What is the future of NATO? How will it confront challenges to the current order while tackling its own internal problems? How can NATO escape the vicious cycle of increasing ambitions for it and the demands upon it, matched with decreasing solidarity and fewer financial and military contributions by its members? These are questions that NATO In Search of a Vision poses, analyses and attempts to answer in an acutely insightful volume.

NATO In Search of a Vision is comprised of ten chapters written by a variety of scholars and policy makers, from both sides of the Atlantic, especially from the United States, followed by Britain and Denmark who either work in or study this area. Edited by Aybet and Moore this book consists of a collection of essays on NATO which analyse ‘the key issues that will undoubtedly shape NATO’s vision’ (p. 6), it gives an authoritative assessment of NATO’s evolution thus far and discusses its future path; if it is to remain relevant into the 21st century.

According to the authors, NATO, now in its 7th decade of existence, is facing a new era, an argument presented against the backdrop that many had expected the end of NATO when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, when the alliance no longer had a visible, clear and present enemy (i.e. the Warsaw Pact) and perhaps no longer maintained a valid reason to exist. Unexpectedly the ‘Alliance has been enlarged, become globalised , and become involved in more activities in more parts of the world than its founding fathers could ever have envisioned’ (p.11). Yet, the authors clearly stress that this evolution has been neither easy nor automatic and has been accompanied by numerous debates and crises. From the Berlin Blockade (1948), the establishment of the Marshall Plan to underwrite the military security of Western Europe, over the Korean War and the establishment of the European Defense Community (EDC) and France’s threat to leave the Alliance over the lack of a voice and role in NATO’s discussions, all these ‘crisis brought unexpected benefits’ (p.14) and the authors seem – on the whole – hopeful for the future of NATO.

The book primarily concerns itself with NATO’s current problems, claiming that the Alliance ‘finds itself busier than at any time in its history’ (p.1) with an array of military missions from Afghanistan to Sudan, all of which it must address in order to survive. In the post-Cold War and post-September 11th world, characterised by international terrorism, it now lacks a grand strategic vision. NATO has permitted itself to be defined through its missions abroad and has forgotten its main purpose of creating a ‘collective defense to integrate and pacify Western Europe in the intermediate post-World War II period’ (p.2). It is necessary to, again, put strategy before action. Multiple challenges have arisen which the authors pinpoint, question and analyse in a highly interesting manner. These include:

  1. 1. the relationship NATO should have towards Russia
  2. 2. the internal divide among NATO members over Russia’s military intervention in Georgia (2008),
  3. 3. discussions over the balance between maintaining a cooperative relationship with Russia and the project of enlarging the Euro-Atlantic Community (Albania and Croatia joined NATO in 2009)
  4. 4. the decision to endorse the European missile defense programme in Poland and the Czech Republic.

All are fascinating issues which endanger and complicate relations to Russia.

Other challenges include the situation in Afghanistan, the difficulty in finally winning and the member’s unwillingness to commit more troops to the cause. Also the distraction from core concerns; the collective defense of its members’ territories, the shift from large European conscript armies to smaller volunteer forces, social and demographic factors such as the diverging immigration patterns and changing social composition of the population, the problems resulting from more members and less unity along with others are key concerns for NATO. Our world is a dangerous place and ‘there will always be states and non state actors that challenge the basis of international order.’

The authors manage to strike an excellent balance between political, military and social analysis, and the book successfully catches the reader’s interests not only by focusing on military aspects. It is very up to date and concerns itself with problems of recent events which have complicated the regional and international situation. The entire book, chapter through chapter, is well written and full of interesting ideas, clear and logical examples and questions which encourage readers to individually search for answers for the survival of NATO. Also, the tables and statistics – comparing different trends amongst the members (chapter 9) – are very helpful for understanding demographical changes and the challenges they pose. The authors, all from academic/professional backgrounds, write in such a clear and comprehensive manner that readers have no trouble understanding the content and implications.

On a more personal note, before opening this book, I did not think NATO could manage to peak my interest, yet through the thoughtful portrayal of the issues and challenges facing NATO I was unexpectedly drawn to the topic. The book is an open invitation to really think about a topic which I had never really given much thought to before; NATO’s evolution and the current challenges to it and it opened my eyes NATO’s importance in the globalised world.

Similar to the EU, NATO is seemingly in search of a clear identity and vision and finds itself facing numerous challenges which both can perhaps face together. After the end of the Cold War it can no longer be an exclusive “Western club” and should really consider its main objectives, of what it wants to achieve in the world, i.e. to protect its members from danger. As the book correctly notes, NATO will not be able to face all these challenges alone and will need to reinforce its working relationships with other institution like the United Nations and non-governmental organisations in order to escape the fate of the League of Nations. The book allows readers to come up with their own conclusions about what the future has in store for the world’s most powerful military alliance. It is an excellent guide to NATO and comes highly recommended to all who are interested in enhancing their knowledge about NATO and whether or not it will survive the future.