NATO’s Posters

(This is the third part of what may be becoming a series on the graphic history of the Cold War. Part One looks at the corporate identity Erik Nitsche created for General Dynamics, and Part Two at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists‘s doomsday clock.)

The start of the Cold War meant that postwar Europe was saturated with propaganda. A short list of the major players is a thicket of opaque euphemisms. The US Information Agency’s name was clear enough, but what about the Information Research Department, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, or the International Documentation and Information Center? (Respectively, the British Foreign Office’s propaganda division; a CIA-funded non-governmental organization; and a Dutch-French-West German propaganda collaboration.)

Under these circumstances, NATO’s own publicity unit barely had a chance. The NATO Information Service (NATIS) was headed by a Canadian, former consul to Boston T.F.M. Newton. Created in September 1950, it began purely as a coordination body. Only in 1953 did it get a budget and permission to do its own work: it’s first project was creating an emblem for the Organization. The first NATIS exhibition was the “Caravan for Peace” that visited Italy, Turkey, Greece, and France. These trailer-truck tours continued until 1960, when NATIS down-sized into vans called NATO mobile information centers.

Compared to the competition, NATO posters were unimpressive. Unlike the striking posters promoting European unity through the Marshall Plan (second row below), those advertising NATO (first row below) had a certain corporate blandness.

NATONATO Eight Anniversary NATO Tenth Anniversary


Source: A wide selection of NATO posters can be seen on the Organization’s own website. Some more can be found digitized at the US National Archives.  The story of NATIS is told in a variety of articles by Linda Risso, whose book on the topic is forthcoming.


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