The Long Entanglement: NATO's First Fifty Years

By Lawrence S. Kaplan | Go to book overview

11
NATO at Fifty

" NATO at Fifty," which updates the preceding chapter, was prepared specifically for this volume.

As the North Atlantic allies celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, they wonder about the direction of the alliance in the twenty-first century. This is not a new concern. In fact, the uncertain future of the alliance was an acute issue at the time NATO's fortieth anniversary. The language of perestroika and glasnost in the late 1980s, and particularly the toppling of the Berlin Wall in the fall of 1989, gave rise to a hope for a new age in which the Hegelian conflicts of history would be at an end, as Francis Fukuyama anticipated. At the least, there would be no need for the continuation of NATO. A flurry of publications in this period, with titles like Beyond Hegemony: The Future of the Western Alliance and Search for Enemies: American Alliances after the Cold War, relayed this message. 1

While postmortem reflections on the alliance and organization were premature, questions about a viable future for an organization designed to contain the menace of Soviet communism were understandable. If the Cold War was the raison d'etre for the alliance, what purpose would be served by its existence after the threat had dissolved? This was a major question in the 1990s, and the alliance's existence at the end of the decade may have answered it. Or, is NATO's survival more a matter of bureaucratic inertia, a structure without meaning or purpose? The League of Nations, after all, may have been essentially dead by the mid-1930s, but it lived on through

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