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Factbox: A Look at NATO

NATO flag flutters during the celebration of the 15th anniversary of Lithuania's membership in NATO in Vilnius, Lithuania, March 30, 2019.
NATO flag flutters during the celebration of the 15th anniversary of Lithuania's membership in NATO in Vilnius, Lithuania, March 30, 2019.

NATO foreign ministers are gathering in Washington, D.C. this week to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. U.S. President Donald Trump has been critical of other alliance members for under-investing on defense and relying too heavily on the United States.

We take a look at the alliance.

What is NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an alliance of 29 countries bordering the North Atlantic Ocean. It was created in 1949 as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Its purpose is to "guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means," according to its website.

Who are the members?

The initial alliance was entered into by 12 nations, including the United States, Britain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. Seventeen others have joined the group since. Montenegro is the latest member, joining in 2017. According to Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, membership is open to any “European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.”

What is its aim?

NATO's main aim is security and defense of its member nations. Article 5 of the treaty states that "an armed attack against one or more" member state "shall be considered an attack against them all."

The collective defense principal at the heart of the treaty was invoked for the first time after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. NATO responded to a U.S. request for help in the war on al-Qaida in Afghanistan. It took the lead from August 2003 to December 2014. At its peak, it deployed 130,000 troops.

Who funds NATO?

Each member country pays a certain amount into the NATO budget based on an agreed upon formula. But, the United States has been bearing nearly two-thirds of the alliance's defense bill. The NATO charter requires member states to spend 2 percent of the nation's wealth on defense. According to NATO's most recent estimate, released in June 2017, six countries hit the 2 percent target: the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Romania and Poland.

NATO vs. Trump

President Donald Trump has long been critical of U.S. involvement overseas. He has specifically railed against NATO members for not contributing more money to their own defense. In July, he went so far as to claim that the alliance owed the United States money.

"Many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money from many years back, where they're delinquent, as far as I'm concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them," he said. "So if you go back 10 or 20 years, you'll just add it all up, it's massive amounts of money is owed."

But that is not how the alliance's budget works. While not all member states are meeting their commitments, as explained above, more are expected to increase their contributions this year.

Trump has also threatened to pull out of the treaty, which experts say would be a monumental mistake.

The celebration of NATO's 70th anniversary was downgraded to a meeting of member foreign ministers, because diplomats feared Trump would use the occasion to mount renewed attacks on the alliance. Trump is not expected to address the meeting in Washington this week.

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