Most Countries Fail to Spend the Necessary Amount on Defense and Other Facts About NATO

Photo Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / Getty Images

If a NATO country is attacked, all others within the organization respond, and it’s for this reason that nations wish to join. Dating back to the conclusion of the Second World War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as it’s formally known, is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2024. The following are some facts about NATO and its influence on global conflict.

Coming about soon after the conclusion of World War II

International leaders sitting around a table
International leaders following the drafting of what would become the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), 1949. (Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images)

Following the devastation that came to define the Second World War, global superpowers were focused on ensuring nothing like the conflict would ever occur again. While NATO wasn’t made until 1949, there were prior attempts at similar military alliances – specifically, the 1947 Treaty of Dunkirk and the 1948 Treaty of Brussels.

On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington, DC. The countries involved were: Canada, Norway, the United States, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy.

Membership has swelled over the years

Dwight D. Eisenhower standing with deputies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower with deputies from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), 1951. (Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection / CORBIS / Getty Images)

Anyone with knowledge of NATO knows the organization has grown significantly since 1949. While initially starting with just 12 countries, it’s since expanded to include 32, with the latest to join being Sweden, which joined on March 7, 2024.

The other countries and their enlistment years are:

  • 1952 – Greece, Turkey
  • 1955 – Germany
  • 1982 – Spain
  • 1999 – Czechia, Hungary, Poland
  • 2004 – Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia
  • 2009 – Albania, Croatia
  • 2017 – Montenegro
  • 2020 – North Macedonia
  • 2023 – Finland
It is expected that more may join as well.

One of NATO’s main roles in the 21st century is combating terrorism

Qassem al-Araji, Michael Lollesgaard, John W. Brennan and Abdul Ameer al-Shammari walking together
Iraq National Security Adviser Qassem al-Araji, NATO Mission Iraq Commander Lt. Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, Commander of the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State group Maj. Gen. John W. Brennan and deputy commander of Iraq’s military Joint Operation Command Abdul Ameer al-Shammari, 2021. (Photo Credit: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP / Getty Images)

The increase in the threat posed by terrorism has led NATO countries to come together to pool information and resources as a form of defense against insurgents and fighters.

As the organization explained in December 2023:

“Terrorism is the most direct asymmetric threat to the security of the citizens of NATO countries, and to international stability and prosperity. A persistent global issue that knows no border, nationality or religion, terrorism is a challenge that the international community must tackle together. NATO will continue to fight this threat with determination and in full solidarity.

“NATO’s work on counter-terrorism focuses on improving awareness of the threat, developing capabilities to prepare and respond, and enhancing engagement with partner countries and other international actors.”

How does a NATO nation not have an army?

Coast Guardsman aboard the patrol vessel Tyr
Coast Guardsman aboard the Icelandic patrol vessel Tyr as it arrives in the port of Pozzallo, in Sicily, 2015. (Photo Credit: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP / Getty Images)

NATO’s member countries come in all shapes and sizes. While there are the obvious superpowers, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, there are several smaller ones, including Estonia, Montenegro and Latvia.

Iceland also counts as one of these smaller nations, given it’s the sixth-least populated in Europe. What’s interesting about the country is that it doesn’t actually have a military. As Iceland’s government explains, it “has emphasised a comprehensive and multilateral approach in security affairs and is a member of key organisations, such as the United Nations, NATO and the OSCE.”

While without a military, Iceland does have a fully-trained Coast Guard, which is tasked with conducting search and rescue operations, national defense, surveillance and maritime safety.

Most member countries don’t fulfill their monetary obligations

Annegret-Kramp Karrenbauer sitting with other political figures
German Defence Minister Annegret-Kramp Karrenbauer speaking at a meeting of European Union (EU) defense ministers in Berlin, 2020. (Photo Credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

As part of their obligation to NATO, a portion of member countries are supposed to spend two percent of their GDP on defense. As of 2024, that number is 18 – but that doesn’t mean they hit that target.

While the organization hasn’t said which nations haven’t hit the total, it did announce that Germany has done so.

NATO owns very little equipment

Bayraktar TB2 parked on a runway
Air vehicles, including Bayraktar TB2s, being exhibited during the inauguration of the Kucova Tactical Air Base, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) first air base in the Western Balkans, 2024. (Photo Credit: Olsi Shehu / Anadolu / Getty Images)

When troops or equipment are needed for an operation, NATO relies on member countries to provide the troops and equipment.

That being said, the organization does operate a combination of Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) surveillance aircraft and ground surveillance drones – in particular, the Northrop Grumman RQ-4D Phoenix, a variant of the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

All European countries are eligible for membership

Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking at a podium
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the press conference during the NATO Summit at LITEXPO Lithuanian Exhibition and Congress Center in Vilnius, Lithuania, 2023. (Photo Credit: Zawrzel / NurPhoto / Getty Images)

Entry to the NATO is open to all European countries via an “open door” policy, with the only caveat being that all who join must 1) agree to defend all regions under the organization and 2) follow any additional regulations set out by the Washington Treaty.

As aforementioned, the latest nation to join NATO was Sweden in March 2024, with three still vying for membership: Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia.

NATO operates two strategic commands

Officials sitting together in the Headquarters Strategic Air Command control room
Headquarters Strategic Air Command control room at Offut Air Force Base, Nebraska, 1957. (Photo Credit: CORBIS / Getty Images)

There are so many countries and troops associated with NATO that it can be difficult to keep everything in order. As such, the organization puts an emphasis on the chain of command.

More from us: Able Archer 83: The NATO Exercise That Nearly Sparked Nuclear War

NATO operates two top-level strategic command centers: the Allied Command Operations in Mons, Belgium and the Allied Command Transformation, located at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads in Norfolk, Virginia.

Todd Neikirk

Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey-based politics, entertainment and history writer. His work has been featured in,, and He enjoys sports, politics, comic books, and anything that has to do with history.

When he is not sitting in front of a laptop, Todd enjoys soaking up everything the Jersey Shore has to offer with his wife, two sons and American Foxhound, Wally.