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Capsule Review

Opening NATO's Door: How the Alliance Remade Itself for a New Era

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Opening NATO's Door: How the Alliance Remade Itself for a New Era

Opening NATO's Door: How the Alliance Remade Itself for a New Era
By Ronald D. Asmus
Columbia University Press, 2002, 415 pp. $35.00 Purchase

An early enthusiast of NATO enlargement, Asmus was a principal aide to Madeleine Albright and Strobe Talbott during the Clinton administration. He has now written a detailed history based on State Department archives and input from nearly all the important participants. It is an impressive story of how Washington tried to reconcile the wish of the eastern European states to be part of a reunited Europe with Moscow's desire to be a partner of the United States. Over the years, the first enlargement of NATO gave way to a new partnership between the alliance and Russia, and then to a redefinition of NATO's mission. It is difficult to read this book today, however, without some melancholy. So much hope and passion among enlargement's champions, so many prophecies of gloom and doom among its opponents, and so much self-congratulation when enlargement came about with Russia's acquiescence -- and later when NATO took on a major new role beyond the borders of Europe. Asmus gives a fair (and polite) picture of the fierce divisions within the administration, and he records the caution of several allies and the changes of mood in Moscow at a time when the alliance was deeply internally divided over the Yugoslav wars. But those wars are mentioned rather skimpily here, and NATO's role -- without Russian support -- as a substitute for international legitimization in the Kosovo air war is beyond the bounds of this narrative.

The portraits of the main actors are unfailingly diplomatic. American self-satisfaction is unquestioning. (Was it really George H.W. Bush who reunified Germany within NATO?) The missed opportunity of France's reentry into NATO is, of course, gently blamed on Jacques Chirac. But in the end all we have gotten is a second enlargement that was smoother than the first and a collective endorsement of America's war on the Taliban and on terrorism. These achievements are merely symbolic, since the current administration has made it clear that, except for the British, allies are no longer needed. Thus the title of this scrupulous book could have been "Much Ado About Very Little." The explosions of September 11 have pushed old familiar landscapes into the darkness.

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