What does NATO do? Foreign Affairs in understandable language | ministries

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Blog entry | 15-03-2022 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The war in Ukraine ended a long period of peace in Europe. NATO is more important than ever. But what role does NATO have in the world? And why is NATO important to the Netherlands? We explain.


Safety in the Netherlands

A safer world means a safer Netherlands. Why? Think, for example, of terrorism, nuclear weapons or cyber attacks. These threats have one thing in common: they don’t let borders stop them.

Our security often starts abroad. That is why it is important that we have good relations with other countries. And that together we protect stability in the world. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is committed to this. NATO also plays an important role in this. But what exactly is NATO all about?

What is NATO?

NATO is the abbreviation of the ‘North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’. In English: North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). To avoid misunderstandings: there is therefore no difference between NATO and NATO.

NATO is a military alliance between 30 countries from Europe and North America, with headquarters in Brussels. The Netherlands is also a member of NATO. NATO was founded in 1949 – shortly after the Second World War – to protect the freedom and security of all member countries (allies). And that alliance may be more important now than ever.

Global challenges for our security

The world is less safe than it used to be. Also close to the Netherlands. Think of the war that Putin started in Ukraine. Or China: a growing economic and military world power – which is increasingly using this power. Technological developments also create new types of threats, such as cyber attacks. Or the use of modern weapons such as drones, which can attack targets without human effort.

Climate change can also lead to more conflicts, or make conflicts worse. Countries need each other to prevent and counter such global threats.

NATO and diplomacy

NATO is a military and defensive alliance. You might think that NATO is mainly about military actions. But there is still a very important step before that. First and foremost, NATO stands for diplomacy. By entering into dialogue with each other and with other countries, we try to resolve conflicts without violence.

Allies within NATO also work together and make agreements. For example, about protecting democratic values. Think of being able to hold free and fair elections, equal rights for all and freedom of expression.

In NATO, military and non-military experts come together to exchange information about what is happening in the world. This is how NATO prepares for the challenges and threats of the present and the future. With military and diplomatic commitment.

NATO in the world

NATO is also helping a number of other countries that are not members of the alliance with their security. For example, when training their own soldiers. Military personnel from NATO can also be deployed to manage a crisis. That is also important for the Netherlands. Because the world is increasingly connected. And our safety is also linked to that of others.

Article 5: what if a NATO country is attacked?

An attack on one of the member states is an attack on all member states† Article 5 is the most important agreement in the so-called North Atlantic Treaty, the agreement that forms the basis of NATO. If one NATO member is attacked, all members will support the country militarily. The attacked country is therefore not alone. Such an attack does not have to be with tanks and guns, but can also be a cyber attack, for example.

In short, NATO ensures that we are safer together. But how does a country become a member of NATO?

When can a country join NATO?

A country cannot just join NATO. There are various requirements for this and the country has to go through a number of steps.

  • Step 1: the country must meet three basic NATO requirements. Membership is only available for European countries and countries in North America. This was agreed upon when NATO was founded. A country must be democratic. And a country must contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic region.
  • Step 2: the country must have a action plan for NATO membership to follow. This means that a country is tested and helped to meet further NATO requirements. These requirements relate, among other things, to freedom, human rights, democracy and justice. This sometimes requires reforms in the country that wishes to become a member.
  • Step 3: The country must agree to NATO’s goals, rights and obligations. The country makes these agreements in talks with NATO members.
  • Step 4: All NATO members must agree to the country’s accession. All NATO members sign the accession protocol for this.
  • Step 5: The people of the country itself must agree to NATO membership. This can be decided, for example, by the parliament, or via a referendum.

Every country is different. That is why it also differs per country how long it takes to become a member.

NATO and the Netherlands

To protect our way of life, the Netherlands continues to build a strong Europe and a strong NATO. Because by working together and making agreements with other countries, we are stronger in the world.

That is why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is committed to close cooperation within NATO. But also within the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN). And the Netherlands considers it important that NATO and the EU work closely together. This allows us to recognize risks to our safety in time. Together we can find solutions to global challenges. That is the best way to defend Dutch freedom and security.

On the Defense website you will find more information about Dutch contributions to NATO missions and NATO deployment in Eastern Europe.

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