Future of NATO

January 2009 • Volume 3, Issue 1
Is the transatlantic alliance obsolete?
By Roland Flamini


Two French soldiers prepare to search a house in Afghanistan (AFP/Getty Images/Joel Saget)
French soldiers prepare to search a house in Afghanistan in October 2008. They are among the 64,000 soldiers deployed by NATO and a U.S.-led coalition trying to defeat Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents in the Central Asian country. (AFP/Getty Images/Joel Saget)

During the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was the West's line of defense against possible Soviet aggression. But the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the disappearance of NATO's communist equivalent — the Warsaw Pact — raised doubts about NATO's relevance. Nearly 20 years later, the specter of obsolescence still hangs over the venerable 26-nation alliance. So-called "Atlanticists" in both the United States and Europe say NATO's role in keeping the United States tied strategically to Europe justifies the alliance's continued existence. Moreover, NATO makes Moscow uneasy, and that's a good thing, they say. Others feel NATO should "earn its keep" by assuming new military responsibilities, such as protecting global energy-supply routes. But one thing is certain: It's not your grandfather's alliance. Since the 1990s, nearly a dozen former Soviet states and Soviet-bloc nations have joined NATO, easing their transition to democracy. NATO also has expanded its operations beyond Europe to Afghanistan, which may become the 60-year-old alliance's ultimate testing ground.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Jan. 2009  Future of NATO
Feb. 28, 2003  Future of NATO
May 16, 1997  Expanding NATO
Aug. 21, 1992  NATO's Changing Role
Mar. 22, 1974  Faltering NATO Alliance
Nov. 18, 1964  Reconstruction of NATO
Oct. 24, 1956  Future of NATO
Alliances and Security Agreements
War and Conflict