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The North Atlantic Alliance / NATO turns 70-years-old

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In the picture Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister, Luxembourg; US President, Donald J. Trump and NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg.

By Guido Lanfranchi.

Seventy years after its foundation, NATO remains a key player in the international scene. On December 3rd and 4th, the Allies’ leaders gathered in London, in order to celebrate the Alliance’s achievements and to outline its future strategy. 

On April 4th, 1949, representatives from twelve countries across North America and Europe signed the North Atlantic Treaty, also known as the Washington Treaty, which paved the way for the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO. Seventy long years have passed since then, and much has happened over these decades. The Iron Curtain rose and fell, the 9/11 attacks triggered the first and only NATO collective response, and seventeen new members (soon to become 18 with North Macedonia) joined the Alliance. 

Family portrait of NATO Heads of State and/or Government with ceremony for NATO 70th Anniversary

After these tumultuous times, in 2019 NATO found itself celebrating its 70th anniversary. While the Alliance’s Foreign Ministers celebrated the April 4th anniversary in Washington, in early December it was instead the leaders’ turn. The Heads of States and Governments of the Allied countries, as well as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, gathered in London, the city that had hosted the first NATO headquarters.

Family photo with Her Majesty the Queen, the Prince of Wales, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and NATO Heads of State and/or Government. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II welcomed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the leaders of the Alliance’s 29 member countries to London at a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday evening (3 December 2019). The event comes ahead of Wednesday’s meeting of NATO leaders, where Allies are expected to take decisions to further strengthen and modernise the Alliance.

The leaders were received on the evening of December 3rd by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. During the following day, the leaders met in order to discuss the challenges lying ahead of the Alliance, as well as the new strategy needed to tackle such challenges.

The summit came in the wake of some tensions among Allied states. In early November, French President Emmanuel Macron had claimed that NATO was experiencing “brain death”, pointing at coordination problems in the foreign policies of the Alliance’s states.

These comments were openly opposed by a number of fellow NATO leaders, as well as by NATO officials – with Mr. Stoltenberg travelling to Paris in late November to discuss the issue. Another contentious issue for the Alliance had arisen a while earlier, when Turkey had launched a military operation in Northern Syria – a decision openly criticized by other NATO Allies such as France. 

NATO Deputy Secretary General, Mircea Geoana, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, , Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, General Tod Wolters (SACEUR); General Andre Lanata (SACT).

Despite any tensions, in the December summit leaders agreed to the so-called “London Declaration”, a nine-points document in which NATO members praised the Alliance’s achievements in the last 70 years, declared their continued commitment to trans-Atlantic security, and outlined some of the current challenges faced by the organization.

The document defines NATO as “the strongest and most successful Alliance in history”, praising it for ensuring the security of members’ territory and citizens, as well as promoting shared values such as “democracy, individual liberty, human rights, and the rule of law”. Moreover, the document points at a wide array of challenges faced by NATO, ranging from “Russia’s aggressive action” and China’s rise on the global stage, to terrorism, instability, as well as hybrid and cyber threats – including in the field of communication. 

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

In order to face these challenges, NATO leaders called for joint action. “To stay secure, we must look to the future together” – the document recites, stressing the need not only of cohesion among Allies, but also of strong cooperation with other organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations. Moreover, the leaders officially invited Mr. Stoltenberg – in full coordination with the North Atlantic Council – to initiate a “forward-looking reflection process”, with the aim of further strengthening “NATO’s political dimension including consultation”. 

The document’s closing lines fully encapsulate the message that the leaders tried to convey: “In challenging times, we are stronger as an Alliance, and our people safer. Out bond and mutual commitment have guaranteed our freedoms, our values, and our security for seventy years. We act today to ensure that NATO guarantees those freedoms, values, and security for generations to come”.

Full declaration available on NATO’s website:

Photography by NATO.

About the author:

Guido Lanfranchi is a student and young professional in the field of international affairs. He has pursued his studies both at Leiden University and Sciences Po Paris, where he is currently enrolled. In parallel, he has been gaining professional experience through internships (first at the Council of the European Union, and currently at Clingendael Institute), as well as by working as reporter and associate editor for Diplomat Magazine The Netherlands. His research and work focus on the Middle East and Africa, and especially on conflict situations in these regions.

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