Case Study

The persistence of the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

NATO’s position as an institution was unique during the Cold War in that, on the one hand, it facilitated co-operation among its members but, on the other hand, its role was fundamentally tied to security as it sought to defend the Western Alliance against the perceived Soviet threat. This emphasis on security, anarchy and balance of power gave the Realist tradition an unrivalled ability to explain the nature of global politics, which was further reinforced after the establishment of neo-Realism in 1979. However, the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union raised the possibility that, without a unifying ethos, NATO was left without a purpose and this encouraged its member states, academics and others to begin questioning its continuing existence. Nevertheless, the organisation has persisted, which has cast doubt on the validity of neo-Realist assumptions. It has also demonstrated that the institution is perhaps something more than merely a security framework. Its central role in creating a forum for its member states to cooperate on a host of issues (including security matters) highlights the possibility that neo-Liberal approaches may be better at explaining NATO’s contemporary philosophy.