The birth of the emblem

The search for a NATO emblem started nearly three years after the birth of NATO. Although the exact origins of the NATO emblem are still unclear, it is known that the basic design was conceived by a member of the International Staff. The birth of the NATO emblem and its incorporation into a flag involved many design proposals. The goal was to have an emblem that symbolized the principles of the Atlantic community.

The Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, intended to submit a draft design of an emblem to a North Atlantic Council meeting in Lisbon. However, at the last minute, he decided to leave the matter up to the Council. In August 1952, the matter was referred to the newly created NATO Information Policy Working Group. After several exchanges of views, the Working Group "agreed to recommend to the Council that there should be a NATO Flag”, and an emblem within it.

NATO finally adopts an emblem

It was important to adopt an emblem that was acceptable to all the NATO members and reflected the values of the Alliance. Many designs of an emblem had been submitted, among them a silver shield with 14 stars. The shield symbolized defence and protection, the two blue stripes represented the Atlantic and the 14 stars signified the 14 then-members of NATO. But this design would require alteration of the emblem each time new members joined the Alliance. Ultimately, none of the proposed designs were retained.

The North Atlantic Council outlined guidance for selecting a NATO emblem to use on a flag. The emblem needed to be simple and striking in design. It also needed to illustrate the community of traditions and ideals which united the members of the North Atlantic community. Lastly, the emblem had to "bring home the peaceful purpose of the North Atlantic Treaty."

After much uncertainty in a design, a NATO emblem was finally adopted on 14 October 1953. The North Atlantic Council "approved a flag for NATO, the design of which was a white and blue compass on a dark blue background."

Shortly after, on 28 October 1953, NATO Secretary General Lord Ismay announced that the North Atlantic Council had adopted a design for the official NATO emblem. He explained that the symbolism of the emblem could be described as "a four-pointed star representing the compass that keeps us on the right road, the path of peace, and a circle representing the unity that binds together the 14 countries of NATO." The blue background represented the Atlantic Ocean and the circle symbolized unity.

To celebrate NATO's newly chosen emblem for the flag, a ceremony took place at the Atlantic Exhibition, Esplanade des Invalides on 9 November. Unfortunately, there are no traces of the speech delivered at the ceremony.

Many requests were made to use the NATO emblem for public diplomacy as well as for commercial purposes. For example, a popular car dealership in the United States requested a large one meter version of the emblem for decoration and publicity in major showrooms. NATO did not allow such requests from private companies but it did illustrate the popularity of the newly adopted emblem. Many Governments from the Alliance also made requests to receive a NATO flag with the new emblem for their capitals.

Some mistakenly believed the NATO emblem to symbolize "an obsolete military instrument".

In a published letter to the New York Times on January 29, 1958, a NATO official wrote: "In actual fact, the heraldic term for the emblem is a star gyronny, which represents the four points of the compass...the organization was founded to stop Communist aggression in Europe, without the resort to war...The continued Soviet insistence on the break-up of NATO is the surest measure of its success."

Since its creation, the NATO emblem has been modernized once.

Illustrations on this page were provided by NATO Archives