Ian Shapiro, Adam Tooze, eds. Charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Together with Scholarly Commentaries and Essential Historical Documents. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018. 376 pp. $25.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-300-22852-6.
Reviewed by Christopher Welch (Air University, Air War College)
Published on H-War (July, 2022)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is the most successful political-military alliance in the world. The post-Cold War era redefined the geopolitical landscape and security dimensions across the globe. Nevertheless, NATO remains steadfast in its original charter of collective defense, reaffirmed in its 2010 strategic concept as an “unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security and shared values” in a changing world (p. 163).
Editors Ian Shapiro and Adam Tooze set this global stage in Charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They assembled a compendium of essays and historical documents to tackle the salient question of the role of a twenty-first-century NATO in the post-Cold War world. Immediately following the Second World War, the European security environment provided a starkly different motivation to NATO’s formation than today’s security environment does to justify the alliance’s continued existence. Indeed, nearly half of Charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization contains NATO’s historical documents, including the original charter, various speeches from foreign leaders, and the alliance’s two modern-era strategic concepts. These documents underpin the framework of historical context upon which the chapter authors build their cases for NATO’s post-Cold War evolution.
The argument for assessing NATO’s future begins in earnest with Mary Elise Sarotte’s essay in chapter 3. Sarotte’s examination of France’s unsuccessful attempt to create a pan-European security institution after the fall of the Berlin Wall reveals that NATO’s continuation “was hardly a given, but rather the active result of US and West German efforts in the contest over NATO’s future beyond the end of the Cold War” (p. 224). France lobbied heavily for a pan-European security institution, modeled after, or expanding on the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, while the United States and West Germany pushed for a unified Germany in NATO. This scenario prompted consequential deliberations on the look of European security that Sarotte illustrates through compelling perspectives from various stakeholders. The failure of French president François Mitterrand to act swiftly and persuasively for a pan-European security initiative paved the way for US president George H. W. Bush and his West German counterpart, Helmut Kohl, to secure their preference for NATO expansion with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev’s blessing. The expansion was pivotal to NATO’s future in two significant ways. First, it kept the United States involved in European security and affairs beyond the Cold War, and second, it tacitly opened the door for the alliance’s future eastward expansion. Ultimately, Sarotte masterfully tackles agency, relationships, and transatlantic politics against the backdrop of the rapid fall of the Berlin Wall to clarify how the alliance persisted in this particular security transition.
A weak spot in the collection of essays is Graeme Lamb’s chapter on the modern strategic relevance of the alliance. Lamb questions whether NATO’s current structure and operating authority as a force are fit for the modern security environment, arguing that the end of the Cold War ended bipolarity and subsequently signaled the end of the need for collective defense as outlined in the alliance’s charter. In the modern security environment, Lamb asserts that NATO members are unlikely to act in concert, focusing instead on their national pressures in the face of terrorism and an increasingly assertive Russia. Moreover, he asserts that few modern threats require the alliance’s conventional forces. Instead, intelligence and other national agencies are better suited to address these “relatively small” threats (cyber-terrorism, space security) or “old threats” (immigration, organized crime, weapons of mass destruction, piracy) (p. 259). Lamb does not challenge whether the alliance can adapt in the modern era. He admits that it has already done so. He does, however, take a critical stand that NATO should be fundamentally restructured or disbanded in response to a markedly different global security environment than the Cold War model. Lamb’s point has merit; under the current mandate, alliance funding and expansion require scrutiny. In the end, it is noteworthy that this is the only essay that lacks any citations or endnotes to validate the author’s arguments. As a result, the essay is an interesting but not particularly compelling commentary.
Shapiro and Tooze synthesize issues brought up by other contributors in their concluding essay. They write that any argument about NATO’s future must acknowledge that the alliance was a Cold War success and contributed significantly, if not exclusively, to the end of centuries of conflict among Western European powers. However, despite the alliance’s success in the Cold War, the contemporary reality is that NATO members “have been more consistently and actively involved in military activities than during the first forty years of the alliance’s existence” (p. xiii). These military activities are almost exclusively out-of-area operations, such as in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya, and beyond the intent of the original charter. Moreover, NATO now faces the resurgence of an old enemy, Russia. Vladimir Putin imposes a different security threat to the region than the Soviets did with his hostile rhetoric toward the alliance and complicated scheme of information warfare specifically targeting alliance stability. Shapiro and Tooze dispute that Moscow’s resurgence is NATO’s current raison d’être given the myriad of other modern and transnational threats facing alliance members.
Ultimately, the question of NATO’s legitimacy and future goes unanswered in Charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The authors provide excellent analyses of modern security concerns and the ways the alliance evolved to address those concerns. Likewise, the authors deliver specific context and perspective on many of Europe’s and NATO’s prevailing modern challenges. To that end, the book is a useful and timely primer in understanding how European security concerns connect to NATO’s history and future. However, Charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization stops short of taking a definitive stance on the alliance’s continued strategic relevance, other than that it is a question that needs addressing sooner rather than later.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-war.
Christopher Welch. Review of Shapiro, Ian; Tooze, Adam, eds., Charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Together with Scholarly Commentaries and Essential Historical Documents.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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