On this day: A western alliance

April 4 1949: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

By Jennifer Lipman, April 4, 2011

As relations between east and west cooled, the United Nations, established just a few years earlier to strengthen international relations, was not enough for those worried about global security.

In the West, 12 nations fearful of the spread of communism grouped together to form the North Atlantic Alliance. As its first general secretary, Lord Ismay, joked, the aim was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down". In 1955 the Soviets launched their Eastern alternative, The Warsaw Pact.

Created as a collective defence organisation, with member states mutually committed to defending another if they came under attack, NATO's focus shifted to peacekeeping after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It now has 28 member states including Albania, Greece and Iceland and has dispatched troops to conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. Turkey is a member but Israel is no, a situation many, including the World Jewish Congress in February, have said needs to change to ensure a secure future.

Since 1995, the relationship between NATO and Israel has been that of the "Mediterranean Dialogue", a cooperative agreement intended "to create good relations and better mutual understanding and confidence throughout the region, promoting regional security and stability and explaining NATO's policies and goals". The six other countries with this status include Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Mauritania.

What the JC said: For Israel, the pact has a special significance. In a world where power alliances tend to grow ever greater and more embracing in their strategic ends, it becomes more and more difficult for small States to preserve their neutrality. Between the hammer of the East and the anvil of the West, the peaceful neutral may well be crushed...Israel has not yet been placed in Norway's dilemma, although, if the Atlantic pact is enlarged by a Mediterranean Pact Israel may have to make a formal choice.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 8:46am, April 4 2011