, Volume 90, Number 6

Sten Rynning
This article examines NATO’s transformation from the Cold War to the present and offers a framework of interpretation. Transformation has entailed a downgrading of territorial defence and an upgrading of out-of-area crisis management, as well as diplomatic engagement and partnership. NATO has thus become a more diversified and globalized alliance. The article traces the evolution post-1989 of the principled policy areas for the alliance—defence, crisis management and partnership— and explains difficulties of development within each area. It also enters into the controversy of interpreting NATO. It explains NATO as an outcome of America’s enduring need to engage in the management of Eurasia’s rim and Europe’s equally enduring need for outside assistance in organizing a concert of power inside Europe. NATO has historically been strong when Europe’s and North America’s power capabilities and concepts of order are in equilibrium and thus when NATO governments have defined the geography of the Atlantic peace in such a way that both pillars can contribute to it in substantial ways. The article puts this perspective in opposition to two mainstream frameworks of thinking— liberal idealism and retrenchment realism—and applies it in a critique of the diversified and globalized profile that the alliance has developed. The article finally offers a moderately positive assessment of NATO’s September 2014 Wales summit as a contribution to renewed geopolitical equilibrium, and it suggests how this contribution could be further strengthened.

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