NATO AIRPOWER: THE FIRST 20 YEARS

Andrew Thomas reviews air power during the first 20 years of NATO’s existence

During a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill said: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

Churchill foresaw the hegemony of Soviet communism and the coming of the Cold War that continued for most of the second half of the 20th century. The threat of Soviet expansion was recognised almost immediately World War Two ended, resulting in several European countries eventually creating the Western Union in September 1948. Stalin’s intentions were highlighted by the coup d’état in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, followed by the blockade of Berlin that began the following June.

Talks of a wider alliance that would include countries beyond Europe saw the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949. Thus, the Western Union of Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were joined by Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal and, most significantly, the United States in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The agreement was based on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and is remarkably short, comprising just 14 articles with wording designed to be flexible. It has never had to be amended or changed.

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