Academic journal article International Journal

[NATO Transformed: The Alliance's New Roles in International Security]

Academic journal article International Journal

[NATO Transformed: The Alliance's New Roles in International Security]

Article excerpt


The Alliance's New Roles in International Security

David S. Yost

Washington: US Institute of Peace, 1998, xvii, 450pp, US$19.95 paper

Winston Churchill once observed that if we do not take change by the hand, it will one day seize us by the throat. One can hardly think of a more fitting adage for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As the Alliance lurches into its fiftieth year it seems at once united and divided, resolute and timid, decisive yet paralyzed. One could attribute this rather bizarre state of affairs to the pseudo-war in Kosovo, which is a departure from not only the Alliance's core activity (that is, self-defence) but also from the practice of defining goals in a clear and strategic (that is, long-term) manner. These four works on NATO's future do not explore these issues, as each was published before the outbreak of fighting. They do, however, provide as comprehensive an examination of the political and military factors affecting the Alliance's longevity as one is likely to encounter. Together, they examine the issue from a variety of angles ranging from the future orientation of United States foreign policy, efforts to forge a more solid (and competing?) European defence identity, and relations with the other major player in the European security equation: Russia.

David Yost's NATO Transformed focuses on what is perhaps the most fundamental question underpinning the Alliance's future. He asks whether NATO has transformed itself from an organization dedicated to collective self-defence into one with a wider, more inclusive mandate which will contribute to, rather than detract from, post-cold war security in Europe. By surveying its efforts to reach out to the states in the former Soviet orbit and its pre-occupation with crisis management in the Balkans, he concludes that NATO has demonstrated the attributes of a collective security body. Although there is little doubt that its core purpose remains intact, its 'open-door' policy toward central and eastern Europe and its sojourn into the world of peacekeeping illustrate both the internal 'push' for a new strategic rationale and the external 'pull' exerted by those regions of Europe which crave peace and stability.

Yost is careful not to paint an overly optimistic picture. American hesitancy to take the lead and Europe's decades-old habit of deferring to United States leadership on security matters has compounded the difficulty of forging a strategic identity in the absence of the Soviet threat. He points put that new and enduring objectives - namely, enlargement and collective action based on consensus - are bound to clash since the former will almost inevitably make the latter more difficult. Another challenge will be accommodating Russian sensitivities without fatally compromising either autonomy or the timeliness of a response to emerging crises. Clearly, 'NATO Transformed' is an ironic choice of title. As Yost makes clear, the transformation of the institution and its strategic mind-set is quite unfinished. The volume, therefore, serves as a timely warning to policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic: the cold war may be over but the amount of work yet to be done should not be underestimated.

One would think that the question of NATO's role in any future European security architecture would be more problematic if examined from the perspective of states on the periphery of the Alliance. Surprisingly, the contributors to NATO Looks East see few problems and stress that enlargement presents virtually unlimited opportunities for co-operation and confidence-building. …

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