The United States and NATO: World Relationships and Why they Matter

Last week, leaders of 29 countries gathered in London, England to celebrate the 70th anniversary of NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO is a political and military alliance formed on April 4, 1949, after World War II when 12 original countries signed a pact to help protect each other from the growing threat of the Soviet Union’s military expansion. NATO’s headquarters are in Brussels, Belgium, and the now 29 member countries work together to build shared military and political protections. After the Cold War ended, NATO added former Soviet republics to its alliance and added a focus on joint humanitarian efforts. One of the key purposes of NATO is stated in Article 5 of its original agreement – that if one country is attacked or under distress, the other NATO countries will come to its aid (the only time Article 5 has been enacted was after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States). However, 70 years after its beginning, leaders in several NATO countries, including the United States, question its continued mission and effectiveness. Some of that uncertainty and stress in the relationships between the countries was on display last week at the anniversary summit meeting in London.  In January 2019, the U.S. Congress passed the “NATO Support Act” to reinforce Congress’ support of the Alliance and to try to prevent President Trump from unilaterally withdrawing from the 70-year-old Treaty. How the United States interacts with its allies and conducts its foreign political and military policy reflects the values of the country and the guidance of the Constitution in its Preamble, in which one of its primary goals is to “provide for the common defense.”


Essential Questions:

  • How important do you believe, among all the priorities of the U.S. Government, is the United States’ relationships with its Allies, and why?
  • What other parts of the Constitution, besides the Preamble, refer to United States relationships with other countries?
  • Why might it be in the United States’ interest to provide defense and support of smaller countries in western Europe?
  • What happened at the December 2019 meeting / 70th Anniversary summit between the leaders of NATO and what might it mean for our relationships going forward?
  • What do you think the future of a political and military alliance like NATO should be, and what should the US role be going forward?
  • Should the president be able to withdraw from a Treaty like NATO without the participation or consent of Congress? Why or why not?







Background on NATO

What is NATO – NATO interactive website

10 Things you need to know about NATO – NATO website

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – Council on Foreign Relations (updated Dec. 2019)

What is NATO and what does it do? – United States Department of Defense

What is Defense Alliance NATO? – The BBC


Recent News Articles:

What Happens Next with NATO – Time Magazine, 12/6/19

Tensions Overshadow NATO Meeting Intended as Show of Unity – New York Times, 12/4/19

A challenge from China could be just the thing to pull NATO together – CNN, 12/4/19

Trump and other world leaders kept butting heads at the NATO summit. Here’s what happened – Boston Globe, 12/4/19

NATO needs to change to survive, analysts say – CNBC, 12/4/19

Alliance divided: Breaking down NATO’s factions – Politico, 12/3/19

NATO under friendly fire as leaders ready for London summit – Associated Press, 12/2/19



NATIONAL VIEW: Trump is the least of NATO’s problems – Bobby Ghosh, Bloomberg Opinion, 12/8/19

Guest Editorial: Don’t toy with NATO defense pact – USA Today in Holland Sentinel, 12/8/19

NATO is still essential – National Review Editors, 12/4/19

Is Macron right that NATO is brain-dead? – Pat Buchanan, The Brunswick News, 11/30/19


Lexile Level – Adjustable Articles (Newsela)

NATO from the Cold War to Today: Defending Democracy in Europe – adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica/Newsela, 6/13/17

Greek neighbor Macedonia renamed North Macedonia for NATO entry – adapted from Associated Press, 1/31/19


Geography/Maps and Timelines:

NATO on the map (interactive map from the NATO website)

Top 14 maps and charts that explain NATO – GeoAwesomeness

NATO Countries – a Google Map

NATO Map – Esri mapping

NATO – a video timeline (from the NATO website)

Timeline: NATO – BBC News

Timeline: a brief history of NATO – The London Times


Primary Sources:

The Original NATO Treaty

Text of the NATO Treaty


Legal/Constitutional Connections:

H.R.676 – NATO Support Act  (passed Jan. 23, 2019)

Constitutional Issues Relating to the NATO Support Act – by Curtis Bradley & Jack Goldsmith, Lawfare, 1/28/19

U.S. Foreign Policy Powers: Congress and the President – Council on Foreign Relations

The Conduct of Foreign Relations – Legal Information Institute


Lesson Plans on this topic:

Formation of NATO – CSPAN Classroom

NATO Lesson Plan –

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization – Share My Lesson

Post-World War II Europe; NATO and the Warsaw Pact – Discovery Education


Lesson Plans regarding Media & News Literacy (general):

Media Literacy Resources – Newseum

News & Media Literacy Lessons – Common Sense

Media Misinformation, Viral Deception, and “Fake News” – University of Wyoming

Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake News – New York Times Lessons