NATO Strategy in the 1990s: Reaping the Peace Dividend or the Whirlwind?

  • May 01, 1995
  • Dr William T Johnsen

Each April the Strategic Studies Institute hosts a conference that addresses key strategic issues facing the Armed Forces and the Nation. This year's theme, "Strategy During the Lean Years: Learning from the Past and the Present," brought together scholars, serving and retired military officers, and civilian defense officials from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to discuss strategy formulation in times of penury from Tacitus to Force XXI. Dr. William T. Johnsen, Elihu Root Chair of Military Studies at the U.S. Army War College and a former NATO staff officer, examines The Alliance's New Strategic Concept. Released in November 1991, the Strategic Concept represents NATO's response to the dramatically changed security environment in Europe, and the intense desire to reap the resultant "peace dividend." Dr. Johnsen argues that a close reading of the strategy and subsequent implementing initiatives refutes critics who claim that NATO has failed to respond adequately to Europe's new security conditions. The Strategic Concept dramatically expands the scope of the Alliance's security objectives and functions, takes NATO "out of area," and lays the foundation for massive forces cuts, as well as for a fundamental restructuring of Alliance military forces and command structures. In Dr. Johnsen's opinion, however, the Alliance has been less than successful in the practical implementation of its Strategic Concept. These difficulties stem predominately from confusion within the Alliance over NATO's ultimate function: Should it remain a collective defense organization or should it evolve into a collective security body? Dr. Johnsen argues that for the foreseeable future NATO must remain focused on collective defense. This recommendation has a number of consequences for the Alliance, most notably for the pace of expanding its membership, NATO's future role in crisis management and conflict resolution.