• 20 Oct. 2016
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A star is born

Choice of designs

The birth of the NATO symbol and its incorporation into a flag involved many design proposals. The goal was to have an emblem that symbolised 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 in 1952. 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 much consideration, the Working Group “agreed to recommend to the Council that there should be a NATO Flag,” and an emblem within it (AC/24-R/7).

The logo had to be acceptable to all the NATO members and reflect the values of the Alliance. Many designs were submitted. Among them was a silver shield with two blue stripes and 14 stars. The shield symbolised defence and protection and the stripes represented the Atlantic, while the 14 stars signified the then-14 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, and the North Atlantic Council provided guidance for selecting a NATO logo to use on a flag: it needed to be simple and striking in design; it had to illustrate the community of traditions and ideals which united the members of the North Atlantic community; and it had to "bring home the peaceful purpose of the North Atlantic Treaty" (AC/24-D/5).

NATO adopts a logo

To celebrate NATO's newly chosen symbol, a ceremony took place at the Atlantic Exhibition, Esplanade des Invalides, Paris on 9 November 1953.

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" (C-R(53)44). Shortly after, on 28 October 1953, NATO Secretary General Lord Ismay 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 symbolised unity.

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

Since its creation, the NATO logo has been modernised once.