What would happen if China joined NATO?

Background current

Germany has been a member of NATO for 60 years. On May 6, 1955, the Federal Republic of Germany joined the Western military alliance. Even after the end of the Cold War, NATO continues to play an important role in security policy, as it is currently in the conflict over Ukraine.

Germany's accession to NATO: Federal Chancellor Adenauer with the French Foreign Minister Pinay (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)


NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was founded on April 4, 1949 by ten European countries, including France and Great Britain, as well as the USA and Canada. In 1952 Greece and Turkey joined. For the first 40 years, the alliance's task was to defend the alliance's territory and create a counterweight to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

1949 was not only the founding year of NATO, but also that of the two German states, the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Konrad Adenauer was elected as the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic on September 15, 1949, after his CDU party had prevailed together with the CSU in the first federal elections. Adenauer's foreign policy program envisaged strong ties to Western democracies and a close partnership with the United States.

A question of sovereignty

The question of Germany's future role in the world was one of the most important political issues in the young Federal Republic. The country did not have full sovereignty; The Allies had to agree to amendments to the Basic Law, were able to take over government in an emergency and retained sovereignty in foreign policy. In addition, Germany had been demilitarized in accordance with the Potsdam Agreement.

When Adenauer signed the Paris Treaties with the USA, Great Britain and France in 1954, this paved the way for the rearmament of Germany and its acceptance into NATO. The occupation status was lifted and the Federal Republic received its sovereignty, even if this remained restricted by the Allied emergency rights and the presence of Allied troops in West Germany.

Germany is being re-armed

Before the Federal Republic was accepted into NATO, it had to join the Western European Union (WEU). This should control the German rearmament. In addition, the Federal Republic had to declare that it would refrain from any violent restoration of German unity and from the construction of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The Bundeswehr to be newly founded was to comprise a maximum of 500,000 soldiers, and all of its units were placed under the NATO command.

Although Social Democrats and extra-parliamentary groups protested against rearmament, the Federal Republic officially joined NATO on May 6, 1955 *. The Federal Ministry of Defense was created, the Bundeswehr founded: on November 12, 1955, the first 101 volunteers received their certificates of appointment in a barracks in Bonn. A year later, the volunteer army became a conscript army, which grew to 495,000 men by the end of the Cold War.

The east reacts

As a reaction to the admission of the Federal Republic into NATO, eight former Eastern bloc states, including the Soviet Union, the GDR and Poland, signed a military assistance treaty in 1955: the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet Union already dominated the Warsaw Pact on paper: it was entitled to the "United High Command" provided for in Article 5 of the treaty. The Soviet Union had troops stationed in almost all member states, which in 1956 prevented Hungary's withdrawal from the pact through military intervention. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991.

NATO after 1989

After the end of the East-West confrontation, the original purpose of NATO became superfluous. Nevertheless, in the course of the eastward enlargements in 1999 and 2004 and the accession of Albania and Croatia in 2009, it grew to 28 members. Demands for a dissolution in favor of a new, pan-European security order, such as those raised by parts of the SPD and the Greens in Germany after 1989, remained unfulfilled.

Instead, the Alliance's self-image has changed: the NATO principle that an attack on one of its member states is seen as an attack on all and can be responded to with armed violence continued to apply. This "alliance case" was first decided after the attacks of September 11, 2001, as a result of which NATO troops marched into Afghanistan with German participation.

German soldier of the NATO mission in Afghanistan (ISAF) (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)
What was new was that NATO now also intervened in conflicts and wars outside its territory. This happened for the first time in the Kosovo war, in which NATO launched air strikes against Yugoslavia in 1999 due to human rights violations against the Albanian population. With the approval of the Bundestag, Germany also sent combat aircraft. There was no UN mandate for the operation because Russia had spoken out against it in the UN Security Council. To this day, its use is controversial under international law.

The Bundeswehr is currently involved in NATO missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Turkey and the Mediterranean.

NATO and Russia

From the outset, Russia had criticized NATO's eastward expansion as a threat to its own security interests. The security policy dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council created for this purpose is currently on hold because of the Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine.

Six decades after the Federal Republic was admitted to NATO, this new conflict between the West and Russia is one of the greatest security challenges of our time. How this conflict continues depends above all on how Ukraine’s relations with NATO and Russia will develop. The German government has so far refused Ukraine's membership of NATO and arms deliveries and is trying to find diplomatic solutions. At the same time, it is helping to increase NATO's presence on its alliance border in Eastern Europe.

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* Correction note: We have corrected an incorrect date. The official accession of the Federal Republic of Germany to NATO did not take place on May 9, but on May 6, 1955, after the last instrument of ratification of the NATO member states had been deposited in Washington. The first NATO ministerial meeting with German participation took place on May 9th. (Editor's note, May 26, 2017)