We often hear about NATO and the U.S. commitment to it, but how much do you actually know about the organization?

NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It includes 28 members from Europe and North America, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom. The organization’s mission is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members by consulting and cooperating on defense and security issues and building trust to prevent conflict.

However, if diplomatic efforts fail, NATO has the military capacity to start crisis-management operations.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been traveling this to Germany, Estonia and Belgium for a series of meetings with European defense ministers in support of NATO and Operation Atlantic Resolve which encompasses smaller operations such as, Anakonda16, BALTOPS, and Saber Strike, the ongoing response to Russian intervention in Ukraine. Carter will also take part in his first NATO Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium, where he plans to discuss U.S. commitments to the NATO alliance.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of Department of Defense.

Operation Atlantic Resolve is a demonstration of America’s continued commitment to the collective security of NATO and its allies, as well as its dedication to ensuring peace and stability in the region. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have led NATO to boost its air policing missions, which allow it to detect, track and take action against those who violate or infringe on the airspace of NATO allies. That includes the Baltic region, where NATO said its F-16 Fighting Falcon jets have intercepted Russian aircraft violating allied airspace several times.

The operation helps strengthen NATO through military exercises and training on land, air and sea while keeping up a rotational presence across Europe. It has also increased the responsiveness of U.S. forces through initiatives like prepositioning equipment used in training and improving infrastructure that enhances NATO operations and enables European allies to quickly get reinforcements.

Under the European Reassurance Initiative, the U.S. Navy will be able to increase its participation in NATO naval force deployments, including in the Black and Baltic seas. The initiative also lets the U.S. increase its partnerships with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine so they can work with the U.S. and NATO and provide for their own defense.

NATO is committed to the principle of collective defense, which, under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, means that an attack against one or more members of the organization is considered an attack on them all. So far, Article 5 has only been invoked once — in response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.