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BOOK REVIEW: Transatlantic relations amidst a shifting geopolitical landscape

- Reviewed book: “Natalizia G. e Termine L. (a cura di) (2023), La NATO verso il 2030. Continuità e discontinuità nelle relazioni transatlantiche dopo il nuovo Concetto Strategico, Bologna, il Mulino, pp. 221” https://www.mulino.it/isbn/9788815386397 

 

- By Nicolò Sorio, Centro Studi Geopolitica.info


 

Against the backdrop of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, the last decade has been characterized by several phenomena that have altered the strategic context of the Atlantic Alliance. These include a redistribution of relative power to the detriment of both the United States and its allies, Brexit, a ramping discussion on European strategic autonomy, and challenges posed against the liberal international order by revisionist powers. Constant threats from the Alliance’s southern flank and emerging threats in the cyber and extra-atmospheric spaces also have to be considered as influential phenomena.


The large-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, along with Hamas’ attack on the State of Israel, brutally revived the debate on international instability and the “problem of peaceful change” in international relations. All of these dynamics have contributed to a new structural stress test for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and, more broadly, for transatlantic relations.


The book “La NATO verso il 2030. Continuità e discontinuità nelle relazioni transatlantiche dopo il nuovo Concetto Strategico” [NATO toward 2030. Continuity and discontinuity in transatlantic relations after the new Strategic Concept], edited by Gabriele Natalizia, coordinator of the Center for Geopolitical Studies Geopolitica.info and associate professor of International Relations at Sapienza University of Rome, and Lorenzo Termine, adjunct professor in International Relations at UNINT as well as coordinator of research at the Center, scrutinizes the inherent exceptionalism within NATO’s historical evolution. It explores and elucidates the rationale, operational mechanisms and future trajectories of an Alliance that remains unparalleled in its geopolitical nature and significance.


The book traces the developments that have marked the history of an Alliance that, despite its asymmetric nature, represents the most successful example of constructing a zone of cooperation and peace, ensuring the security of all its member states for over half a century - albeit not without tensions among members. By overcoming numerous geopolitical changes, the Alliance has demonstrated how strong the transatlantic bond is still today and how a permanent military organization has equipped it to face both old and new threats.


The volume aims to investigate the exceptional nature of this unique Alliance. To achieve this goal, the book is divided into four thematic parts which reflect the core and notions of the 2022 Strategic Concept: the first theme is “Alliances: Between Theory and Transatlantic Practice” which aims at reconstructing the evolution of the Atlantic Alliance in the light of International Relations theory. In the second one, “Why Ally? Countering Traditional and Emerging Threats” the authors reconstruct the various positions – and ambitions – within the Alliance dictated by new and old security challenges. Then, the third thematic part “Who to Ally With? Evolution of Relations within NATO” investigates not only the evolving political legitimacy of the Alliance but also touches on current – and particularly contentious – topics such as the debate on strategic autonomy. Finally, the last theme “What to Do with Allies? Modalities and Scope of NATO” provides a lucid analysis of the current state and future projection of the Alliance.


The volume departs from the consideration that, while the presence of a common enemy, the Soviet giant in 1949, had constituted the decisive incentive for harmonizing the interests of the two Atlantic shores, its disappearance somewhat complicated the renewal of past commitments in the face of radical political and strategic changes between 1989 and 1991. As suggested by the literature (Walt, 1987; Snyder, 1990; Cesa, 2007) on the subject, alliances tend to dissolve when the threat they formed against no longer looms over their members. In comparison to this “regularity” of international political life and the various perspectives that emerged on the topic during those years, the Atlantic Alliance constituted a significant exception.


Interestingly enough, although the shock caused by the Russian aggression in Ukraine seems to have partially defused the growing frictions among allies on the future of the Alliance, this book finds that three distinct – and not easily reconcilable – positions on the role and how to interpret the organization’s activities remain pending, casting a shadow on NATO’s future. The first perspective, held by Eastern European nations, advocates for NATO to continue addressing the same threat – the Russian Federation – with the same traditional tools – deterrence and defense. On the other hand, Southern European countries – Italy above all – request equal attention from NATO for threats from both the East and the South, emphasizing crisis management tools. Lastly, the Anglo-Saxon countries aspire to transform NATO into an increasingly global alliance, broadening its scope and recommitting to cooperative security issues. In their opinion, NATO could play a truly global role addressing new and emerging challenges such as the People’s Republic of China. The events following 24 February 2022 have inevitably reinforced the first of these positions – which has been spearheaded especially by Poland, which has heavily influenced the new Strategic Concept.


Indeed, this book’s analysis is situated within the unexplored and evolving domain of transatlantic relations during the 2020s.  It emphasizes that the transitory consolidation of the Alliance and the resolution of disagreements are susceptible to erosion in light of the imminent Russian threat. The determinations made by NATO's constituent members regarding the Alliance's focal points will undeniably exert a transformative influence on its trajectory, consequently reshaping the security landscape within the Euro-Atlantic sphere.



References

 

Cesa, M. (2007), Alleati ma rivali. Teoria delle alleanze e politica

estera settecentesca, Bologna, Il Mulino.


Snyder, G. H. (1990). ALLIANCE THEORY: A NEOREALIST FIRST CUT. Journal of International Affairs, 44(1), 103–123. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24357226


Walt, S. M. (1987). The Origins of Alliances. Cornell University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt32b5fc

 





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