• Last updated: 13 Jun. 2022 16:50

Experts' Corner on The founding treaty (Origins era)

The Experts' Corner provides a deeper look at NATO in history. Here you will find a selection of primary sources related to NATO and its founding treaty at the time of its signature.

Films and videos

Formation of the Western Union
The Brussels Treaty is signed, 17 March 1948, to form the Western Union. Extract from Alliance for Peace, 1951.

The birth of NATO
A quick look at how NATO came to be.

NATO Treaty signing ceremony
This clip takes you inside the Departmental Auditorium in Washington D.C. where the North Atlantic Treaty was signed on 4 April 1949.

Audio files

Dr. Jamie Shea was a prominent NATO official. Among his many responsibilities, he was Director of Information and Press and the face of NATO during the Kosovo crisis when he was NATO’s Spokesman. He also held the post of Deputy Assistance Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges. Jamie Shea continues to be very active in academic circles in Europe and North America.

1949: NATO’s anxious birth
The first lecture in the six-part series, Jamie’s History Class, examines the twists and turns in the protracted negotiations for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Transcript

1956: Khrushchev delivers his “secret speech”
This second lecture in the six-part series, Jamie's History Class, looks at how NATO transformed from a piece of paper to a "permanent feature of modern European history." Transcript

Other lectures in Jamie's NATO's Transformation series:

Speeches and articles

Speeches given by the twelve signatories to the North Atlantic Treaty

Oral history interview with John D. Hickerson
John D. Hickerson was one of the US representatives at the treaty negotiations. Courtesy of the Truman Library.

Shaping the treaty

Suggested reading

Acheson, Dean. Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department. New Y York: WW Norton, 1969.
Dean Acheson, one of the founders of NATO and the post-war international system, recounts his years of service in the US State Department. He joined the Department of State in 1941 as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and, with brief intermissions, was continuously involved until 1953, when he left office as Secretary of State at the end of the Truman years. During a period that included World War II, the reconstruction of Europe, the Korean War, the development of nuclear power, and the formation of the UN and NATO, Acheson was one of the most influential minds and strongest wills at work.

Cook, Don. Forging the Alliance: NATO 1945-1950. London: Secker & Warburg, 1989
Cook traces the fundamental transformation of US policy in post-WW II Europe that culminated in the signing of the NATO Treaty on April 4, 1949. Discussing the reluctance of the Truman administration and the State Department to be drawn into the kind of "entangling alliance" warned against by George Washington in 1796, he describes the difficulties in winning political and public support before the Soviet-imposed Berlin Blockade dramatized the necessity for a collective defense of Europe.

De Staercke, Andre. NATO’s Anxious Birth: The Prophetic Vision of the 1940s. Edited by Nicholas Sherwen. London: C. Hurst and Co, 1985.
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington on April 4, 1949. Each founding country followed a different path to membership; each had to face internal or external problems, sometimes abandoning traditional policies, sometimes in the face of heated domestic debate. Each chapter is written by a distinguished author from a member nation, often one who was present for the negotiations and signing of the treaty itself.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
A 21-volume collection of papers from Dwight David Eisenhower, including the most significant letters, memoranda, cables, and directives written or dictated by Eisenhower from the years prior to World War II through the full term of his presidency. This massive collection includes documents—many of them previously classified—from private collections and public archives in the U. and UK, as well as papers from the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

Hatzivassiliou, Evanthis. NATO and Western Perceptions of the Soviet Bloc: Alliance Analysis and Reporting, 1951-69. London: Routledge, 2014.
This book examines the NATO reports on the Soviet bloc’s political and economic system, from 1951 to the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the beginning of détente. As part of the wider history of Cold War alliances, the detailed assessments of the NATO experts regarding the non-military aspects of Soviet power are a crucial indicator of western/allied perceptions of the adversary.

Ireland, Timothy P. Creating the Entangling Alliance: The Origins of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. London: Aldwych Press, 1981.
This book aims to understand the fundamental transformation of the guiding principles of US foreign policy towards participation in NATO by undertaking a critical reexamination of the process whereby the United States became formally 'entangled' in its first extra-hemispheric military alliance since the 1800 Treaty of Mortefontaine terminated the Revolutionary War Alliance with France. The purpose of detailing the underlying assumptions behind the original commitment is to shed some new light on the rationale for American participation in the Atlantic Alliance and to demonstrate the strength of the ties binding the United States and western Europe.

Ismay, Hastings Lionel. NATO, The First Five Years: 1949-1954. Paris: NATO, 1954.
Written by the first Secretary General of NATO, it attempts to concisely explain why the Treaty was signed, what it means, how the civil and military machinery for implementing its terms has evolved, and what has been accomplished in the first five years of the Alliance. It is primarily intended to serve as a work of reference for those concerned with NATO affairs, either in the various agencies of the organization itself or in their own countries. But it is hoped that it may also be helpful to the citizens of the whole Atlantic community, on whose understanding and co-operation the future of the Alliance so greatly depends. Available online.

Jordan, Robert S. The NATO International Staff/Secretariat 1952 – 1957. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.
Jordan presents an aspect of the development of NATO that is not often discussed at length: the detailed working of the civilian elements of NATO – the North Atlantic Council, the Office of the Secretary General, and the International Staff. He gives much credit to the dedication of Lord Ismay, the first Secretary General, in creating a functional and effective International Secretariat. A fascinating study of the early administrative years of NATO.

Kaplan, Lawrence S. NATO 1948: The Birth of the Transatlantic Alliance. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.
This compelling history brings to life the watershed year of 1948, when the United States reversed its long-standing position of political and military isolation from Europe and agreed to an "entangling alliance" with ten European nations. Not since 1800, when the United States ended its alliance with France, had the country made such a commitment. The historic North Atlantic Treaty was signed on April 4, 1949, but the often-contentious negotiations stretched throughout the preceding year.

Kaplan, Lawrence. NATO Before the Korean War: April 1949 – June 1950. Kent: Kent University State Press, 2013.
Conventional wisdom has the Korean War putting the “O” in NATO. Prior to that time, the Treaty allies were just going through the motions of establishing an organization. Historian Lawrence Kaplan argues that this is a mistaken view, and he fills significant blanks in the record of 1949 and 1950, which NATO officials and analysts alike have largely ignored. He asserts that the Korean War was not needed to convert the alliance into an organization, as it was already in place on June 25, 1950.

Knowlton, William A. “Early Stages in the Organization of Shape.” International Organization 13.1 (Winter 1959): 1-18.
Thousands of words have been written on “strains within NATO” and the “conflicts of interest” which plague any international organization. For several years – almost from its inception –f various prognoses have been made as to how soon NATO or its subordinate agencies would fly apart from the centrifugal forces of diverging self-interest. As early as 1953 General Gruenther warned that with the recovery of self-confidence, the cohesive glue of fear would have less effect. Yet, as Secretary Dulles stated in spring 1958 at Copenhagen, we are often inclined to ignore the successes of NATO and to concentrate on its problems.

Smith, Joseph, editor. The Origins of NATO. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1990.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has struggled to maintain international peace since World War II, but the partner nations are finding it increasingly difficult to keep pace with security challenges. This collection of papers discusses NATO's structure and history, asking whether an organisation founded in an era of nation states can cope with increasingly diverse threats.