Twenty-five years ago, on April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington.?
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Background: Twenty-five years ago, on April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington. Then, when the Cold War froze East and West in seemingly permanent hostility, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation - NATO - was to provide America and its European allies with a military and political counter to Soviet ambitions.
NATO held advantages for all its signatories. For the Europeans -still rebuilding after the chaos of World War Two - it offered the assurance of American firepower, both conventional and nuclear. For the Americans, the comfort of knowing that if war came, it would be fought away from their shores, in Europe.
It was an ideal - another step in the direction of international co-operation. And, in most respects, it worked well.
Militarily, NATO provided - and still provides - an effective, multi-national response to the continual probings of Soviet power. From the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, a NATO radar screen backed by land, sea and air forces of fifteen nations maintain a round-the-clock watch on Russian military movements.
Politically, however, the dream of international unity has been shattered. The original treaty was to last for twenty years, but long before that, in 1965, the French declared their intention of going it alone. In 1966, they withdrew from the alliance to concentrate on their own political and military aims.
It meant, for one thing, that NATO headquarters had to be moved from Paris to Brussels, where it remains. Of the original signaturies to the Treaty, all except France remain. With Iceland and Turkey admitted in 1952 and West Germany in 1955, there are now fifteen NATO nations.
But the formation of the European Common Market and its enlargement to nine countries - seven of whom are also in NATO - brought a conflict of political aims. And the conflict lies between Europe and the United States.
They came to a head last year, during the Middle East war. The Americans placed their world-wide forces on a full nuclear alert without informing their NATO partners. Later, the Europeans snubbed American attempts to form a united front to the Arab oil producers and made their own arrangements to secure oil supplies. These two moves produced the element of rancour which now sours the NATO alliance.
This year, which was to be President Nixon's Year of Europe, saw the President threaten to withdraw U.S. forces from Europe unless the Europeans were prepared to co-operate more closely. And, although attempts have since been made to patch up differences, NATO's 25th anniversary will be celebrated without the presence of President Nixon, whose trip to Brussels for that purpose is now unlikely to take place.
The Americans currently have 300,000 troops in Europe, out of NATO's total of nearly three millions. They also provide a large part of the 9,000 tanks and 3,400 aircraft currently deployed.
Clearly, NATO with the United States and its overwhelming nuclear potential, would be little more than a token alliance. But, as always in international politics, self-interest will be the determining factor and it remains true that NATO, despite the differences among its members, is the best defensive alliance Europe and America could devise.
On its 25th anniversary, NATO is still intact.