Select Committee on Defence Seventh Report


7. The North Atlantic Alliance was founded in 1949, and its principles enshrined in the Washington Treaty, to counter the perceived threat from the Soviet Union, in the early years of the Cold War. Its purpose was the preservation of peace and the security of member states. The 12 founding members were: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. Greece and Turkey became members in 1952; the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955; and Spain in 1982. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which serves the Alliance, became permanent in 1952. Throughout its history, NATO has had a political as well as a military role and has served as a forum for tackling key political issues which have arisen between the Allies. We discuss some of these below (see paragraph 114).

8. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty sets out the principle of collective security, which was the raison d'être of NATO throughout the Cold War years—

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them .. will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

It had never been invoked, until 12 September 2001, when a declaration was made in response to the previous day's terrorist attacks on the United States.

9. For the first forty years of its history NATO was an organisation focused almost exclusively on countering the threat to the security of its members which the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation posed.[7] Within that context, the Alliance nonetheless frequently experienced disputes and new challenges which required it to adapt and reform; any idea that NATO was a monolithic and unchanging entity for the duration of the Cold War would therefore be a misapprehension.

10. When the Cold War ended in 1989, NATO faced what has been called an identity crisis: its role had apparently disappeared with the break up of the Soviet Union and, if it was to continue to exist, it needed to find new missions. Conflict in the Balkans, and the desire of former Soviet bloc countries to move closer to the west have given NATO key roles in peace-making, peace-keeping and peace-support operations, and in promoting stability and security in Europe and beyond.

11. A first attempt at recognising the implications for NATO of the changed strategic setting following the end of the Cold War was made in the New Strategic Concept adopted by the 1991 NATO Summit in Rome. The Concept retained the security of its members as the fundamental purpose of NATO but stressed the need for co-operation with previous adversaries and the obligation to work towards improved security in Europe as a whole. By the time of the Madrid Summit in 1997, however, it was clear that further revision of the Strategic Concept would be necessary to provide a basis for NATO to remain valid for the next ten to15 years. The updated Strategic Concept was agreed by Heads of State and Government at the Washington Summit in April 1999. It represents the 'authoritative statement of the Alliance's objectives' and provides guidance on the political and military means to achieve them. It restates that NATO's central purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members and asserts the importance of the preservation of the transatlantic link. It defines NATO's key security tasks as the traditional one of collective defence combined with the newer ones of conflict prevention and crisis management, partnership and enlargement.[8]

12. Another consequence of the end of the Cold War was enlargement of the Alliance. Many countries in central and eastern Europe expressed an interest in joining NATO. At the Brussels Summit in 1994, NATO agreed the principle that new members would be admitted, in accordance with Article 10 of the Washington Treaty. A study was undertaken, which concluded that enlargement would offer benefits in increased democracy, security and co-operation. Bilateral dialogue between NATO and 12 countries was conducted in advance of the Madrid Summit in 1997, at which the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were invited to begin accession negotiations. The three countries became full members of NATO at the Washington Summit in April 1999.

Post Cold War missions

13. The break up of Yugoslavia after the end of the Cold War led to prolonged instability and conflict in the region, the effects of which are still being felt. The need for international intervention in the region provided NATO with an opportunity to develop a role as a peace enforcement and peace-keeping organisation. It declared its willingness to support the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (now the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)) in peacekeeping activities in June 1992, and extended this to operations under the authority of the United Nations in December of the same year.


14. Between 1992 and 1995, NATO acted to enforce a number of United Nations Security Council Resolutions imposing sanctions and no-fly zones in an effort to defuse the ethnic conflict between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. During these operations NATO forces flew nearly 100,000 sorties and challenged 74,000 ships in the Adriatic over a three-year period. The UN's own protection force (UNPROFOR) struggled to preserve the integrity of a number of Safe Areas which the UN had declared and at one point 370 of its peace-keepers were taken hostage by Serb forces in Bosnia. In February 1994, NATO aircraft shot down four warplanes which were violating the no-fly zone over Bosnia: the first military engagement ever undertaken by NATO forces. Tactical strikes against air defence systems and mortar positions followed over the next 18 months.

15. In November 1995, the Bosnian Peace Agreement between the three republics was brokered in Dayton, Ohio (the 'Dayton Agreement') and in December a UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) was passed transferring authority for implementing the military aspects of the Agreement to NATO. An Implementation Force (IFOR) of 60,000 NATO-led troops deployed to the region to oversee the withdrawal and demobilisation of forces and the transfer of territory between the parties, as specified in the Agreement. IFOR's mandate lasted for a year and included, in September 1996, supervision of peaceful elections in Bosnia. It was clear, though, that there was still a high risk of instability and insecurity and it was agreed that a continued military presence was necessary to consolidate the peace. A NATO Stabilisation Force (SFOR) of 31,000 troops was established in December 1996, as the legal successor to IFOR, under UNSCR 1088, with an initial remit of 18 months. This has been subsequently renewed a number of times, although the force has been restructured and reduced to take account of progress towards stability. Forces from 17 NATO and 17 non-NATO countries, including Russia, have provided troops for SFOR. NATO announced in June that SFOR will reduce to 12,000 troops by the end of the year.[9]


16. Kosovo is a province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the part of the former Yugoslavia which remained following its disintegration after the end of the Cold War. The majority of its population are ethnic Albanians. The province had enjoyed a high degree of autonomy until 1989, when Slobodan Milosevic became president of Yugoslavia and began to impose Serbian cultural and political hegemony within the country. Tension between Serb authorities and Kosovar Albanians escalated during 1998 with many deaths and hundreds of thousands of Kosovans driven out of their homes. In May 1998, NATO's North Atlantic Council (NAC) agreed two objectives in relation to the Kosovan crisis: to assist in achieving a peaceful resolution by contributing to the international response; and to promote stability and security in the neighbouring countries. As the situation continued to worsen, in October 1998 the NAC authorised activation orders for air strikes to support diplomatic efforts aimed at requiring Milosevic's forces to withdraw from Kosovo, and to end the violence and allow Albanians to return to their homes. The immediate need for air strikes was, however, averted when Milosevic agreed to comply with international demands.

17. The OSCE established a Kosovo Verification Mission to observe Serb compliance with the agreement which had been reached, which included limits on the numbers of Serbian forces in Kosovo and on their activities. This was backed by a NATO aerial surveillance mission, both of which were authorised by a UNSCR. Acts of provocation continued on both sides culminating in a further Serbian offensive against Kosovan Albanians in January 1999. Further international efforts to broker a settlement led to the Rambouillet negotiations in February and March but the Serbs failed to sign the eventual agreement and stepped up the intensity of their campaign in Kosovo. The OSCE mission was withdrawn. Milosevic refused to comply with NATO demands that, unless he halt attacks on the Kosovans, he would face air strikes and, on 23 March 1999, NATO's Operation Allied Force against Milosevic's Serb regime began. The operation involved a 77 day air campaign: 38,000 sorties were flown, of which 14,000 were strike and air defence. Fourteen of NATO's 19 members contributed aircraft to the operations. There were no Allied casualties. Our predecessors in the last Parliament produced a comprehensive assessment of the lessons of the Kosovo campaign.[10]

18. The NATO Washington Summit, at which the Alliance celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, took place in April 1999, with Operation Allied Force in progress. During the Summit, NATO agreed its objectives in relation to the Kosovo conflict as: an end to violence and repression; the withdrawal of military, police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo; an international military presence to be established in Kosovo; the safe return of refugees and displaced persons and unhindered access to humanitarian aid; and the establishment of a political framework agreement for Kosovo, based on the Rambouillet accords.

19. The campaign ended following diplomatic moves by the Russian envoy, Mr Victor Chernomyrdin and the EU envoy, President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, resulting in Milosevic agreeing to comply with UN resolutions. On 10 June 1999, NATO air operations were suspended under the terms of a Military Technical Agreement agreed the previous day between NATO and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. UNSCR 1244 was passed the same day, establishing an international civil and security presence in Kosovo. A peace implementation force under Lieutenant General Mike Jackson, the commander of NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Forces, was then established, and grew from 15,000 on entry into Kosovo on 12 June, to 50,000 by late July.

20. The force, known as KFOR, has been in place ever since and has involved contributions from all 19 NATO members, and 20 non-NATO countries, including a Russian contingent of 3,200. By mid 2001, the force had reduced to 42,500 troops. Based on a review of ways in which NATO missions in the Balkans might be rationalised, KFOR will reduce to 32,000 by the end of 2002 and to 29,000 by mid-2003.


21. Following an escalation of tension between ethnic Albanians and government forces in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the summer of 2001, the European Union acted as a mediator in negotiations on a framework agreement on political reforms within the Republic, known as the Lake Ohrid Agreement, signed on 13 August. In response to a request from the country's president for NATO assistance, a 30-day mission, Operation Essential Harvest, was launched on 22 August. This was a UK-led mission, involving 2,000 UK personnel out of a total of 3,500 troops, plus logistical support, with the aim of disarming Albanian groups and then destroying the weapons. The operation was undertaken by NATO on the condition that the political process continued. Essential Harvest was successfully completed within the timescale set.[11]

22. A follow-on mission was subsequently agreed: Operation Amber Fox, with the mandate of protecting EU and OSCE monitors overseeing the implementation of the peace plan. This was initially a three-month mission, under German leadership, of around 700 troops. The mission was then extended to the end of October 2002, to cover parliamentary elections in the Republic in September (and is now known as Task Force Fox).

7   The Warsaw Treaty Organisation was established in 1955, in response to West Germany joining NATO. Back

8   NATO Handbook, Chapter 2, available at Back

9   NATO press release (2002) 073, 6 June 2002 Back

10   Fourteenth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1999-2000, Lessons of Kosovo, HC 347-I Back

11   HC Deb, 26 November 2001, c 664 Back

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Prepared 31 July 2002