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NATO At 70: Is It Time To Overhaul One Of America's Oldest Alliances?

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, waits for the start of the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday, April 27, 2018. (Virginia Mayo/AP)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, waits for the start of the North Atlantic Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday, April 27, 2018. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

NATO turns 70. A long time foreign policy and security analyst say President Trump might be right — and that it’s time to rethink one of America’s oldest international alliances.


Barry Posen, director of the MIT Security Studies Program. Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT. Author of “Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy,” among other books. (@MIT)

Rachel Ellehuus, deputy director and senior fellow with the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Her research focuses on the future of NATO; the transatlantic relationship; U.S.-European Union relations; and regional security and defense dynamics. (@rach_ellehuus)

David Herszenhorn, chief Brussels correspondent for Politico Europe. (@herszenhorn)

From The Reading List

Politico Europe: “NATO allies extend Stoltenberg’s term as secretary-general” — “NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is not obsolete.

“The 29 allied countries on Thursday extended Stoltenberg’s term as NATO’s top political official for two more years, until September 30, 2022, ensuring a measure of stability at a time of tension in transatlantic relations and apprehension over Russia’s military assertiveness.

“Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, was scheduled to complete the more traditional four-year term in 2020. And the decision by allies to extend his mandate underscored the confidence he enjoys in the capitals of the major powers — Washington, Berlin, London and Paris.”

New York Times: “Opinion: Trump Aside, What’s the U.S. Role in NATO?” — “President Trump has many bad ideas. Reconsidering America’s role in NATO isn’t one of them.

“NATO, a military alliance, was formed specifically to prevent the Soviet Union from dominating Europe, whose principal powers — Germany, France, Italy and Britain — had been so devastated by World War II that they were vulnerable to Soviet coercion, subversion or conquest. NATO also became a vehicle for rehabilitating the Axis powers — Germany and Italy — under the victors’ tutelage.

“America had an enduring interest in ensuring that the Continent not fall under the domination of a single, capable, hostile power: That could pose a serious threat to America. The Truman administration was clear on this point: The main purpose of stationing American military forces in Europe in the early 1950s was to stay long enough to right the balance of power, not to stay forever.”

Brookings Institution: “NATO at 70: More than a military alliance” — “The North Atlantic Treaty Organization turns 70 in April. To discuss challenges to and opportunities for the alliance as it enters its eighth decade, this episode features a discussion among a group of leading Brookings experts: John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution; Constanze Stelzenmüller, the Robert Bosch Senior Fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings; and Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and director of research in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings.

“Also in this episode, Samantha Gross, fellow in the Foreign Policy program’s Energy Security and Climate Initiative, and Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of Foreign Policy and senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy, discuss top geopolitical issues, including Russia’s role in Syria, the broader Middle East, and how Iran might use oil prices to respond to continued pressure from the Trump administration. Gross and Maloney had this conversation while they were at CERA Week in Houston, Texas.”

The Nation: “NATO Turns 70” — “On April 4, 1949, representatives of the United States, Canada, and 10 European countries, including the United Kingdom and France, gathered in Washington to sign the North Atlantic Treaty, a defense pact created at the urging of wartime allies France and Britain as a means to, in the words of NATO’s first secretary general, Lord Hastings Lionel Ismay, “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

“President Harry S. Truman pledged that the treaty would serve as a defensive one in the face of Soviet expansion, ‘against aggression and the fear of aggression—a bulwark which will permit us to get on with the real business of…achieving a fuller and happier life for all our citizens.’

“Next week, to mark the 70th anniversary of that occasion, NATO foreign ministers will descend on Washington for a ministerial meeting, various think-tank panels and commemorations, all to be topped off by an address from NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg to a joint meeting of Congress.”

The Economist: “How NATO is shaping up at 70” — “Reaching 70 is an extraordinary achievement for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Most alliances die young. External threats change; national interests diverge; costs become too burdensome. Russia’s pact with Nazi Germany survived for only two years. None of the seven coalitions of the Napoleonic wars lasted more than five years. A study in 2010 by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank, counted 63 major military alliances over the previous five centuries, of which just ten lived beyond 40; the average lifespan of collective-defence alliances was 15 years.

“‘NATO is the strongest, most successful alliance in history’, says Jens Stoltenberg, the organisation’s secretary-general, ‘because we have been able to change.’ It has expanded from 12 members at its birth to 29—soon to be 30 when North Macedonia joins, its dispute with Greece over its name now settled. Of the eight countries that made up its erstwhile rival, the Warsaw Pact, seven have become part of nato, as have three former Soviet republics. The eighth one, the Soviet Union itself, has ceased to exist.”

Chicago Tribune: “At 70, NATO is strong — but it must adapt to new demands” — “NATO turns 70 on April 4. That’s normally a good age to retire. But retirement would be a mistake, because the need for the transatlantic alliance remains very real. Russia continues to threaten the unity and stability of Europe, both indirectly and directly. European economic and political cooperation continues to depend on a close security partnership with the United States. And America continues to need its powerful and prosperous allies in Europe to address the many global and geopolitical challenges both face.

“Yet, while NATO is still necessary, it is buffeted by the twin challenges of European underinvestment and lack of American leadership. Europe will need to significantly ratchet up spending on defense to counter two decades of cuts. And America needs to stop hectoring its allies and start leading them again toward common purpose. The future of the alliance depends on both.

“NATO has been the most successful military alliance in history. Its long-term success lies in its adaptability. Founded originally ‘to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,’ as Lord Ismay, NATO’s first secretary general, so memorably put it, NATO evolved into a strong military alliance that defeated the Soviet Union without ever firing a shot.”

Stefano Kotsonis produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on

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