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Looking back at NATO’s inception and US-led bloc’s enlargement

On April 4, 1949, twelve states set up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization

MOSCOW, April 4. /TASS/. Seventy-three years ago, on April 4, 1949, 12 states set up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Today, it comprises 30 countries, following eight rounds of its enlargement.

The TASS Factbox editorial board has prepared a material on the history of the military alliance, its enlargement and the position of the USSR/Russia on this issue.

NATO’s establishment

The doctrine of "containing the USSR" announced by US President Harry Truman in March 1947 was one of the pre-requisites for establishing NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). NATO was founded by the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April 4, 1949 in Washington by the foreign ministers of 12 countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States) "to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area."

The Treaty came into force on August 24, 1949 (the day of the deposition of the ratifications of all the signatory states). The document consists of 14 articles defining the nature and the tasks of the military alliance. Article 5 is a cornerstone in the North Atlantic Treaty, pursuant to which an armed attack against one or more of the signatory states is considered "an attack against them all."

Article 10 stipulates that "the Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty."

NATO’s enlargement

NATO’s membership structure changed several times. The first new members, Greece and Turkey, joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on February 18, 1952. West Germany became a NATO member on May 6, 1955 (after Germany’s unification, the military alliance embraced the territory of the former GDR on October 3, 1990). On May 30, 1982, Spain acceded to NATO. As a result, the number of the alliance’s member states grew to 16.

In the early 1990s, due to the end of the Cold War and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the military alliance started to create various mechanisms of consultations with the former member states of the Warsaw Treaty (1955-1991). Thus, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council was established in 1991 (in 1997, it was superseded by the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council).

In 1994, NATO adopted the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program aimed at developing comprehensive interaction between the alliance and non-NATO states. In 1995, the military alliance published a study, which claimed that "there is a unique opportunity" in the new conditions for NATO’s enlargement "to build an improved security architecture in the whole of the Euro-Atlantic area."

NATO’s Madrid summit of July 1997 invited Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to join the alliance. Following this, other countries of the former Communist bloc were invited to accede to NATO. Since the late 1990s, 14 countries have joined NATO: Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic in 1999, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004, Albania and Croatia in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020. Therefore, today NATO comprises 30 member states.

The leaders of the NATO member states announced at their Bucharest summit in April 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia "will become members of NATO."

West’s non-expansion assurances for Soviet leadership

On May 12, 2015, the Russian permanent mission to NATO published an analysis of Russia’s relations with the military alliance titled: "Russia-NATO: Myths and Facts." The study noted that NATO expanded to the east contrary to verbal pledges that Western leaders, in particular, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich-Genscher had given to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 during the talks on Germany’s unification.

On February 18, 2022, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported on archive documents confirming the Western countries’ assurances for the Soviet leadership that NATO would not expand eastward. On February 24, the Russian Foreign Ministry presented a video record of 1990, in which German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and US Secretary of State James Baker said in front of a TV camera that partners from the Soviet Union had received assurances about NATO’s non-expansion to the east.

In this regard, the analysis also mentions the talks between Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and US Secretary of State James Baker on NATO’s non-expansion. In December 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that he had handed over the documents on these meetings to representatives of NATO member states.

Russia’s position on NATO’s expansion

Russia has repeatedly spoken against NATO’s eastward expansion, stating this this process has increased tension in Europe. In the estimate of the Russian military, the accession of new members to NATO reduces the period of the strategic deployment of the alliance’s forces and shortens the time for Russia to put its troops on combat alert. In August 2008, Russia’s then-Permanent Representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin stated that the NATO summit’s decision had actually pushed the Georgian leadership towards military aggression against South Ossetia launched on August 8, 2008.

In 2008, as NATO continued its eastward expansion and the United States pursued the plans of deploying missile shield elements in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia’s then-President Dmitry Medvedev came up with a proposal to conclude a Treaty on European Security that would enshrine the principle of indivisible security. The Treaty was "called upon to reaffirm in a legally binding form that no state or international organization may have exclusive rights to maintain peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region." The proposal found no support among Western states.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a Sochi meeting on the Navy’s development in December 2019: "Today we must proceed from the fact that NATO’s expansion and the development of its military infrastructure near the Russian borders present a potential threat to the security of our country."

President Putin said on December 1, 2021: "In our dialogue with the United States and its allies we will insist on elaborating concrete accords ruling out any of NATO’s further eastward expansions and the deployment of threatening weapon systems in close vicinity to the territory of the Russian Federation." The Russian leader stressed that Russia needed "precisely legally binding guarantees because Western colleagues had failed to honor their verbal commitments" (that NATO would not expand eastward after Germany’s unification).

On December 17, 2021, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a draft agreement on security guarantees between Russia and the United States and a draft agreement on ensuring the security of Russia and NATO member states. In these draft agreements, Russia proposed not considering each other as enemies, showing restraint in conducting military exercises near the borders, giving up military activity in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia and guaranteeing NATO’s refusal to expand eastward and deploy armaments in the countries that joined the military alliance after May 27, 1997 when the Russia-NATO Founding Act was signed.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov reaffirmed Russia’s readiness for a military response, if NATO kept ignoring Russia’s security concerns, specifying that Moscow was seeking to avoid this scenario and was aware of the need to hold a dialogue. However, no major decisions were made in the course of three rounds of consultations with the United States, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in January 2022. On January 26, the United States and NATO handed over to Russia their written replies to Russia’s proposals, in which they rejected the key point of NATO’s non-expansion to the east and the return to the 1997 boundaries.