The Dynamics of Change

NATO Adaptation and the Future of Transatlantic Security Cooperation

Sunset Stop
The Dynamics of Change : NATO Adaptation and the Future of Transatlantic Security Cooperation - Rebecca Michael

Because the North Atlantic Treaty commits its original members to a part­nership of unspecified duration, and because NATO has no supranational char­acter (meaning all decisions taken within the NATO framework must be imple­mented on the basis of unanimity, and can not be imposed on unwilling mem­ber states), the alliance has found itself, throughout its history, subject to a series of different tensions implicating both its solidarity and its utility as a defense organization. These tensions include domestic defense commitments of individual NATO member countries, burden-sharing debates within the alli­ance, political, strategic, and military debates between alliance members, rela­tive merits of defense and deterrence, and differing assessments of external security threats. Faced with such strains, the alliance has had to reconfigure itself in order to continue to fulfill its three most important functions: main­taining the confidence of all member nations, providing for their security, and preserving alliance cohesion. A look into the process by which the alliance has successfully overcome the diffusion of internal interests in the early nineties after the collapse of the Soviet Union will aid in developing an understanding of its capacity to adapt today. In this paper, I will argue that the process of change that NATO underwent in the nineteen nineties laid the groundwork for the erosion of the political basis of the alliance in the present day. Although the alliance continues to exist today, and although it has recently undertaken strong military action, I argue that it is a partnership in crisis, one that no longer has recourse to its historic methods of adaptation. Today's NATO is less an inde­pendent variable setting the security agenda, and more a reactive force that must acknowledge and respond to changes occurring around it. As its internal political consensus has begun to fragment, the organization has placed increasing importance on its military aspect; while this development has held the alliance together it will not provide a long-term solution because political consensus is a necessary precursor to cooperation in security affairs.


In many ways the problems and challenges currently facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are not new. Throughout its history, NATO has had to react to the complexity of a transforming international environment. NATO's political and military cohesion have, since the alliance's inception in 1949, been based not on avoiding, but rather on regulating, internal tensions. Using strategy as an organizing tool, the alliance has attempted to create a coherent military policy capable of satisfying the divergent political interests of its member countries. NATO has always faced two central challenges: Main­taining its political cohesiveness as an alliance, and remaining militarily ca­pable of contributing to the security needs of its members.

While it is an indisputable fact that the alliance has managed thus far to regulate its internal struggles without sacrificing its military significance, a variety of considerations indicate the importance of reevaluating the organization's capacity to adapt. The changing notion of security, both for indi­vidual nation states and for the NATO alliance as an autonomous actor, punc­tuated by the events of September nth, shifts in the political landscape of Western Europe, and discussions about possible deviation from the status quo in NATO military organization and strategy, all highlight the importance of reevaluating NATO's adaptive capacity.

Today's NATO faces the erosion of both its political underpinnings and its military cohesiveness. Historically the alliance has found itself faced with no dearth of burden sharing debates and squabbles between various member na­tions, but neither the political consensus on which it has operated, nor the military balance among the allies, have ever been as seriously threatened as they are today. The significance of the weakened consensus on which NATO currently rests manifests itself in the nature of the adaptations that the orga­nization has been trying to make since the London summit in 1991. The Berlin Communique of 1996 is particularly revealing for its primarily non-military objectives. Two out of three objectives set in Berlin focus on political rather then military issues, namely to "preserve the transatlantic link," and to pro­mote the "European Security and Defense Identity within the alliance."1 This reveals the extent to which political insecurity has eclipsed the need to focus on military efficacy within the alliance.

The attempt to develop militarily solvent policies on the foundation of political discord only highlights the glaring gap separating the Americans from their European allies; the contemporary alliance has become so unbalanced that it faces the risk of not being able to fight together in the future. The po­litico-military leadership during the Cold War that has allowed the US to shape the international order through NATO is arguably winding down. As European support for NATO as a vehicle for coordinated responses to regional security crises declines, and as politicians on both sides of the Atlantic realize that a transatlantic partnership can not be based only on a widespread diffusion of US values, respect for the "NATO tradition" remains the strongest force holding the alliance together. But this legacy alone will not provide a strong enough foundation for the formulation of new policy. Instead, policy outcomes will likely become susceptible to considerations that have always been tangential to the formulation of policy; estimates of cost, transatlantic trade relations, and Eu­ropean integration will play a larger role in the formulation of NATO policy than NATO itself, undermining the status of the alliance as an independent variable with autonomous causal impacts on the provision of security.

Another force that cuts against America's continued success in NATO is the invariably more cohesive and autonomous stand that Europeans are tak­ing on their own security; Although the reality of European dependence on American military technology shows no sign of changing in either the near or distant future, the fact of diverging political wills threatens to undermine the alliance. Granted, the alliance has always had disagreements on issues of re­ciprocal control and administration. What separates today's challenges from those of the past, however, is the fact that national interests on both sides of the Atlantic are diverging. The progress made by the European allies on a uniquely European security policy has not been hindered by the technological dependence on the United States. What has been happening instead is the steady widening of the rift between the political and the military aspects of NATO. The Europeans appear to no longer regard NATO as an arena for multi­lateral security cooperation, but rather as a political arena. This attitude, coupled with the United States' refusal to become mired in ideological debates with the Europeans, undermines the viability of NATO's transatlantic military and po­litical structure. The organization has lost its ability to determine and fulfill the security needs of its members because neither European nor American secu­rity is conceptualized in terms of NATO's military capabilities.

The unraveling of NATO's political underpinnings clearly manifests itself in the wake of the September 11th attacks on America. As Americans planned their military response campaign in Afghanistan, NATO was relegated· to the sidelines to openly fret over ways to maintain its public support, an alliance without a mandate. Instead of contributing to war planning efforts, NATO occupied itself with the task of introspection, entertaining questions of the genre: "If one could replay the US response to September lit\ what kind of NATO with what capabilities would we ideally wish to have?"2 At this critical junc­ture, the US made no attempt to involve either NATO or the European allies in its planned reprisal; NATO had absolutely no leverage in setting the agenda of the US response; its only recourse was to question its own validity.

Why, we may ask, did the US shift its military policy 180 degrees away from reliance on NATO, especially after a successful military campaign in Kosovo little more than two years ago? While it is possible to point to the 1999 military success in Kosovo and claim that NATO's military capabilities couldn't have been in better shape, two factors, one military, one political, make it impossible to view this military "success" as indicative of the alliance's future direction. On the military side, American defense spending after September 11th has in­creased dramatically, accelerating changes in American forces, and minimiz­ing US interest in humanitarian and crisis management missions. These de­velopments have heightened the capabilities gap separating the US and Eu­rope, thereby undermining NATO's cohesion. In order to understand NATO's political woes, one need only to examine the political fallout that plagued each of NATO's member nations in the wake of Kosovo. An alliance cannot stay together based on transitory military victory, if that victory means different things to different members.

While the technological solution that NATO provided to the Kosovo crisis was useful, it belied a weakening of the idea of a transatlantic security partner­ship. This truth is playing out on the world stage right now as Europeans demonstrate their increasingly divergent views, compared with America's, of what kind of force is needed to tackle threats to international security, and even what those threats are.

The Increasing Elusiveness of Security as a Collective Good

NATO is no longer poised to determine the nature of international secu­rity. During the period immediately following the second world war up through the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US, using NATO as a vehicle, succeeded in defining for itself and for its allies the nature of the security they needed. To­day, however, the nature of the good has evolved to a point where it can no longer be defined by NATO. During the Cold War the US cultivated the notion of international security through its perception of a single colossal struggle between the East and the West. Security resembled a public good that was at once non-excludable (no member could be excluded from partaking it) and non-rival (there was an indefinite amount available and consumption by one country did not diminish its availability to other countries). This is not the case, however, for post Cold War period. Post Cold War security does not obey the wishes of either the US or NATO in that its production is necessarily more rival, scarce, and finite than in the past. It is more rival as the threats that nations face are no longer homogenous, more scarce in that differing levels of threat legitimize different levels of military spending in various countries, and more finite in that armed forces and nuclear deterrence are increasingly less fungible. This situation, where allies share security and yet are forced at the same time to compete for it amongst themselves, creates the incentive for each ally to stress the importance of accounting for its own security over that of contributing to the increasingly elusive "collective good."

While it is true that "NATO alone, among European institutions, can make available the forces and the command structure needed for any significant military operation," and also that "unless the United States takes part, such an operation will lack both the military resources and the political backing neces­sary to launch it,"3 the alliance faces an important challenge: it must define its military role in the context of its political purpose. While all the NATO members might agree on the need for military intervention in a peace enforcement situ­ation, they are likely to have differing assessments of the desired political out­come and of the nature of the threat to security. This will lead them to contra­dictory estimates of the costs, both political and economic, that they are willing to incur in endorsing any given response to the situation. This lack of political agreement threatens to undermine the alliance's ability to react quickly and strongly to worldwide security threats. Insecure about its political foundation and cohesiveness, the new NATO risks paralysis and illegitimacy when it does succeed in acting.

NATO's ineffectiveness following the terrorist attacks on September 11th illustrates this political paralysis. The alliance was unable to m11ster more than a superficially symbolic response summed up by NATO Secretary General George Robertson's hollow claim that the alliance "should pursue a policy of 'zero tol­erance on terrorism,' [and should] focus on protection, both for its armed forces and civilian populations, so that terrorists would not dream of carrying out the kind of attacks seen on 11 September."4 Continuing in this highly symbolic vein, NATO went so far as to set an historical precedent by invoking for the first time in the alliance history its Article Five mutual defense clause, only to be entirely ignored by Washington as US policy makers unapologetically beef13d up efforts to seek military help for the war on terrorism on a strictly bilateral basis. Highlighting NATO's impotence in light of the changed nature of interna­tional security, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld made no pretense of acknowl­edging NATO efforts to demonstrate the alliance's enduring relevance. . Instead, he argued that "the position of the United States from the outset has been and remains that the mission will determine the coalition; that the coalition must not determine the mission,"5 leaving no question about NATO's impotence.

Consultation and cooperation in the security realm cannot create consen­sus among nations, but instead must presuppose a high degree of concord. An alliance based on division is not strong enough to create anything but timid policy. And if it does succeed in creating more forceful policy, it will necessarily be at the expense of the legitimacy of the alliance. "Devastated by military conflict in the 20th Century, Europe prefers to spend its money on social wel­fare at home and aid to poor countries abroad. The European Union provides 56 percent of the world's aid and 36 percent of the budget of the United Na­tions."6 These policy priorities stand in stark contrast to America's in light of the US War on Terrorism. The increasingly dramatic contrast between Euro­pean and US security goals can lead to only two results: Either NATO will continue to create strong policy based on weak consensus, inevitably leading to increased alienation among NATO members, or the alliance will witness a complete erosion of its legitimate basis for intervention.

September nth provided NATO with an opportunity to exhibit to the world the extent of its internal erosion. Grandiose proclamations that "The NATO alliance is the 'sole institutional link between the US and Europe…it commits the US to European stability and prosperity…[and therefore] the allies should be careful to preserve NATO's cohesion and its military punch,"7 appeared little more than empty rhetoric. The alliance remained unable to agree on an ap­proach to operations, unable to forge agreements on doctrine and military prac­tices with the political input of member nations' capitals, unable to come to even a rudimentary agreement on the relative importance of strategic and tac­tical targets, and unable to agree even on the role of stability operations and crisis management. Common alliance doctrine has remained as elusive as the grandiose political rhetoric surrounding it.

Military Concerns Eclipse Political Cooperation: Implica­tions for NATO

There is No Political Consensus

Outside of the NATO framework, the allies on both sides of the Atlantic have begun pursuing increasingly divergent policies on issues ranging from trade to security. Not only do their policies diverge, but they are often in fact at odds with each other. The transatlantic tensions created by conflicting political and military policies, and competing goals and future visions have repercus­sions for NATO's evolution.

At the low end of the disputes separating the European from the American NATO allies have been trade frictions. Washington, which had accused Iran of sponsoring terrorism, passed the US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act that imposes fines on companies that invest more than 20 million dollars in Iran, or 40 million in Libya. European Union countries, oppose this view, and interpret US efforts as meddling and illegal. US threats to enforce the Sanctions act, at the time when France passed a two billion-dollar business deal with Iran, elicited protests not only from the French business leaders, but also from the entire EU. Sir Leon Brittan, trade chief of the French oil company Total, insisted that French businesses have the right to decide freely on their investments, and that US efforts to the contrary are "counter-productive in political terms since they create tension between Europe and the United States, which makes it more difficult to work together."8 German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel also took issue with US "imperatives" to fight terrorism. Despite US discontent, Germany continues to buy large amounts of oil from Libya. Germany, along with other EU countries, worked together to develop a policy of "critical dia­logue with Iran," one which they are prepared to enforce, via retaliatory measures, over US opposition.

Iran is not the only area where transatlantic tensions have flourished throughout the nineties. The Helms-Burton Act, passed by the US Congress in 1996 in order to "discourage companies from doing business with Cuba by banning their executives, agents, and families from visiting the US,"9 was an­other bone of contention around which transatlantic animosity solidified. EU countries, both unilaterally and on behalf of the Union as an autonomous actor, have displayed a growing willingness to assert themselves, even when doing so entails posing a threat to their relations with the US. While Britain and Germany threatened retaliatory visa restrictions on US businessmen, and Spain and Italy officially "protested" the Helms-Burton Act, the EU went as far as to "table a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization against the Helms-Burton law on Cuba and similar US legislation designed to curb inter­national business dealings with Iran and Libya."10

Transatlantic "disagreements," while they start at the level of trade dis­putes, by no means end there. The increasing willingness (and some might even say eagerness) of the European allies to speak up for and defend their own desires, spills over from the economic to the political and security domains. In France, President Jacques Chirac took it upon himself to "speak out critically on subjects ranging from the Senate's rejection of a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, to the failure of global trade talks in Seattle, to plans for a new European armed force early in the new century, which in his view will by no means be an American century."11 In Great Britain, a country known to covet its "special relationship" with the US, the government in 1999 successfully defended plans to form a 60,000 man European Union Rapid Reaction Force despite Tory claims that is would be a threat to NATO and to relations with the US. British rationale behind supporting the RRF was that it would be "provid­ing a greater capability for Europe and, in particular, allowing the EU to be­come engaged in operations where NATO itself is not involved."12

Europeans solidified the currents of political discontent among NATO members with the 1999 Helsinki Decision. This decision, which formally ap­proved the creation of a 60,000 man rapid reaction force designed to act inde­pendently of NATO and which "appointed Javier Solana (formerly NATO secre­tary general) to head the long-moribund WEU, in addition to his new EU posi­tion as the impressively named "High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy,''13 exemplifies a waning tolerance in Europe for American leadership in political and security affairs. In an era where political agreement across the Atlantic is hard to come by, Europeans are increasingly committed to enhancing politico-military structures that are independent of NATO and of US leadership and influence.

At this point it seems necessary to address the view: that European inten­tions cannot be fatal to NATO's continuation because they encompass little more than intentions. It has been endlessly pointed out that "as with many EU decisions, and especially those surrounding the European Security and De­fense Identity, considerable confusion exists as to the exact implications of the Helsinki decision."14 It is possible to take this argument even farther, noting that the EU has not yet demonstrated that it has the institutional means to impose a common position or to back up its diplomacy with military force.

Despite the fact that since Maastricht, the Europeans have "taken a number of steps to fulfill their mandate. They have moved WEU headquarters to an im­pressive new site in Brussels; set up a Defense Planning Cell of more than forty officers; developed a catalogue of military units answerable to the WEU; set up a satellite interpretation center in Torrejon, Spain; arranged for the regular meeting of armed forces chiefs of staff and other military officers; developed a political-military decision making process; initiated a comprehensive military exercise policy; set up its own Institute for Security Studies in Paris; and es­tablished a situation center, "15 the Europeans have done little of military sub­stance, leaving the US to be, more than ever, diplomatic and military leader in the West.

The problem with this view, however, is that it fails, in determining NATO's future, to account for the alliance's evolving capacity to change. European results matter much less than European ambitions in undermining the politi­cal cohesion, trust, and solidarity of the alliance. While it is true that lack of money and clear goals have slowed European efforts to integrate defense forces, it is also true that defense ministers are putting increasing pressures on their countries to follow up their words with action. At present, 100,000 troops, 400 aircraft, and 100 ships have been pledged by member states to the European Rapid Reaction Force. But progress still remains to be seen on precision guided missiles, anti-air defense, and forces' protection, according to Klaus Buhler, a member of the German Budestag and president of the Western European Union assembly, soon to become the European Security and Defense Assembly.16

In order not to estrange the allies, NATO, as an institution, must react to European aspirations. The process of accounting for these aspirations inhibits what has historically been the US capacity to set the political tone of the alliance's evolution. This reality has forced the US to face the alternative of either creat­ing alliance policy that differs significantly from US policy, 17 thereby sacrific­ing US autonomy completely in NATO, or trying to reassert its autonomy via the most obvious way available to it; its undeniable military superiority. While the US never considered the first as a viable choice, it did succeed in substitut­ing its military preeminence for NATO's weakening political consensus, using the second option to hold the alliance together through the Kosovo War. But this option cannot work indefinitely. The ever-growing military gap separating the United States from the European NATO members, while only a strain throughout the Kosovo campaign, has become critical in the current US-domi­nated war on terrorism,18 threatening to make a mockery out of the alliance's first-ever vote to invoke a collective defense action after the September 11th attacks.

From Fear to Power: US Substitutes Might for Political Cohesion?

The Helsinki Summit's declaration that "the objective is for the union to have the autonomous capacity to take decisions and, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, to launch and then to conduct European Union-led military op­erations in response to international crises,"19 inspired uneasiness in the US. While the US understood from the start that talk is cheap, and that significant obstacles, both political and military, still plague European efforts, neverthe­less Americans feared that its leadership role in NATO would be undermined by the development of a more robust European military arrangement. The de­sire of the Europeans to assume more responsibility for military decisions, combined with a diminishing tolerance in Europe for an American-dominated alliance, gave the US sufficient cause for concern. Smallsteps taken in Eu­rope, like the British governments decision to spend 100 million dollars to upgrade its seven Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, did little to alleviate growing concerns in Washington.

Recognizing the divergence of interests between the transatlantic allies, yet still intent on maintaining its primacy on the continent, America has tried to play both ends against the middle, and to have it all. Unwilling to sacrifice its own domestic defense initiatives on the altar of European discontent, the US has attempted to pursue its own security interests independently of NATO while at .the same time cultivating European military dependence. This effort has not led to the desired result, namely, NATO's continued viability. The Bush administration, in its talks on building a nuclear missile defense systems against intercontinental rockets launched by "rogue" states like North Korea, Iran, or Iraq, the infamous "axis of evil," has failed to account for vast allied opposition to the idea. Despite the Bush administrations hopes, the North Atlantic Counccil does not portray the possibility of missile attack as a common threat faced by allies.20 While Secretary of State Powell said that he had hoped to persuade skeptical allies to be more supportive of NMD, President. Chirac voiced concern, stating that the French consider that "these systems are just going to spur swordmakers to intensify their efforts ... China, which was already working harder. than we realized on both nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles for them, would of course be encouraged to intensify those efforts ... India would be encouraged to do the same thing ... and it would also increase tensions within NATO."21

Other European nations expressed concern about the. "unevenness of sharing if the United States is under a weapon shield and Europe is not," and ex­pressed reserve about "a program that could end up damaging [their] security if it offers indirect encouragement to. an arms race."22 German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer summed up the fears of the European Union states when he declared that "the deployment of an American missile defense system for do­mestic use could lead to the creation of a double standard for security within NATO, in which one member of the bloc would be better protected than the others." Also, the British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, usually supportive of American initiatives, expressed misgivings about "a gradual estrangement of the US from Europe."23 Even in the face of such staunch opposition from its European allies, however, the US has refused to compromise: Instead, the Bush administration has remain stalwart in its commitment to develop and deploy a national missile defense to fulfill a promise made during the election cam­paign, and has taken it upon itself to persuade skeptical European allies "there has to be an acceptance that that was the decision made in the election cam­paign and we should treat it seriously and with some respect."24 Planning and talks continue, despite the prevalence of European reservations.

Even while maintaining the right to act unilaterally in the name of its own defense, the US has sustained a keen interest in monitoring the actions of the Europeans as they expand into the defense field. While the US implicitly sup­ports European efforts to give themselves a defense capability, Washington nevertheless has undertaken to insure that such an organization does not grow away from NATO, perhaps leading to a collapse of the alliance. In order to avoid this from happening, the US has tried to "ensure that work in the EU and NATO remains harmonious, transparent, and complementary,"25 and has con­tinually sought assurances from the European allies that their decisions will not lead to a split in the alliance. So while the Americans have encouraged and been supportive of European initiatives, they have only provided support within a carefully crafted framework designed to insure continued European reliance on NATO, and more specifically on America's military superiority in NATO.

While the Kosovo war was a military victory for the .alliance, it was a victory that contained within it the seeds of the alliance's demise. The US used Kosovo to cultivate European military dependence on both NATO and on US leadership. The war in Yugoslavia required "reliance on air power, precision ­guided munitions and the ability to manage the high-tech battle that meant the United States had to bear the brunt of the fighting."26 Only the US has the full range of modern weapons and the computer and information technology necessary to make a Kosovo style war work. In order to maintain NATO and transatlantic security cooperation, the US has tried to use its proven military superiority to establish a fine balance with the Europeans, so that they will spend more on defense, but not so much that they will no longer be dependent on the US.

Recently, ''Washington has put increased pressure on the European allies to upgrade their military forces by implementing NATO's new defense capabili­ties initiative, agreed to at its Washington summit in April."27 Even if this effort leads to refinement and progress on specific NATO configurations like the Com­bined Joint Task Force, the long term political consequences of this American attempt are likely to damage the alliance, as the political-military split be­comes more acute. "America's global responsibilities, matched with sizable and growing investments in high-technology warfare, from satellite communica­tions to Predator drones, are leaving even NATO's most gung-ho European members farther behind;"28 continued US military growth and development will only worsen the rift already threatening to destroy the alliance.

Cognizant of what is at stake for NATO's future, the US has attempted to use NATO's 1999 military intervention in Kosovo to underscore the importance of transatlantic security cooperation to the European allies. Although the US was not successful in bridging the political and economic gaps separating the American and European NATO allies, it did succeed in demonstrating to the allies that collective action through NATO is still possible, and is contingent on European acceptance of the reality that Europeans, "in their quest to operate more independently of the US military ... will need the help of Americans to narrow the technological gap that became glaringly obvious during the war in Kosovo."29 Despite the differences separating the European and American al­lies (the most recent one being NMD debate), Kosovo demonstrated that the Allies continue to share some military interests. NATO, in "supplying the muscle that so often makes the difference between diplomatic breakthrough and diplo­matic breakdown ... [tried to] provide the confidence and security necessary for a political settlement to take root."30 And in so doing, the US insured that the 19-nation alliance, whose military operation must, by law, be led by an Ameri­can general, would continue to rely on the United States' military superiority in air power and technology, and to depend on its resultant disproportionate po­litical influence. Kosovo did not show that the Americans and the Europeans have shared values as much as shared military interests.

While it remains unclear whether the Europeans are willing to finance a defense structure that would render NATO irrelevant, it is apparent that public support for a single defense policy that would make Europeans less dependent on NATO has been growing,31 and that American efforts to underscore NATO's relevance and importance have ceded way to urgent efforts to sidestep the outdated alliance in order to form more reliable, efficient, and effective coali­tions of the willing in the war against terrorism.

Only time will reveal the extent to which the European NATO allies will continue to see their own interests intertwined with US strategies in the war on terrorism. But in order to succeed in its campaign, the US will continue to need access to airfields and supply routes in Europe, both "as staging posts for the support of Israel and for the conduct of actual and future campaigns in the Muslim world.”32 Without NATO as an institutional framework for transatlantic security cooperation, the US risks having to struggle with individual European countries to gain their cooperation; this process could prove to be an administrative nightmare. One other alternative no less fraught with potential problems would be for the US to increase its reliance on Turkish, Israeli, or Pakistani help, but doing so would involve providing a degree of reciprocal support for these countries' policies that the US would most likely be uncom­fortable with.

In America, there is concern that "American manpower, firepower, equip­ment, and resources will be neither politically nor militarily sustainable, given the competing commitments our nation has in [the war on terrorism,] the Gulf, on the Korean Peninsula, and elsewhere around the world,'' accompanied by an undertone of murmuring to the effect that "never again should the United States have to fly the lion's share of the risky missions in a NATO operation and foot by far the biggest bill."33 In Europe, there is also unease. "Many Euro­peans seem determined never again to feel quite so dominated by the US as they did during Kosovo or, for that matter, during Bosnia."34 The allies have expressed a desire for a say in the conduct of operations commensurate with the political onus that they bear in supporting the war; the US response has been to avoid completely their institutionalized participation in the current war on terrorism. The allies failed to confront the waning levels of cooperation in the alliance's military, economic, and political aspects following the Kosovo intervention, and NATO is now paying the price in its unwillingness and inabil­ity to successfully evolve in light of the current challenges posed by the current state of international security.

The economic, commercial, and political dimensions of alliance coopera­tion pose the most serious threats to the future of the alliance, and have led NATO, over time, to lose the ability to direct its members' national policies. The issue of defense industry cooperation, stemming as it does from the broader context of US-EU trade relations and disputes, threatens to stump NATO de­velopment. As the ESDI seeks to develop into a more militarily capable force, new ways of promoting technology sharing and of fostering joint ventures will become increasingly difficult to achieve; cooperation between defense firms on both sides of the Atlantic threatens to diminish over time, and there is little that the alliance can do these days in order to stop this trend.

In addition to the economic problems, there are also serious political prob­lems that threaten to undermine the alliance's ability to adapt and remain important. The Washington Declaration, approved by heads of state and gov­ernment in April 1999 stating their mutual commitment to the goals of the Alliance, "to defend our people, our territory, and our liberty... to stand firm against those who violate human rights, wage war and conquer territory ... and to maintain political solidarity and military forces to protect our nations and meet the security challenges of the next century,''35 represents little more than rhetoric that only thin}y disguises an underlying lack of agreement between the allies, with regards to the future role of NATO. Differences of opinion be­tween the allies abound, and the US's military might, while it held the alliance together in the Kosovo conflict, has not proven fungible. Despite its military puissance, the US has failed in its efforts to coerce the allies to do as it sees fit. The failure of Senator Roth's Resolution urging for NATO-EU coordination at­tests to the US's political weakness in the alliance. While the resolution, "pre­senting a number of principles that should be the basis for a NATO-EU rela­tionship that will further reinforce the transatlantic partnership, establishes guidelines for coordinating respective roles in transatlantic security affairs... urging NATO's European Allies to redress the shortcomings in their military capabilities highlighted during NATO's airstrikes in Kosovo and the rest of Serbia against the forces of Milosevic,"36 strove to set the tone for NATO's evolution, in reality it held no sway outside of the United States, where ana­lysts are now declaring that the current war we are fighting is "not a struggle in which the Europeans can play a military role. Europe can play its part by finally taking responsibility for its own space."37

If the US has proven both unable and unwilling to direct the political evolution of the NATO alliance, the institutional strength of the alliance itself has also proven to be an ineffective means of holding the allies together. The alliance's new strategic concept claims to enable "a transformed NATO to con­tribute to the evolving security environment, supporting security and stability with the strength of its shared commitment to democracy and the peaceful resolution of disputes. The Strategic Concept will govern the alliances' security and defense policy, its operational concepts, its conventional and nuclear force posture and its collective defense arrangements, and will be kept under review in the light of the evolving security environment."38 But this concept can not be successfully used as a guide to policy making, because it means different things to different countries, none of whom is capable of leading, and none of whom is willing to follow subserviently.

While NATO, as a military structure geared to defending against the So­viet Union, became profitless with the collapse of the USSR, the European and American allies still had reasons to keep the alliance strong. The Europeans needed the guarantee of US military protection while they worked on strength­ening their own military and security identity, and the Americans had a con­tinued vested interest in "monitoring" security developments on the continent, something they had done since the end of World War II. Working from the basis of a common political desire to maintain the alliance, its members were able, throughout the 1990's, to develop new security interests that would serve everybody's needs. But the longevity of these concepts proved to be finite.

The events of September 11th have changed vested interests on both sides. The US is less interested than ever in continuing its struggle to patch together the alliance by imposing military solidarity and efficacy on the foundation of political disunity, an effort that was only marginally successful throughout the aftermath of Kosovo. A US-led NATO has become less and less appealing to the Europeans as it became clear that military dependence necessary entails a sort of political "cooperation" that in reality translates into political subordina­tion, This has proven to be a consequence that the allies are not prone to embrace.39


The war on terrorism has led the US to reduce its long term security interests in Europe, leaving the Europeans little choice but to take control of their own security situation, much the same way the US has done in its own anti-terror campaign. While it is true that "NATO's war in Kosovo showed the extent to which Europe depends on American military power and technology,"40 the implications of this reality do not bode well for the future of the alliance. The Europeans face three fundamental security tasks, none of which will take place within the NATO framework. First of all, they must accelerate the cre­ation of usable European armed forces; secondly, they must treat EU enlarge­ment to the central European and Baltic states as a vital European security interest; thirdly they must create institutionally solid security relations with Turkey and Russia, the two continental military powers who are not part of the EU.41 As the NATO alliance continues to change and evolve, continually vying to maintain its historic position as an essential vehicle for US security inter­ests in Europe, the underlying lack of transatlantic solidarity will undoubtedly become increasingly manifested. Already, US efforts in the Balkans have Euro­pean critics claiming that the Kosovo war was simply an American attempt to drag the EU behind US leadership of both NATO and of the world, designed to prove that NATO has a permanent role to play, and that it can play that role even if it means imposing consensus on the European allies.42 Throughout Europe and in the US today, there is acute concern about the future role of NATO that is increasingly divorced from the security, economic and political realities that characterize life on both sides of the Atlantic.

Strong Structures Versus Common Destiny: The Future of NATO

Recognition of the reality that European and American politico-military aims often differ is essential to understanding the future of NATO. Divisive issues such as policies toward Iraq, Iran, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and North Korea, will require political consultation among the allies, if they are to be dealt with successfully within the NATO framework. Otherwise, the growing rift between the political and military aspects of the alliance threatens to lead the allies to regard the alliance as no more than a security capability on which they depend, simply for budgetary and technological reasons. If this happens, NATO will no longer be able to provide a framework for substantive debate on the strategic and political aspects of security. These sorts of debates will increasingly take place either in an atmosphere of rivalry between the American and European allies, an atmosphere of selective bilateral cooperation, or an atmosphere of US unilateral action, all of which would severely undermine the NATO alliance.

NATO today is faced with the ageless question of alliances: "How much unity do we need? How much diversity can we stand? An insistence on una­nimity can be a presumption for paralysis. But if every ally acts as it pleases, what is the meaning of alliance?"43 The alliance has, throughout its history, proven its capacity to formulate cooperative solutions to collective problems, preventing its own demise via intra-alliance negotiations, policymaking, and policy implementation. Through its changes, NATO has proven that the pri­mary reason for an alliance's creation does not necessarily have to be the rea­son for its continuation. In the process of transition from a doctrine of massive retaliation to the adoption of flexible response, NATO was largely under the auspices of US hegemony. Its immediate post-communist policy reorientation owed its success to the military security assured to the allies in an uncertain time for the international system. In the future, as NATO attempts to reflect the realities of a new era and the external developments that define it, the institution's resilience will necessarily reflect more than ever before the differ­ing views of its members, on both sides of the Atlantic.

In order to succeed, NATO will have to deal with three challenges: First, it must respond to European bids for increased political and military power within the alliance. While "the absence of an EU CFSP has remained the key to Ameri­can influence [in NATO], if the alliance is to continue, its main purpose must not be merely to keep the US in Europe, but rather to evolve into a genuine transatlantic partnership."44 Second, NATO must avoid buckling to the pressures of parsimony. As it continues to redesign itself, there will be pressure within the organization to placate divergent interests by encouraging a weak­ened political consensus. The attraction of parsimony and the lowest common denominator security alliance will be made more critical by the third challenge that NATO will face; How to deal with the changing definition of security. The fact that security is no longer defined as lack of conflict, but rather as stability, a comprehensive concept addressing military, political, and economic aspects of peace, means that NATO will have to overcome not just intra-alliance, but also external, obstacles in order to be successful in its future evolutions.

Whereas the alliance has, historically, succeeded in formulating coopera­tive solutions to collective problems, the growing political gap between the al­lies has rendered modern security problems less collective, and has made it more difficult for the allies to conceive truly cooperative responses. Changing relations within the alliance presently have the unprecedented potential to undermine alliance efficiency. The implications of NATO's binding commitment to collective action threaten to become increasingly problematic for the "unallied" allies. The growing military-political divide will also work to the demise of the alliance as it loses its capacity to engage in collective diplomatic efforts to prevent aggression, and becomes capable only of engaging in preemptive military action, an unattractive alternative for many member states.

As NATO members lose the sense that policy is being formulated on the basis of an integrated political-military organization, they will become less likely to reform and preserve the alliance in order to continue to meet the security requirements of the new era. As both the American and European allies be­come less willing to make concessions for the sake of the alliance, collective action will have a chance to emerge, in a more complete and soldiery manner, out of the foundation of the European Union. Key NATO members like Great Britain, France, and Germany, will likely continue to look outside of the NATO framework, and to take security decisions in bilateral or contact-group style. While this development will work to the detriment of NATO, it holds the prom­ise of allowing for collective action based on true political consensus. This foun­dation for security action will enhance true flexibility and resilience by de­creasing the need to rely on ambiguity and codified flexibility, two factors that have played a key role in NATO's resilience. The decision making process will become more streamlined and efficient outside of the NATO framework. Coun­tries who share similar policy goals will be able to formulate quick and decisive plans of action outside of the alliance framework. Ultimately, the NATO alli­ance will be forced to accept its status as a dependent variable in the security arena.

Rebecca Michael is an M.A. candidate in Strategic Studies at The Johns Hopkins University - SAIS. She holds a B.A. degree from the University of California at Berkeley. She plans to spend the summer in South Africa working with the American Jewish Committee. After graduating, she hopes to spend a year in Egypt honing her Arabic skills before going to work for the government.