Secrets of the Serial Set: The History Behind NATO

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Even though all-out war was officially over, the world was anything but at peace in the aftermath of World War II. Tensions between nations were at an all-time high. The nations of Western Europe were struggling to figure out how to rebuild their crumbled economies and defenses in the face of tensions with the Soviet Union. The United States feared the spread of communism in a weakened Europe. Soviets began to seek coups in additional Eastern European countries. All of this culminated in the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty[1]North Atlantic Treaty, 4 Bevans 828 (1949). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Treaties and Agreements Library. and creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—the first peacetime military alliance outside of the Western Hemisphere involving the United States.

Global Unrest

Post-World War II, the U.S. and Western Europe deeply feared further Soviet expansion. Communist and democratic factions were already fighting in Greece,[2]“Report on Communist party of United States as advocate of overthrow of Government by force and violence.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1948, pp. I-160. HeinOnline, … Continue reading and the Soviets had backed a successful coup in Czechoslovakia[3]“Report on Communist party of United States as advocate of overthrow of Government by force and violence.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1948, pp. I-160. HeinOnline, … Continue reading in February 1948. Communist support was beginning to spread in Italy with the rise of the Italian Communist Party.[4]“Report on Communist party of United States as advocate of overthrow of Government by force and violence.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1948, pp. I-160. HeinOnline, … Continue reading

In response, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the Brussels Treaty[5]“North Atlantic treaty and related documents.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. I-128. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22619&i=969. This document can be found in … Continue reading in March, agreeing to defend each other against attack. That April, to help bolster Europe’s economy post World War II, the United States initiated the Marshall Plan,[6]“European recovery program, basic documents and background information.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1947, pp. I-212. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22898&i=213. This document can … Continue reading otherwise known as the European Recovery Program, which provided $13 billion in funds to Western European nations in need. The Soviet Union refused to participate in the program and forbade its satellite states in Eastern Europe from receiving any Marshall Plan assistance, further creating divisions between democratic Western Europe and the communist-led east.

screenshot of chronology of European Recovery Programs in HeinOnline

Then, in June, the Soviets enacted a blockade against American-occupied West Berlin.[7]“Foreign relations, 1948; Pt. 2: German and Austria.” Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. i-1576. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset52095&i=1313. This document can be found in … Continue reading As a result, the U.S. needed to airlift food and supplies to troops and civilians until the blockade was finally lifted the following May. However, the U.S. began to fear that in the wake of these attacks, Western European nations would begin to negotiate with the Soviets, and in President Truman’s State of the Union Address in 1949,[8]Harry S. Truman, Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union – January 5, 1949, 1949 Pub. Papers 1 (1949). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Presidential Library. he called for a military alliance among North Atlantic nations.

Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg suggested a security treaty with the nations of Western Europe that would adhere to the guidance of the United Nations but would exist outside of it, making it immune to the Soviet Union’s veto power. The passage of the Vandenberg Resolution[9]“North Atlantic treaty and related documents.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. I-128. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22619&i=1047. This document can be found in … Continue reading led to negotiations for the North Atlantic Treaty.

NATO Is Born

Establishing the basis for the North Atlantic Treaty required compromise among member nations.[10]“Foreign relations, 1948; Pt. 3: Western Europe.” Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. i-1166. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset52103&i=15. This document can be found in … Continue reading For example, Western European nations wanted the United States to agree that it would come to their defense in the case of war, but according to the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war. In addition, Western Europe would require significant military assistance from the United States to gain back pre-war power. Each nation wanted to be guaranteed its own grants and aid, but the U.S. preferred for the aid to be conditional. Initially, the Western European nations wanted NATO to only consist of themselves and the U.S., while America wanted to invite Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, and Portugal.

In the end, the North Atlantic Treaty[11]“North Atlantic treaty and related documents.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. I-128. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22619&i=955. This document can be found in … Continue reading was finally signed at the Departmental Auditorium in Washington, D.C. on April 4, 1949, by 12 nations: the United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. The Treaty established that an attack against one of the member nations was an attack against all of them, and they were to consult each other in military and defensive matters.

screenshot of preamble to North Atlantic Treaty in HeinOnline's U.S. Congressional Serial Set

Key points in the treaty include Article 5,[12]“North Atlantic treaty and related documents.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. I-128. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22619&i=964. This document can be found in … Continue reading which states that member nations must come to the aid of any other member nation subject to armed attack, as well as Article 6,[13]“North Atlantic treaty and related documents.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. I-128. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22619&i=964. This document can be found in … Continue reading which restricts NATO operations to north of the Tropic of Cancer, which excluded the majority of the nations’ colonies from NATO involvement. But overall, NATO was designed to prevent Soviet expansion and Hitler-esque nationalist militarism across Europe.

illustration of area defined in Article 6 of North Atlantic Treaty

In addition, in October 1949, the United States enacted the Mutual Defense Assistance Program,[14]“Mutual defense assistance act of 1949. 2 pts.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. 1-70. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22611&i=79. This document can be found in … Continue reading with the U.S. assigning $1.4 billion to Western European defenses.

Greece and Turkey were added to NATO in 1952, while the Federal Republic of Germany was added in 1955, prompting the Soviet Union to establish the Warsaw Treaty Organization,[15]Disarmament and Security: A Collection of Documents, 1919-55 (1956). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s United Nations Law Collection. including its satellite states in Eastern Europe.

NATO in Action

North Korea’s attack on South Korea[16]“Background information on use of United States armed forces in foreign countries.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1951, pp. I-78. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22697&i=815. This … Continue reading in 1950, leading to the Korean War, was viewed by NATO members as communist aggression backed by the Soviet Union, prompting a coordinated response.

With the invention of nuclear weapons, NATO established a doctrine of massive retaliation[17]“United States defense policies since World War II.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1957, pp. I-88. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22566&i=753. This document can be found in … Continue reading—in an effort to deter the Soviet Union from further aggression, NATO members threatened that an attack on any member state would result in a devastating nuclear attack from the United States. Luckily, this doctrine was never put into action.

screenshot of excerpt on massive retaliation in U.S. Congressional Serial Set

After the end of the Cold War, NATO signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe,[18]“CFE Treaty (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe).” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1991, pp. 1-140. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset14052&i=635. This document can be found … Continue reading an agreement with the Soviet Union to reduce military presence and spending in Europe. However, throughout the 1990s, the United States found itself involved in other conflicts on behalf of NATO—for example, troops were sent to intervene in the Bosnian War[19]“Support efforts to achieve peace and security in Bosnia-Herzegovina.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1994, pp. I-2. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset14243&i=13. This document can be … Continue reading and Kosovo War,[20]“Declare state of war between U.S. and Government of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1999, pp. 1-6. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset50253&i=484. This … Continue reading as well as in the Libyan Civil War.[21]“Consideration of H.J. Res. 68.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 2011, pp. 1-2. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset50279&i=554. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. … Continue reading

Article 5 of NATO was only initiated once: after September 11, 2001, when NATO troops were sent to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).[22]“Protocols to North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 on Accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.” Congressional Serial Set, , 2003, pp. 1-67. HeinOnline, … Continue reading When United States troops withdrew from Afghanistan[23]Administration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., 2021 Remarks on United States Evacuation Efforts in Afghanistan and an Exchange With Reporters , Daily Comp. Pres. Docs. 1 (2021). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Federal Register Library. in 2021, the Taliban quickly utilized the opportunity to attack the government, resulting in a refugee crisis.

Today’s NATO

As of this writing, NATO continues to be the largest peacetime military alliance in the world with 30 member states, 28 in Europe along with the United States and Canada. Most recently, in 2021, North Macedonia was added to the organization, and currently Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine are aspiring members—hence why NATO has not provided troops to Ukraine during the current war with Russia.

Help Us Complete the Project

Secrets of the Serial Set is an exciting and informative blog series from HeinOnline dedicated to unveiling the wealth of American history found in the United States Congressional Serial Set. Documents from additional HeinOnline databases have been incorporated to supplement research materials for non-U.S. related events discussed.

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The U.S. Congressional Serial Set is considered an essential publication for studying American history. Spanning more than two centuries with more than 17,000 bound volumes, the records in this series include House and Senate documents, House and Senate reports, and much more. The Serial Set began publication in 1817 with the 15th Congress, 1st session. U.S. congressional documents prior to 1817 are published as the American State Papers.

The Serial Set is an ongoing project in HeinOnline, with the goal of adding approximately four million pages each year until the archive is completed. To date, we’ve completed 95% of the project! View the current status of HeinOnline’s Serial Set project below.

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HeinOnline Sources

HeinOnline Sources
1 North Atlantic Treaty, 4 Bevans 828 (1949). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Treaties and Agreements Library.
2 “Report on Communist party of United States as advocate of overthrow of Government by force and violence.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1948, pp. I-160. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22919&i=1610. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
3 “Report on Communist party of United States as advocate of overthrow of Government by force and violence.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1948, pp. I-160. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22919&i=1619. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
4 “Report on Communist party of United States as advocate of overthrow of Government by force and violence.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1948, pp. I-160. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22919&i=1647. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
5 “North Atlantic treaty and related documents.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. I-128. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22619&i=969. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
6 “European recovery program, basic documents and background information.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1947, pp. I-212. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22898&i=213. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
7 “Foreign relations, 1948; Pt. 2: German and Austria.” Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. i-1576. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset52095&i=1313. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
8 Harry S. Truman, Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union – January 5, 1949, 1949 Pub. Papers 1 (1949). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Presidential Library.
9 “North Atlantic treaty and related documents.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. I-128. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22619&i=1047. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
10 “Foreign relations, 1948; Pt. 3: Western Europe.” Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. i-1166. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset52103&i=15. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
11 “North Atlantic treaty and related documents.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. I-128. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22619&i=955. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
12, 13 “North Atlantic treaty and related documents.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. I-128. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22619&i=964. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
14 “Mutual defense assistance act of 1949. 2 pts.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1949, pp. 1-70. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22611&i=79. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
15 Disarmament and Security: A Collection of Documents, 1919-55 (1956). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s United Nations Law Collection.
16 “Background information on use of United States armed forces in foreign countries.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1951, pp. I-78. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22697&i=815. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
17 “United States defense policies since World War II.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1957, pp. I-88. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset22566&i=753. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
18 “CFE Treaty (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe).” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1991, pp. 1-140. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset14052&i=635. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
19 “Support efforts to achieve peace and security in Bosnia-Herzegovina.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1994, pp. I-2. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset14243&i=13. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
20 “Declare state of war between U.S. and Government of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 1999, pp. 1-6. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset50253&i=484. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
21 “Consideration of H.J. Res. 68.” U.S. Congressional Serial Set, , 2011, pp. 1-2. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset50279&i=554. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
22 “Protocols to North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 on Accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.” Congressional Serial Set, , 2003, pp. 1-67. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.usccsset/usconset50025&i=173. This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
23 Administration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., 2021 Remarks on United States Evacuation Efforts in Afghanistan and an Exchange With Reporters , Daily Comp. Pres. Docs. 1 (2021). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Federal Register Library.
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