Just about everyone has heard of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) but very few recall that it was founded in 1948 and enlarged in 1949 to a total of 12 countries bordering the North Atlantic. It was formed because of the perceived threat from Russia following their land blockade of West Berlin which caused the airlift to operate for eight months to ensure the western sector of the city could be supplied with everything necessary to sustain life.
The key criterion of NATO membership was that any armed attack on any member country in Europe and North America would constitute an attack on them all.
All this and much more was explained by Probus member and Basingstoke borough councillor Paul Miller who outlined his personal involvement in this international defence structure over four decades which included the cold war and then the Bosnian and Kosovo difficulties and several other campaigns. As an officer in the RAF and then latterly as a civilian he rose within NATO eventually based at their headquarters in Belgium.
Member countries agree to assign assets in the form of military hardware and personnel to NATO and are managed in all operational roles by NATO staff. As such they have been involved in many conflict zones and incidents during this time many of which have not been reported in the free press.
With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 there was great excitement as other former communist countries threw off the yoke of the old USSR and embraced social change and democracy. However this brought up several concerns – would a unified Germany remain neutral and what would happen to the nuclear weapons held in the old communist countries? It also brought up the question of whether there still existed a future need of NATO but other events only served to confirm that it was indeed still needed.
In fact today the membership has grown to 29 countries. Many newer members of NATO were originally eastern bloc countries that formed the basis of the Warsaw Pact organisation set up by Russia in response to West Germany joining NATO in 1955.
The Balkans crisis starting in 1989 which included the Bosnian and Kosovo campaigns were only as successful as they were due to the cooperation of the former communist countries of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary who allowed their airfields to be used by NATO forces. In return they hoped that it would create a favourable climate to their subsequent applications to join the EC.
It was complicated by the fact that the old Yugoslavia was a member of Eurocontrol which coordinated civilian air traffic which had increased considerably in recent years with tourist expansion on the Dalmation coast. The NATO air forces needed to have surveillance and operational access to this airspace and eventually ran an air campaign over 78 days involving 38,000 sorties which allowed in a multinational peacekeeping force which brought an end to ethnic cleansing.
Today NATO has become a Crisis Management organisation as its forces continue to lead the way in Kosovo, Afghanistan, in the Mediterranean and several other places including Iraq where it is carrying out training of national forces. It is also helping the African Union and in the Gulf of Aden guarding against Somali pirates. NATO is carrying out work on the European migrant crisis and has 20,000 troops in action around Europe and elsewhere.
The United Nations does not recognise NATO, only Nation States but fully appreciates the role played by this military cooperative of North American and European countries in striving to maintain peace in this troublesome world. It does however involve its organisation UNHCR, based in Geneva, to become incorporated with NATO actions in various humanitarian projects.