Timeline of key events in NATO's 59-year history

(Reuters) - The largest summit in NATO’s history starting on Wednesday could mould the West’s relations with Russia for years to come, and show whether the U.S.-led alliance has the resolve to win the war in Afghanistan.

The three-day meeting in Bucharest offers U.S. President George W. Bush and Russia’s Vladimir Putin the chance to burnish the legacies they leave on the world stage as each prepares to leave office.

Here are some key dates in the Western military organization’s 59-year history:

April 4, 1949 - U.S., Canada and 10 West European states sign the Washington Treaty to create the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Article 5 states: “The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all...”

May 6, 1955 - West Germany joins NATO, prompting the Soviet Union eight days later to gather eight east European nations into the Warsaw Pact coalition.

March 10, 1966 - President Charles de Gaulle pulls France out of NATO’s integrated military structure. NATO headquarters moves from Paris to Brussels the following year. France subsequently rejoins NATO’s military command in 1993.

Dec 9-10, 1976 - NATO rejects Warsaw Pact proposals to renounce first use of nuclear arms and restrict membership.

Nov 19, 1990 - With the Cold War over, NATO and the Warsaw Pact issue a joint non-aggression declaration. Eight months later, the Warsaw Treaty Organization is officially disbanded.

Dec 16, 1995 - NATO launches largest military operation to date, in support of the Bosnian peace agreement.

March 24, 1999 - NATO begins air strikes against Yugoslavia over Kosovo, the first time it has used force against a sovereign state without U.N. approval.

Sept 12, 2001 - NATO invokes Article 5 for first time after the 9/11 attacks on United States, later deploying Airborne Warning and Control Systems aircraft to United States.

Aug 11, 2003 - NATO takes command of Kabul-based peacekeeping in Afghanistan, its first deployment outside Europe or North America, and one that will see its forces engage in their bloodiest ground combat.

April 2, 2004 - NATO expands to 26 members when former communist states Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia join, five years after the entry of Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

Dec 8, 2005 - NATO foreign ministers approve a plan to expand the alliance’s peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

July 31, 2006 - NATO forces take over security from the U.S.-led coalition in southern Afghanistan, embarking on one of the alliance’s toughest ground operations in its history.

June 25, 2007 - NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer mounts a stout defense of U.S. missile shield plan in eastern Europe ahead of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sees the plan as a threat to Russia.

April 2-4, 2008 - Croatia, Macedonia and Albania hope to be invited to join the Western alliance at the summit of NATO’s 26 leaders in Romania’s capital, Bucharest.

Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Jon Boyle