- During the Cold War, NATO effectively defended Western Europe with US nuclear weapons.
- Twelve countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, and NATO has since grown to 29 countries, including former Soviet states bordering Russia, which has angered Moscow.
- Here are six occasions, from the building of the Berlin Wall to the September 11 attacks, that NATO faced a crisis.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a pact launched 70 years ago in the ashes of World War II to face Stalin’s Soviet threat and bind Western Europe and the US together, is the world’s foremost military alliance.
The success of its deterrent power can be seen in a simple reality: NATO’s first combat mission only came after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
During the Cold War, NATO effectively defended Western Europe with US nuclear weapons, as NATO’s office of the historian notes.
From the treaty signed on April 4, 1949 by 12 powers, NATO has grown to 29 countries and expanded to include former Soviet states on Russia’s border, which has angered Moscow.
Its forces now confront Russia, which under President Vladimir Putin seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine by force in 2014. The Russian military is developing supposedly unstoppable missiles that travel more than five times the speed of sound and a doomsday torpedo that could irradiate an entire ocean.
This is a look at six times NATO faced a crisis that took it to the brink of war, or into combat.
Soviet-backed East Germany built a barbed wire fence through the divided city of Berlin in 1961.
The US positioned tanks of its side of the Berlin checkpoint, facing East German troops, which prompted the Soviets to do the same. Fears ran high that a skirmish between the superpowers could rapidly escalate.
The standoff ended peacefully, but the Berlin Wall would last another 28 years.
Source: US State Department
In October 1962, a US U-2 spy plane snapped photos of Soviet missile sites being built in Cuba.
After days of secret deliberations, President John F. Kennedy imposed a naval blockade around Cuba to block Soviet ships from delivering supplies.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles in return for a US pledge not to invade Cuba, as it had done in the disastrous Bay of Pigs a year before. The US also secretly agreed to remove nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey, a NATO member.
Any conflict between the US and the USSR would likely have involved NATO via the alliance’s mutual-defense agreement.
Source: JFK Library
In 1983, a massive NATO exercise nearly triggered a nuclear crisis.
US Air Force
During exercise Able Archer 83, NATO officers practiced preparing for nuclear strikes amid a much larger war game involving 40,000 troops.
The war games seemed to trigger Russian fears that the US and NATO would launch a preemptive nuclear attack to decapitate Soviet leaders, and the USSR placed some of its nuclear force on alert.
Source: The Atlantic
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