As we mentioned previously, NATO is the acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of countries that work together to implement the North Atlantic Treaty. NATO's 12 founding member countries include the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952, followed by West Germany in 1955. Spain joined in 1982.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, several Eastern European countries joined, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004; and Albania and Croatia in 2009. Montenegro was the last country to join NATO in 2017 [source: NATO].
When the founding members drafted the original treaty, there were disagreements on how many countries should join. The United Kingdom wanted to keep the NATO small and strong, but the United States wanted to include smaller, weaker countries — those more likely to succumb to the Soviets. France was most concerned with protecting its colonial territories, and Germany was a concern to all three countries [source: NATO].
Today, countries don't have to be members to work with NATO, however. Partnerships with non-NATO countries started back as far as 1991. The goal is to help these non-member nations become stable and democratic, with modern armed forces. Four partner countries have declared interests in NATO memberships: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine. Today, any European country can join NATO as long as it accepts the commitments and obligations of membership (more on that shortly) [source: NATO].
NATO Headquarters is located in in Brussels, Belgium and serves as its political and administrative center. Representatives from member countries, as well as civilian and military experts, work there daily consulting on global security issues. More than 5,000 meetings are held there annually. All decision-making at NATO is done by consensus, which is a central value that was included in the creation of NATO in 1949.
Consensus decision-making means that there is no voting at NATO. Instead, discussions take place until all 29 member nations can come to an acceptable solution — and then it is deemed a NATO decision. Oftentimes that means some member nations "agree to disagree." The job of leading the consensus decision-making process falls to the NATO secretary general [source: NATO].