holds in today’s world we will examine the history of NATO and focusing on the issues they faced external and internal like the Soviet oppression, the Cold War phase, post-Soviet era, addition of new members to alliance and the current issues like the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, China’s growing influence in the southeast Asia or the new challenges awaiting the Organization like the cyberwarfare’s share in today’s wars or the usage of the nuclear weapons. Also, the structure of NATO how each member plays a role on decision takings or the internal disputes the Organization has faced over the years and yet still standing while their equivalent Eastern bloc organizations have collapsed.

Starting with where it all became a foundation that still holds, Post World War II era. After the second World War the Europe was heavily wounded after a war with a need of a new start that would shape today’s European union. Such a wound was open to shape itself in any forwarding influence either by their own or the occupiers which the Soviet Union was a possibility as they were the closest to Europe with an expansion intention. The Western allies weren’t in favor of such possibility. The western allies and the Soviet Union may have fought under the same goal defeating the rapidly growing Nazi Germany which they have achieved but after the war there was no more common goal. On top of that as both sides were not on the same ideological and political views. Both sides tried to shape the Europe under their own terms and ideas the biggest example of ideal western allied Europe and soviet Europe is the Germany before unification of the west and east by the fall of the berlin wall. As World War being over and a defeated Nazi Germany leaving the nation without a form of government. Nation was divided into four occupation zones each controlled by one of the allies (United Kingdom (northwest), United States (south), France (southwest), on the western half, Soviet Union on the Eastern half. After the 1948 the French, British and the American zones united, forming the West Germany after the soviets rejected to end their occupation) A nation with two different forms under same borders with people of the same nation were divided. Even after the Unification of the Germany in today the difference between west and east can still be seen in Germany after decades. Alliance was initially formed after the war. The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by the twelve nations (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the United States). Having the position of being the founding members of the defense organization. A groundwork for the organization was set where an attack on one member would be treated as an attack on all. This act also known as ‘’Article 5’’ remains the core of NATO’s commitment to this day. The early years of the alliance was focused on establishing military capabilities and creating command structure. As all member nations had different military infrastructure culture and ranking system. Common structure was in need. Task was not without difficulties as members whose wounds still bleeding from the war was difficult to adjust their military forces to one standard. This need of such standard paved the road to creation of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). With the establishment of such command in the Western European armed forces were integrated into a standardized defensive structure and had the capabilities to adjust strategic doctrines to effectively spot potential enemies. The Korean War indicated the importance of NATO’s commitment. NATO’s first Secretary General, Lord Ismay has quoted ‘’Keep Soviet Union out, the American’s in, and the Germans down.’’ Stating the dynamics of NATO and the aim of the Organization to value who as possible threat and who to keep eye on. 

Within the Establishment of the NATO and the end of the second World War the two main powers of the world were left together which ignited the Cold War period. Cold War brought NATO into sharp focus and crucial bulwark as the Organizations primary defense against the Warsaw Pact, the military alliance of the Soviet countries. During this period NATO’s ‘’Open Door Policy’’ has shown expansion of the Organization joining of Turkey (1952), Greece (1952), West Germany (1955) and the Spain (1982). During the Cold War phase addition of nations like Turkey and Greece play important role for The Alliance as referred by NATO the southern flank of NATO Turkey and Greece having crucial role in Alliances defense on eastern side both sides individually or operating in exercises have combated security threats. Turkey being a cornerstone of the Organization as being located between the Europe and Asia allowing strategic placements on Caucasus, the middle east, The Central Asia. This advantage allows Turkey to addressing and fight against regional problems like terrorism a key element for the NATO. Turkey’s control over the Bosporus and the Dardanelles straight which connects Black Sea to Mediterranean Sea this gives Turkey important role in regulating maritime access. For Spain a referendum was held, and the majority was in favor of the NATO alliance. West Germany on the other hand had a difficult process of being a part of NATO. The allied forces decided to stop their occupation in West Germany under the Bonn-Paris conventions under the condition of the new Federal German Republic would join NATO. This raised questions as after the war Germany was unarmed, joining NATO would rearm the German Republic. On the other hand, the other side the Soviets weren’t in favor of this choice they have offered a natural but united Germany, this offer was rejected by the allies. West Germany’s membership to NATO was completed in the year 1955. Month after Soviet Union established their own security defense alliance called the Warsaw-Pact, Soviet’s response to West Germany becoming a NATO ally. 

During the Cold War Phase external issues weren’t the only threat posed against the NATO. As the alliance gained members and new agendas started to rise like the further integration of military units or the usage of nuclear weapons and the possible warfare. NATO started to experience strains of disputes internally. France was one of the first members to be part of internal disputes as France had concerns about NATO’s structure being dominated by United States. Additionally, the nuclear integrations and the general military integrations to NATO structure was against the French independent military policies in those years. Furthermore, France had made proposals of power share in NATO, but these proposals were rejected by the United States and United Kingdom. By the time of 1966 the French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew from NATO removing the NATO headquarters and bases from France. Despite France withdrawing from the alliance, they remained in the alliance and participated in NATO’s political and diplomatic activities. In the year 2009 France reintegrated to NATO. Few decades later Greece left the withdrew their forces from alliance during Cyprus Crisis in the year 1974 pulling their units from Southern Mediterranean Sea due to Turkish threat to Cyprus Island another NATO member. When the invasion by the Turkish Forces to Cyprus happened Greece fully withdrew from the NATO. In the 1980 Greece rejoined the alliance with diplomatic aid of Turkey and the United States. Additionally, there was criticism to warded to NATO as the Vietnam War raised. European Members of the alliance opposing against the US policies in the Vietnam war and overall, Asia. Political difficulties aside NATO has faced financial disputes internally. Burden-Sharing, a policy making every member contribute to organization financially, military, diplomatic and geographical commitment. Requiring each member nation to spend 2% of their GDP on defense. This became a contentious issue as some nations couldn’t meet the required demand and repeatably failing short of their agreements. Still the organization pursued on adapting to such difficulties on diplomatic and political matters.

With the year 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, unifying the West Germany and East Germany to Federal Republic of Germany. This opening to elections being held and communist regimes losing their influence in Eastern Europe. In late 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed. Dissolving into separate republics. With such developments the ‘’Iron Curtain’’ was lifted. This ended the Cold War era, Soviet Union once being the one and only threat posing against NATO was no more. Now NATO had new opportunities and challenges ahead. The Organization had the chance to expanding its membership to include former Warsaw Pact and former Soviet Republic which adapted the NATO to new changing world. Czechia, Hungary, Poland became NATO members in 1999. 

New members aside new conflicts raised with the fall of Soviet Union Disputes in Yugoslavia resulting into a war, which was a crucial test for NATO to take form of action. NATO forces were engaged sided with United Nations and United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the war was brutal over religious, ethnic, and political tensions. Peace-keeping missions were taken, and deployment of multinational force known as Implementation Force (IFOR) following with a Stabilization Force (SFOR) to enforce peacekeeping and stabilizing the region. In the late 90’s with tensions in Kosovo between Serbia and Albania NATO has engaged again with Kosovo Force (KFOR) to maintain peace and stability. But with high tensions between the Albanians and Serbian side NATO launched air campaigns against the Serbian forces to prevent attacks to Kosovo. Campaign was criticized by the public as civilians were harmed from the campaign. This operation highlighted NATO’s ability to adapt new security challenges as being NATO’s first large scale military operation with addition of Albania and Croatia as members, but also displayed difference amongst the members in the alliance 

With the arrival of 21st century NATO continues to face and adapt to new rising challenges. The alliance took crucial actions in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers in the United States in 11th of September 2001. First time in its history the article 5 was invoked followed by the terrorist attacks on the United States. The alliance engaged in Afghanistan showing the alliance ability to adapt to new threats. The alliance has also engaged in Iraq following the war in 2003. Primary focus of Military operations were supporting the stabilization of the region and civil, military trainings in the region focusing more on post conflict operations. Within Conflicts the alliance faced new threat like cyberwarfare has become a concern, unlike traditional warfare cyberwarfare does not have a book and rules. As technology developed more the further integration to military and central inelegancy was adapted and now being one of the instruments of military it plays a key role. NATO has taken the matter amongst members with promoting its importance. 

Coming to Current stage of NATO the biggest threat posed to alliance is the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the China’s ongoing growth and influence in Southeast Asia. Russian forces started their invasion on Ukraine on 2022 February. Moscow’s reasons for such operation are variable. Ukraine’s relations and negations with NATO membership or the relations with European Nations can be few. According to Moscow the reason of such invasion is to stop fascist Nazi regime of Ukraine and take back the lands for better Russian Regime. Since the start of the war NATO has been aiding Ukraine with military equipment, personnel training and diplomatic. Summit that was hosted in this July in Vilnius where all NATO members came together to discuss matters. Ukraine’s aiding budget was increased and to maintain presence further NATO has increased the number of troops deployed among neighboring NATO members. With high tensions Mention of nuclear weapons cannot be passed as President Putin Stated the usage of nuclear weapons on Ukraine. Weapon with crucial harm to environment, world peace and humanity .A war with possible expansion and tension has caused neutral nations in Europe has chosen to join NATO. Sweden and Finland have applied which at first was rejected by the Turkey due to Sweden and Finland’s recognition issue and harboring of separatist groups that are listed as terror groups by the Turkish Government. In the Vilnius Summit Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Secretary General of NATO had negotiated and Finland was accepted to NATO while Sweden’s membership is still pending. While focusing on Russia NATO cannot ignore the presence of China. China has been growing silently as economic and military power. As China being referred ‘’the sleeping giant’’ which NATO cannot ignore no more. China has their own passive aggressive actions on Pacific Asia sea borders with claiming inhabited islands and building artificial islands with airbases. China claims to largen their sea territory creating a ‘’maritime territorialization’’. The aggression against Taiwan is another Chinese passive action. Taiwan a nation that claims their sovereignty from the mainland China while China claims it as a part of their own. China with a possible military move against any These threats of China encourage NATO to be closer with their pacific partners like Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

NATO has come a long way from its roots of being a western security pact against the Soviet influence and expansion. With world order reshaping NATO has adapted itself on each shape and now evolved with a wide range of security and members ready to face new challenges. However, the alliance still experiences internal issues which slows down the alliance’s developments. Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s growth and influence in its region, terrorism, cyberwarfare, nuclear warfare threats the alliance faces and adapting. As world continues to change. NATO will adjust themselves effectively on the matter and address the challenges with their determined polices with years to come.


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