Agreement between two or more states to come to each other's assistance in the event of war. Alliances were criticized after World War I as having contributed to the outbreak of war, but the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been a major part of the post-1945 structure of international relations (as was the Warsaw Pact until its dissolution 1991).
Historical alliances to 1900 In 1668 the Triple Alliance between Great Britain, Sweden, and the Netherlands had as its object the diminution of the power of Louis XIV. The Grand Alliance of 1689 was formed for the same object. The Quadruple Alliance of 1814 between Great Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia was directed against Napoleon. The object of the Triple Alliance of 1882 between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy was the preservation of European peace against possible aggression by Russia or France. This led to the Dual Alliance of France and Russia.
1900 to 1945 On the outbreak of World War I the Triple Alliance broke up owing to the refusal of Italy to act with Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Triple Entente, an informal alliance before World War I, embraced Great Britain, France, and Russia, and was concluded in 1907. To strengthen this bond the three powers signed the Pact of London in 1914, each declaring that it would not conclude a separate peace. Japan signed the pact soon after. The Bolsheviks, however, concluded a separate peace with the Central Powers in 1918 and broke up the Triple Entente.
No alliance strictly comparable to the ‘armed camps of Europe’ before 1914 were formed between the two world wars. However, in 1936 Germany, Italy, and Japan came together to form the Axis for mutual support and cooperation, and in due course Britain and France concluded defensive pacts with a number of smaller European states. Then in 1939 the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, in an abrupt volte face, concluded a non-aggression pact prior to their invasion of Poland. In 1941, however, Germany attacked the Soviet Union.
After 1945 Alliances have been a prominent feature of international affairs in the post-war world. The Treaty of Brussels (see Brussels, Treaty of) in 1948 between Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the UK promised the signatories all possible assistance in the event of attack. This obligation is stronger than that imposed on the signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949), which is an expanded version of the Brussels Treaty also including Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, and the USA. The German Federal Republic, Greece, and Turkey have since also signed the treaty. Signatories to the NATO treaty have contracted to assist, by ‘such action as it deems necessary’, the country attacked. The main significance of the treaty was that it was the first in which the USA undertook European commitments in peacetime.
The purpose of NATO was primarily to meet the threat to Europe posed by the USSR. The Eastern bloc concluded a similar treaty in May 1955 at Warsaw. The treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact was signed five days after the Western European Union was established. The WEU, as well as signatories to the Brussels Treaty, includes Italy and the German Federal Republic, which became a sovereign state on the same day.
Beyond the Cold War Following the 1991 breakup of the Warsaw Pact, in 1994 NATO launched a ‘Partnership for Peace’ initiative whereby former Soviet bloc countries could cooperate with and enjoy some of its security benefits without full membership. Then, in May 1997, Russia, which had objected to NATO's eastern expansion, withdrew its opposition. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were offered membership from 1999 and Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria soon afterwards, with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania likely members at a future date. In June 1997 Switzerland moved from its traditional neutral position to join the ‘Partnership for Peace’ programme.
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