A Changing NATO for a Changing World

Opponents of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi hold signs in front of the White House, July 9, 2011

From John Adams, the Atlantic:  NATO’s finest achievement is its contribution to the peaceful resolution of the Cold War. Allies bonded together in unity of purpose with a common strategy, projecting credible force to preserve trans-Atlantic security. The fall of the Soviet Union cemented NATO’s record of ensuring peace and prosperity for its members without becoming their political master. Because NATO allies trusted NATO as an institution, NATO harnessed allies’ common purpose and displayed credibility to potential foes. . . .

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO’s record has raised many doubts about its relevance. On the positive side, NATO’s efforts restored peace to the Balkans and Southeast Europe and brought a strong measure of political stability to the former Soviet space. Enjoying the widespread support of allies, these efforts follow logically from NATO’s original purpose as articulated in the opening paragraphs of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, "to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area."

However, the adventure in Afghanistan is casting a long shadow on NATO’s attempt to harness its members’ resources to common purpose. American observers commonly criticize their European NATO Allies for failing their commitments in Afghanistan; however, many Allied commitments were caveated in the first place, limiting their involvement.

Having served in NATO assignments over the course of three decades, it is my experience that NATO’s common purpose suffers most when Alliance decisions are unwisely leveraged despite obvious lack of Allied enthusiasm, even in the face of genuine opposition.

If NATO is to survive as an Alliance, its efforts must reflect Allied political and strategic consensus. The United States, as a leader within the Alliance, should encourage rather than hinder this process.  Lack of political will, lack of participation in Allied operations, lack of defense spending – these incur American criticism of Allies’ political will, but they reflect a fundamental lack of common purpose in the goals’ conception. American efforts to influence NATO decision-making has fostered "ready, shoot, aim" decision-making applied at the highest levels, and has sparked questions about the alliance.

Brigadier General (ret.) John Adams retired from the U.S. Army in 2007 and is an independent defense consultant.   (photo: Getty)

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