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Carnegie Endowment: Keeping NATO Relevant

Author: Jamie Shea
April 30, 2012


In this Policy Outlook piece for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges Jamie Shea discusses the role of NATO in times of austerity and how it can meet the challenges that lie ahead.

NATO used to be a relatively straightforward concept. For forty years, its single task was to defend a given stretch of territory against a given adversary with more or less the same strategy and set of military capabilities. The Alliance did not need to select its mission or choose from a range of contingencies to address. They were imposed on it from the outside and only became redundant when its adversaries—the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union—collapsed from within.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, NATO has faced an entirely different landscape. Defending territory has been less important than projecting stability and upholding allies' security interests in the wider world. Today, the Alliance is potentially better known for what it does outside than inside Europe. As its post–Cold War missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and more recently Libya reveal, NATO has identified its own security with the well-being of distant countries, the great majority of which will never be NATO members. Rather than wait for threats to arrive at its borders, the Alliance has chosen to confront them at a strategic distance and via the stabilization of whole nations and societies.

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