Door is open for Ireland to join Nato, says military alliance's chief
Nato currently has 28 member states.
Nato: What it's for
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was founded in April 1949 in the aftermath of the second World War, as the cold war between the capitalist West and communist East was tightening its grip on international relations.
Nato is headquartered in Brussels and has 28 member states and 22 associated nations, one of which is Ireland, participating in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme.
PfP is a voluntary association for – mainly but not exclusively – military co-operation and planning, civil emergency planning and disaster relief.
The organisation was opposed by the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance between the Soviet Union and eastern European communist states founded in 1955, after the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was inducted into Nato.
Critics charge that the pact was essentially an instrument of Russian domination of eastern Europe following the second World War.
In 1956, Russian troops invaded Hungary and ousted a liberalising government there; in 1968, pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia for the same purpose.
The pact fell apart following the collapse of communism and ceased existence in 1991. Nato member states were expected to be democracies.
The founding member states of Nato were: the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. They were joined in 1952 by Greece and Turkey, in 1955 by Germany, 1982 by Spain, 1999 by the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Finally, in 2009, Albania and Croatia joined.
In essence, the alliance is a mutual defence organisation whose essential fundamental principle, Article 5 of the establishing treaty, is that an attack on one member state is an attack on all. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US is the only occasion in which Article 5 has been invoked, leading ultimately to the deployment of the Nato-led, United Nations-mandated ISAF, the interim stabilisation force in Afghanistan.
Nato is governed day to day by the North Atlantic Council in Brussels drawn from member states’ permanent representative delegations in Brussels.
The alliance also has a parliamentary tier, the Nato Parliamentary Assembly of 257 delegates from the 28 Nato member countries, and meets twice a year. It sets the broad strategic goals of the alliance.
Nato remains the world’s largest military alliance and accounts for about half of all defence spending.* - PETER MURTAGH
*This article was edited on February 11th 2013 to correct a factual error