With global support for nuclear arms control and disarmament gathering momentum, it might seem like an appropriate moment for NATO to fundamentally rethink its approach to the role that nuclear weapons play in its strategic posture. Instead, the alliance is likely to stress continuity, with nuclear weapons continuing to occupy a significant position in its new Strategic Concept.
NATO's Identity Crisis
Having struggled to maintain its relevance following the Cold War, NATO now faces new obstacles in its effort to carve out a global role for itself. Dwindling political commitment and drastic reduction in European defense spending threaten to hollow the alliance out from within. Meanwhile, shifts in the strategic landscape and the emerging trend toward nuclear disarmament have called into question the foundations of collective security upon which the alliance is based. With a new Strategic Concept due to be adopted next month, NATO's survival is certain, but its identity remains very much uncertain.
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A lack of political will and a wave of defense budget cuts would seem to spell doom for NATO as a global expeditionary force, at least in the foreseeable future. While in all likelihood NATO will pull through, there's reason to fear that it will do so as a hollow organization. At the same time, there's some reason to hope that the forced belt-tightening will force a rethink of how to make NATO even more central to trans-Atlantic security.
NATO has undergone many changes since its inception in 1949, but its commitment to collective defense has remained intact. Despite a sea change in NATO's strategic context, membership, activities and functions, Article 5 has retained an almost mythical quality. Yet, beyond the rhetoric of summit declarations and keynote speeches, the relevance and meaning of Article 5, and of the security guarantees it embodies, have become increasingly problematic.