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A Still-Strong Alliance

Author: Charles A. Kupchan, Senior Fellow
April & May 2012
Policy Review


The Atlantic alliance has demonstrated remarkable resilience over the past two decades. Most alliances do not outlast the dissolution of the threat that brought them into being. nato, however, not only survived the collapse of the Soviet Union but went on to welcome a host of new members from Central Europe and to undertake military missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya. As the Cold War came to a close, few observers could have predicted that NATO, twenty years later, would be in the midst of a major mission in Afghanistan while simultaneously carrying out a successful air campaign to topple the Libyan government.

NATO's surprising longevity and activism notwithstanding, the Atlantic alliance has certainly suffered its fair share of setbacks. The Iraq war of 2003 severely strained transatlantic relations and underscored the differences in approach and policy that had come into stark relief after President George W. Bush took office. The election of Barack Obama then seemed to guide the United States and Europe back into alignment — but only temporarily. Soon enough, Europeans began to worry that Obama was a "post-Atlanticist" president who would focus his attention elsewhere — on Asia, in particular. So, too, were Europeans disappointed when Obama backed away from some of his campaign pledges, unable to close Guantanamo or implement a credible U.S. program to curb global warming. For its part, Washington begrudged the EU's sluggish response to its financial crisis and its inability to muster more coherence and capability on matters of defense.

The Western alliance has, however, admirably weathered these ups and downs, and proved wrong its many naysayers. Only a decade ago, many analysts were convinced that the transatlantic coupling was on the rocks. Robert Kagan predicted in these pages that a Hobbesian America obsessed with power and coercion was destined to separate from a Kantian Europe wedded to taming the world through law and institutions. In The End of the American Era, I foresaw a European Union whose deepening integration would gradually give it the wherewithal to chart its own course, fostering an independence that would come at the expense of Atlantic solidarity. Others, such as Ivo Daalder, the current U.S. ambassador to NATO, fretted in Survival about the "effective end of Atlanticism" and a strategic drift that could result "in separation and, ultimately, divorce."

This article appears in full on by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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