What is NATO and Why Do They Have Summits?

What is NATO?
It gets mentioned in the news and in history books often, but just what is NATO?

What is NATO?

NATO is an acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also known as the North Atlantic Alliance. This group forms an essential intergovernmental military alliance between 29 countries. Three of these countries are a part of the five official nuclear weapon states.

The North Atlantic Alliance is based around a principle of mutual defense in cases of any outside party attacking any member of the alliance. In theory, any attack on one of the member states is considered an attack on all of the member states. If such an attack occurs, all states are asked to participate in the retaliation and to provide armed forces if it is necessary.

This aspect of the treaty has only once come into play, and this was following the September 11th attacks in New York City. After this attack, troops of all countries were deployed to Afghanistan under the command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO led organization.

While 31 countries make up NATO, an additional 19 countries partake in a leg of NATO, the Partnership for Peace Program. This program, formally launched in 1994, aims to create a trust between NATO and other states in both Europe and the former Soviet Union.

NATO’s History

The alliance was originally formed on April 4, 1949, with 12 participating countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The group has since acquired 17 more countries, the newest being Montenegro, who joined in June of 2017.

The original group was founded in the aftermath of World War II in order to help counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The goal of the alliance was to secure peace in Europe and to promote cooperation among the militaries of the member states.

The treaty not only ensures the peaceful resolution of disputes and mutual defense, but it also creates opportunities for a unique dialogue to exist among the member countries, despite their many differences.

Every 1-2 years, a NATO summit is held in an effort to strengthen the bond between member states, and to discuss issues facing the global geopolitical scene.

Why Do They Have Summits?

Major meetings between world leaders, like the one NATO holds each year, are often called summits. The word “summit” is most often used to describe the highest point of a hill or mountain, so how did the term also come to apply to political meetings? We have Winston Churchill to thank for that.

It was Churchill who coined the idea of a “summit” in 1950, while he was out of office. When thinking back on old war conferences, he said, “It is not easy to see how things can be worsened by a parley at the summit if such a thing were possible.”

At the time, much of the public was fascinated by Mount Everest expeditions, and his usage of the word seemed to resonate with others. Today, you often hear about summits taking place between leaders throughout the world.

NATO Member List

North Macedonia
United Kingdom
United States

NATO Today

Today, NATO’s headquarters are located in Brussels, Belgium. The group’s Security General is Jens Stoltenberg of Norway. The group has survived over the years with the shared goal of ensuring peace and mutual defense among member countries. Leaders of all NATO countries continue to work diligently to find ways to continue this long-standing alliance as the cultural attitudes and ideas of the world shift in the 21st century.