Wednesday, July 25, 2012

10 Things You Never Knew About: NATO

It's a massive alliance of 28 countries in North America and Europe, and its members are signatories to the North Atlantic Treaty, which commits each member to a collective defense. Any organization with this much power, regularly attempting to handle international situations and crises will always have a colourful background. 

These contrasting quotes highlight just how differently people percieve this massive organization: 

- "I think that NATO is itself a war criminal," said Harold Pinter while Pierre Trudeau backed him up by saying, "I bear solemn witness to the fact that NATO heads of state and of government meet only to go through the tedious motions of reading speeches, drafted by others, with the principal objective of not rocking the boat." 

- Of course, the heads of the organization itself beg to differ with diplomatic statements such as "Commitment and co-operation to overcome barriers and difficulties, and determination to achieve the standards of the EU as well as NATO membership, are and have always been the principal target."

These 10 interesting facts about NATO are bound to come as a surprise to many: 

Fact One:
 NATO's relevance was strictly political until the end of the Cold War. Since all its efforts were directed towards decreasing hostility in this period, when it was finally over, it acquired a much greater 'out-of-area' role. Today, it has a much larger military role and considers threats like piracy, cyber attacks and terrorism, as opposed to just hostility between nations. 

Fact Two:
 Considering NATO 'ganged up' against Russia in its initial years, it was hugely surprising when they actually gave the nation a formal role in discussing matters of mutual interest in 1997. In 2002, they even expanded their relationship, but it quickly deteriorated when Russia was angered by the NATO expansion up to its borders in 2004. A simple case of 'Old Habits Die Hard' perhaps? Still, things have improved slightly thanks to the United States and Russia's current engagement.

Fact Three:
 Nothing about running a massive organization like this comes cheap. NATO has an official annual budget of 200 billion Euros, but it's common knowledge that they run another few hundred million euros in the red as well. 

This budget has come under a lot of fire and they are planning major cutbacks. However, NATO still insists that it needs new equipment like helicopters and cargo planes to support deployments in Afghanistan. 

Fact Four:
 NATO has its very own phonetic alphabet. It's also known as the ICAO phonetic or spelling alphabet, and it is the most widely used spelling alphabet. Basically, what these special 'linguistics' do is assign code words to digits so that critical combinations of letters and numbers can be pronounced (and understood) by the people who are sending and receiving messages. Common words include Bravo, Echo, Hotel, Whiskey and Zulu!

Fact Five:
 Israel was the first non-European countries to be offered membership in NATO. They figured since they had a common enemy--the jihadists. However, even after many talks, the two proposed allies could not come to a mutual agreement and Israel backed out. As such, the organization still does not have any non-European or non-American states as its members.

Fact Six:
 Iceland is the only member nation of NATO that does not have its own standing army. It has not had one since 1869. But like most other countries without defense forces, they did have an agreement with the United States, which maintained an Iceland Defense Force and even amilitary base within the country from 1951-1956. However, soon after the US announced that they would continue to provide for their defense without maintaining active forces on the island itself. 

Fact Seven:
 One of NATO's most successful achievements till date is the 'Operation Essential Harvest.' Officially launched on 22nd August, this 30-day-long mission involved sending over 3,500 NATO troops to disarm ethnic Albanian groups and destroying their weapons. The operational plan was drawn up in response to President Trajkovski's personal request for assistance. As such, it was only approved on the condition that the political dialogue between various parties was deemed successful.

Fact Eight:
 Gladio is a term that has come to be very closely associated with the NATO. In actuality, it is a code name for any clandestine 'stay-behind' NATO operation, the first of which was in Italy after World War II. Its sole purpose was to continue anti-communist actions in the event of any country shifting to a communist government. It went far enough to extend these operations to non-member countries as well. 

Fact Nine:
 NATO has only ever invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, applicable to member countries, once in its entire history. It was for the September 11 terrorist attacks against the U.S.

This particular treaty states that if the parties agreed that the armed attack against one of them came from abroad, then it would be considered as an act against them all. As such, even unaffected parties would be forced to offer their armed forces, and whatever else was necessary to restore and maintain security in the region. This was one of the most significant decisions undertaken by the NATO in its history.

Fact Ten:
 The latest and most exciting system to come into play in the organization is the ACCS--otherwise known as the Air Command and Control System. This system is intended to combine and automate all air operations at a very tactical level. This includes planning, tasking and execution.

The system was conceived in the 1980s to replace existing air defense systems, but it was only in 1992 that the North Atlantic Council--NATO's premier decision-making body--agreed to the implementation of ACCS.

No comments:

Post a Comment