Review: NATO and the United States: An Enduring Alliance

Kaplan, Lawrence. NATO and the United States: The Enduring Alliance (Boston: Twaine Publishers, 1988), 237 pages.

The only thing better suited to sell a book than talent is timing. For Lawrence Kaplan, of the Lyman L. Lemnitzer Center for NATO Studies at Kent State University, these two conditions collided in a perfectly-placed accretion of historical experience and perspective in 1988. His examination of The Enduring Alliance in no way anticipated the climactic fall of the Soviet Union, but was in fact the freshest and most authoritative account of NATO history in print when it collapsed. Did Kaplan have it wrong? Did he miss something? And how does the organization which emerged compare (or contrast) with the NATO Kaplan knew, let alone the one he envisioned? Better reasons than these to read his book include his very detailed narrative fluidity, which transports the reader into the sinews of decades of intricate diplomatic exchange whose causal nuances can not be translated into summary form; his staggering subject mastery of those different eras; and last but not least, his merciful brevity. It is for these reasons and many others that Kaplan’s work is to be reliably discovered in the bibliographic indices of all credible authors who followed in the discipline, to include House, Peterson, and Sloan.

The US NATO Debate: A Review

Magnus Peterson is at once a historian, a political scientist, and a sociologist. If he added to these the role of autobiographer, he would surely tabulate these former positions for the convenience of the reader. In a threadbare analysis of speeches and policy statements by NATO officials, the Obama Administration, Congress, and the so-called ‘media/think-tank environment’ concerning the role of American leadership during the period in NATO’s history as bookended by the Libyan War (2011) and the Ukrainian Crisis (2012), Peterson attempts to make the claim that there is (was) a debate being waged on this subject, though by his own admission, no one with whom he consulted on this matter seems to agree with him. What Peterson describes instead is a sort of soft dissonance in the views and statements originating from the three major headings under which he has organized his sources. Therefore, the truth, which may be summed up in just a half dozen words or so (there is and was no debate), would do a great disservice to Peterson’s efforts. If only he had added the subtitle: Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and dispensed with the cocktail-napkin forward in which he negates his own premise, his book might have been a best seller. At least he might have gotten the typical chapter-by-chapter recap which has been the protocol in this review series. Instead, it is necessary to provide a point-by-point refutation of his concept, methodology, and conclusion.

Permanent Alliance: The NATO Debate from Libya to Ukraine, A Review

Reviewed: Sloan, Stanley R. Permanent Alliance: NATO and the TransAtlantic Bargain from Truman to Obama. (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010) 317 pages.

When in 2016 the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, suggested walking away from NATO, perhaps it wasn’t Trump that was letting the nation down, but the nation failing itself. Historians will lament, whichever way the tide crashes, that at this moment America did not immediately halt in mid-mechination for a sober and conscious reflection on A) the merits and mandates of the NATO construct, B) the quids and quos of American hegemony within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and C) the present pulse of the nation’s sentimentality in matters of interventionism, collectivism, and so forth. For those frenzied, scrutinizing souls clawing in the dark for some comprehension of these and other critical concerns, sans any hope for a productive or even informative national discourse, there is refuge in Stanley Sloan’s professorial (and prophetic) exploration of these very themes.

Review: NATO, In Search of a Vision.

Reviewed: Aybet, Gulnar, and Rebecca M. Moore. Eds. NATO: In Search of a Vision, (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press. 2010) 272 pages.

Helen Keller said that the most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but no vision. Gandhi said that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Somewhere in the continuum between these two ideological axioms, we struggle to understand one of the most critical and powerful socio-political-military institutions in all of human history. The North-Atlantic Treaty Organization is at once predicated upon the failed-concept of retaliation as deterrent, and bound by the inestimable limitations of human patience and understanding. As such, it would be dangerous if it lacked the viscosity which otherwise prevents it from being volatile. In practise, its potency at any given time is inversely proportional to its capacity for bureaucratic complexity. While it lords a hostile array of nuclear armaments over any and everyone it perceives as enemy, through most of its history it has operated with a perfect commitment not to use them. But with time, the mission begins to creep, as it always does. Like any good bureaucracy, its operatives yearn for organic growth, which creates a paradox. As NATO’s ambitious peace keeping and collaboration efforts proceed, ideally, those once marked in the enemy's column are gradually brought over into the allied camp, while other relationships with neutrals and collaborators evolve. All the while, the identity of the thing changes, and so too its concept of enemy, and of other. And so it casts a long diurnal shadow, in perpetual motion across the surface of the modern geopolitical sphere. As has been seen by all, the transition from the Communist to the Islamist front has not been seamless. Nor will be the coming procession from Islamism to Cyber war. But what then? And, perhaps more importantly, what else? To elucidate this foggy subject, dozens of professors and officials from around the world have collaborated in this thrifty, if dated, volume; each attempting to carve out a unique view of the implications of NATO expansion, opposition, cohesion, collaboration, innovation, and change. Together, they have assembled in narrow strokes a path of guideposts to aid the rest of us, supposedly the democratic bodies in being, to whom the mission of NATO is itself dedicated, however ambiguous its genuine allegiances may someday become.

Review: A Military History of the Cold War 1944-1962

House, Jonathan M. A Military History of the Cold War 1944-1962, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. 546 pages.

There is something kind of nefarious about NATO. But whatever that something is can be as elusive as the benevolently proverbial white rabbit himself. How does one (beholden and domestic to the modern western security apparatus) begin to articulate the faintest criticism or concern with an organization credited with “keeping the peace” (at least by its own self, that is) for nearly seventy years? Should such an argument even be made? Perhaps. But one must concede that such an argument must be a kind of tertiary one, neither mainstream or counter-cultural. It must be built upon a foundation which itself is laid upon bedrock. Such bedrock is rarely seen, jutting up at the sky and at Time itself, through the dense and deep sediment and topsoil that is the modern military historicity. Jonathan House offers just such a cornerstone work in this herculean survey of two of the most politicized, polarizing, and pivotal decades in all of global history, leading up to and through the day the whole world almost went away.