NATO’s Return to Europe: Engaging Ukraine, Russia, and Beyond

  • Published

NATO’s Return to Europe: Engaging Ukraine, Russia, and Beyond ed. Rebecca R. Moore and Damon Coletta. Georgetown University Press, 2017.

Rebecca R. Moore continues to explore NATO’s purpose with NATO’s Return to Europe: Engaging Ukraine, Russia and Beyond, edited with Damon Colletta. Eight years after Moore edited a previous work on the subject (NATO: In Search of a Vision, with Gülnur Aybet, 2010), the world has changed. While at the beginning of the twenty-first century’s second decade Moore’s writers described the search of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for purpose in a world America dominated, at the end of that decade contributors to NATO’s Return to Europe prescribed courses of action for security practitioners responding to threats from near-peer states and aggressive nonstate actors against Europe. 

The experts who contributed to this work represent a range of experiences, with academic, government, and military pedigrees. Of the ten, seven represent American perspectives. Moore is a professor at Concordia College with a long-standing interest in NATO, while Coletta teaches at the US Air Force Academy. Other Americans include John Deni, a professor at the US Army War College; Schuyler Foerster, a former Air Force officer and Air Force Academy professor; Ivan Ivanov, from the University of Cincinnati; and Andrew Wolf, from Dickinson College. Stanley Sloan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, provided the conclusion. European voices are Magnus Petersson, from Norway’s Institute for Defence Studies, and Sten Rynning, professor at the University of Southern Denmark. Finally, although not from a NATO nation, Huiyun Feng at Australia’s Griffith University lent a global view to NATO’s functions.

NATO’s Return to Europe comes at the end of a decade of soul-searching. Analysts such as Robert Kagan (The Return of History and the End of Dreams, 2008) have described the international order’s slow rotation away from the liberal democratic values which stood against Communism for 40 years. Richard Haas (A World in Disarray, 2018) outlined the continuing dissolution, and its effects on global security. However, as Henry Kissinger noted (World Order, 2014), the dissolution of the old order does not mean the end of all structure. Alliances such as NATO might have an even larger role to play managing and shaping the new world being born than the one assigned them in the period of general stability after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In a literature of commentary, NATO’s Return to Europe stands out for its practicality. Contributors evaluate the social and political forces at work around the Atlantic yet also offer strategic prescriptions for specific problems arising from those forces. Among these are arguments for improving European infrastructure to enhance a response to Russian aggression, discussions of NATO expansion, and consideration of ways in which the alliance has grown through combined operations since the war in Afghanistan. Writers pay special attention to prospects for technical aspects of the European Reassurance Initiative and the possibilities of cooperation between NATO and Russia. These descriptions and recommendations attune the reader to the scope of NATO collective defense activities.

However, the recommendations in NATO’s Return to Europe reflect debates riving NATO itself. The subtitle, Engaging Ukraine, Russia, and Beyond, understates the disagreement among NATO members regarding the threats facing the alliance. Every chapter of NATO’s Return grapples with the question of how to respond to Russian aggression, with relatively little consideration of NATO-led stability operations to relieve pressure on NATO’s southern flank. While many of the new NATO members, especially those from the former Warsaw Pact and the United States, rightly fear Russian revisionism, instability in the Middle East and Africa is of greater concern to those nations along NATO’s Mediterranean edge. Magnus Petersson, in chapter 4, and Stanley Sloan, in the conclusion, both highlight the tension within NATO between eastern and southern threats, yet as a whole the book emphasizes plans to contain Russia. Moore and Coletta acknowledge this disagreement in the introduction but argue the Ukraine crisis underlines the renewed need for NATO’s collective security mission within Europe. This gap is unfortunate, as it may leave American readers unprepared to interact with their southern NATO partners, whose priorities differ so markedly.

In its thrust, though, the book seems to align with the current political leadership of NATO’s member states. As Sloan argues in the conclusion, to remain effectual, NATO must find a way to direct military planning in support of political efforts. The July 2018 Brussels Summit Declaration strongly emphasized the need to defend against Russian aggression, though it also discussed the need for NATO to project stability along its southern periphery. However, the alliance’s continued relevance will depend on a sustained will among NATO leaders to organize their efforts in a coherent direction. Splitting NATO’s resources among multiple priorities, Moore and Coletta seem to warn, could risk the alliance’s ability to face the greatest dangers.

NATO’s Return to Europe is an excellent resource for strategic and operational planners directing American and allied operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Moore and Coletta give military planners the connection between the political ends sought in those regions and the ways available. Not only could the works in this volume shape a planner’s conception of the operational environment, but also they offer concrete information about lessons learned from previous NATO operations modern planners can build upon.

However, this book has a limited lifespan. The changes Moore and Coletta describe, both external, as demonstrated by Russia’s aggression, and internal, with a resurgent nationalism among many member states, will continue to evolve as the West undergoes profound cultural, demographic, and economic shifts. At the next NATO summit, most likely in 2020, alliance leaders, planners, and militaries may approach the gathering with a different outlook from today. Military planners on NATO staffs must remain vigilant their activities orient towards politically established goals. While this book tells where NATO is now, it will be the responsibility of alliance security and policy professionals to shape where it goes tomorrow.

Maj J. Alexander Ippoliti, ANG

Fort George G. Meade, Maryland

"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."