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By Jacob Stokes and Dr. Nora Bensahel, Center for a New American Security
Reviewed by John Handley, Vice President, American Diplomacy

In early 1992, after the official demise of the WARSAW Pact in April 1991, this reviewer, as well as most of the NATO military attachés stationed in both NATO and WARSAW Pact countries, attended a conference in London entitled “Whither NATO?” Believing that NATO was about to follow the WARSAW Pact into oblivion, the group searched for possible new missions for NATO. The conference attendees came up with several possibilities that ranged from stopping the illicit transfer of weapons technology to the interdiction of drug trafficking. None of the potential new missions received a favorable endorsement, and NATO’s involve­ment in Bosnia stopped additional discussion.

This current article, by Jacob Stokes, Research Historian, and Nora Bensahel, Senior Fellow and Director of Studies, both of the Center for a New American Security, endeavors to do what we failed to do in 1992. The major problem to which these authors constantly refer is funding. With the U.S. shifting toward the Pacific, how can anyone convince the NATO allies to continue committing dwindling funds to an organization that seems to be no longer relevant? An additional question the authors pose is how much the US should invest in future technologies and how much in today’s forces.

The authors nevertheless argue that NATO should focus on improving critical capabilities giving the alliance continued military capacity:

  • Preserve the command and control interoperability gained in Afghanistan;
  • Ensure a robust annual exercise program to test key alliance capabilities;
  • Expand the 2% matrix to include more qualitative assessments of contributors;
  • Encourage specialization within regional clusters rather than across the entire alliance;
  • Revitalize the military officer exchange program;
  • Emphasize planning for non-traditional and emerging security threats;
  • Reinvigorate efforts to synchronize capabilities between NATO and the European Union;
    Create institutions to foster coordination.

In order for NATO to win increased U.S. support, the other military members must improve their respective military capabilities. NATO should demonstrate the value that the organization has already provided to the U.S. To better make its case, NATO should:

  • Educate policymakers about successful NATO naval operations (counter-piracy
  • Estimate costs should NATO disappear;
  • Ensure officials recognize U.S. military operations conducted under NATO auspices; and
  • Emphasize the value and legitimacy bestowed by NATO as a political body.

In short, the authors offer no new mission for NATO but instead see value in maintaining an entity that already provides a multinational interoperability command structure and deployment capability that “makes it a partner of the first resort” for the U.S. Such an entity will be important to the U.S. in the future as it and the Western world respond to the unexpected non-traditional and emerging security threats mentioned above. To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “there are known knowns, that is things we know, and known unknowns, things we know we don’t know, but there are also unknown unknowns that are the most difficult to grasp. “This article implies that these unknown unknowns will eventually require the U.S. and its allies to respond with military force, and the best way to do so is with an already tested organization—NATO.End.

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