Courtesy Reuters

Is NATO stumbling toward impotence, sliding back to business as usual or being dragged to the brink of peace? A gambler would be hard-pressed to call the odds. In the wake of the signing of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and President Mikhail Gorbachev's announced unilateral plan to withdraw Soviet forces from Eastern Europe, various observers argue the first and the last of these alternatives. The middle one, the more prosaic of the possibilities, has been underestimated. Far more than is admitted by many breathless commentators worried about the implications of the INF treaty, there are powerful reasons to expect no essential change in the constitution or operation of the alliance.

Continuity remains the best bet for the alliance's future course, although the odds of things remaining constant are the lowest in several decades. As it approaches middle age, the alliance finds itself near a turning point, confronting forces that

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  • Richard K. Betts is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and has taught at Harvard, Columbia and the Johns Hopkins universities. Among his books are Soldiers, Statesmen, and Cold War Crises (1977), Surprise Attack (1982) and Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (1987). This article is adapted from a paper prepared for a joint seminar of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Maryland.
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