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NATO's Future: Facing Old Divisions and New Threats

Author: James M. Goldgeier, Dean, School of International Service, American University
Frontiers of Conflict, Vol. 31 (1) - Spring 2009 Issue
Harvard International Review


NATO has much to celebrate in the year of its 60th anniversary. In the twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, NATO has incorporated much of Central and Eastern Europe into its membership. It responded to the threat that emerged on September 11, 2001 and sent troops far from home to combat the Taliban and al-Qaeda and to help reconstruct a war-torn country. And the French decision to rejoin NATO's integrated military command after a four decade absence will enable deeper cooperation both across the Atlantic and within Europe. But while NATO has gone far in adapting to the world after the earth-shattering events of 11/9 and 9/11, it continues to confront the existential question it has faced since the end of the Cold War: is an alliance of transatlantic democracies built to counter a possible Soviet attack the best instrument for combating the threats of the 21st century?

NATO members have launched a process to articulate a new strategic concept in the coming year that will define their purpose going forward. In doing so, they must respond to at least three critical challenges. First, the alliance has only a handful of members willing and able to engage in military operations in places such as Afghanistan, and cajoling by the Secretary-General and others about the need for the rest to do more has had little impact. Second, its relations with Russia remain rocky even as a new US administration has promised to push the "reset button" with the Kremlin. Finally, some NATO members have understood the alliance must develop closer ties to non-European democracies in a globalizing world, but the majority of members fear a dilution of the alliance's transatlantic character if NATO "goes global."


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