NATO at 65: what it means to be a member

What happened to freedom in those 65 years since NATO was established? And for those too young to remember, what kind of freedoms have been protected during this time? This brief music video shows some of the best and worst moments for freedom.
Lord Robertson was the NATO Secretary General on 9/11. He is the only Secretary General to have ever invoked the Alliance's Article 5. NATO Review asked him for a review of how the Alliance has done in its first 65 years - and whether it will make another 65.
The day of NATO membership was a historic one for many countries who had spent decades deprived of freedom. Here we look at how their press and politicians commemorated or celebrated when the day of membership finally arrived.
For some, March 12, 1999 was literally living the dream. Marcela Zelníčková of NATO Review was one of those people. Here she outlines what she felt and did as her country took the step from NATO membership hopeful to full member.
Seeing your country's flag flying outside NATO Headquarters is a badge of honour for some. It symbolises the long path to a more secure, more democratic country. For NATO's Gabriella Lurwig-Gendarme, it is also a daily reminder that membership is not just for her generation - but also for the next.
Being a young student when Poland joined NATO, Chris Piekoszewski didn't have much of contrast to draw on with the previous regime. But he did notice that the move made a difference on a personal level - and broke down some of the tired divisions from yesterday.
The changes made by Manfred Wӧrner to the role of NATO Secretary General - from diplomatic consensus seeker to passionate advocate for action - were to have a lasting impact on the Alliance. Here, on the 20th anniversary of his death while in office, Ryan Hendrickson sets out some of the main reasons why Wӧrner deserves a special mention in NATO's history.
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When I was about 12 years old, our school would make us do a cross country run once a week. At the time, it felt like an endless slog, but in reality it was probably only a few kilometres.

The most difficult part was the stretch coming back to school. That was when the legs really started to hurt. To help myself push through those last paces, I would think of someone who was suffering more than me and say to myself ‘If they can do it, I can.’

And I remember that one of the people I would think of was Lech Walesa. It was about 1981 and he was regularly on the news as leading the Solidarity movement in Poland in the face of martial law. I saw him as an inspiration.

Of course, I really had no idea what I was talking about. I was just transposing a news story into something that could help me reach the end of a race: a race taking part in a leafy London suburb where most people’s attention was focused on getting through a brief economic downturn. Walesa, the person I used as an inspiration, was from a different world, the other side of an Iron Curtain that nobody could see.

When I was about 12 years old, our school would make us do a cross country run once a week. At the time, it felt like an endless slog, but in reality it was probably only a few kilometres.

The most difficult part was the stretch coming back to school. That was when the legs really started to hurt. To help myself push through those last paces, I would think of someone who was suffering more than me and say to myself ‘If they can do it, I can.’

And I remember that one of the people I would think of was Lech Walesa. It was about 1981 and he was regularly on the news as leading the Solidarity movement in Poland in the face of martial law. I saw him as an inspiration.

Of course, I really had no idea what I was talking about. I was just transposing a news story into something that could help me reach the end of a race: a race taking part in a leafy London suburb where most people’s attention was focused on getting through a brief economic downturn. Walesa, the person I used as an inspiration, was from a different world, the other side of an Iron Curtain that nobody could see.

In this edition, we hear from people who do know what they’re talking about. People who were on the other side of that curtain. They are the ones who can really tell us what it means to be in NATO. In the West, we took a lot for granted. The same can’t be said for people from countries which have joined NATO in the last 20 years.

I’m delighted that one of those people who recounts what it was like to join NATO is NATO Review’s own Marcela Zelníčková. She has been a stalwart of the magazine for around 10 years, working tirelessly behind the scenes, but this is her first written contribution. It was talking to her informally in the office one day that made me realise that I was surrounded by personal stories in the NATO HQ of what it meant to join NATO. In this edition, Marcela (along with a Hungarian and Polish colleague) describe how they remember the day that they – and their countries – became part of the Alliance that had often been portrayed as ‘the enemy’.

We also have quotes and headlines from people and press of the countries who have joined NATO since the end of the Cold War, reflecting how it was seen back home.

But it’s not just in the last 20 years that NATO has stood for the defence of freedom. Indeed April 2014 marks NATO’s 65th anniversary. So we have a video illustrating events in the world over the last 65 years around the world in a video which we hope shows that it’s not all been about geopolitics - but also about protecting simpler things such as the ability to protest and party.

The question a 65th anniversary raises is: what’s next? For that, we turn to former NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson. We ask him whether he thinks NATO will still be around in 65 years – and, if so, what it will look like.

Finally we finish looking at the contribution of another former NATO Secretary General: Manfred Wӧrner. He died in office 20 years ago this year – but it was what he did while alive that we look at here. His forceful personality, passion for change and strong, non-negotiable principles were admired by some, objected to by others, but noted by all. It’s no exaggeration that the mark he left on the office of NATO Secretary General can still be felt today. Perhaps a fitting inspiration for today’s 12 year old cross country runners?

Paul King