International Relations Future of NATO
Sten Rynning
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0200


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is long beyond its post–Cold War era. For about a decade corresponding to the 1990s it was common to study NATO from the point of view of a Cold War alliance that had surpassed its context of origins. The Cold War can no longer serve as this point of reference, however. NATO is twenty-seven years past the Cold War, counting from the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War lasted a mere forty years. Clearly, NATO is sustained by factors beyond an overwhelming threat—the Soviet Union—and its residual post-conflict effect. Scholars debate these factors, variously portraying NATO as a defense community that remains just that, a club for North Atlantic allies, or a collective security tool increasingly integrated into the ecosystem of United Nations global governance. These varying assessments feed into contrasting views of NATO’s future, not to mention the wider politics of the Alliance (see the Oxford Bibliographies entry in Political Science “Politics of NATO”). The focus throughout this article will be on themes that will define NATO’s ability to successfully adapt to future challenges: the essentials of maintaining an Atlantic community; the Alliance’s character in terms of collective defense and collective security; and NATO’s ability to balance deeply rooted but somewhat contradictory trends in its security environment. Addressing NATO’s future is ultimately a matter of choosing contemporary focal points that we reasonably can expect will inform us about the future. By nature, this is an imperfect science, and one should remain cognizant throughout of the ability of events to deliver strategic surprises. With this caveat, the opening section will focus on some of the works that most directly argue for or against a NATO future. Following assessments of NATO’s collective defense and collective security character, as well as of key balancing acts for the Alliance, the conclusion will address related observations on NATO’s own vision of its future.

General Overviews

Compared to broad organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union, NATO appears to be a simple organization to study, as long as one can understand military organization and grand strategy. Yet any serious engagement with NATO will reveal an alliance that has grown in diplomatic sophistication and whose portfolio of policy tasks has become more complex. Critics of NATO, here Maximilian Forte 2012 and Nazemroaya 2012, tend to cut through the complexities to locate a central political and indeed imperial project animating the portfolio. These analyses become Washington-centric and portray NATO and European allies largely as tools in the evolution of US dominance. The tendency in the literature is to go with the complexity, however, and embed NATO in a correspondingly complex globalized world. To some, NATO retains its capacity to influence, but now as part of a globalized system of security management (Alexander and Prosen 2015, Peterson 2011); to others, NATO must more carefully balance regional defense and global security tasks in one shape or the other (Michta and Hilde 2014), in part to ensure that its enduring partnership across the Atlantic remains viable (Sloan 2016). In this context, it is possible to argue that NATO’s future depends on political and institutional agility (Rynning 2005), or that the future in fact is Pacific, because this region is the new center of gravity for the United States (Herd and Kriendler 2013). The Pacific future depicts NATO as a tool largely of US priorities, but in a more positive assessment of NATO’s contribution to global stability.

  • Alexander, Yonah, and Richard Prosen, eds. NATO: From Regional to Global Security Provider. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015.

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    NATO’s future lies with its ability to adapt to global challenges, this book argues, presenting a case for NATO that includes but looks beyond the “return” to regional defense after Afghanistan. The chapters are detailed and useful.

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  • Forte, Maximilian. Slouching towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa. Montreal: Baraka, 2012.

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    In a stark contrast to Alexander and Prosen 2015 and Peterson 2011, this book offers a clear criticism of NATO as an instrument of US military policy in general, and toward Africa in particular. Forte invokes a classical Africa-centric imperialist criticism outside a general consideration of the Alliance.

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  • Herd, Graeme P., and John Kriendler, eds. Understanding NATO in the 21st Century: Alliance Strategies, Security, and Global Governance. New York: Routledge, 2013.

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    NATO’s future is Pacific, not Atlantic, the editors suggest, outlining two US-China-centric scenarios for the future and assessing NATO’s probable usefulness. A theory-based and thought-provoking approach.

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  • Michta, Andrew, and Paal Sigurd Hilde, eds. The Future of NATO: Regional Defense and Global Security. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014.

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    NATO does indeed have a future, but it requires a careful balancing of regional and global tasks, the contributors to this volume agree. The chapters collectively describe the challenging balancing act.

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  • Nazemroaya, Mahdi Darius. The Globalization of NATO. Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2012.

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    Offers a similar imperialist criticism of NATO as Forte 2012, but in a more global and critical lens, moving through NATO’s post–Cold War history and policies. Has a clear ideological bent but an interesting argument, juxtaposing Eurasianism—varierities of which characterize Russian and Turkish politics—and Atlanticism.

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  • Peterson, James W. NATO and Terrorism: Organizational Expansion and Mission Transformation. New York: Continuum, 2011.

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    Argues, like Alexander and Prosen 2015, that NATO has a future as long as it can adapt to global challenges, and to terrorism in particular. Refreshingly integrates NATO’s enlargement process in an argument for European change as a foundation for global engagement.

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  • Rynning, Sten. NATO Renewed: The Power and Purpose of Transatlantic Cooperation. New York: Palgrave, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403978431Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    NATO’s future has less to do with geography—regional or global—this book argues, but rather with the ability of the Alliance to anchor expeditionary coalitions in its midst by way of institutional adaptation. NATO’s future balancing act is therefore between institutions and coalitions.

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  • Sloan, Stan. Defense of the West: NATO, the European Union and the Transatlantic Bargain. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2016.

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    Argues that at the heart of the Alliance is a value foundation that enables an adaptative strategic bargain. Alliance leaders can ensure NATO’s continued relevance if they tend to these shared values and remain mindful of the corrosive effect of political disputes and uncoordinated strategy.

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Essentials of Atlantic Community

NATO’s future ultimately depends on the allies’ ability to cohere among themselves. The historical track record is one of NATO prevailing by inner strength, and adapting to an evolving security environment. Going by this record, NATO’s development depends on the ability of the allies to meet new challenges by way of continuously modernizing their community. Here we look at two critical dimensions of this challenge: the ability to keep national strategies in alignment, and an awareness of the limits of enlargement. The first dimension highlights the danger of nationalization—of doctrines and forces—while the latter raises the question of whether there is a natural limit to the community.

National Strategy: Convergence or Divergence?

NATO’s first community challenge is to engender convergence between the national security strategies of the main allies. From a purely structural perspective, NATO allies can do very little beyond responding to systemic pressure—in the shape of the balance of power or new threats. However, in the day-to-day business of diplomacy, political decisions do not emerge that effortlessly from external incentives. Rather, diplomacy entails efforts to identify and explore the potential for convergence between national security mindsets and doctrines. Europe’s political willingness and financial ability to pursue convergence with the United States is limited (Galbreath 2014; Terriff, et al. 2010; Gordon, et al. 2012). However, there are encouraging signs in French and German policy (Cizel and von Hlatky 2014, Hyde-Price 2015), and there are ways to massage the NATO decision-making process to further encourage convergence (Kochis and Coffey 2016).

  • Cizel, Annick, and Stéfanie von Hlatky. “From Exceptional to Special? A Reassessment of France–NATO Relations since Reintegration.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 12.4 (2014): 353–366.

    DOI: 10.1080/14794012.2014.962760Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An introduction to a special issue on France and NATO that observes the multifaceted nature of France’s relationship to NATO and concludes that France and the United States maintain a type of special relationship, but one that involves an increasingly apparent division of labor—where the United States will pivot to Asia, and France will focus on Africa and the Indian Ocean.

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  • Galbreath, David J. “Western European Armed Forces and the Modernisation Agenda: Following or Falling Behind?” Defence Studies 14.4 (December 2014): 394–413.

    DOI: 10.1080/14702436.2014.961356Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An insightful assessment of transformation efforts in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. While these key European allies follow the US blueprint for change, the author notes, they are critically hemmed in by limited budgets and political will.

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  • Gordon, John, Stuart Johnson, F. Stephen Larrabee, and Peter A. Wilson. “NATO and the Challenge of Austerity.” Survival 54.4 (2012): 121–142.

    DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2012.709392Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors assess trends in seven European NATO countries and conclude that force deployability and sustainability now are seriously at risk. While budgetary trends may now be shifting, the underlying capability challenge depicted here remains.

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  • Hyde-Price, Adrian G. V. “The ‘Sleep-Walking Giant’ Awakes: Resetting German Foreign and Security Policy.” European Security 24.4 (2015): 600–616.

    DOI: 10.1080/09662839.2015.1065484Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Germany is gradually preparing to revise its low profile in security and defense policy, which could position Germany to better support institutional change in both NATO and the EU. However, Germany is changing only slowly and is challenged by its own weak strategic culture, the author argues.

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  • Kochis, Daniel, and Luke Coffey. NATO Summit 2016: Alliance Members Must Commit to Increased Defense Spending. Heritage Foundation Issue Brief 4576 (15 June 2016). Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation.

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    The authors pick up where Gordon, et al. 2012 left matters, arguing that although most NATO members have now stopped cuts to defense spending, the disproportionate weight of US defense spending within NATO is alarming. They suggest various ways to improve matters, including the involvement of finance ministers in NATO summitry and a clearer benchmarking and accountability system.

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  • Terriff, Terry, Frans Osinga, and Theo Farrell, eds. A Transformation Gap? American Innovations and European Military Change. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010.

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    This book offers a comprehensive overview of the doctrinal, organizational, and technological challenges in bridging the Atlantic capability gap. The conclusion from a number of case studies is that the United States can lead, but European allies will only adopt transformation blueprints at their own pace in accord with their own regional interests.

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Building and maintaining a community is ultimately also about defining the limits to that community. NATO’s post–Cold War enlargement began in 1999 (barring German unification in 1990) when the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland acceded to the Alliance. It has since continued, in 2004 and 2009, and Montenegro is well on its way to become the twenty-ninth NATO member. NATO’s further enlargement can be expected in the Balkans, where two countries aspire to membership (Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia) and two remain difficult cases (Serbia and Kosovo). In these cases, NATO’s conditionality has had a political effect and can be expected to continue to move the region toward stability (Šimunović 2015). Enlargement can also be expected if the neutrals of Europe (Ireland, Sweden, Finland, and Austria) apply for membership, as all of them are Western and will be net contributors to the Alliance. The tricky question concerns NATO’s eastern front and the aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia—whom NATO somewhat recklessly promised in 2008 that they would one day become NATO members. NATO has since downplayed this pledge, but it is of two minds about how to respond to Russia’s aggression against Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Its policy options are defined by the underlying assessment of whether enlargement provokes Russia (Mearsheimer 2014) or is a mere piece in a wider Russian puzzle of recreating its national identity (Loukianov 2015). To buy time, NATO might just choose to focus its enlargement debate on less controversial areas (Wolff 2015).

  • Loukianov, Fiodor. “La Russie, une puissance révisionniste?” Politique Étrangère 2 (Summer 2015): 11–24.

    DOI: 10.3917/pe.152.0011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    NATO’s enlargement has indeed upset Russia, the author argues, but the bottom line of Russia’s new assertive foreign policy is its own inner crisis of identity.

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  • Mearsheimer, John J. “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.” Foreign Affairs 93.5 (2014): 77–89.

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    NATO’s enlargement was a liberal vision that ignored geopolitical realities, argues the author, and once Putin’s Russia gained strength, it predictably struck back.

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  • Šimunović, Pjer. “Making of an Ally: NATO membership Conditionality Implemented on Croatia.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 13.2 (2015): 175–203.

    DOI: 10.1080/14794012.2015.1022372Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hard security efforts and liberal reforms formed the bedrock of Croatia’s path to NATO membership, the author aruges in a rather convoluted text, pointing to continued creative ambiguity between realism and liberalism in NATO’s enlargement policy, which is likely to grow more pronounced as enlargement moves further eastward.

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  • Wolff, Andrew T. “The Future of NATO Enlargement after the Ukraine Crisis.” International Affairs 91.5 (2015): 1103–1121.

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    From a geopolitical perspective, the author refreshingly suggests, NATO should enlarge further only in the Balkans and Scandinavia (and so exclude Georgia and Ukraine), thus accommodating deep-rooted hostility in Russia and opening a new rationale of East-West coexistence.

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Collective Defense

NATO has always been intimately wedded to the inherent right to and principle of collective self-defense, as reflected in its founding Washington Treaty’s Article V (defining an attack on one ally as an attack on all) and Article VI (defining the North Atlantic geography of this commitment). Collective defense was the rationale when NATO formed in 1949 and remained so throughout the Cold War. Although the post–Cold War period has seen a more diversified focus, collective defense remains at the heart of the Alliance. New allies have, in particular, sought to join NATO because it is seen as an effective security guarantee. We shall consider three dimensions of this enduring task: the difficult matter of providing for an effective deterrence capacity in the face of diversified security challenges; the equally difficult challenge of providing forces with a real war-fighting capacity; and finally the task of organizing a defense capacity in regards to new and emerging security challenges.

Deterrence Capacity

Where the “war on terror” provoked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States brought NATO into a massive campaign far from home, it remained a crisis management (security assistance) mission that—in spite of its size and the human costs involved—comforted the idea that NATO was becoming a security manager in a globalizing world. The Ukraine crisis of 2014 and Russia’s offensive policies have since brought NATO back to where it began, to collective defense and, more particularly, the capacity to deter a mighty adversary. Deterrence will not least involve a reconsidered role for nuclear weapons and missile defense, both of which are essential components in the ladder of escalation that NATO must dominate (Zadra 2014, Futter 2011, Frühling 2016). This will demand renewed agreement on US extended deterrence and Europe’s role behind it (Yost 2011, Lewis and Tertrais 2015). In this respect, NATO is challenged both by its widened membership (Widerberg 2015) and the intensity of Russia’s anti-access challenge (Zapfe and Haas 2016).

  • Frühling, Stephan. “Managing Escalation: Missile Defence, Strategy and US Alliances.” International Affairs 92.1 (2016): 81–95.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2346.12501Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In contrast to the argument that missile defense can substitute for some nuclear weapons, this article argues that missile defense must be more broadly integrated in NATO strategy and posture to strengthen NATO’s deterrence, primarily at the lower rungs on the ladder of escalation, even as traditional national nuclear positions will render strategic adaptation difficult.

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  • Futter, Andrew. “NATO, Ballistic Missile Defense and the Future of US Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe.” European Security 20.4 (2011): 547–562.

    DOI: 10.1080/09662839.2011.626404Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article argues that missile defense can substitute for forward deployed but aging US tactical nuclear weapons—though such a policy would leave open to question the challenge of reciprocating Russian tactical nuclear weapons deployments.

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  • Lewis, Jeffrey, and Bruno Tertrais. “Deterrence at Three: US, UK and French Nuclear Cooperation.” Survival 57.4 (2015): 29–52.

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    These authors take note of the poor record of the three nuclear NATO states of establishing non-nuclear deterrence in, for instance, Syria, and urge the three states to initiate informal consultations on nuclear crisis signaling as well as ways of integrating these efforts with NATO procedures.

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  • von Hlatky, Stéfanie. “Transatlantic Cooperation, Alliance Politics and Extended Deterrence: European Perceptions of Nuclear Weapons.” European Security 23.1 (2014): 1–14.

    DOI: 10.1080/09662839.2013.856304Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this introduction to a special issue on NATO and nuclear weapons, the author takes note of widely differing nuclear positions anchored in domestic politics and links these to the continuing challenge of extending US security guarantees to Europe.

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  • Widerberg, Helene Forsland. “Rallying for Reassurance: a Study of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Diplomacy.” European Security 24.2 (2015): 183–202.

    DOI: 10.1080/09662839.2014.918034Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Widerberg finds that accumulated experience in Alliance diplomacy enhances the subtlety and effectiveness with which allies pursue influence, which raises questions in regards to the ability of the new Eastern allies—the most exposed allies—to make a persuasive case for reassurance.

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  • Yost, David S. “The US Debate on NATO Nuclear Deterrence.” International Affairs 87.6 (2011): 1401–1438.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2346.2011.01043.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Yost makes a convincing case for considering nuclear sharing arrangements inside NATO, following from US extended deterrence, not only as a critical element in NATO’s escalation management capability, but also as linked to the credibility of US-Asian security commitments—as US forward deterrence in Europe is demonstrative of US resolve more broadly.

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  • Zadra, Roberto. “NATO, Russia and Missile Defence.” Survival 56.4 (2014): 51–61.

    DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2014.941555Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Zadra holds no hope for NATO-Russian missile defense cooperation for as long as the United States and Russia relations are tense, in effect suggesting that missile defense should be tied into underlying deterrence, as opposed to partnership concepts.

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  • Zapfe, Martin, and Michael Carl Haas. “Access for Allies? NATO, Russia, and the Baltics.” RUSI Journal 161.3 (2016): 34–41.

    DOI: 10.1080/03071847.2016.1193355Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors argue that the immense difficulty of providing assured access to the Baltic NATO members could lead to the regionalization of NATO structures, simply because the defense effort—modeled on US approaches—will be so intense and integrated that full collective plans will lack credibility. Regionalization could in turn pose risks to the political unity of the Alliance.

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Defense and War-Fighting Capacity

Conventional forces form the nucleus of a capacity to actually fight wars. This capacity can be harnessed for purposes of deterrence (see Deterrence Capacity), but it brings with it a distinct challenge of preparing forces for certain types of military engagement. Besides the challenge associated with convergence and divergence in national approaches to force transformation (see National Strategy: Convergence or Divergence?), where the risk is that the United States will outpace its allies in innovation, there is a conventional challenge in terms of war fighting and more specifically agreeing on likely missions and what these entail in terms of demand for deployability and sustainability. Afghanistan required both, given the distant geography and the prolonged campaign; NATO is now back to considering missions closer to home, thus lowering these demands. However, demands on intensity have increased, and with it the requirement for depth in force structures (to replace those lost in battle, essentially). With depth comes a challenge of breadth, because to gain depth, countries must make sacrifices. For NATO Europe in particular, this defines a challenge of specialization—of getting multinational value on defense spending, which is inherently difficult politically. Giegerich and Nicoll 2012 offers a rather bleak picture of Europe’s capacity in this regard, but, like Mattelaer 2014 and Fiott 2016, Giegerich and Nicoll see hope in Europeanization. The challenge is to rediscover the basic concepts and methods of land warfare in Europe (Bergeron 2014, Lasconjarias 2016) while remaining focused on issues of warfare that reach beyond Europe (Echevarria 2014, Simón 2014).

New Threats

Collective defense is not only about classical threats and classical means of defense and deterrence; it is also about responding to new or—in NATO-speak—emerging security challenges, such as cyber threats, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, energy security, and hybrid warfare. While NATO clearly has a critical role to play in regard to classical threats, things are less straightforward in regard to emerging security challenges where NATO typically must enable and coordinate efforts taking place nationally (especially in regard to cyber, terrorism, and hybrid warfare), or give way to other formats of European (including the EU) and transatlantic cooperation (especially in regard to energy and proliferation). Cyber, in particular, has captured the minds of NATO analysts, though they disagree on the extent to which NATO should engage the issue (Farwell and Rohozinski 2011, Meulenbelt 2012, Tikk 2011, Burton 2015). In the domains of energy (Deni and Stegen 2012, Rühle 2012), the Arctic (Haftendorn 2011), human security (Kfir 2015), and hybrid warfare (Lasconjarias and Larsen 2015) there is agreement that NATO should engage and become better at sorting out the defense dimension of these domains while avoiding their militarization.

Collective Security

NATO’s founding Washington Treaty embraces the value of the United Nations Charter and the aim of establishing peaceful international relations. In fact, this is the emphasis of the treaty’s Preamble and Articles 1 and 2. It would seem to tee up NATO and the UN for a strong and constructive partnership in the age of globalized relations and security risks. Combined, and in cooperation with other international organizations, NATO and the UN have furthered norms such as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Yet the relationship is not an easy one. This is partly due to the complexity of undertaking interventions to advance human security and security governance, which is where this section begins. It then turns to issues of legality, the complexity of defining relations of authority, and placing NATO within an evolving legal and normative framework. Finally, the section considers structured political partnerships that would seem to be a natural extensive of global governance but which may serve collective defense purposes as well, in effect risking confusion and potentially generating tension.

Interventions and Security Governance

NATO’s contribution to the wider international effort to stabilize regions in crisis or fragile states and societies began in the Balkans in the 1990s and culminated with the Afghan mission. Moreover, before NATO concluded its combat mission in Afghanistan, it took command of the 2011 R2P intervention in Libya, in effect commanding the first UN-mandated mission to protect civilians against their own government. The R2P mission brought high hopes for a norm-governed world, but the post-conflict situation in Libya has greatly disappointed. Along with continued crises elsewhere, notably in Syria and Iraq, the confidence in collective security mechanisms has dwindled, and so has NATO’s trust in its tools for effectively engaging in crisis management. Harsch 2015 is fairly optimistic that coordinated crisis management remains possible; Rynning 2012, Gheicu 2011, and Williams 2011 are less confident. Libya has attracted much attention, and here NATO’s scorecard is complex at best.

  • Barry, Ben. “Libya’s Lessons.” Survival 53.5 (2011): 5–14.

    DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2011.621622Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A concise overview of NATO’s lead of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine as activated in Libya. Barry rightly notes that during the 2011 operation, NATO had command and control advantages and was not put to the test by Libyan forces. The real measure of success will be felt over time in the region and in regard to UN Security Council agreement. In both respects the experience has been less than a success.

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  • Carati, Andrea. “No Easy Way Out: Origins of NATO’s Difficulties in Afghanistan.” Contemporary Security Policy 36.2 (2015b): 200–218.

    DOI: 10.1080/13523260.2015.1061753Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Carati argues that NATO’s role in Afghanistan is underappreciated in terms of the difficult context into which the Alliance stepped as part of the war on terror coupled with a focus on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in a struggle for Afghan national sovereignty.

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  • Chivvis, Christopher S. “Libya and the Future of Liberal Intervention.” Survival 54.6 (2012): 69–92.

    DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2012.749632Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The Libya example of NATO command and control, an active core of strike nations, and US enabling support (“leading from behind”) was on balance an accomplishment, though one conditioned by a goal of limited intervention. Considering the subsequent turmoil in Libya, the implication must be that NATO, at the very least, must lay the ground for a follow-up UN mission of stabilization.

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  • Gheicu, Alexandra. “Divided Partners: The Challenges of NATO-NGO Cooperation in Peacebuilding Operations.” Global Governance 17 (2011): 95–113.

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    Gheicu argues that problems of coordination between NATO and the NGO community are rooted in poor communication as well as political contestation. There is no magic solution to this challenge, but the early inclusion of NGOs in NATO planning should be pursued.

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  • Harsch, Michael F. The Power of Dependence: NATO-UN Cooperation in Crisis Management. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198722311.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that NATO-UN cooperation has often faltered because the two organizations have misunderstood how each other’s core capacities can be aligned in crisis management operations. A policy based on “resource dependency” can improve coordination.

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  • Hodge, Carl Cavanagh. “Full Circle: Two Decades of NATO intervention.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 11.4 (2013): 350–367.

    DOI: 10.1080/14794012.2013.843883Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hodge finds that the Libya example is sui generis—a case of necessity driven by political exhaustion and limited means—and therefore one that is unlikely to become a new model of restrained intervention.

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  • Holmberg, Arita. “The Changing Role of NATO: Exploring the Implications for Security Governance and Legitimacy.” European Security 20.4 (2011): 529–546.

    DOI: 10.1080/09662839.2011.625929Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    NATO is inescapably drawn to crisis management and security governance roles, Holmberg argues, which means that NATO legitimacy increasingly depends on the Alliance’s ability to be transparent and networked in its crisis management policy (output), something which in turn will require cooperation with crisis management partners (input).

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  • Mattelaer, Alexander. “How Afghanistan has Strengthened NATO.” Survival 53.6 (2011): 127–140.

    DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2011.636517Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Despite all the apparent difficulties in Afghanistan, the mission has also strengthened NATO in important ways—as an adaptive security network built around a core of collective defense. The challenge ahead is to maintain this balance between security provision and collective defense.

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  • Rynning, Sten. NATO in Afghanistan: The Liberal Disconnect. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012.

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    NATO’s prolonged engagement in Afghanistan entailed an ambition toward nation-building, an ambition the alliance could not meet on its own, in turn giving rise to a “comprehensive approach” and reliance on other organizations of the international community. Consequent problems of coordination and implementation give rise to questions over how to establish political priorities and to pursue an actual strategy of crisis management.

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  • Williams, Michael J. “(Un)Sustainable Peacebuilding: NATO’s Suitability for Postconflict Reconstruction in Multiactor Environments.” Global Governance 17.1 (January-March 2011): 115–134.

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    Williams argues, quite pessimistically, that organizations such as NATO, built to manage a balance of power, are inherently unsuited to the task of crisis management.

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Legality and Legitimacy

NATO’s collective security engagement ultimately rests on the legality of its actions, with a clear line to international law and the decision-making authority of the UN Security Council. In theory, the relationship can work whenever there is common agreement in the UN and NATO that a wrong somewhere must be made right. In practice, it is far less simple (Kaplan 2010). A strong relationship with the UN could prejudice NATO’s autonomy to decide for itself in matters of self-defense, just as for the UN such a relationship gives the impression of a militarized approach to crisis management. All of this has provided for a historically difficult UN-NATO relationship. It is a history that cannot easily be overcome. In 1999, NATO placed legitimacy over legality, as it intervened in Kosovo. In the 2000s, NATO’s appeal for a comprehensive approach to Afghan crisis management went largely unheeded, though some progress took place (Harsch and Varwick 2009, Presscott 2013). Today, the question of distrust lingers, providing important context for debates over NATO’s operational effectiveness vis-à-vis its role in regard to law and global norms (Pattison 2008, Ulfstein and Christiansen 2013).

  • Harsch, Michael F., and Johannes Varwick. “NATO and the UN.” Survival 51.2 (April-May 2009): 5–12.

    DOI: 10.1080/00396330902860744Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The article traces the somewhat surprising “joint declaration” by the UN and NATO Secretary Generals in 2008, noting that statement’s promise but also placing it in the context of a historically difficult UN-NATO relationship and a continuing trend of regionalization.

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  • Kaplan, Lawrence S. NATO and the UN: A Peculiar Relationship. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2010.

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    A superb overview of NATO-UN relations premised on the disjunction between good intentions and the practical distance that has arisen as the two organizations have distinct collective defense and collective security requirements.

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  • Pattison, James. “Legitimacy and Humanitarian Intervention: Who Should Intervene?” International Journal of Human Rights 12.3 (September 2008): 395–413.

    DOI: 10.1080/13642980802069658Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues from the conception of “legitimacy as effectiveness” that NATO is one of, if not the most, legitimate tools of crisis management, even though its means of interventions can be criticized. Aside from NATO, coalitions of the willing followed by the UN are considered second and third options for intervention.

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  • Presscott, Jody M. “NATO Gender Mainstreaming and the Feminist Critique of the Law of Armed Conflict.” Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law 14.1 (Winter 2013): 83–131.

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    A thorough examination of normative change in international law and organization and how this relates to gender equality and UN and NATO adaptation. NATO’s response can be seen as part of its engagement with human security doctrine, which connects to its crisis management function, and here the author is moderately hopeful that change will be significant and meaningful.

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  • Ulfstein, Geir, and Hege Føsund Christiansen. “The Legality of the NATO Bombing in Libya.” International & Comparative Law Quarterly 62.1 (January 2013): 159–171.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020589312000565Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    NATO was within the boundaries of legality early on in the Libya mission but overstepped its mandate when it shifted in midcourse and aimed at overthrowing the Qaddafi regime. NATO has consequently endangered the foundations for Responsibility to Protect and, by extension, hampered diplomacy in regard to the Syrian crisis.

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Global Partners

The ability of NATO to engage in security governance and uphold law and norms greatly depends on its ability to maintain political dialogues and build networks of partners. These dialogues and partner networks must match the flow and focus of globalized risks and crises, ensuring that any decision by NATO to contribute to a problem’s resolution will be well understood and supported. NATO’s political dialogue can serve other purposes as well, as Brzezinski 2009 in particular highlights, such as stabilizing the balance of power and global alliance relationships. As such, partnerships blend into both collective defense and collective security. Moore 2012 and Wagnsson 2011 warn that NATO should not lose sight of the benefits that a wider liberal community, which was NATO’s original partnership ambition, can bring; Bergqvist 2016 and Pyykönen 2016 elaborate that Sweden, Finland, and NATO must find common ground in such a community because NATO membership remains a non-option for these two countries; Edstrom, et al. 2011—along with Nordenman 2014 and Tsuruoka 2011—more broadly warns that NATO’s partnership toolbox may be growing too complex.

Future Balancing Acts

As NATO allies tend to their Atlantic community and their balance between collective defense and collective security roles, they must more broadly anticipate international trends that erode conventional patterns of cooperation and recast the bargains at the heart of the Alliance. One such trend is the coming balance between globalization and regionalization—between interdependence and common causes, on the one hand, and pluralization and diversity, on the other. It raises fundamental questions in regards to NATO’s ability to maintain a regional, Atlantic character and constructively engage powers and actors rooted in other regions. Another trend concerns the growing tension between fixed formats of cooperation and more flexible formats, which offer options for managing dynamic and diverse threats and risks. To ensure its future, NATO must continue to connect to and embed flexible coalitions in its institutional framework. Further, there is an underlying trend within NATO of shifting the burden from America to Europe. The United States has pushed for a greater European contribution to the common defense, but it is uncertain of the extent to which such a contribution could and should result in greater European influence. Europeans are uncertain of how to claim such influence, sometimes toying with the idea of creating a European caucus within NATO that might give visibility to the European voice but which in the long run would tempt the United States to detach itself further from Europe’s security order. Shifting the burden brings us back to where this bibliographic essay began—with the ability of the Atlantic community to regenerate itself. This remains the defining story of NATO’s future.

Regionalism and Globalization

NATO has gone “out of area” since the early 1990s, drawn by the connection between its own security and adverse developments outside its home territory. Initially, “out of area” referred to the European neighborhood; today it refers to the globe. The rise of China and Asia more broadly captures the challenge. Global geography matters, as it favors the global power of the United States vis-à-vis Europe’s more limited reach. Porter 2015 and Heier 2015 caution against too much global engagement on NATO’s part; Eyal 2014 and Yost 2014 seek a balanced approach; and Simón 2015 refers to an inevitably globalized security agenda. Manning 2013 and Rees 2011 foresee a continued need for Euro-Atlantic cooperation in a globalized setting. Thieme 2014 offers contrasting perspectives on the need for NATO to retain a Western character, while Goldgeier 2014 suggests that NATO’s fate, even as the Alliance engages globally, is inextricably tied to the regional ability of the allies to consolidate the gains of their post-1989 policy that promised to make Europe “whole and free.”

Institutions and Coalitions

The United States and its NATO allies have been extensively involved in security operations in North Africa and the Middle East for the past 10–15 years, yet NATO’s own involvement has been strictly limited. With the Libya air campaign in 2011 being the notable exception, NATO activity has been confined largely to maritime missions to patrol the Mediterranean and deter piracy in the Gulf of Aden. More recently, NATO has run a naval mission to survey and collect intelligence on migration flows in the eastern Mediterranean. This pattern suggests that NATO has limited direct utility for operational coalitions run by leading NATO allies. However, the pattern also suggests that NATO has critical utility both in generating interoperable forces and in structuring the political field surrounding those operations, as Recchia 2015, Rynning 2013, and Tierney 2011 suggest. Howorth 2014 and Perruche 2014 offer contrasting perspectives on the role of the European Union in this context, while Vucetic 2011 embeds the entire debate in a grand Anglo-Saxon institution—of which he is quite critical.

  • Howorth, Jolyon. “Opération Harmattan in Libya: A Paradigm Shift in French, European and Transatlantic Security Arrangements?” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 12.4 (2014): 405–417.

    DOI: 10.1080/14794012.2014.962738Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    NATO’s Libya intervention demonstrated the inadequacy of existing institutional frameworks and an enhanced role for coalitions, Howorth contends. The shape of security relations will be drawn notably by France and Britain.

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  • Perruche, Jean-Paul. “From Exception to Facilitator: What Place for France in the EU/NATO Partnership in the Post–Cold War Global World?” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 12.4 (2014): 432–442.

    DOI: 10.1080/14794012.2014.962782Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Like Howorth, Perruche foresees a critical role for France in shaping future security relations, but unlike Howorth, he believes this will take place largely within the format of the EU.

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  • Recchia, Stefano. “Soldiers, Civilians, and Multilateral Humanitarian Intervention.” Security Studies 24.2 (April-June 2015): 251–283.

    DOI: 10.1080/09636412.2015.1036626Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    NATO and the UN will likely continue as central institutions for US policy because they enable “humanitarian hawks” in Washington to mobilize support in the policy debate, notably with skeptical military leaders.

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  • Rynning, Sten. “Coalitions, Institutions and Big Tents: The New Strategic Reality of Armed Intervention.” International Affairs 89.1 (January 2013): 53–68.

    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2346.12004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Suggests a new pattern is emerging where institutions become the hub for spearhead or strike coalitions, on the one hand, and wider diplomatic concerns, on the other. This suggests that NATO can adapt and remain relevant.

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  • Tierney, Dominic. “Multilateralism: America’s Insurance Policy against Loss.” European Journal of International Relations 17.4 (2011): 655–678.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066110372433Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Multilateral institutions such as NATO come with a cost in terms of reduced autonomy for its members and the need for investment in communication and coordination. But they also bring strategic benefits in the shape of restraint and policies of compromise—qualities the United States tends to lack in military campaigns.

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  • Vucetic, Srdjan. “Bound to Follow? The Anglosphere and US-Led Coalitions of the Willing, 1950–2001.” European Journal of International Relations 17.1 (2011): 27–49.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066109350052Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Coalitions under US leadership are at the heart of global security, and they are overwhelmingly rooted in the broad and informal institution defined by English language and culture, or the Anglosphere.

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American Leadership and Europeanization

Burdens across the Atlantic will shift as the United States further engages China and as Europe builds up its capacity for security management. These are tenuous developments, though, that depend on the success of Europe’s capacity building and American willingness to transition to a more evenly distributed defense and political partnership. The challenge of adaptation could cause the United States to opt for an offshore posture that portends the full Europeanization of NATO, in effect terminating the transatlantic multilateral alliance. Europeans might wish to preserve NATO by strengthening the European pillar within it. This would either bilateralize the Alliance or contribute to a continued but refashioned Atlantic multilateralism. Charap and Shapiro 2015 find that it is in the American interest to pursue the latter policy. Most other authors find that trends point in the direction of Europeanization, though they also suggest ways of prolonging the multilateral Atlantic partnership. Stokes 2013, Witney 2015, and Wright 2013 find hope in Europeanization, which promises to deliver greater European political and economic resources for Atlantic partnership.

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