Permanent Alliance? NATO and the Transatlantic Bargain from Truman to Obama
Reviewer: Katarina Marusakova (Metropolitan University Prague)
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Sloan’s book examines the fluid evolution of transatlantic relations as they respond to unfolding international environment and global challenges. The author provides unique insights into, and critical evaluations of, NATO and the work approaches the sixty-year (+) relationship between the US and Europe stretching from the Truman to the Obama administrations. In this light, Sloan describes how the transatlantic bargain has evolved over time and presents options for NATO’s future role. Only by adapting to new international conditions, responding effectively to contemporary security challenges and developing more coordinated approaches to security and to the use of resources can NATO survive, as an alliance, into the 21st century. Sloan also analyses major flaws in US-European relations, pointing especially to the problems of free-riding, unequal burden-sharing and the unilateralist foreign policy approach adopted by George W. Bush.
Sloan suggests that the US requires (explicit) assurances that European states will contribute to their own security so that military and political cooperation may continue. In other words, the status quo of the US’s security investment to, and for, Europe has to change. Europeans too are pressing for change, though their main focus has been based on increasing influence over US security decisions. In other words, while the US expects Europe to shoulder more of a security burden without allowing for greater European inputs to US decision-making, European members of NATO do not want to increase their financial and troops contributions though are attempting to deepen their role in US security decision-making.
While Sloan demonstrates excellent knowledge of NATO-related issues and focuses on both the strengths and weaknesses of the alliance, parts of the book reveal a slightly pro-American orientation. For instance, following the 2001 terrorist attacks against the US and Bush’s declaration of a ‘Global War on Terrorism, NATO, for the first time, activated Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and the allies expressed their commitment to conduct military operations in Afghanistan. The US refused this help and organised an ad hoc coalition of the willing. Sloan quietly advocates the Bush administration’s belief that NATO’s involvement would slow the pace of operations. He demonstrates that inviting a specific group of allies to participate in military operations in Afghanistan was a more effective solution. In fact, however, this action not only posed a serious blow to NATO’s credibility, it also questioned the direction it was taking into the 21st century. Also, Sloan criticises European involvement in ISAF combat operations, pointing out that NATO members’ were reluctant to commit forces to the Afghanistan conflict and were responsible, in some ways, for abandoning the US at the time of its greatest post-Cold War need. This case was deployed to reveal the alliance burden-sharing issue and increasing gap between US and European contributions to the alliance.
Similarly, Sloan tacitly supports Bush’s unilateral (and then in coalition) military intervention in Iraq (2003). Overthrowing the Hussein regime, as a threat to international security based on faulty WMD data, the military operations in Iraq were not mandated by the UNSC, primarily because of France’s (NATO political ally) threat to veto any resolution calling for war against Iraq. Within this context, Sloan claims that the US decision to invade Iraq was legitimately based on recognisable Iraqi threats to regional and international security. This is in direct contrast to a powerful alternative line of argumentation which argues that the US was attempting to consolidate its regional position in terms of access to hydrocarbons.
Sloan defends the US’s position as the only true global superpower, which is more powerful than others. He completely disregards the emergence of China as a (potential) rival power and the decline that the US is currently facing. These are important omissions since they prevent adequate contemplation on how the US needs to readjust itself to the changing international environment. Indeed, it could be that the US needs to keep its European allies interested in it since the EU is increasingly strengthening its international clout and may, eventually, come to balance the US in international affairs. However, without proper analyses, these issues are surely only guesswork.
For Sloan, the central question concerning NATO’s future is the commitment of its member states to value and defend democracy, liberty and the rule of law against threats posed by authoritarian regimes and unstable governments. In fact, the viability of the alliance depends on all member states’ recognition that such cooperation better serves their interests than no cooperation at all. This concluding point highlights the true foundation and preservation of NATO, for although the alliance is dysfunctional and may contribute to a dysfunctional international relations environment, Sloan is certainly acutely aware of the dangers, to both sides of the Euro-Atlantic region, the ends of NATO may produce. So rather than getting caught up in the hysteria of political revision, NATO must deepen their commitments to each other and seek to validate and maintain the status quo to ensure that tomorrow in no way resembles yesterday.