What is NATO? What does N.A.T.O. stand for, member states, map of countries - are Ukraine and Russia involved?

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The organisation existed since the end of the second world war - but who is in the group and what exactly do they do?

NATO is has been at the centre of world politics since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

From mounting a unified response to the war, to potentially welcoming new members into its ranks, NATO has had a busy few months.

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Sweden and Finland are the latest nations to make progress in joining the group, with General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg saying that he is aiming to have the two countries admitted as full members “soon”.

Full membership looks to be on the horizon soon, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan withdrew is veto against the move.

Ukraine has also been pushing for membership, but the current conflict in the country has put the membership in a precarious position.

But what exactly is the purpose of NATO and which countries are a member?

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What is NATO?

NATO stand for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and was established in the aftermath of World War Two.

The origins of the organisation trace back to March 1947, when France and the United Kingdom signed the ‘Treaty of Dunkirk’ to create an alliance in the event that Germany of the Soviet Union attack.

This treaty was expanded over the next few years, eventually encompassing more countries in the North Atlantic Treaty - also known as the Washington Treaty - which was signed in April 1949.

The purpose of the organisation is that of a collective security to its member states.

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This means that if a member state is threatened by an external country, a mutual defense will be given in response.

NATO has intervened in conflicts such as that seen in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo and Libya.

Which countries are in NATO?

There are currently 30 member states of NATO, with 3 aspiring states.

The 12 founding states, who signed the initial 1949 treaty, are:

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  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal

Greece and Turkey joined the alliance in 1952, with Spain joining in 1982.

West Germany joined in 1955, with East Germany assimilating into the alliance upon the reunification of Germany in 1990.

Since 1997, NATO has expanded further east to include more countries such as:

  • Hungary
  • Czech Republic
  • Poland
  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Romania
  • Slovenia
  • Albania
  • Croatia
(Credit: Mark Hall/JPIMedia) (Credit: Mark Hall/JPIMedia)
(Credit: Mark Hall/JPIMedia) | JPIMedia

The most recent additions to the alliance are Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020.

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The three countries who are currently classed as ‘aspiring members’ are Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine.

While countries are only given Article 5 collective security assurances once full membership has been given, the US has said it is “ready to provide various forms of security assurances” to the two countries due to the threat of Russian retaliation during their application process.

NATO currently allows any country to join its ranks, with the group saying that they have an “open door policy”.

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The groups states on their website: “Any European country in a position to further the principles of the Washington Treaty and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area can become a member of the Alliance at the invitation of the North Atlantic Council.

“Countries aspiring for NATO membership are also expected to meet certain political, economic and military goals in order to ensure that they will become contributors to Alliance security as well as beneficiaries of it.”

Who is the leader of NATO?

The NATO organisation is headed by former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, who took up the role of Secretary General in 2014.

Admiral Rob Bauer of the Royal Netherlands Navy serves at the Chairman of the Nato Military Committee.

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The alliance’s headquarters are based in Brussels, Belgium.

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