Book Review: NATO’s new mission

Patrick Stephenson reviews Rebecca Moore’s “NATO’s new mission” and analyses whether it gives a full picture of where the Alliance is heading.

Rebecca Moore’s book “NATO’s New Mission” provides an important history of the transatlantic Alliance since the end of the Cold War. She succeeds in getting inside the heads of the policymakers who were forced by events to transform NATO. And she shows how these events no longer required a static Alliance deterring a monolithic Soviet threat, but a dynamic institutional force, extending and preserving Western liberal values in Eastern Europe and beyond.

This is intellectual and diplomatic history at its most rigorous. The footnote count of some chapters runs into the hundreds.

In fact, a perusal of the ‘Notes’ section shows that Dr Moore has studied most, if not all, of NATO’s official documents.

Beyond that, she’s read many significant academic pieces, countless clippings from both mainstream news sources and Allied statements and interviewed seemingly just about every relevant NATO official, both on the record and on background.

In short, Dr Moore has aced her NATO homework. And in doing so, anyone studying NATO issues will find their homework easier.

The picture that emerges from this mountain of research is one of a NATO that is increasingly political in its mission. This is primarily, Dr Moore shows us, because Allied political and intellectual leaders have come to understand that the increasingly complex and asymmetrical threats facing the Alliance demand political as well as purely military responses. This is the essence of the ‘comprehensive approach’ that is now the byword for Alliance activities.

The benefit of this cockpit-view of events is that it maps out the intellectual evolution among Allied commentators and policymakers since the early 1990s. NATO’s renewed certainty of purpose, Dr Moore demonstrates, was the foundation for the Alliance’s growing role in post-9/11 world.

At the heart of this gradual Allied realization of NATO’s continuing utility was the idea, voiced by former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, that security “is what we make of it”: the right institutions, based upon the right values, can construct the security and the stability that we desire. Along the way, realist arguments from NATO sceptics that either predicted the Alliance’s dissolution or opposed enlargement are duly picked apart and dismissed.

There are, however, two major disadvantages to such a viewpoint.

The first is that the portrait that emerges is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It looks backwards to where the Alliance has been - rather than describing how it needs to evolve. There are no concrete recommendations for policymakers, other than an exhortation for the transatlantic Alliance to continue to evolve politically as well as militarily.

In addition, there is an inevitable hollowness to this NATO Headquarters-centric analysis. One dares to ask: could NATO’s true predicament be different to the scenarios presented by NATO and Allied policymakers?

We are given extensive commentary by those inside the process – but what about those outside it, who live in that nebulous ‘out of’ area which so concerns NATO?

A certain amount of field research, directly examining the Alliance’s work in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, could have provided an important check to the ceaselessly optimistic pronouncements emanating from NATO Headquarters. The lack of such a perspective will lend a handy hammer to anyone who might wish to attack Dr Moore’s thesis as disconnected from realities on the ground.

Despite the work’s considerable virtues, a final reproach must be that those whose views are lacking in this history are those players who will play the most crucial role in NATO’s ‘new mission’: current or potential partners, the Afghans, Middle Easterners, the Australians, the Japanese, and others. As such, this book tells us more about how the Alliance would like to view itself in the future, rather than how it will actually evolve.

At its best, this work is a fine diplomatic history of the Alliance since the end of the Cold War. It has strong arguments about NATO’s continuing relevance that will play well to believers in the transatlantic relationship.

At its least interesting, Dr Moore’s straightforward prose is unimaginative and merely reworks stock phrases.

A larger and ultimately more complete work would have got out of NATO’s head and into the world around it.

Perhaps that will be her next book.

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