NATO leaders view exhibition of NATO’s history

  • 11 Jul. 2018 -
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  • Last updated: 11 Jul. 2018 20:33

On the first day of the Brussels Summit (11 July 2018), Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg escorted 29 NATO heads of state and government through an exhibition of NATO’s nearly 70-year history. The walkthrough took place in the Agora, the large central hall in NATO’s new headquarters building.

Left to right: German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Miro Cerar (Prime Minister of Slovenia); NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania

The first photograph in the exhibition shows U.S. President Truman delivering the closing speech before the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, D.C. on 4 April, 1949.  In his address, President Truman said:  “The twelve nations represented here are bound together by ties of long standing. We are joined by a common heritage of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.”

One striking object in the exhibition is the custom-made desk, designed and constructed by renowned French architect and sculptor André Arbus that was used by eight Secretary Generals from 1960 to 1999.  Displayed prominently on the desk are two important objects from NATO’s history.  One is a 1950 document, signed by all twelve NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, formally appointing U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

Also displayed on the desk is a reproduction of the North Atlantic Treaty, opened to Article 5 which states, in part, that “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”  Article 5 is considered the heart of the North Atlantic Treaty because it embodies the commitment all Allies make to defend one another.  

Another historic photograph in the exhibition depicts U.S. President John F. Kennedy during his visit to NATO headquarters before he spoke to the North Atlantic Council on 1 June 1961.

Thirty years later, in 1991, President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia attended a special meeting of the North Atlantic Council.  A photograph shows President Havel seated next to NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner.  In his remarks that day to the Council, Secretary General Wörner stated:  “For the first time, the Head of State of one of the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe is the special guest of the Council. The hand of friendship has been grasped. Our Alliance has thereby initiated a partnership of cooperation with states that were once our adversaries but who today join us wholeheartedly in a common endeavor to build a Europe whole and free, stable and secure.”

The exhibition also features a colorful and symbolic display of flags, including an original flag from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission which was brought back from Kabul, Afghanistan.  Also on display are the flags of all 51 nations that contributed troops to the ISAF combat mission in Afghanistan.  The mission, which ended in 2014, was launched after the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001. NATO responded to those attacks by invoking the Article 5 mutual defence clause for the first time. 

The flag display symbolizes what can be achieved when Allies and partner nations work together to fight terrorism, defend one another and preserve the peace.

After the Brussels Summit, the exhibition will remain in the Agora to provide NATO staff an opportunity to appreciate these glimpses into NATO’s history and purpose.