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NATO’s New Developments and Changes Essay

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Updated: Jul 21st, 2021

The Extent to Which NATO Has Become a Political Alliance

As NATO considers its future in the next century, the organization is confronted with new contradictions. Following years of doubts and debates concerning the organization activities after the Cold War, it is now evident that the Alliance has become politically oriented as opposed to its original purpose of offering security to its member states1. Currently, members and non-members perceive the organization as a new political force in Europe with greater influence on the internal affairs of member states. NATO attained the political status through its increased capabilities in maintaining peace and security among the member states as well as the potential new state members2.

In fact, NATO has outperformed other organizations in accomplishing these core functions. Besides, NATO has proved to be more proficient in ensuring that the needs and aspirations of the member states are accomplished countries, particularly from central and Eastern Europe. Formerly, the organization’s security and political functions concentrated on the rich western European countries that were actually facing security threats from the Soviet Union. However, the organization opened its doors to Eastern European countries while leaving the membership open to other qualified European countries.

The membership process is based on a political agenda instead of security reasons. In fact, one of the major qualifications for membership in NATO is through the adoption of democratic principles in the management of state affairs. NATO core principles are to ensure security and maintenance of peace and democratic gains the member states have gained over the years3. The democratic principles form the core basis of the political activities of the organization.

Notwithstanding, the status of the organization remains a highly contested issue. The member and non-member states are yet to agree on the new strategies that would foster the development and growth of the organization given the completion of its major mission due to the demise of Cold War4. The question is whether defending the territories of the member states should remain the primary purpose of the organization. However, the purpose has been proven less likely but remains fundamentally possible in a tentative and unstable world.

Essentially, NATO has shifted its focus to the alternative purpose of extending security and stability throughout the north Atlantic region. In this regard, the organization has opened its doors to countries that meet the fundamental standards ranging from the market needs to the rule of law. Democracy and the ability to resolve internal conflicts and external disputes peacefully remain significant within the continuum. Besides, the organization activities have expanded both geographically and functionally to include new territories and political functions of peaceful conflict resolutions5. More significant is the Alliance’s specific policy regarding the new strategic concept, its command and the extent of the future expansion as well as the military structure arrangements are not far from being political.

For nearly a decade, NATO has transformed its purpose, focusing on the immediate steps to adapt to new post-Cold War political environments. In fact, NATO has changed its internal structure to reflect new political developments and flexibilities in the application of military capabilities. The core military functions of NATO have actually changed from protecting member states against large and predictable aggressions into operations that support of peacekeeping missions. The peacekeeping missions range from rescue and relief efforts to counter-terrorism. The shifts in the military functions indicate the increasing political involvement and control by some member states. In addition, the organization has shared its expertise in all areas ranging from military planning to democratic controls of the state affairs particularly with countries that were aligned to Soviet Union6.

The concentrations in these in-house and peripheral adjustments have demonstrated the Alliance’s new role in political control over the new Europe. In addition, the Alliance has succeeded in meeting the political demands of the post-Cold War era. While most scholars argued that the organization’s purpose ended with the demise of the Cold War, the organization has succeeded in staying relevant, particularly in a highly volatile political environment and uncertain as well as the unpredictable world. Political or non-political, the organization has to redefine its purpose to suit the needs of new Europe7. Further, the extent to which the organization is becoming political is growing. Arguably, this is where the Alliance finds its relevancy in the post-Cold War era.

Why NATO Failed to Disappear after the Cold War

After the Cold War, many observers predicted the constant fade of NATO into a final demise or changed into a different Alliance. The reason is that most military alliances demise once their impetuous intimidations vanish. Many understood the process to be the fate of NATO. However, in realistic terms, alliances should live longer than the coercion with which they were formed8. Nevertheless, the majority holds the view that coalitions should not go beyond their purpose for which they were created. For instance, military agreements that are created by countries with common interests to pull together their defense proficiencies and counter common enemies have no reason live once the mission has been accomplished. In addition, such alliances have no resources beyond the authority and unity of the member states.

Therefore, when threats disappear, members of the coalition have no reason for corporate, resulting in the breakage of the treaty. In fact, this school of thought is in line with the realist theoretical approach to international relations. Many believed in the school of thought, and it was used to predict the demise of NATO after the Cold War. However, NATO still exists even after the fading of the threat posed by the Soviet Union.

Initially, NATO was established to help the United States and its allies deal with the threat of the Cold War. The main agreement during the formative years was to act in unison in case the common enemy attacks one of the members. The joint military action was critical not only against the Soviet Union but also to keep peace and security in the region. In fact, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, security remains the number one priority for the organization. Essentially, despite the departure of the Soviet Union’s threat at the end of the Cold War, the world is still in constant danger ranging from terrorism to fundamentalism. Moreover, the possibility of other nations rising against the US is also high. The constant threat of terror and the possible rise against the US are some of the reasons why the North Atlantic Alliance is still relevant.

The endurance of the North Atlantic Alliance has disapproved of the common view that NATO was formed only to win the Cold War. Time has proved that the Alliance is still important for the interest of state parties. In fact, a widely accepted view of international relations argues that states act on behalf of their national interests9. The US holds this school of thought and argues that Europe remains critically important not only in terms of commercial gains but also as a military ally. Therefore, having an institutional relationship with Europe is indispensable. NATO forms a military institution that fosters the security relations between the European Union and the United States.

The Changing Activities of NATO

The organization began to limit its activities immediately after the ease of the Cold War. In other words, the level of the Alliance’s activities began to decline following the reduction of the Soviet Union’s armed forces presence in central and Eastern Europe. The military negotiations increased while the opposing organizations undertook measures that resulted in the building of trust and confidence. In fact, the transformation also saw NATO shifting its nuclear strategy following the elimination of class, nuclear weapons. The elimination of the class nuclear weapons culminated from the result of the US-Soviet Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (US-SINFT).

The total end of the Cold War in the 1990s caused a strategic revaluation of NATO’s purpose, responsibilities, and structure. The revaluation necessitated the gradual expansion of NATO in other parts of Europe, including Eastern Europe and the change from military organization to political systems. Besides, NATO expanded its activities in areas that have not been covered. However, while these factors have contributed immensely to the existence of the organization immediately after the Cold War, the real reasons why the Alliance still exists are closely related.

Reasons for the Persistence of the Alliance

Three major factors are attributed to the persistence of the Alliance after the Cold War. First, the dissolution of the organization was not one of the main agendas following the disbanding of the Soviet Union. In fact, the future uncertainties made most member states to adopt new strategic concepts that spell new responsibilities and structure of the organization. The new concept indicated the need to preserve the strategic balance in Europe, which became the fundamental security role of the organization immediately after the Cold War.

Second, the underlying reasons for the formation of NATO were not just providing security but also to foster western ideals. Principally, NATO was established to offer countervailing equilibrium between the West and the Soviet Union. Essentially, the Alliance was formed by likeminded states that have a common determination to preserve freedom, heritage and civilization of their people10. Gradually, the organization transformed from protecting the members from military threat to a principal institution that guards the fundamental western views

Third, the organization has survived due to its capability to structure and adapt to the new changes in the environment. Militarily, the internal adaptations have seen the creation of a more streamlined force with a flexible command structure as well as increased capabilities of deployment. Politically, the Alliance has transformed the manner in which its operations are undertaken. In addition, the organization has managed to maintain its relevance in the changing political, economic and social global environment where peacekeeping and prevention of extremism, as well as a deterrent of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, is highly prioritized11.

NATO’s Enlargement and its Defensive Capabilities

The expansion of the organization to include various states from Eastern Europe has been designed to counter the military threat and increase the security of its member states. While most scholars argue that the expansion of NATO would lead to decreased military capabilities, the enlargement and inclusion of other countries resulted in increased security and naval competencies significant in countering the modern global challenges. NATO’s main goal is to ensure peace and security to its member states12.

However, the organization has to deal with new global challenges. Over the last five decades, NATO has been involved in the protection of American and western European interests. With the demise of the Cold War, transatlantic security has been based on the capabilities of the organization. Therefore, the larger NATO membership, including new Eastern European democracies, would enhance this security. In other words, the inclusion of other European countries would be helpful in addressing the new global challenges, prevent emerging threats, and increase collective defense capabilities critical in addressing both conventional and contemporary security challenges. Most importantly, the increase in the number of the Alliance’s member states remains critical in securing the gains that have been made over the years.

The current strategy of the Alliance is to secure the democratic gains of the member countries and to build as well as secure, peaceful Europe. The prospective and new members are facing similar threats NATO was formed to deter. Therefore, adding new members will make the organization more effective and a deterrent force with increased capabilities to deal with new forms of conflicts not only in Europe but also around the globe. Essentially, the continuous enlargement of NATO would make the organization capable of countering the security threats facing its members. In other words, the enlargement plan is aimed at making the organization become more effective in attaining its goals that are based on its core mission. Besides, NATO is currently well placed to deal with eminent challenges emanating from rogue states as well as new global threats ranging from religious hatred to terrorism13.

The argument is that NATO has become a cohesive community capable of combining its security resources to deal with these new challenges. The traditional threats, including the spread of weapons of mass destruction, can only be dealt with through the inclusion of friendly European countries.

While these points underscore the need to enlarge the organization through the inclusion of the new member states, weaknesses have also been pointed out. In fact, a closure look at the organization pinpoint the reluctance of the member states to surrender the needed capital to counter the new global challenges14. Besides, the expanded NATO will have a larger territory to defend with inadequate resources. Essentially, the organization would require modernized programs that integrate the outmoded trained military personnel of the new entrants.

In fact, NATO is a military organization not suited to expand democracy in central European countries. Going beyond the military mandate would surrender, the organization is more political instead of securing its member states. Therefore, the organization has little effect on the political processes that could threaten security in the new member countries. Further, enlarging NATO would draw a new line between the new and old members in central Europe, which would further weaken its capabilities in protecting the members.

Further, the enlargements of the organization have always been seen as a one-time event. The perceived open door policy has not been attained by the majority of the new members, particularly countries from the Balkans willing to join the organization. In fact, the one-time event has prevented the organization from protecting the potential member states in the Balkans from the Russian aggression15.

The stumbling failures of the open door process have actually created a dividing line in Europe. In fact, two lines have been created between the new and the old members of NATO as well as between NATO and Russia. In fact, selective membership that cannot be defined and attained creates a dividing line among the states in the organization. The dividing line reduces the organization’s capabilities of providing security to its new frontiers. Moreover, the inability of the organization to resolve conflicts existing between member and non-member states weakens the enlargement policy. Essentially, the expanded NATO has a greater possibility of having many unresolved problems that would prevent the organization from securing its new members and allies.

The Notion of a Military Alliance in the Twenty-first Century

The continued existence of military alliances in the twenty-first century is not a chronological misplacement but an answer to the challenges faced in the current international security landscape16. Actually, given the number of increased threats to worldwide peace and security resulting from terrorism, the need for military alliances is inevitable in the twenty-first century. In other words, the existence of a collective military defense is critical in providing answers to the myriads of global challenges in the form of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increased extremism, and revolutions.

For instance, the sustained presence of NATO in the 21st century has had numerous contributions towards the achievement of international peace and security. In reality, military alliances such as NATO have proven invaluable in offering solutions to warring nations by offering a peaceful settlement of disputes as well as guiding member nations to abstain from international associations from the terrorizations. Besides, military alliances have been significant in encouraging collaboration between member nations to improve their economies.

Actually, military alliances have been fundamental in ending civil upheavals, peaceful termination of the Cold War and offering a defense of allies against domination and intimidation by other states17. Specifically, the twenty-first century continues to experience unprecedented levels of revolts as well as political unrest across the globe. In this regard, military alliances have often helped to prevent such explosive environments from bursting out. For example, following the invasion of Afghanistan by the al Qaeda, NATO has continued to pursue military engagements in Pakistan and Afghanistan, driving out the extremists. In fact, the actions of the organization have made such countries safe havens18.

Moreover, military alliances have been at the forefront, particularly by offering financial and moral support during catastrophes. Precisely, radicalism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction continue to be contemporary issues of great concern affecting international peace and security. As such, NATO continues to offer international security assistance to various states, including the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as well as other countries in the Middle East to eradicate the upsurge of radicalism. Additionally, NATO has been involved in the provision of backup security to the advancement of military capabilities in Afghanistan as well as building the aptitudes of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by steering safety and stability actions across the nation.

Most importantly, significant changes have continued to be realized in the international political and economic landscape. For instance, with the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, along with the rise of China and Pacific Asia, the dimensions of the new world have been characterized by chaotic, extreme ethnic, civil, and economic wrangles. Actually, military alliances are capable of offering frameworks that subordinate possible economic and political differences across the globe. Besides, the existences of military alliances in the 21st century have enhanced international trade through commercial dialogs, removal of capital controls and new financial instruments within member nations19. Further, through the alliances, technological advancements in communications have led to the development of vastly cohesive operation systems in the maintenance of worldwide peace and security.

The presence of military alliances in the 21st century has been invaluable in fostering good relations between states as well as enhancing peace and security. For example, the US-Brazil Defense Cooperation has significantly increased peace and noble relations between the Western hemisphere’s leading supremacies. From the treaty, cases of illicit drug trafficking have reduced 20. The treaty has also ensured the increased stability of the two nations. Moreover, with the redefinition of contemporary terrorism encompassing destabilization, sabotage, and open warfare, military alliances have proven significant.

Generally, the relevance of military treaties in the 21st century has been portrayed by the alliances’ commitment to defending states against terrorism, solving conflicts, and providing military establishments and civilians with crisis management techniques.

Threats Faced by the Member States

During the Cold War, the major threat facing the member states was nuclear Armageddon. However, with the downfall of the Soviet Union, the peril vanished. In contrast, the main contemporary threat facing the member states is terrorism as well as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction21. In fact, terrorist groups, including the Taliban and al Qaeda, often carry out extremist attacks on member states. In addition, inefficient policing and intelligence sharing is a significant threat facing the member states of NATO. Further, holding the Alliance together has also been a threat amongst the member states22. The development of nuclear bombs is also a critical threat facing the member states. On the contrary, economic interests and foreign policy preferences were major threats to the existence of the Alliance during the Cold War.


Aybet, Gülnur, and Rebecca R. Moore. NATO in Search of a Vision. Washingtone, DC: Geargetown University Press, 2010. Web.

Martin, Garret. “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO – A Cornerstone of de Gaulle’s Grand Strategy? Journal of Transatlantic Studies 9, no. 3 (2011): 232-243. Web.

NATO. “” 2012. Web.

NATO. “” 2008. Web.


1 Garret Martin, “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO – A Cornerstone of de Gaulle’s Grand Strategy?” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 9, no. 3 (2011): 205. Web.

2 Martin, “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO,” 236

3 Gülnur Aybet and Rebecca R. Moore. NATO in Search of a Vision (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2010), 135. Web.

4 Martin, “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO,” 237

5 Martin, “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO,” 235

6 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 115

7 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 115

8 Martin, “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO,” 266

9 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 155

10 NATO, “The North Atlantic Treaty,” Web.

11 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 155

12 NATO, “Active Engagement, Modern Defense”. Web.

13 Martin, “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO,” 266

14 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 155

15 Martin, “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO,” 266

16 Martin, “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO,” 266

17 Martin, “The 1967 Withdrawal from NATO,” 278

18 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 155

19 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 175

20 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 155 significantly

21 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 155

22 Aybet and Moore, NATO in Search of a Vision, 155

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