Richard E. Rupp. NATO after 9/11: An Alliance in Continuing Decline. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. xiv + 282 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4039-7188-3.
Reviewed by Jonathan Winkler (Department of History, Wright State University)
Published on H-War (October, 2007)
The Long Slow Sunset
Strategic alliances are among the most complex of historical subjects. The tradeoffs, compromises, pressures, and rewards inherent in these bargains have fascinated scholars since Thucydides first chronicled the collapse of the Delian League into the Athenian Empire.
Now Richard Rupp, a political scientist at Purdue University-Calumet, offers his views on the incipient collapse of that most powerful of recent alliances, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. In NATO after 9/11 , Rupp argues that "NATO's days as a coherent, effectively functioning military alliance are waning" (p. 2). He suggests that the lack of a common menace to members' vital interests, compounded by growing differences between the United States and the rest of the alliance, means NATO will become ever less valuable to its members (p. 3). While acknowledging the repeated claims since the end of the Cold War that NATO was in decline, Rupp suggests that the successive efforts to revitalize NATO have not worked, and that the problems related to Afghanistan and Iraq make this manifest. In his view, NATO is no longer an effective alliance or a credible military threat. While both the United States and Europe share the blame for this decline, no amount of reform will fix NATO. Instead, a new security regime must emerge.
Rupp develops this argument through a chronological analysis of the alliance, focusing primarily on the period after the Cold War when NATO members searched for a new shared mission. In his first chapter, he lays out the theoretical framework for the study, and seeks to identify the national interests of the participating nations, in order to clarify the differences that the United States and other members have over contemporary threat perception. The current threats that NATO members identify, ranging from economic or environmental problems to terrorism and weapons proliferation, are nowhere nearly as galvanizing as the Soviet threat was during the Cold War. The alliance that came into being during the Cold War was about collective defense, oriented against a common foe, and not about collective security, oriented towards a region and varying, evolving threats. The collapse of the Eastern threat, then, posed significant existential questions for the alliance. But rather than go out of business, the alliance changed its focus and even expanded.
The 1990s are the subject of chapter 2, in which he examines the formative transformation of the alliance from one of collective defense to collective security. This is the most interesting and important part of the book. Supporters of NATO saw the deployment of forces to the Balkans as proof that the alliance had found a new, successful reason for being. But, Rupp argues that the more significant story was that this period saw the beginning of divergence over policy, threat perception, and military capabilities among the alliance members, differences that would only continue to grow. The United States and European members began to see differently on a number of issues which, though unrelated to NATO, complicated efforts to reform NATO. Changing threat perceptions, driven by the different regional and global outlooks of the partners, as well as varying domestic priorities, compounded this. Also important was the fact that the United States' continuing maintenance of a military second to none created a "free rider" problem, allowed the European NATO members to eschew military spending for social spending, and compound the growing military capabilities gap between the United States and the other members. If NATO does cease to exist, Rupp has made a good case that the 1990s, and not the post-9/11 period, are where historians should look for the real causes of the alliance's decline.
The subsequent three chapters cover NATO since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Here, Rupp makes his major point that 9/11 failed to galvanize the alliance or repair the weakening that had occurred in the 1990s. Immediately after the attacks, NATO members invoked Article V, but Rupp is careful to note that there was not unanimous support for this, and he explores the problems that the nature of this conflict posed to the alliance. NATO had been about large, mechanized armed forces and threats from nation-states. But al Qaeda represented something else, and the location, duration, and style of this conflict was not entirely clear. What Rupp then reminds us is that the Bush administration specifically chose not to use the alliance's military forces in general but those of members in particular (the "coalition of the willing" model), in large part because of the capabilities gap revealed during the 1990s. This, together with the subsequent disagreements over the United States' attention to Iraq in 2002-2003, led to real divisions within the alliance's members that culminated in outright efforts by France and Germany to stop the United States in the Security Council in 2003. Rather than rest only on Iraq, however, Rupp is careful to explain that NATO's growing role in Afghanistan has been of critical importance to the alliance. If NATO can pull off a successful out-of-area operation, it might well prove to its members as well as others in the Eurasian landmass that it is a viable military alliance that can project power effectively for publicly acceptable missions. What Rupp notes, however, is that by 2006 (when the book went to press) the operations were less aggressive than NATO, the United States or the Afghanis wanted. Inadequate numbers of soldiers, limited equipment, and a hesitancy to engage in potentially difficult combat has weakened NATO's mission there. This may yet change, and so Rupp is careful to end his book not speculating on Afghanistan so much as ruminating on the likely further decline in NATO's relevance.
Rupp's work is clear, concise, fair, and certainly timely. But it is not without methodological and interpretive issues that raised questions for this reviewer, who is, it should be noted, a historian and not a political scientist. Some problems stem from the need to compress a large amount of material into a short analysis. For example, Rupp does not mention the French withdrawal from NATO military planning in 1966, even though this would suggest a major precedent for how the alliance might come apart. When discussing the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Rupp does not mention the Turkish rejection of the pass-through of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, which occurred despite NATO's significant guarantee of Turkish security days earlier. One would have thought that this would have been a much more visible example of the alliance's problems in 2003 (it actually affected the invasion) than the refusal of the European allies to allow overflights or equipment transfers in support of the war.
A broader concern, however, was that the work was largely Amero-centric in its analysis and based on English-language sources. Rupp discusses the Europeans in a unitary fashion, in a manner suggesting that the different countries held largely the same view on all things. A notable exception to this is his discussion of the pre-Iraq wrangling by "old" and "new" Europe, but this exception illustrates the rule. While examining each member might have posed monumental analytical problems, even a modest effort was warranted in light of the political shifts across the continent over the last two years. Moreover, poor Canada is shunted aside. Neither American nor European, its views on policy matters in this period (Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, Iraq) often were similar to those of many European governments, but Rupp casts the issue more as a division between the United States and Europe. The book's sourcing was also problematic, but in a way that does not reflect negatively on the author so much as on all such works of contemporary history. Rupp relied upon secondary literature, mostly newspaper and wire press accounts in English, journals (academic and policy), interviews with U.S. and European officials (mostly unattributed), and a few primary source documents. Because significant primary source material will not be available to scholars for some time to come, any work such as the one under review here must necessarily rest upon a broad base of secondary material. But we need to be more cautious about how we use newspaper accounts, particularly on hotly contested geopolitical debates. Indeed, the relative absence of continental European news sources, in an electronic age where much is available online, in this work on the major alliance in Europe struck this reviewer as surprising.
NATO after 9/11 also raises questions that should be of great importance for historians and political scientists as we begin to analyze the "Long War" and make sense of its significance. Rupp's argument is that the prosecution of this war has compounded significant preexisting faults with the result that NATO as a military alliance has been severely weakened. But this inherently requires that we view what has occurred since 9/11 as a conventional military event, one that NATO members had, prior to 9/11 envisioned as the purpose of the alliance. With that kind of an approach, the events after 9/11 in Afghanistan and then Iraq appear to be an inadequate use of NATO's military power and the strengths of the alliance. By this approach, and there is much merit to it, the United States is a unilateral actor and the alliance the victim of diverging viewpoints of its members. We should not let this approach narrow our understanding of what this alliance is or can do.
As scholars of military affairs, we must be careful not to assume that conventional military operations (however adapted to new civil affairs or counterinsurgency roles) are the only thing going on during this event. Indeed,in retrospect it may actually be a lesser (though nonetheless important)part of what is going on. However much the alliance appears to have weakened from this, we must ask whether the military institution of NATO, organized towards state-supported large mechanized armed forces, is relevant to this kind of war. The most important parts of the war are hidden behind very high levels of secrecy (just as ULTRA--intelligence gained from decryption of German communications--was during World War Two) and include very complex financial, informational and clandestine Special Operations aspects that will not become public for some time. There may in fact be levels of cooperation within NATO that, while not organized around conventional combat arms, are nonetheless important. This may, in fact, mean that NATO will continue to transform but into something other than what it has been in the years since its founding. What Rupp's work reminds us, then, is that we must pay attention to other levels of analysis besides simply the largest, systemic ones, such as personnel, doctrine, force structure, and policy. To take one example, so long as the U.S. military considers an officer's tour through NATO command a benefit rather than a detriment to his or her career, NATO will be important to the United States. When NATO is no longer a choice billet but a backwater for retiring officers, then the alliance will be dead.
Throughout history, alliances have been fickle creations, ones that rarely lasted beyond the immediacy of the crises that spawned them. Some collapsed suddenly (such as NATO's opponent, the Warsaw Pact), while others drifted on into irrelevance and eventual death (such as the Rio Pact). Others have simply transformed into new organizations altogether. As individual Greek city-states found it easier to contribute money rather than ships to the Delian League's navy, the alliance transformed and so was born the Athenian Empire. Richard Rupp has shown us that while we should find it remarkable that NATO lasted as long as it has, there is reason to be concerned about its future. Whether it will turn out as he has argued, in the face of a nuclear-armed Iran or a revived Russia, only time will show.
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Jonathan Winkler. Review of Rupp, Richard E., NATO after 9/11: An Alliance in Continuing Decline.
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