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NATO 75 years on: What does this mean for the British Army?

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). So, what is NATO and why does it matter to the British Army?

Since its launch on 4th April 1949, NATO, also known as the North Atlantic Alliance, has defended prosperity, peace, and common values for all its member countries.

NATO is one of the most enduring and successful military alliances in history. It has been the cornerstone of the security policy of Britain and much of Europe for 75 years.

Currently comprising 32 member countries, NATO’s fundamental role is to guarantee the freedom and security of these countries by political and military means.

The Secretary General of NATO is Jens Stoltenberg, and the North Atlantic Council is the top political decision-making body within NATO.

As far as military forces go, NATO has very few permanent forces of its own.

Once members agree, by consensus, to engage in an operation, they contribute forces on a voluntary basis.

NATO has an integrated military command structure, allowing the Alliance to implement political decisions that have military implications.

Many countries are also recognised NATO partners, such as Australia, Japan and Ukraine. But partner countries do not have the same decision-making authority as member countries.

The United Kingdom is one of the 12 founding member countries of NATO with our land, sea and air armed forces providing significant contributions to the Alliance over the last three-quarters of a century.

The first NATO headquarters was in London at 13 Belgrave Square. NATO remained in the English capital for two years before moving to Paris. Since 1967, NATO’s headquarters has been in Brussels.

The British Army is proud of its historic and ongoing contributions to collective security through NATO, from humanitarian and counter-piracy activity to current deployments that build relationships with our allies in Europe.

For example, taking place right now, Exercise Steadfast Defender is the largest NATO deployment to Europe in 40 years and is being led by the British Army.

This historic deployment involves over 40,000 NATO personnel, 16,000 of which come from the British Army.

The 11 exercises involved in Exercise Steadfast Defender, spanning from Greece to Norway, demonstrate NATO's unwavering commitment to defend the Alliance’s shared values.

Steadfast Defender will see our joint contribution in eastern Europe working cohesively with allied nations. 75 years after it was founded, NATO is stronger than ever. Defence Secretary Grant Shapps

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“Steadfast Defender will see our joint contribution in eastern Europe working cohesively with allied nations. 75 years after it was founded, NATO is stronger than ever.

“NATO is the cornerstone of our defence. Supporting NATO is therefore a priority for our armed forces. We strive for excellence across all domains, taking part in Steadfast Defender will develop and hone skills in land, sea, air, space, and cyber defence.”

The stability provided by NATO is now more important than ever in an unpredictable world, and the British Army will continue to be a leading member of the Alliance.

Regular exercises with partners across NATO, both in Europe and hosted in the UK, strengthen the links between different armies and provide platforms for future collaboration and cooperation on a range of issues, from defence and security to climate change.

The British Army stands by its collective treaty commitments to protect our shared security.

It remains fully committed to collective defence through NATO and other multinational readiness forces as demonstrated by deployments to the Baltics and many other countries around the world.

NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes.

But if diplomatic efforts fail, it has the power to undertake ‘crisis management’ military operations.

The 1990s saw NATO provide peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo. British troops played a full role in these deployments.

These are carried out under the collective defence clause of NATO’s founding treaty – Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – or under a United Nations mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organisations.

NATO is committed to the principle that an attack against one or several of its members is considered as an attack against all. This is the principle of collective defence, which is enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

So far, Article 5 has only been invoked once – in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001.

Following these attacks, British soldiers served under the NATO mandate in Afghanistan.

The Alliance also deployed to Iraq, forming the NATO Training Mission-Iraq in 2004. This sought to create and train new armed forces for Iraq. British troops helped train Iraqi police and soldiers, while also playing a full part in the wider US-led Multi-National Force Iraq.

But it is not just military support that the British Army provides to NATO.

Our photographers deploy as part of combat camera teams in support of British Army NATO deployments. Their images are often used on the NATO website, demonstrating the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words”.

For instance, a photograph taken at 18,000ft by Cpl Kane, a British Army photographer, was judged the best NATO picture of the year in 2022. The photo captures the moment a member of the British Army Pathfinders jumped into Macedonia as part of Exercise Swift Response 22. 

The British Army’s proud track record supporting and leading NATO operations and exercises show that it is a global force. Our soldiers are persistently engaged around the world, training and operating with our partners across the Alliance. 

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