An Agenda for NATO

Toward a Global Security Web

NATO's 60th anniversary, celebrated in April with pomp and circumstance by the leaders of nearly 30 allied states, generated little public interest. NATO's historical role was treated as a bore. In the opinion-shaping media, there were frequent derisive dismissals and even calls for the termination of the alliance as a dysfunctional geostrategic irrelevance. Russian spokespeople mocked it as a Cold War relic.

Even France's decision to return to full participation in NATO's integrated military structures -- after more than 40 years of abstention -- aroused relatively little positive commentary. Yet France's actions spoke louder than words. A state with a proud sense of its universal vocation sensed something about NATO -- not the NATO of the Cold War but the NATO of the twenty-first century -- that made it rejoin the world's most important military alliance at a time of far-reaching changes in the world's security dynamics. France's action underlined NATO's vital political role as a regional alliance with growing global potential.

In assessing NATO's evolving role, one has to take into account the historical fact that in the course of its 60 years the alliance has institutionalized three truly monumental transformations in world affairs: first, the end of the centuries-long "civil war" within the West for transoceanic and European supremacy; second, the United States' post-World War II commitment to the defense of Europe against Soviet domination (resulting from either a political upheaval or even World War III); and third, the peaceful termination of the Cold War, which ended the geopolitical division of Europe and created the preconditions for a larger democratic European Union.

Register Now
Non-Subscriber
Register now to get three articles each month. Join us as a paid subscriber and get unrestricted access to all of Foreign Affairs, including on our iPad app.
Please note that we will never share your email address with a third party. Read our privacy policy.
Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis