Historical NATO of 1961

The aftermath of World War II left much of Europe devastated in a way that is now difficult to envision. Approximately 36.5 million Europeans had died in the conflict, 19 million of them civilians. Refugee camps and rationing dominated daily life. In some areas, infant mortality rates were one in four. Millions of orphans wandered the burnt-out shells of former metropolises. In the German city of Hamburg alone, half a million people were homeless.

In the end, it was determined that only a transatlantic security agreement could deter the Soviet aggression while simultaneously preventing the revival of European militarism and laying the groundwork for political integration.

Accordingly, after much discussion and debate, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed on 4 April, 1949. In the Treaty’s renowned Article 5, the new Allies agreed “an armed attack against one or more of them… shall be considered an attack against them all” and that following such an attack, each Ally would take “such actions as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force” in response. Significantly, Articles 2 and 3 of the Treaty had important purposes not immediately germane to the threat of attack. Article 3 laid the foundation for cooperation in military preparedness between the Allies, and Article 2 allowed them some leeway to engage in non-military cooperation.

While the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty created Allies, it had not created a military structure that could effectively coordinate their actions. This changed when growing worries about Soviet intentions culminated in the Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949 and in the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Soon afterwards, the Allies established a permanent civilian secretariat in Paris, and named NATO’s first Secretary-General, Lord Ismay of the United Kingdom.

With the benefit of aid and security umbrella, political stability was gradually restored to Western Europe and the post-war economic miracle began. New Allies joined the Alliance: Greece and Turkey in 1952, and West Germany in 1955. European political integration took its first hesitant steps. In reaction to West Germany’s NATO accession, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European states formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Europe settled into an uneasy stand-off, symbolized by the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

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