The Long Entanglement: NATO's First Fifty Years

By Lawrence S. Kaplan | Go to book overview
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NATO: A Counterfactual History

The last chapter in this section, "NATO: A Counterfactual History," was delivered as a dinner address at a conference held in April 1994 at the Lyman L. Lemnitzer Center for NATO and European Union Studies. It was published in S. Victor Papacosma and Mary Ann Heiss, eds., NATO in the Post-Cold War Era: Does NATO Have a Future? ( New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995), pp. 3-21.

There are not many appropriate occasions for a historian to play with counterfactual history. To put it charitably, it is unreasonable for a scholar to venture into a realm where there are no records to provide guidance. For me to attempt to reconstruct a past for the Atlantic Alliance that might have been but never was invites ridicule, if not contempt, on the part of reputable scholars of the past. Despite the stigma attached to such an enterprise, I want to present a history of Europe and America with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) after World War II and then to examine the difference that the alliance has made to its members over its forty-five-year history.

Before presenting this counterfeit history, I should like to note that the pundits who evoke a future rarely meet with the same suspicions that attach to the historian whose imagined past is no more preposterous than many an imagined future. "Futurology" even has a quasi-academic veneer of respectability; universities offer courses in the subject. And futurologists' projections are taken seriously in the press and podium, if not in the classroom, even if their counterfactual history proves to be mistaken or wrong-headed.


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