1949, the year that NATO was established, was dripping with reminders of the past and signs of the future.
The world was still awakening from the nightmare of the Second World War. Rationing of clothes in the UK, a wartime necessity, came to an end. Berlin, the heart of the Third Reich four years earlier, was now torn in half, with the West part being blockaded by the USSR.
Growing disagreements with the Soviets took on a new hue, with the explosion of their first atomic bomb in 1949. It was also the year that Communists won the Chinese civil war. Fears over growing totalitarianism were embodied in George Orwell’s book published that year, entitled ‘1984’.
But as well as fears, there were also signs of progress. The first computer with a memory was made in 1949. The first non-stop flight around the globe was made by a US Air Force plane.
In the midst of this, NATO was formed. It was in part a response to two strong emotions at the time: fear and hope. The fear of an uncertain, and rapidly changing, world order was tangible. But so was the hope that the worst was behind us. NATO, a defensive force, became a major player almost immediately in this context.
The intervening years, up to 2009, have seen a breadth and pace of change unmatched in human civilisation. Space exploration, digital communication and mass international travel have made the world smaller and more interconnected.
But despite these advances, the emotions of fear and hope remain strong today. And so does NATO.
Editor, NATO Review