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Over the Horizon: NATO, a User's Manual

Robert Farley Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired a parting broadside at the NATO alliance. Gates argued that many European countries have chronically underfunded defense, to the extent that they are now incapable of contributing to the multilateral expeditionary operations that have become part of the alliance's portfolio. Gates' exasperation focused mainly on operations in Libya, which have now considerably outlasted expectations and may soon outlast the will and capability of NATO's European members.

It is worth noting, however, that protection of Libyan civilians through airstrikes sits so far outside NATO's founding purpose that the framers of the 1949 treaty that brought the alliance into existence would hardly recognize the mission. NATO is a tool that has been effectively repurposed since the end of the Cold War, but tools are not infinitely malleable. So while the alliance may not be the ideal tool for managing military intervention in Europe's "near abroad," that does not mean that the organization is -- or risks becoming -- useless. Instead of disparaging allies, it would make more sense for critics to consider what NATO can and cannot do, and adapt their expectations accordingly. ...

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