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The Origins of NATO

Host Ray Suarez looks back at NATO’s origin as a counterweight to Soviet military might, and its more recent history in the former Yugoslavia, Libya, and Afghanistan.

Over the past six decades, NATO has held together and grown, but not without its share of controversy and dissent.

In 1949, after two world wars, Europe was in shambles and the communist Soviet Union had become the most powerful military force on the continent. The democracies of Western Europe, fearing for their security, asked the United States to join them in a permanent political alliance. Lawrence Kaplan, a history professor at Georgetown University, says the US was uncertain.

“We did not want to make that kind of obligation, which would indeed have broken with the past. We didn’t want to join a European alliance.”

For over 140 years, the United States had made a principle of avoiding entanglements with foreign powers. But, Kaplan says, “The British and the French were so persistent. So the ‘North Atlantic’ becomes the key term to get away from the notion that this was joining Europe. Europe was joining us in a very specific way.”

US President Harry Truman explained his decision to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, as part of the struggle between communism and democracy known increasingly then as a “Cold War.”

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