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“As long as the U.S. aspires to be a European power and extends a security guarantee to key European countries. . . it will be inevitably concerned about major political and economic developments in Eastern Europe.”
Ronald D. Asmus
International Herald Tribune
March 2, 1992
NATO Cooperation with
Former AdversariesThe Historical Record, 1990-1997

by Sorin Lungu

As NATO begins its fifty-first year, involved (at this writing) in its first armed conflict ever, the author, a former Romanian diplomat, addresses from an historical perspective NATO’s “out-of-area” issue—adding new membership in Europe—and its bearing on US-German relations in Europe. Mr. Lungu contributed a comprehensive retrospective look at NATO developments in the Spring 1999 issue (Vol. IV, No. 2) of American Diplomacy. ~ Ed.
 INCE ITS FORMATION DURING 1949-1950,1 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has achieved two fundamental results. First, it “won” the Cold War without firing a shot. It proved also to be the most important aspect of a Western policy of containment of Soviet expansion that culminated in the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the communist governments of Eastern Europe.

Second, NATO provided the necessary security framework for the economic and political integration of Western Europe, which fostered European Union institutions strong enough to rule out war among states that had been fighting one another for over a millennium.

As the communist regimes of Eastern Europe began to collapse, NATO governments, led by the United States and Germany, undertook rapid steps, while avoiding measures that might alarm the declining Soviet Union, to deal with the desires of the new democratic governments of Eastern Europe for some degree of security assurance in a confusing new situation. Their objective was also to improve long-term chances for democratic government in the former Warsaw Pact states by transmitting to their armed forces and civilian leaders essential concepts from Western practice. This situation has increasingly obliged NATO to struggle with the problem of achieving its ultimate political objective, as stated in the 1967 Harmel Report: “to achieve a just and lasting peaceful order in Europe accompanied by appropriate security guarantees.”2

Moreover, despite the fact that NATO is an intergovernmental organization in which national views must be reconciled, Germany and the United States played a decisive role in expressing the Alliance’s determination to construct a stable political order in Europe as a whole. In this process, two of the keys to stability in Europe are considered to be the Western relationship to Russia and the internal development of Europe’s society.

German actions have been embedded in multilateral frameworks, and have followed a strategy of diversification, balance and compensation. In the absence of a strategic threat, united Germany has acted as “a civilian power,” avoiding as far as possible the ways of a traditional great power and hence the use of force.3 Conventional European (through institutions such as the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and NATO diplomacy monopolized quite successfully the mediation between Germany and the Central and Eastern European states.

For some Americans, the new environment brought an implicit warning in the transatlantic bargain, namely that the United States might abandon its interest in European security. Such warnings were based on a complete misjudgment of Europe’s unique role as a key strategic region for North American security. Europe continued to play a vital role in the U.S. security calculus. The Americans need to stay in Europe: “every security problem which touches on the military great power Russia, every crisis which has even the remotest nuclear dimension, and every conflict which threatens escalation on NATO territory thus will force the United States to become engaged.”4

It should be noted that the United States has a special interest in close German-American relations. It seems clear that partnership with the strongest nation in the heart of Europe serves U.S. interests in influencing European affairs. “Europe, and in addition Germany, provide a strategic base for the United States from which it can pursue its national and common interests in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Russia, as well as in the Near and Middle East.”5

In this context, the Alliance launched in 1990 its new policy of “cooperation with former adversaries,”6 a phrase that announced two new roles for the Allies.7 “To pursue the development of co-operative structures of security for a Europe whole and free,”8 NATO has established four new institutions: Partnership for Peace (PFP); the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council; the NATO-Ukraine Commission; and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), which replaced the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) in May 1997.

This set of institutions tried to address at least two of the most important issues of European security in the post-Cold War environment:

  • first, to what extent Russia and the other CEE states will take part in a set of Western political, economic and military institutions led by the U.S., Germany, the U.K. and France;
  • second, how military power might be readied or employed to influence political developments in or near Europe, especially where the interests of the great powers are not in conflict. In this context, German and American attitudes towards NATO’s cooperation with former CEE adversaries clearly deserve closer scrutiny.

Given that “NATO also provides a unique institutional framework for the Europeans to affect American policies”9 and that “liberal democracies successfully influence each other, in the framework of international institutions by using norms and joint decision-making procedures as well as transnational policies,“10 this analysis could provide a better understanding of the two countries’ particular interests in establishing a new “concert of Europe” and of some of the rationales that led to the process of NATO’s enlargement.

Moreover, analyzing the German and American strategic decisions and actions in the development of this process might throw light on a larger question: whether this new set of institutions is an effective answer to the Old Continent’s security concerns or only “a diversion from the specific policy issues arising in the eastern half of Europe” and “from direct discussion of the vital interests, regional policies and needed military readiness of the governments in the Euro-Atlantic community.”11 To achieve the mentioned above goals, it is necessary to examine, at a minimum, the following topics:12

and then to consider some Final Remarks (Part V).



1. On the origins of NATO see Timothy P. Ireland, Creating the Entangling Alliance: The Origins of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981), and Robert S. Jordan, with Michael W. Bloome, Political Leadership in NATO: A Study in Multinational Diplomacy (Boulder: Westview Press, 1979).

2. North Atlantic Council, Harmel Report, 13-14 December 1967, par. 9.

3. The German domestic debate over security policy is predominantly characterized by an almost total neglect of military power as an instrument of foreign policy.

4. Michael Ruehle and Nick Williams, “View from NATO: Why NATO Will Survive,” Comparative Strategy, vol. 16 (1997), p. 113.

5. Mey, “View from Germany: German-American Relations: The Case for a Preference,” Comparative Strategy, Vol. 14 (1995), p. 209.

6. See the 5-6 July 1990 London Declaration and the 7-8 November 1991 Strategic Concept.

7. The cooperation with former adversaries (and, increasingly, other non-NATO countries) will ensure complementarity with the OSCE in the Euro-Atlantic region and support an “open-ended” process of NATO enlargement.

8. North Atlantic Council, Strategic Concept, 7-8 November 1991, par. 19.

9. Thomas Risse-Kappen, “Collective Identity in a Democratic Community: The Case of NATO,” in Peter J. Katzenstein, ed., The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics (New York: Columbia Press University, 1996), p. 396.

10. Ibid.

11. Philip Zelikow, “The Masque of Institutions,” in Philip H. Gordon, ed., NATO’s Transformation: The Changing Shape of the Atlantic Alliance (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1997), p. 88.

12. A complete analysis would include also the German and American attitudes toward Russia and Ukraine.

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