There are currently 28 members
- Albania (2009)
- Belgium (1949)
- Bulgaria (2004)
- Canada (1949)
- Croatia (2009)
- Czech Republic (1999)
- Denmark (1949)
- Estonia (2004)
- France (1949)
- Germany (1955)
- Greece (1952)
- Hungary (1999)
- Iceland (1949)
- Italy (1949)
- Latvia (2004)
- Lithuania (2004)
- Luxembourg (1949)
- Netherlands (1949)
- Norway (1949)
- Poland (1999)
- Portugal (1949)
- Romania (2004)
- Slovakia (2004)
- Slovenia (2004)
- Spain (1982)
- Turkey (1952)
- The United Kingdom (1949)
- The United States (1949)
NATO membership is open to “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.”
NATO also has what it calls the Membership Action Plan, which offers aspiring members practical advice and targeted assistance. In turn, aspiring members are expected to meet certain key requirements.
- 2.1 A political and military Alliance
- 2.2 Collective defence
- 2.3 The Transatlantic link
- 2.4 The 2010 strategic concept
2.1 A political and military Alliance
NATO’s essential purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.
POLITICAL - NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defence and security issues to build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.
MILITARY - NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military capacity needed to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty - NATO’s founding treaty - or under a UN mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organizations.
2.2 Collective defence
NATO is committed to the principle that an attack against one or several 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 been invoked once - in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
2.3 The Transatlantic link
NATO is an alliance of countries from Europe and North America. It provides a unique link between these two continents for consultation and cooperation in the field of defence and security, and the conduct of multinational crisis-management operations.
2.4 The 2010 strategic concept
Strategic Concepts lay down the Alliance’s core tasks and principles, its values, the evolving security environment and the Alliance’s strategic objectives for the next decade. The 2010 Strategic Concept defines NATO’s cores tasks as: collective defence, crisis-management and cooperative security.
- 3.1 Decisions and consultations
- 3.2 Operations and missions
- 3.3 Partnerships
- 3.4 Developing the means to respond to threats
3.1 Decisions and consultations
NATO provides a unique opportunity for member countries to consult and take decisions on security issues at all levels and in a variety of fields.
A “NATO decision” is the expression of the collective will of all 28 member countries since all decisions are taken by consensus.
Each day, hundreds of civilian and military experts and officials come to NATO HQs to exchange information, share ideas and help prepare decisions when needed, in cooperation with national delegations and the staff at NATO HQs.
3.2 Operations and missions
- Afghanistan Kosovo
- Counter-piracy Monitoring the Mediterranean
- Supporting the African Union
NATO takes an active role in a broad range of crisis-management operations and missions, including civil emergency operations.
NATO’s crisis-management operations are carried out under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty or under a UN mandate.
Partnerships have been formed with countries willing to work and develop a relationship with NATO. These countries stretch from the Atlantic to Central Asia and from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean. NATO is also cooperating with a wide network of international organisations.
Partner countries do not have the same decision-making authority as member countries.Learn more
about NATO's partnerships
3.4 Developing the means to respond to threats
NATO has been engaged in continuous transformation for many years to ensure it has the policies, capabilities and structures required to deal with current and future threats, including the collective defence of its members.
Large-scale terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C.
NATO invokes Article 5 for the first time ever and adopts a broader approach to security
NATO takes command of the International Security Assistance Force - ISAF - in Afghanistan
NATO adopts the 2010 Strategic Concept "Active Engagement, Modern Defence"
International Military Staff
Each member country has a permanent delegation at NATO’s political headquarters in Brussels. Each delegation is headed by an “ambassador”, who represents his/her government in the Alliance’s consultation and decision-making process.
The Nuclear Planning Group
The Nuclear Planning Group has the same authority as the NAC with regard to nuclear policy issues.
The NAC: at the heart of NATO
The North Atlantic Council (NAC) is the principal political decision-making body at NATO. Each member country has a seat at the NAC.
It meets at least once a week or whenever the need arises, at different levels. It is chaired by the Secretary General who helps members reach agreement on key issues.
NATO has a network of committees to deal with all subjects on its agenda, from political to more technical issues, therefore bringing national representatives and experts from all NATO member countries together on a regular basis.
NATO agencies and organisations are a vital mechanism for procuring and sustaining capabilities collectively. They specialise in technical fields that complement and form an integral part of NATO’s agenda: procurement, support and communications and information.
The Secretary General
The Secretary General is the Alliance’s top international civil servant. This person is responsible for steering the process of consultation and decision-making within the Alliance and ensuring that decisions are implemented. The Secretary General is also NATO’s chief spokesperson and heads the Organisation’s International Staff, which provides advice, guidance and administrative support to the national delegations at NATO HQs.
Military organisation and structure
When the implementation of political decisions has military implications, the key actors involved are: the Military Committee, composed of the Chiefs of Defence of NATO member countries; the International Military Staff, the Military Committee’s executive body; and the military command structure, composed of Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation.
NATO has very few permanent forces of its own. When an operation is agreed by the NAC, members contribute forces on a voluntary basis. These forces return to their countries once the mission is completed.