In the aftermath of World War II, the United States, Canada, and ten European countries formed an agreement to defend each other in the event of an attack on any one of them. At its founding in 1949, these 12 nations comprised the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. Although the Soviet Union had been an ally during the war, it was not part of NATO. In fact, during this time, the Soviet Union's rising military power, along with political and economic differences between the USSR and the United States and Western Europe, led to growing concerns. European leaders could not afford another world war and believed that an alliance with the United States was essential to holding the Soviet Union in check. Lord Hastings Ismay, NATO's first Secretary General, simplified the goal of the alliance this way -- to keep Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down. In its early years, NATO was essentially a political association, but as tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union grew during the Cold War, NATO created a more formal military structure. This was controlled by two U.S. Supreme Commanders. The Cold War lasted more than three decades, and despite frequent high tensions, NATO did not engage directly in any military conflicts. Although the alliance was successful in preventing another major war in Europe, tensions emerged between treaty members. Some objected to the dominance of the United States. Others doubted NATO's ability to protect against a Soviet invasion. NATO has grown in several phases since its founding. During the Cold War era, Greece, Turkey, West Germany, and Spain became members. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 paved the way for Eastern European countries to join NATO. Four countries were added in 1999. Six more followed in 2004. When Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, NATO's membership included 28 countries. An additional 22 countries participate in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Fifteen more are involved in institutionalized dialogue programs with NATO, including even Russia. Since the 1990's, NATO forces have engaged in one war and two military operations. In 1994, at the request of the United Nations, NATO forces enforced the no-fly zone ordered by the UN and actively engaged in a bombing campaign that helped end the Bosnian War. They remained in the area as peacekeepers until 2004. In 1999, NATO forces were sent to protect Albanian citizens in Kosovo, Yugoslavia. And in 2011, NATO enforced a no-fly zone over Libya. The September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States marked the first time a recognized NATO member came under direct fire. The U.S. requested NATO troops to help fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction. A year after NATO troops were deployed in Afghanistan, several member countries began to question NATO's involvement in the region. In 2003, the United States again requested NATO's help, this time in Iraq. NATO refused that request, although several of its nations independently sent troops to aid the United States. Since then, various individual NATO members have participated in the U.S.-led global war on terrorism. More recently, Russia has reemerged as a legitimate threat against the NATO nations. Russia's invasion of Crimea and Ukraine has claimed 9000 lives and forced 1.7 million people to flee their homes. NATO has also provided humanitarian aid worldwide since the 1950's, including disaster and famine relief and assistance to refugees. For example, NATO provided assistance to the United States in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to Pakistan in the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake that same year. NATO remains the most powerful military alliance in the world. And as long as the alliance is felt to serve its members in that capacity, it will almost certainly continue in the foreseeable future. If, however, the United States continues to feel that it's carrying the brunt of the burden of the alliance, as it has expressed at various times, NATO may be forced to redefine its goals and its strategies. Only a handful of member countries have met their NATO membership financial targets, which is based on a percentage of their national gross domestic product. Do you think countries that don't pay their fair share are entitled to NATO's protection? Several countries, including Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Austria have not joined NATO, despite considering doing so over the years. What do you think are some of the reasons a country would not want to be a NATO member?
[ Music ]