On its 70th anniversary, NATO is bigger than ever — here are its 29 members in action

Soldiers from different countries during the opening ceremony of the 2018 NATO Summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2018.

caption
Soldiers from different countries during the opening ceremony of the 2018 NATO Summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2018.
source
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

  • NATO’s 12 founding members formed the transatlantic alliance in 1949.
  • In the 70 years since, the organization has only grown, but it hasn’t always been smooth.

On April 4, 1949 – almost exactly four years after Germany’s unconditional surrender ended World War II in Europe – 12 countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, DC.

Within five months, each of those countries had ratified the treaty, sealing their membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.

Read more: NATO held its largest war games since the Cold War in 2018 – one of more than 100 exercises it did last year

In the 70 years since, the alliance has responded to crises in Europe and around the world. It has also grown, incorporating Western European countries and former Soviet republics. NATO also counts countries in Asia, Oceania, and Latin America as global partners.

NATO’s expansion hasn’t been without growing pains, but the alliance, now in the process of accepting its 30th member, is bigger than ever.

You can see each country’s forces in action, along with the date they joined NATO.


April 4, 1949 — Belgium was one of 12 founding members who signed the North Atlantic Treaty four years after World War II.

caption
A Belgian soldier outside the US Embassy in Brussels, January 17, 2015.
source
Eric Vidal/Reuters

April 4, 1949 — Canada.

source
Canadian Armed Forces

April 4, 1949 — Denmark.

caption
Danish snipers, from Jutland Dragoon Regiment, and French snipers, from 3e régiment d’infanterie de marine, conduct joint sniper training during Trident Juncture 2018 in Rena, Norway, October 25, 2018.
source
Sgt Marc-André Gaudreault/JFC Brunssum Imagery

April 4, 1949 — France’s president, Charles de Gaulle, withdrew the French armed forces from NATO’s integrated military structure in 1966 out of a desire for more independence, particularly from the US.

caption
French sailors watch the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush as it sails alongside the French navy frigate Forbin, October 25, 2017.
source
US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Matt Matlage

April 4, 1949 — Iceland did not have and still does not have armed forces, but it has a coast guard, national police, an air-defense system, and a voluntary expeditionary peacekeeping force.

caption
An Icelandic national police officer and a US Marine outside the Control and Reporting Center and at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, during Exercise Trident Juncture 2018, Oct. 17, 2018.
source
Lance Cpl. Menelik Collins/US Marine Corps

April 4, 1949 — Italy.

caption
Italian army soldiers face off against members of the Canadian army in a simulated attack during Trident Juncture in Alvdal, Norway, November 3, 2018.
source
MCpl Pat Blanchard

April 4, 1949 — Luxembourg.

caption
A team of Luxembourg soldiers cross the finish line during the 49th Annual Marche Internationale de Diekirch, an annual event hosted by Luxembourg’s army and the city of Diekirch, May 22, 2016.
source
US Army/Spc. Tracy McKithern

April 4, 1949 — the Netherlands.

caption
Dutch soldiers rest after a battle display at the military training ground in Rukla, Lithuania, August 11, 2017.
source
Reuters

April 4, 1949 — Norway.

caption
Norwegian soldiers train in the snow near Røros, Norway, during the NATO exercise Trident Juncture 2018.
source
NATO

April 4, 1949 — Portugal.

caption
Portuguese marines prepare to clear a building during a training event with US Marines, in Troia, Portugal, February 25, 2019.
source
US Marine Corps/Sgt. Katelyn Hunter

April 4, 1949 — the United Kingdom.

caption
British and US soldiers are transported to a training mission in a US Army Chinook helicopter near Rena, Norway on October 27, 2018.
source
US Army/Sgt. 1st Class Michael O’Brien

April 4, 1949 — the United States.

caption
US sailors aboard USS Vicksburg during NATO’s Dynamic Mongoose anti-submarine exercise in the North Sea off the coast of Norway, May 4, 2015.
source
REUTERS/Marit Hommedal/NTB Scanpix

February 18, 1952 — Greece.


February 18, 1952 — Turkey.

caption
US and Turkish tactical vehicles take a defensive posture during rehearsals at Gaziantep, Turkey, October 14, 2018.
source
US Army/Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Koster

May 6, 1955 — West Germany joined the alliance six years after the country itself was formed. The intervening period was filled with debate in West Germany and in Western Europe about whether and how to integrate the new country.

caption
German Bundeswehr troops during a training exercise in 2015.
source
Reuters

When West and East Germany reunited on October 3, 1990, the newly reunified Germany retained West Germany’s membership in the alliance.


May 30, 1982 — Spain joined seven years after the end of the Franco dictatorship. The country also went through a military coup in 1981, and its leading opposition party, the Socialist Party, initially opposed joining.

caption
Spanish Special Forces prepare to board Canadian ship HMCS Charlottetown during a multinational boarding exercise off the coast of Egypt, August 15, 2016.
source
Cpl Blaine Sewell/Formation Imagery Services/National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces

March 12, 1999 — the Czech Republic was one of three countries whose ascension marked the first wave of NATO’s post-Cold War expansion. It, Hungary, and Poland were the first former members of the Warsaw Pact to join.

caption
Czech service members parade for the Czech centennial, observed by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in Prague, October 28, 2018.
source
Defense Department/Lisa Ferdinando

March 12, 1999 — Hungary.

caption
A US soldier assists a Hungarian soldier in applying tape to secure a fluid-administration tube to a simulated casualty during a combat life-saver course led by US troops in Tata, Hungary, December 2017.
source
US Army/2nd Lt. Gabor Horvath

March 12, 1999 — Poland.

caption
Polish soldiers take part in the NATO military exercise Saber Strike in Adazi, Latvia, June 13, 2016.
source
Thomson Reuters

March 29, 2004 — Bulgaria was one of seven countries to join NATO in the alliance’s second wave of post-Cold War enlargement.

caption
A Bulgarian tank crew in a T-72 tank during an exercise with US soldiers at the Novo Selo Training Area, September 15, 2018.
source
US Army National Guard/Sgt. Jamar Marcel Pugh

March 29, 2004 — Estonia.

caption
Estonian army conscripts during a tactical exercise at the military training field near Tapa, Estonia, February 16, 2017.
source
Thomson Reuters

The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania do not have their own air forces, so since their ascension in 2004, other NATO members have rotated aircraft and supporting units through the three countries as part of NATO’s Baltic air-policing mission.


March 29, 2004 — Latvia.

caption
Latvian soldiers practice urban fighting during the Silver Arrow 2017 multinational military drills involving 11 NATO member countries in Adazi, Latvia, October 29, 2017.
source
REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

March 29, 2004 — Lithuania.

caption
Lithuanian soldiers and troops from 11 NATO countries in an urban-warfare drill during the Iron Sword exercise in a mock town near Pabrade, Lithuania, December 2, 2016.
source
Thomson Reuters

March 29, 2004 — Romania.


March 29, 2004 — Slovakia.

caption
Slovak soldiers report to their commander during the opening ceremony of Slovak Shield 2018 at Lest Military Training Center, September 23, 2018.
source
US Army/1st Lt. Caitlin Sweet

March 29, 2004 — Slovenia.

caption
Slovenian soldiers participate in Exercise Immediate Response 2012 at the military base Eugen Kvaternik in Slunj, Croatia, June 6, 2012.
source
REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

April 1, 2009 — Albania and Croatia worked closely with NATO, particularly on defense and security issues, prior to joining.

caption
An Albanian armed forces member communicates with his team during exercise Combined Resolve XI at Hohenfels Training Area in Germany, December 7, 2018.
source
US Army/Matthew J. Marcellus

April 1, 2009 — Croatia.

caption
A Croatian army Hedgehog Battery conducts live-fire training with a Vulkan M-92 Mobile Multiple Launch Rocket System at Bemowo Piskie, Poland, December 5, 2018.
source
Sgt. Arturo Guzman/US Army National Guard

June 5, 2017 — Montenegro, the alliance’s newest member, began working closely with NATO shortly after its independence in June 2006, including on the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan beginning in 2010.

caption
Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Company of the Montenegrin armed forces patrol during Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 in Folldal, Norway, November 2nd 2018.
source
Sgt Marc-André Gaudreault/JFC Brunssum Imagery

2019? — North Macedonia was invited to join NATO in July 2018, and in early February, NATO members signed a letter of ascension for what could soon be NATO’s 30th member. Each NATO member must now ratify the accession protocol for Montenegro to officially join. That could happen by the end of 2019.

caption
Macedonian soldiers stand guard during NATO-led exercise Saber Guardian 2017, July 14, 2017.
source
Staff Sgt. Frank Brown/US Army

Recent criticism of NATO has focused on post-Cold War enlargement, questioning what new members bring to the alliance and whether it’s in NATO’s interest to commit to defending them.

Russia, too, has criticized this expansion. Moscow sought to halt Montenegro’s ascension by fomenting a failed coup there in late 2016. North Macedonia’s membership would further NATO’s presence in the Balkans, an area where Russian has long held influence.

President Donald Trump – a frequent, strident critic of NATO – inflamed this debate in summer 2018, when he questioned whether the US should defend Montenegro.

Trump may have echoed a common criticism, but he was widely rebuked for seeming to undercut the collective-defense principal that undergirds NATO’s existence.