243. NATO After September 11: New Purpose or Accelerated Atrophy?

By
Ilya Prizel

The key question for NATO, according to Dr. Prizel, is how to maintain the alliance when the security agendas of Europe and the U.S. have begun to differ so greatly. While this divergence began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, we can expect to see an even greater divergence in NATO between the two entities, particularly on the issues of pan-Islamicism and NATO's relationship with Russia.

Europe is dead set against conflict with the Islamic world and has gone to considerable effort to mitigate potential incidents. Consequently, the Europeans regard terrorism as a diplomatic issue to be dealt with diplomatically, not militarily. The U.S., on the other hand, views terrorism as an anti-U.S. movement that must be dealt with swiftly and comprehensively. These different positions - papered over for the time being - will be a source of great contention within NATO, not only with regards to the events in Afghanistan, but also potentially in dealing with Iraq and the Palestine question.

NATO has, in essence, become a double-edged sword for the countries of Eastern Europe. While the alliance does have its advantages, including being "in the club" and providing protection from Russia and Germany, this division between U.S. and European positions puts increasing pressure on the countries of Eastern Europe to choose between the two groups. They are caught in the middle between the two in choosing whose military hardware to purchase and in differing views on how to approach the Balkans peacekeeping efforts. NATO's involvement in the Balkans revealed several issues that further complicate the situation. It has become evident that Europe lacks the capacity to respond to security threats, and though the U.S. shouldered the majority of the burden, peace cannot be forever maintained by U.S. policing. Thus, the Europeans believe that, again, a diplomatic solution must be achieved and that Russia must participate in the process.

The main issue, however, is neither Russia nor further NATO expansion, but the North/South paradigm. During the Cold War the issue of North vs. South, or developed vs. underdeveloped countries, was sublimated in the context of the East/West crisis. Since the end of the Cold War, however, the international system has been dominated by the North/South crisis. In the north there is unprecedented prosperity, while southern countries are experiencing poverty and an acceleration of relative unimportance in the international system. These people, possessing a growing sense of humiliation and failure, have thus become increasingly anti-status quo - meaning, increasingly anti-American.

Yet, despite the differences between Europe and the U.S., NATO will survive. For the Europeans, NATO is important because of the free-ride that Europe enjoys with respect to military security. In addition, NATO, to some extent, keeps what the Europeans view as U.S. unilateralism on issues such as NMD and nuclear weapons cuts in check. The U.S. also still has a strong need for NATO. NATO is the only institutional link and direct tool of influence that America has in Europe. NATO also provides the U.S. with a pre-positioned presence in both Western Europe and in Eastern Europe (Poland and Hungary). Furthermore, bureaucratic inertia and fear of a return to isolationism continue to support the need for NATO's existence.

Ilya Prizel spoke at an EES Discussion on January 14, 2002. The above is a summary of his presentation, written by Meredith Knepp, EES Program Assistant. Meeting Report #243.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant