75 years of NATO: An Alliance firmly rooted in Belgium


Founded on 4 April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is celebrating its 75th anniversary. It's here in Belgium, specifically in Brussels and Mons, that over 20,000 people are working to run this political and military Alliance.

Indeed, demonstrating its ability to take on an increasingly important international role, Brussels was chosen to house the headquarters of this organisation, which today has 32 members – 20 more countries than when it was founded.

Brussels, the political and administrative centre

The permanent headquarters of the North Atlantic Council, the principal political decision-making body within the organisation, is located in the municipality of Evere. NATO's headquarters were set up on the site of the former Haren airport within six months in 1967. Initially "temporary", this solution was in use for some fifty years. However, as the number of members continued to grow, space became increasingly scarce and more and more temporary modules had to be added at the headquarters.

Consequently, in 1999, at its summit in Washington DC, the North Atlantic Council decided that the 1967 buildings were no longer suitable for NATO. Due to their dilapidated state, the decision was made to create a new headquarters and the Belgian government provided a site on the other side of the boulevard for this purpose. An architecture competition to design the new headquarters was launched in 2001. This was won by the consortium led by the British-American architectural firm SOM and the Belgian firm Assar Architects. Construction on the site in the King Albert 1st district, also in Haren, would begin in 2010. The impressive building was opened in 2017 and now accommodates around 4,000 people.

At a height of 32 metres and with a built area of over 250,000 m² on a total plot of 49 hectares, this new political and administrative centre of the Alliance is always open to representatives and experts from member countries, who come together to consult and work together with partner countries.

Mons, home of the strategic headquarters

In addition to NATO's headquarters in Brussels, there is also the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). This was originally located in France, near the political and administrative centre of Paris, but when France withdrew from the NATO command structure in 1966, all NATO units stationed in France at the time had to leave the country.

After Brussels was selected for NATO's headquarters in December 1966, the search began for a suitable, nearby location for SHAPE. However, the authorities did not want a major military target near Brussels and the Mons region and the province of Hainaut would benefit from the economic growth generated by the establishment of SHAPE. Its new location therefore became Casteau, originally a former barracks, which over the years has been completely transformed into a camp with all the necessary facilities. SHAPE is a strategic headquarters. Its role is to prepare, plan, conduct and execute NATO's military operations, missions and tasks to achieve the Alliance's strategic objectives.

A genuine village on the outskirts of Mons, it has its own schools, hospital, cinema and shops. The "SHAPE community" comprises some 16,000 military and civilian personnel.