Nato meeting 2019: What is Nato and how does it work?

2 December 2019, 22:56

World leaders are meeting at a Nato Summit in London
World leaders are meeting at a Nato Summit in London. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

As world leaders meet in London for the upcoming Nato meeting, LBC News explains what the bloc does and how it was formed.

This week's meeting of Nato leaders is set to put defence spending and the future of the military alliance firmly on the election campaign agenda in the US and the UK.

The Conservatives are cautious of appearing overly friendly with Donald Trump after Labour's campaign focused heavily on the alleged desire of the US to buy up NHS drugs and services.

So what is Nato and what does it mean to Britain?

What is Nato?

Nato stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It was formed in 1949 to prevent the rise of nationalism and militarism in Europe after two world wars.

Its aims were also to deter the expansion of the Soviet Union into Europe during the Cold War.

The bloc attempts to resolve disputes through diplomatic efforts but claims it has the military power to undertake "crisis-management operations," according to the Nato website.

Nato has 29 member states
Nato has 29 member states. Picture: PA Images

Who can join Nato?

The number of countries in the organisation has jumped to 29 in recent years - many of them European - after agreeing to mutual defence in response to an enemy attack.

According to Nato's website, member states must uphold democracy, make progress towards a market economy, have military forces under control, be good neighbours and must be working toward compatibility with Nato forces.

New members can only be invited with the agreement of all current member states.

Nato members meet periodically to discuss major international issues
Nato members meet periodically to discuss major international issues. Picture: PA Images

How much do countries spend on defence?

Nato asks member states to spend a minimum of 2 per cent of their GDP on defence spending - a target which the UK has met every year since its introduction in 2006.

The UK has been the second highest contributor to Nato for the past seven years, spending approximately £38billion - or 2.1 per cent - on defence.

The US, meanwhile, has spent more than twice as much on defence as the rest of NATO combined in the same period, which Trump highlighted during the 2018 summit.

Aside from the UK and the US, the other countries meeting the 2 per cent target are Greece, Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

Between 2012 and 2018, total Nato defence spending has fallen by $72.2 billion.

Donald Trump has criticised other Nato members for paying far below the United States
Donald Trump has criticised other Nato members for paying far below the United States. Picture: PA Images

What does Donald Trump think about Nato?

Ahead of landing in the UK, the US president has expressed concern about the cost of the United States' contribution and strongly criticised other member states who contribute less than the 2 per cent Nato asks for.

In his State of the Union address earlier this year, he said that the US had been "treated very unfairly by friends of ours, members of NATO" over a number of years.

During his presidential campaign he called the alliance "obsolete" and criticised other members whose security he thought was being subsidised by the United States.

However, he has since U-turned on that stance, to the relief of many, saying: "I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete."