The Long Entanglement: NATO's First Fifty Years

By Lawrence S. Kaplan | Go to book overview

IV
NATO in the Third Generation, from 1991

The decade of the 1990s is both easier and more difficult to evaluate than the two preceding generations. Unlike older milestones, the break with the past was more dramatic and far clearer than the Harmel report of 1967. While acceptance of that document, along with the concept of flexible response, suggested a major change in the nature of the Cold War, the war went on. There was a détente of sorts in the mid-1950s under Khrushchev, and the military buildup under Reagan had its precedent in the activities following the outbreak of the Korean War. But the toppling of the Berlin Wall, followed rapidly by the unification of Germany, the breakdown of the Warsaw Pact, and the implosion of the Soviet empire were unprecedented in NATO's history.

How to cope with success was a major concern of the 1990s, and it had not been solved at the alliance's fiftieth anniversary. Indeed, the end of the Soviet Union raised the question of the need for the continuation of the alliance. As the first two chapters in this section indicate, NATO devoted much of its energy in this decade in seeking ways to justify its survival, in identifying new strategic concepts, and in finding new missions for the impressive infrastructure built up during the Cold War. The third chapter is an apologia for the long years of NATO's existence since the end of World War 11. Conjectures about what might have been the history of the West if the alliance had not been fashioned conclude this volume.

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