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NATO is an inter-governmental military alliance of 29 countries in Europe and North America. Its mission is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members by political and military means. The UK was a founder member of NATO and played a prominent role in its formation. Since being founded by twelve countries in 1949, NATO membership has increased through several waves of enlargement.   

NATO currently has approximately 20,000 troops deployed in operations across the world. While Afghanistan remains its primary operational theatre, NATO continues to conduct missions in Kosovo, Iraq, the Mediterranean, and policing of airspace in eastern Europe following Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. NATO has a funding target whereby members should commit a minimum of 2 percent of their GDP on defence spending. In 2018, the UK was one of five NATO members to meet the target (2.1%).   

This briefing provides a summary of recent developments concerning NATO, the UK’s commitment to the organisation, and the potential impact of Brexit. This is followed by a historical overview of NATO’s founding and subsequent enlargement. 


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