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

Sean Gallup/Getty ImagesSoldiers from different countries during the opening ceremony of the 2018 NATO Summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2018.
  • NATO’s 12 founding members formed the transatlantic alliance in 1949.
  • In the 70 years since, the organisation 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 Organisation, 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.


April 4, 1949 — Canada.

Canadian Armed Forces

April 4, 1949 — Denmark.

Sgt Marc-André Gaudreault/JFC Brunssum ImageryDanish 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.

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.

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

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

Lance Cpl. Menelik Collins/US Marine CorpsAn 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.

April 4, 1949 — Italy.

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

April 4, 1949 — Luxembourg.

US Army/Spc. Tracy McKithernA 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.

April 4, 1949 — the Netherlands.


April 4, 1949 — Norway.

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

April 4, 1949 — Portugal.

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

April 4, 1949 — the United Kingdom.

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

April 4, 1949 — the United States.


February 18, 1952 — Greece.


February 18, 1952 — Turkey.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

Defence Department/Lisa FerdinandoCzech service members parade for the Czech centennial, observed by US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, in Prague, October 28, 2018.

March 12, 1999 — Hungary.

US Army/2nd Lt. Gabor HorvathA 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.

March 12, 1999 — Poland.


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

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

March 29, 2004 — Estonia.

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.


March 29, 2004 — Lithuania.


March 29, 2004 — Romania.


March 29, 2004 — Slovakia.

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

March 29, 2004 — Slovenia.


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

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

April 1, 2009 — Croatia.

Sgt. Arturo Guzman/US Army National GuardA 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.

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.

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

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.

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

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 criticised 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-defence principal that undergirds NATO’s existence.

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