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NATO: What you should know

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, is greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) U.S. President Donald Trump, left, is greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
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(RNN) - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization boasts 29 member nations and 40 non-member partner countries.

The political and military alliance began in 1949 with the signing of the Washington Treaty, a pact of mutual assistance to counter the Soviet Union, which had increased its sphere of influence into Eastern Europe following World War II.

Headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, the alliance says it “promotes democratic values” and is committed to the "peaceful resolution of disputes.”

NATO invoked Article 5 – its collective defense clause – for the first and only time in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.

NATO began with 12 founding members: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

A key event that spurred the creation of NATO was the 1948 blockade of West Berlin, which was under the control of the U.S., the U.K. and France, by the Soviet Union, which controlled East Germany.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO sought to build relationships with countries that were formerly under the Soviet sphere of influence, such as Georgia and Ukraine, which increased tensions with Russia.

The newest NATO member, Montenegro, a small Balkan state that was once under the Soviet sphere of influence, became a part of the alliance in 2017.

Membership in NATO 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."

NATO's tensions with Russia also increased with the country's annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine.

Russia President Vladimir Putin aired his grievances with NATO after taking over Crimea: “They have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the east, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. In short, we have every reason to assume that the infamous [Western] policy of containment, led in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, continues today.”

The alliance has recently been tested from the inside by President Donald Trump, who has openly bashed the alliance over defense spending, claiming they don't pay their fair share.

"I want to keep NATO, but I want them to pay,” Trump, then a candidate, told a rally in Scranton, PA, in 2016, the Guardian reported. “I don’t want to be taken advantage of … We’re protecting countries that most of the people in this room have never even heard of and we end up in world war three … Give me a break."

"By some accounts, the U.S. is paying for 90% of NATO, with many countries nowhere close to their 2% commitment," the president asserted.

However, as the New York Times reported, Trump is muddling different methods of payment: "It is true that the United States spends more than any other NATO member - both in total cost and as a percentage of G.D.P. - on its own defense. It also contributes the most to NATO’s shared costs, but all other nations pay their portion of the group bill."

It's a NATO goal for nation-members to spend 2 percent on their own defense by 2024, and a majority of the allies are expected to do so. The U.S. spends 3.57 percent, not the 4 percent Trump called Wednesday for NATO members to spend.

NATO in its assessment of who's paying what also takes into account equipment expenditures. In most cases, NATO member countries have increased their defense expenditures since 2014.

A detailed explanation of NATO's direct and indirect funding can be found here.

Approximately 20,000 military personnel are taking part in NATO missions around the world, and are currently in operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Mediterranean.

Resolute Support, a non-combat support mission in Afghanistan, includes about 15,600 personnel from NATO and partner nations.

The alliance also supports the African Union, assists with the response to the migrant crisis in Europe and carries out disaster relief operations.

NATO has kept a force in Kosovo since June 1999 - having entered amid a humanitarian disaster in the war-torn Balkans. They have remained there as spelled out in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 after Kosovo declared independence in 2008. The relationship between Serbia and Kosovo remains fraught, with Serbia still refusing to recognize Kosovo’s independence more than 20 years after the violence.

NATO also increased maritime surveillance after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

NATO has increased its air policing after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, including over the skies of countries that don’t have their own fighter jets. Planes "have intercepted Russian aircraft repeated violating Allied airspace," NATO said.

Copyright 2018 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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