To the Editor:
I had a thought after reading Hal Brands and Peter Feaver’s article on NATO (“Can NATO Survive and Thrive?” September). Like Luigi Pirandello’s absurd play Six Characters in Search of an Author, NATO is a 29-member alliance in search of a mission in a fragmented world order at the start of a new century.
As Pericles observed, collective security alliances suffer from fatigue and disband once the threat that engendered the formation of the group dissipates. A study of the military alliances from the War of the League of Cambrai in 1508 to the present would show that a majority of such alliances did not survive the test of time once the their raisons d’être disappeared.
Once the primary power of an alliance revaluates its national-security priorities after a league’s bonds weaken, disintegration is usually inevitable. On that note, I leave you with the words of Sir Edward Grey: “An understanding is perhaps better than an alliance, which may stereotype arrangements which cannot be regarded as permanent in view of the changing circumstances from day to day.
Hal Brands and Peter Feaver write:
We agree that when an alliance’s original raison d’être disappears, it puts a strain on the alliance. Some prominent academic theorists predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union would strain NATO to the breaking point in the early 1990s. That did not happen, obviously. The academic theorists forgot what Erol Araf has also forgotten: that alliances can choose to adapt and develop new missions that give vitality to their partnership. That is precisely what NATO has done over the past 25 years. And today, the original raison d’être does not seem so distant any longer, given the obvious challenge posed by a revisionist Russia. In our article, we explored another kind of shock to the alliance, one that could prove more fatal: the possibility that the major power at the center of the coalition loses interest in maintaining the alliance. We shall see whether that may require adjustments beyond what the other allies can muster.