The foundations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were officially laid down on 4th April 1949 with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, more popularly known as the Washington Treaty. It is a model of brevity and provides for in-built flexibility on all fronts. Without the original text being modified at any stage, the Alliance has been able to adapt to a changing security environment through time and each Ally can implement the text in accordance with its capabilities and circumstances.
The Treaty derives its authority from Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which reaffirms the inherent right of independent states to individual or collective defence. Collective defence is at the heart of the Washington Treaty and is enshrined in Article 5. It commits members to protect each other and sets a spirit of solidarity within the Alliance.
Only 14 articles long, the Treaty is one of the shortest documents of its kind. The carefully crafted articles were the subject of several months of discussion and negotiations before the Treaty could actually be signed by the 12 founding members in the Departmental Auditorium in Washington D.C. There were several areas of contention on fundamental issues such as the duration of the Treaty, its geographical scope, membership and the rights and obligations implied by Article 5.
Once signed, the Treaty gave birth to the Alliance and only later did a fully-fledged organisation develop. Strictly speaking, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) provides the structure which enables the goals of the Alliance to be implemented. To date, those goals have not fundamentally changed nor the Treaty been rewritten. The only so-called “amendments” made so far stem from the series of accession protocols which have been added as new members join, illustrating the foresight of its drafters and their ability to marry international concerns and objectives with national interests.
- The Washington Treaty – or North Atlantic Treaty – forms the basis of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
- The Treaty was signed in Washington D.C. on 4 April 1949 by 12 founding members.
- Collective defence is at the heart of the Treaty and is enshrined in Article 5.
- The Treaty is short, containing only 14 articles.