April 6, 1999 | News Releases on International Organizations

As NATO Turns 50, The Alliance Questions Its Purpose

America's Interests Require a Strong, U.S-Led NATO, Article Says

WASHINGTON, APRIL 6, 1999-Despite the current debate over the role of NATO in Yugoslavia, the military alliance is just as important today as the day it began, says a leading NATO expert.

NATO's controversial decision to launch a military campaign in defense of the fundamental values of the West underscores a deep uncertainty about the future mission of the alliance-a dispute that will be on full display when NATO members meet in Washington this month to mark the alliance's 50th anniversary and to unveil the strategic concept of the "new NATO."

In fact, as Bruce Pitcairn Jackson, president of the U.S. Committee on NATO, says in his article from the forthcoming issue of Policy Review, some alliance members "have even gone so far as to wonder whether NATO deserves to live on." And in U.S. political circles, divisions have erupted between internationalists who see NATO as the centerpiece of U.S. security strategy and isolationists who argue against a broader role for NATO. Yet Jackson says that with so much at stake-including the potential fragmentation of Europe-the United States must protect its interests by preserving an American-led NATO into the 21st century.

Jackson outlines five broad planks in the case for maintaining-and even expanding-the alliance:

  • NATO is at the center of all U.S. military strategies. Jackson says NATO opponents should not count on the current absence of a serious U.S. rival on the world stage. "This happy circumstance will surely change," he writes. "If, for example, a threat were to emerge from a resurgent Russia, there would not be time in which to reconstitute a NATO-like alliance on the front line." He also notes that NATO would provide protection from militant Islamic states, as well as from a hostile China. "In all cases, NATO is the common denominator in the grand strategy of the West," he says.

  • NATO reflects the American way of war. The American people have come to expect the United States to act in consensus with its European allies before conducting a military campaign. Thus, Jackson says, alliances like NATO have become a fact of life. "Without the mechanisms of coordination developed within NATO, the success of ad hoc coalitions, like Desert Storm, would be doubtful," he writes.

  • NATO remains "the military expression of a community of shared values." More than a military alliance, NATO served as the political foundation on which Europe was rebuilt and played a critical role in consolidating the Cold War victory for the West, Jackson says. "It is also the only institution that appears capable of countering the crimes against humanity being committed in the Balkans," he adds.

  • NATO's mission in Europe is unfinished. Jackson argues it is too soon for the United States to exit the alliance. Not only does Europe not wish America to leave NATO, it has demonstrated it needs a U.S.-led alliance to effectively keep peace and respond to crises. As an example, he cites the 1998 Kosovo peace agreement monitored by the ineffectual Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

  • The end of NATO means more than the end of NATO. Jackson asks critics to imagine the past 50 years without the alliance. He says NATO critics must also consider America's future security without NATO. "A world without NATO would be a world with a radically changed political order-one about which we know little, and what we can imagine is troubling," he says. "At a minimum, the disestablishment of NATO would require military expenditures at near wartime levels."

About the Author

Related Issues: International Organizations