The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded soon after the end of the second World War. It was initially founded by the democratic countries of the North Atlantic as a response to the communism of the Soviet Union. It was founded as a mutual defense alliance, however it also served to strengthen diplomatic, political, and economic ties between the North Atlantic democracies. The primary aspect of this alliance is that an attack on one is an attack on all, and this was designed to prevent the Soviet Union from expanding communism to any one of the members as it did to East Europe. This was an essential aspect of the policy of containment that both Winston Churchill and Hary S. Truman created.
map provided by McGraw Hill
In response the Soviet Union created an alliance of its own, the Warsaw Pact. This was created from all of the communist countries in eastern Europe and counterbalanced NATO. The presence of two powerful opposing international alliances was the basis of the Cold War which lasted for nearly 50 years.
Map provided by Duskin.com
However, in the late 1980s major changes were occurring in the Warsaw Pact. The new Priemier of the Soviet Union, Michael Gorbechav was a revolutionary new leader who started to implement systems of free trade and freer media in the Soviet Union. This was a response to his country's failing economy. However, these changes set the stage for the peoples of the Warsaw Pact countries to internally change their governments from communism to democracy. Gorbechav never intervened in the process. This lead to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. Soon after, the Soviet Union itself collapsed and by the 1992 communism in Europe ceased to exists.
NATO today (member countries map, click on link below for high resolution version)
Thus it appeared NATO's intial goal was completed. However, the alliance grew and expanded and now serves as a defender of democracy in Europe. This new role was first defined for NATO in NATOs first major millitary operation. This was an Operation in Yugoslovia and Bosnia to defend the Albainians of Kosovo from "Ethnic Cleansing"(genocide) by Serb Leader Soloban Milosevic. This operation was a stunning success as the Milosevic was captured and tried by a special commission at the World Court for his crimes. There were very little casualties in this operation.
Milosevic on Trial at the Hague
September 11, 2001 was a historic date for the NATO alliance. On that date terrorists from the Al-Queda organization lead by Osama Bin Laden attacked the United States of America, a NATO member. Over 3000 civilians were killed as the World Trade Center in New York City was destroyed and the Pentagon in Washington DC was left in flames. In response to this attack NATO invoked the mutual defense article of the alliance, which said an attack on one is an attack on all. This meant that the entire NATO alliance was now committed to defeating the Al Queda organization, and the defeat of the Taliban who harbored Al-Queda followed as a response. The terrorist attacks of September 11th also defined a new role for the NATO Alliance, where terrorist organizations, such as Al-Queda were the enemy. The new enemy was not an opposing alliance of nations, or even a single enemy nation. However, the new enemy to the NATO Alliance is a global network of international terrorists with no defined borders, armies, and who are willing to kill themselves to cause chaos. Under these circumstances it is now more important than ever for NATO to work as an alliance to root out these criminals and bring them to justice.
Terrorist Attack on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001.
MORE N.A.T.O. RESOURCES:
Member Countries map (High Resolution)