The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began in the aftermath of World War II as victorious allied powers sought to develop security structures to prevent the occurrence of another global conflagration like World War II. The war’s conclusion saw drastic reductions in U.S. troop strength from 3,100,000 in 1945 to 391,000 in 1946 and a reduction in British troop strength from 1,321,000 to 488,000 in the same period. Subsequent attempts between the victorious allied powers to produce peace treaties failed due to Soviet obstructionism and Soviet determination to create satellite ideological governments in Eastern Europe.
This increasing tension between the western allied powers and the Soviets gradually led to increasing security collaboration between the United States and western European countries. On March 17, 1948, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Brussels, promising
to establish a joint defensive system while enhancing their existing economic and cultural ties.
This approximate time period also saw U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall (1880–1959) and U.S. Senators Arthur Vandenberg (1884–1951) and Tom Connally (1877–1963) begin discussions on North Atlantic security matters. Negotiations between the United States, Canada, and the Brussels Treaty participants began on July 6, 1948. These negotiations and subsequent developments led these powers to formally invite Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, and Portugal to sign the pact, the contents of which were made public on March 18, 1949. On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington by the foreign ministers of these countries, and ratification of this agreement by national parliaments occurred within five months.16 West Germany’s May 5, 1955, incorporation into NATO was another sign that the alliance would grow in the future, further integrating NATO into the emerging postwar European security architecture.
The pentomic division structure proved unworkable, but the emphasis on nuclear deterrence was initially ratified with the May 23, 1957, approval of Military Committee Document (MC) 14/2, which stressed that if a general war occurred, NATO should “ensure the ability to carry out an instant and devastating nuclear counteroffensive by all available means and develop the capability to absorb and survive the enemy’s onslaught.” Although this document provided latitude for NATO conventional forces to conduct operations, its preeminent emphasis on nuclear deterrence is unequivocal.
This strategy would be updated by the flexible response doctrine enunciated in MC 14/3, issued on January 16, 1968. Influenced by the advocacy of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (1916–), MC 14/3 articulated a policy of direct defense, initially emphasizing conventional forces in which the alliance would
seek to defeat aggression at the level at which the enemy chose to fight, placing the burden of escalation upon invading forces. MC 14/3 gave NATO the option of deliberately escalating to nuclear force, but controlling the scope and intensity of combat by increasing the aggressor’s cost and increasing the imminence of a nuclear response. Suchescalatory steps could include demonstrative uses of nuclear weapons and selective nuclear strikes on Soviet bloc interdiction targets.