from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

Behind the Scenes at NATO

May 18, 2012, 11:53 am (EST)

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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On, I argue that at first glance, NATO’s upcoming May 19-21 Chicago summit can be seen as a moment of triumph, but that there are fundamental questions about the future of the alliance that will go undiscussed. My colleagues in the United Kingdom, Israel, Turkey, and Russia, don’t necessarily agree though. Read their opinions on the second installment of CFR’s new Council of Council’s Global Expert Roundup.

The alliance’s successful military intervention in Libya demonstrated to many NATO’s continued relevance as the world’s premier collective defense organization and the only military alliance capable of conducting intense operations beyond its borders. With critical air support, the alliance prevented the mass slaughter of civilians and helped overthrow an execrable dictator, Muammar al-Qaddafi, without the loss of a single allied serviceman. NATO remains, in the words of its new Strategic Concept, "an essential source of stability in an unpredictable world."

Behind the scenes, however, the picture is less rosy. The alliance continues to confront fundamental questions about how it should define its role and mission in the twenty-first century, and whether its member nations have the political will and capacity to fulfill its mission. In particular, countries are ambivalent about whether the alliance should continue to conduct operations outside the North Atlantic, or limit missions to member nations’ borders. The collection of twenty-eight sovereign democracies is sometimes fractious, each with its own national interests, threat perceptions, and domestic constraints. None of these issues is officially on the Chicago agenda, but they will form part of the background for discussions and will surely influence the commitments NATO nations are prepared to make when it comes to conducting out-of-area operations, developing new collective capabilities, and forging partnerships with non-member states.

Three items will dominate the official agenda in Chicago: navigating a tricky endgame in Afghanistan, implementing NATO’s new "smart defense" doctrine, and bolstering the alliance’s global partnerships.

View the entire Expert Brief here on 

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