Norway has been a member of NATO since the Alliance was established in Washington in 1949. NATO’s purpose is to ensure the security, freedom and independence of its member states, and to promote the principles of democracy and the growth of democratic institutions in the North Atlantic area.
In April 2004, the group of NATO members grew by seven countries – Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – to 26. This is the second time that the NATO membership has been expanded to include former Warsaw Pact countries. The previous occasion was in 1999, when the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland became members. Norway was actively involved in ensuring that the new countries were as well-prepared for membership as possible.
The Riga Summit of NATO heads of state and governments, which was held from 28 to 29 November 2006, served to consolidate and reinforce NATO’s development. The most important topics of discussion besides the situation in Afghanistan were the announcement that the NATO Response Force (NRF) had reached full operational capability and the inclusion of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme.
Since the mid-1990s, the Alliance has become increasingly involved in crisis management, initially in the Balkans, but subsequently also outside Europe. In August 2003, NATO took over responsibility for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. This was the first time that the Alliance engaged in military operations outside Europe. ISAF is currently NATO’s largest operation.
NATO is leading the operation in Kosovo (KFOR), and led the operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR) until December 2004, when the EU (EUFOR) took over. NATO has also been involved in promoting stability and regional cooperation in other countries in the region. Albania, Croatia and Macedonia are currently participating in the Alliance’s membership preparation programme (MAP – Membership Action Plan), while Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro joined the PfP programme at the Riga Summit.
The terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 led to the first Article 5 declaration (collective response to an attack against a member state) in NATO’s history. Since then, the fight against international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has been central to the Alliance’s work. This in turn has occasioned comprehensive reform of the Alliance, including the reorganisation of its military defence capabilities.
In July 2004, NATO set up a training mission in Iraq (NTM-I), to assist in the training of Iraqi security forces. The curriculum includes instruction in the values that democratically-controlled armed forces should have. Since July 2005, NATO has also given transport and organisational support to the peacekeeping operation in Darfur, which is being led by the African Union (AU).
Cooperation with partner countries
NATO has a comprehensive outreach and cooperation programme, with partner countries in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. NATO also cooperates closely with Russia and Ukraine. In addition, NATO conducts dialogues with seven countries located around the Mediterranean (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia) and four countries in the Middle East (Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain).
The aim of these dialogues is to enhance practical cooperation on regional stability and security. Due to the differences between these countries, and not least the differences in their ambitions as regards cooperation with NATO, the Alliance tailors cooperation initiatives to the needs of individual countries insofar as possible.
The present NATO Secretary General is Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a former minister of foreign affairs of the Netherlands.