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NATO in Search of a Vision

NATO in Search of a Vision, edited by Gulner Aybet and Rebecca R. Moore. Georgetown University Press, 2010, 272 pp.

NATO in Search of a Vision is another entry into a 70-year conversation. As Gulnur Aybet and Rebecca Moore explain in their introduction, this discussion has ensued since the inception of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In every decade, and for every global situation, the member states of NATO needed to rediscover the alliance’s purpose. Each decade brought new crises; each crisis caused NATO to seriously evaluate the missions it prosecuted and how it did so. At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, contributors to NATO in Search of a Vision argue that NATO is in danger of becoming a collection of missions without a unifying vision. This book intended to help develop that vision and has possibly been successful. NATO member states continue to engage in civil and military operations around the world, but at the time of publication, there was no overarching strategy to unify NATO operations toward a common vision. Prompted in large part by this book, NATO published a Strategic Concept in 2010.

Yet, NATO members must continually evaluate the purpose and vision of the organization to ensure its relevance and effectiveness. Rather than offer a prediction or guide, NATO in Search of a Vision offers NATO members and partners the opportunity to hear perspectives on its operations, missions, and institutions.

NATO in Search of a Vision consists of 10 chapters by 13 authors, together with an introduction, conclusion, and brief biographies of each contributor. Topics include historical studies of NATO activities; concepts for engagement with Russia, global partners, or new member states; missile defense; and, of course, the role of strategic thinking in NATO plans and operations. Each chapter includes suggestion for how to improve NATO’s processes or organization in a given area. Many of these courses of action will take a generation to be implemented. They will continue to hold value as NATO finds itself in a changing environment.

As an anthology, NATO in Search of a Vision draws on the expertise and knowledge of its widespread membership. Contributors represent several nations, although the United States, United Kingdom, and Denmark predominate. Academia, policymakers, and civilian leadership are well represented. The selections seem to represent the dominant NATO members; new members, or less active ones, are not as well represented.

The anthology suffers from a lack of operational perspective or buy-in. Only two of 13 contributors have military experience, and none currently serves in any nation’s armed forces. As a result, the chapters tend to be academic rather than practical. Their ideas may tell readers what should be done, or why it should happen, but give little thought as to how.

In some circumstances, NATO in Search of a Vision also is dated. Most obviously, NATO now has a formal Strategic Concept, the very thing this book advocated. NATO’s relationship with Russia, the situation in the Balkans, and missile defense have all changed substantially over the past three years. In some ways, though, these issues have become less pressing for domestic audiences. The “frozen conflicts” of the Caucasus, for example, are still highly relevant to the littoral nations of the Black Sea, although they rarely generate press in the United States. It is not unhelpful, then, to be reminded of them and the role they play in international politics.

This remains a valuable work for anyone seeking to understand and guide NATO’s development in the twenty-first century. All the issues discussed are enduring in nature. Although the specifics may change, NATO leaders must continue to face many of the same issues. Knowledge of the past will help guide decisions today and in the future. Most importantly, NATO must continually reinvent itself to remain relevant. As the horizons change, it will always be searching for its vision.

Capt J. Alexander Ippoliti, USAF

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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