NATO at Fifty: Minimalist NATO: A Wise Alliance Knows When to Retrench

Courtesy Reuters

When Soviet power collapsed in Eastern Europe in 1989, an intense debate developed over the roles Europe's security institutions should play in the new era. Some, led by Moscow, favored abolishing both the Warsaw Pact and NATO and giving primacy to a pan-European collective security organization, perhaps in the form of a strengthened Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Others, led by Paris, believed that NATO was still needed, but that primacy should be given to European institutions such as the Western European Union and the European Community, which became the European Union (EU) when the Maastricht Treaty on European Union went into effect in November 1993. Still others, led by Washington and London, believed that direct American engagement in European security affairs was still indispensable and that NATO, which provided the organizational framework for American engagement in Europe, was indispensable as well. According to this line of thinking, NATO needed to be preserved, reformulated, and made the centerpiece of Europe's new security architecture.

By the mid-1990s, it had become an article of faith in west European policymaking circles that U.S. engagement in Europe was still an essential part of the European security equation. As a result, NATO came out on top in the debate over the relative merits of Europe's security organizations. Unfortunately, NATO's mission has been reformulated in ways that will undermine the alliance's effectiveness, credibility, and long-term durability.


It was natural and inevitable that NATO would change in some respects when Soviet power crumbled. The alliance was created to deter a Soviet attack against Western Europe, and, if necessary, to defend against such an attack. Suddenly, and in fundamental ways, the military balance in Europe changed from 1989 into the early 1990s, with the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, the unification of Germany, the signing of the treaty on conventional forces in Europe, and the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Moscow was no longer in a position to launch a surprise attack on western Europe. This meant

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