NATO is one of the most iconic organizations
associated to the Cold War. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is often used
by historians as a stand-in to represent the United States and its allies as one faction
of the conflict. And it makes good sense. It’s a military alliance, founded directly
because of a Soviet threat, and contained many of the US’s allies. We’ll be talking
about NATO a lot during this channel’s lifetime, so it’s about time we got to know it a little
better. How did it get started? How does it work? I’m your host David and today, we
are off to Brussels! This is the Cold War We start in 1945, yes our starting point is
the Second World War. AGAIN. Western Europe was in a dire economic position. Their armies
devastated, their economy decimated their people, another word for messed up. Now imagine
you were a capitalist or capitalist sympathizer living in America, or Western Europe at this
moment. The region with the significant capitalist powers was-
[checks thesaurus] Ravaged and in some countries like France
or Italy, Communism was on the rise. To the east was the Soviet Union, which despite a
weak start, wound up ending the Second World War as the absolute powerhouse on the continent,
with a sizable part of Europe under its control. In the years following the war, the Soviets
used this occupation to consolidate power, and enforce communist regimes throughout Eastern
Europe. As elderly baby and colonization enthusiast Winston Churchhill described it:
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an “iron curtain” has descended
across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of
Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest
and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must
call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet
influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.”
Thats the second time I’ve quoted that…almost like it’s a defining moment or something…
The shaky alliance of convenience between the western capitalist powers and the USSR
set up to defeat Nazi Germany was not only fraying at the edges, but it was also completely-
[checks thesaurus] Disintegrated. For case studies of this, you
can go and check… well, pretty much every video we’ve produced so far.
Now we’ve already talked about the Marshall plan, where the US pushed to rebuild the European
economy. And covertly or not so covertly weaken communist support there. They did it by backing
up a dump truck full of money and dumping it on the continent. Actually, it was more
like several dump trucks full of money. But what we did not talk about yet on this channel
was the project to rebuild the military of Europe. So, to talk about NATO, we need to
talk about the Brussels Treaty. In 1948, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the
Netherlands and the UK got together to expand an existing military alliance between the
UK and France to the Benelux countries, in case of renewed aggression from the USSR.
It also founded the Western European Union, which would manage said alliance until its
dissolution in 2010. This was good, but it became apparent very fast that even these
countries would not be able to adequately handle military aggression if the Soviets
mustered their entire sphere of influence against them. There would need to be a new
military alliance to counter it that was much more…robust.
At the same time, discussions of a broader alliance between the US, UK, and Canada were
already happening behind closed doors. The newly developed United Nations was already
bogged down with cold war politics. So, they wanted to build something that would handle
security issues and function as an alliance but would be distinctly NOT part of the UN.
This blossomed into the concept of a more extensive, multilateral defence treaty in
the wake of the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia. The rest of the Brussels Treaty countries
entered into the agreement as well as Norway. The next year, they came up with the North
Atlantic Treaty, or Washington Treaty. It came at the end of months of secret negotiations
between member states, meeting in the Pentagon. The treaty founded NATO, with its founding
nations consisting of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands,
Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
OK, so NATO is now a thing. But what was NATO? What did..well, does, being a NATO member
mean exactly? The North Atlantic Treaty had 14 articles which member nations had to agree
to. They couldn’t go to war with each other; they had to promote democratic institutions
and economic collaboration; they had to resist the desire to invade other countries, and
had to respect each other’s territory and autonomy.
They also agreed to article 5, which if you’ve heard of any of the articles, it’s likely
this one you’ve heard of. Article 5 is the mutual defence pact. It states that an attack
on any one of these member countries will be considered an attack on all member nations.
It’s this part of the treaty in particular which has put the world on the razors edge
on a few occasions, and still does to this day. Fun fact though: article five, as a threat,
has done way more than its actual use. Only one time in the entire history of NATO has
article five been cited as a casus belli for war, and it was in response to the attacks
of September 11th, 2001. So not even during the Cold War this channel is focused on!
This agreement didn’t seem to do much for a little while. Early NATO didn’t make any
significant plans for military cooperation until the Korean War. The logistics of a big
international military conflict against a more coordinated global communist effort required
them to put in the leg work to make NATO actually function as they envisioned. That meant forming
new governing bodies and military organizations. One of the first projects was to appoint a
supreme commander in Europe, a man with experience in the role already, General Dwight Eisenhower.
But don’t worry about remembering his name, you’ll probably never see it again. There
was also a governing body founded called the North Atlantic Council where member states
could discuss security issues. The leader of the council would serve as the top civilian
leader, while the supreme commander would be the top military one. Their main projects
were to outline how these different militaries would work together and coordinate efforts
during a potential war. Each country must also keep military spending above a percentage
of GDP, and they all must contribute to running the organization.
NATO also encouraged for cooperation and standardization of the so-called little things in war. They
standardized the obvious stuff like making sure they all used the same calibre of bullets.
They standardized the less obvious stuff like making sure they used the same terminology.
They’d organize coordinated war games and drilling exercises both on land and at sea
to prepare for the event of a Soviet attack. NATO is even responsible for the phonetic
alphabet. You know, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot type stuff you hear in war movies.
The military problem Nato had on the ground though was that their military was.
[point at the thesaurus] Diminutive.
The Soviets just had way more soldiers and an overall more massive military by comparison.
But there was one ace up NATOs sleeve that they’d lean on the whole cold war period.
Nuclear weapons. The NATO strategy was, in the face of having
fewer troops, to maintain atomic and nuclear supremacy. Many NATO members had nuclear arsenals
and tried to maintain supremacy in the ‘missile’ gap between them and the USSR.
The Soviets noticed right away that this organization was an alliance in direct opposition to them.
To be honest, this mentality continues to this day with the Russian Federation under
Vladimir Putin still seeing NATO as a geopolitical adversary to Russian interests. Probably because
that’s precisely what it was and sort of still is. But anyway, in reaction to NATOs formation,
in 1955, the USSR and several of its communist satellite states started their own military
alliance, with blackjack and hookers! I’d love to talk more about the Warsaw Pact,
and in fact I’m going to get into a lot about it, but it’s on the schedule for a future
video, and if I talk about it now Nolan will yell at me.
NATO would continue to function through the entire Cold War period and into the present
as one of the world’s most powerful military forces. Soon after its founding, countries
in more…precarious situations with the USSR like Greece, Turkey and even West Germany
would become members. This would box in and limit or prevent opportunities for the USSR
to offer military defence to to those countries and could also help stop the creation of communist
movements there. Today, NATO contains 70% of the world’s military spending and includes
29 member nations, including several former Warsaw Pact states. Long after the end of
the Cold War, NATO still functions and exerts power across the globe. In fact, many people
ask why it’s still around. To which their explanation is…for another channel to give
because I’m not touching that one! We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s topic and
to make sure you don’t miss future episodes, please make sure you are subscribed to our
channel and have pressed the bell button. My thanks to Tristan at StepBack History for
today’s script! We can be reached via email at [email protected] We are also
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This is the Cold War Channel and don’t forget, “The trouble with a cold war is that it
doesn’t take too long before it becomes heated.”