Perspectives on the Future of NATO

Ivo Daalder and Barry Posen discussed NATO’s current role and how it will change in the future during a recent event in New York City.

The Charles Koch Institute hosted an event on Trans-Atlantic Relations and the Future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in New York City last month. The event featured former ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and Barry Posen, director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy. Rather than focus on nitty-gritty policy details, moderator William Ruger, vice president of research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute, encouraged the panelists to discuss “key ideas for the future.”

The first question directed at Ambassador Daalder was, “What is NATO’s role today, and how has this mission changed?” Daalder explained that he thinks NATO’s mission has evolved in three phases. The first phase lasted over 40 years and represents the time that NATO existed as a Cold War alliance meant to protect Western European countries from being overrun by the Soviet Union.

During the second phase, NATO sought to do for Eastern Europe what it had done for Western Europe—i.e., provide a “security blanket” while Eastern Europe underwent political and economic transformations. Finally, NATO’s third and current phase is one of “operational alliance.” Daalder notes that NATO operates on three continents, maintains forces around the world, and is now dealing with the tensions with Russia.

Posen answered similar questions about NATO’s existence, such as “Should NATO have disbanded?” and “Why was NATO enlargement a bad idea?” Posen argued that NATO should not have been disbanded, but that the United States should have “handed the keys” to the European allies in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Because the United States chose not to pass off NATO but to enlarge it, Posen is worried that the United States cannot make good on its security commitments. This is particularly problematic because NATO enlargement “gives ammunition” to Russians who are deeply concerned that NATO’s growth is meant to box in their country.

Daalder has a different view of NATO enlargement. He argued that NATO expansion was driven by ideological motivations more than security concerns. Eastern European countries undergoing transformations after the fall of the Soviet Union asked the United States and NATO for help and protection, and they obliged. However, noted Daalder, not enough consideration was given to how the alliance would fulfill its Article 5 commitments to help NATO allies in the event of an attack. Daalder told a story from his days as NATO ambassador about finding out that there were no contingency plans for responding to an attack on NATO members in the Baltics. He subsequently had to ensure such plans were created.

Posen expressed frustration with the fact that security concerns surrounding NATO enlargement after the Cold War are “only now” being addressed, when they should have been addressed at the outset. Daalder pointed out that countries were added to NATO in the midst of the Cold War, but Posen argued that those additions were made under very different circumstances. Expansion during the Cold War to include countries like Greece, Turkey, and West Germany served geopolitical, not ideological, interests.

Posen and Daalder discussed many more high-stakes issues concerning NATO, including the future of NATO expansion, the European and American roles in the Libya intervention, and European contributions to the mission in Afghanistan. Though the two panelists disagreed on many issues, their debate was stimulating and covered a wide range of NATO policies.

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