Introduction Joyce vd BildtThesis on NATO Joyce van de Bildt 3
In 1949, twelve countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty in order to establish a transatlanticalliance that would counter the threat of the Soviet Union that sought to extend its communist sphereof influence in Europe. Over the years, the Alliance expanded to fifteen countries. Following theaccession of West Germany to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Soviet Union and itssatellite states formed their own counter-alliance in 1955, the Warsaw Pact. By 1991, the Soviet Unionhad collapsed and the Warsaw Pact was dissolved as the Soviet satellite states in Central and EasternEurope opened up to democracy and multi-party political systems. The collapse of the Soviet Unionmeant the removal of the main adversary of NATO, and many believed that NATO had becomeobsolete given its original purpose of countering the Soviet communist threat. The end of the ColdWar caused a debate about the future role and the necessity of the Alliance. It soon became apparentthough, that there were new situations in which NATO could become engaged, especially when anumber of regional conflicts broke out in Yugoslavia and in parts of the former Soviet Union. The Alliance decided to go ‘out-of-area’, which meant that it started to get involved in peacekeepingoperations and crisis management, in a territory other than its own. NATO’s main role shifted fromcollective defence to collective security. Subsequently, the important choice was made to enlargeNATO in order to enhance security and stability on the European territory. Since then, the focus of NATO has undergone fundamental change and the Alliance has taken a more proactive approach withregard to the maintenance of security. This was the consequence of the growing impact of non-traditional security threats like terrorism and nuclear proliferation that could easily form a threat toNATO members.
NATO has now expanded to 26 members and the recent Bucharest summit heralded again theaccession of more Eastern European member states to NATO. The Alliance is going through acontinuous process of transformation with regard to its composition, its capabilities and its focus. According to some analysts, NATO is the most powerful regional defence alliance that ever existed.Over time NATO has evolved into a strong military mechanism with vast operational capabilities andestablished peace agreements and partnerships with third countries and potential member candidates.The importance of the transatlantic alliance might even grow with regard to the security threats of the21
century, such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and ethnic conflicts that bring the NATOmember states in peril.Nevertheless, NATO faces challenges that could question its success and importance in thefuture. It is debatable whether the Alliance has acquired the new tools that are necessary for its newlydesigned missions, and if its military forces can be combined successfully with civilian efforts. Therehas been much discussion going on about the presence of NATO’s force in Afghanistan. Also,disagreements occur within the Alliance, particularly between the Americans and Europeans. Internaldivisions, for example over the Iraq invasion in 2003, undermine the efficacy of NATO.
As a reflectionof this particular rift, the European Union has increased efforts to develop its own military capabilities,perhaps independent of NATO. A common defence policy may soon be implemented through the