Sustaining NATO by consultation: hard choices for Europe

  • Sten RynningEmail author
Original Article


NATO allies have since the inception of the alliance sought to establish an Atlanticist habit of political consultation to prevent political go-it-alone drift on the part of key allies and help define NATO in regard to major strategic issues. Today, observers dispute the ability of Atlanticism to sustain the Alliance. This article reviews the history and current politics of Atlanticist consultations to assess the conditions under which consultations are most likely to serve as a force of alliance continuity. The article argues that European allies have become accustomed to an incremental Atlanticist approach that no longer serves them well. Reviewing Atlanticist history, the article suggests how Europe can leap forward to revive the tradition of consultations. It involves a balancing act for Europe between on the one hand expanded power to manage global issues such as the rise of China and on the other limited ambitions of strategic autonomy. NATO’s future ability to sustain itself by political consultations, the article argues, is hostage to this balancing act and the support accorded to it by all allies.


NATO Europe Atlanticism Consultations Atlanticist Harmel Wise men Brosio 



  1. 1.
    Becker, Jordan, and Edmund Malensky. 2017. The continent or the “grand large”? Strategic culture and operational burden-sharing in NATO. International Studies Quarterly 61: 163–180.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Stephens, Philip. January 18, 2018. Donald Trump, Davos, and the special relationship. Financial Times.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Karnitschnig, Matthew. February 17, 2017. Trump dashes Europe’s hopes of Atlanticist revival. POLITICO. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  4. 4.
    Frum, David. May 2017. Trump’s plan to end Europe. The Atlantic. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  5. 5.
    Guéhenno, Jean-Marie. February 11, 2017. Why NATO needs a European pillar. POLITICO. Accessed 10 Mar 2010.
  6. 6.
    Birnbaum, Michael. November 13, 2017. Europeans approve defense pact in bid to reduce dependence on U.S. Washington Post.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Biscop, Sven. February 14, 2018. PESCO: Good news for NATO from the EU. Egmont Commentaries. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  8. 8.
    Reuters. May 28, 2017. After summits with Trump, Merkel says Europe must take fate into own hands. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  9. 9.
  10. 10.
    Bond, David. January 14, 2018. France’s Emmanuel Macron to advance closer defence ties to the UK. Financial Times.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kundnani, Hans, and Jana Puglierin. 2018. Atlanticist and ‘Post-Atlanticist’ wishful thinking. GMF Policy Essay 1: 6.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Dempsey, Judy. July 16, 2018. Trump’s attitude toward NATO makes Putin’s job easier. Carnegie Europe. Accessed 21 Aug 2018.
  13. 13.
    Calleo, David P. 2003. Rethinking Europe’s future. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Calleo, David P. 2009. Follies of power: America’s unipolar fantasy. Cambrige: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Wolfers, Arnold. 1958. Europe and the NATO shield. International Organization 12(4): 425–439.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Barnes, Julian E., and Helene Cooper. January 14, 2019. Trump discussed pulling U.S. From NATO, aides say amid new concerns over Russia. New York Times. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  17. 17.
    Calleo, David P. 1970. The Atlantic fantasy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Calleo, David P. 2003. Transatlantic folly: NATO versus the EU. World Policy Journal 20(3): 17–24.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Kissinger, Henry. July 9, 2004. A global order in flux. Washington Post. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.
  20. 20.
    Kissinger, Henry. 2007. Does the west still exist? America and Europe moving towards 2020. Washington, DC: Speech.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Gilpin, Robert. 1981. War and change in world politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Dueck, Colin. 2015. The Obama doctrine: American grand strategy today. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Silove, Nina. 2016. The pivot before the pivot: US strategy to preserve the power balance in Asia. International Security 40(4): 45–88.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Howard, Michael. 1982. Reassurance and deterrence: Western defense in the 1980s. Foreign Affairs 61(2): 309–324.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Lundestad, Geir. 1986. Empire by invitation: The United States and Europe, 1945–1952. Journal of Peace Research 23(3): 263–277.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Lundestad, Geir. 2005. The United States and Europe since 1945: From ‘empire’ by invitation to transatlantic drift. Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Gaddis, John Lewis. 1998. History, grand strategy and NATO enlargement. Survival 40(1): 145–151.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Mearsheimer, John J. 2014. Why the Ukraine crisis is the west’s fault: The liberal delusions that provoked Putin. Foreign Affairs 93(5): 1–12.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Cook, Don. 1989. Forging the alliance: The birth of the NATO treaty and the dramatic transformation of US Foreign policy between 1945 and 1950. New York: Arbor House.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Bozo, Frédéric, and Susan Emanuel. 2001. Two strategies for Europe. Lanham, MD: Rowman.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Mahan, Erin. 2002. Kennedy, de Gaulle, and Western Europe. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Giauque, Jeffrey Glen. 2002. Grand designs and visions of unity: The Atlantic powers and the reorganization of Western Europe, 1953–1966. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Crowther, Geoffrey. 1957. Reconstruction of an alliance. Foreign Affairs 35(2): 173–183.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Grosser, Alfred. 1956. Suez, Hungary and European integration. International Organization 11(3): 470–480.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Brandon, Henry. 1957. Will the western alliance survive? A British view of American policy. Commentary 23: 34–38.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Lawson, Ruth C. 1958. Concerting policies in the North Atlantic community. International Organization 12(2): 163–179.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Spaak, Paul-Henri. February 10, 1958. The case for the west. Speech. Accessed 21 Aug 2018.
  38. 38.
    Spaak, Paul-Henri. 1959. Why NATO?. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Strausz-Hupé, Robert. 1957. Stability of English and French foreign policy. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 312: 36–41.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Jones, Matthew. 2003. Anglo American relations after Suez, the rise and decline of the working group experiment and the French challenge to NATO 1957–1959. Diplomacy and Statecraft 14(1): 49–79.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Brosio, Manilo. 1971. Will NATO survive détente? Atlantic Community Quarterly 9(2): 143–155.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Brosio, Manilo. 1972. Europe and the Atlantic alliance today. Atlantic Community Quarterly 72(10): 285–294.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Brosio, Manilo. 1974. Consultation and the Atlantic alliance. Survival 16(5): 115–121.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Kaplan, Lawrence S. 1999. The long entanglement: NATO’s first 50 years. Westport: Praeger.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    de Franco, Chiara, and Sten Rynning. 2016. The comprehensive approach to crisis management: Operational promise and political peril. In Mod og Mening, ed. H.M. Motzfeldt, K. Østergaard, S.S. Møller, and R. Gottrup, 129–152. Copenhagen: DJØF.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Hughes, Geraint. 2008. Britain, the transatlantic alliance, and the Arab–Israeli war of 1973. Journal of Cold War Studies 10(2): 2–40.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Litwak, Robert S. 1984. Detente and the Nixon doctrine: American foreign policy and the pursuit of stability, 1969–1976. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Calleo, David P. 1970. The Atlantic fantasy: the US, NATO, and Europe. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Howard, Michael. 1973. NATO and ‘the year of Europe’. The Round Table 63/252: 451–462.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Hassner, Pierre. 1974. How troubled a Partnership. International Journal 29(2): 166–185.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Pierre, Andrew J. 1973. Can Europe’s security be ‘Decoupled’ from America. Foreign Affairs 51(4): 761–777.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Gladwyn, Lord. 1973. The defense of Western Europe. Foreign Affairs 51(3): 588–597.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Kaiser, Karl. 1974. Europe and America: A critical phase. Foreign Affairs 52(4): 725–741.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Morgan, Roger. 1974. Can Europe have a foreign policy. The World Today 30(2): 43–50.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Goldsborough, James O. 1974. France, the European crisis and the alliance. Council on Foreign Relations 52(3): 538–555.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Freeman, Stephanie. 2014. The making of an accidental crisis: The United States and the NATO dual-track decision of 1979. Statecraft and Diplomacy 25(2): 331–355.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Schmidt, Helmut. 1978. The 1977 Alastair Buchan memorial lecture. Survival 20(1): 2–10.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Readman, Kristina Spohr. 2018. The global chancellor: Helmut Schmidt and the reshaping of international order. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Gaffney, Henry H. 2014. Euromissiles as the ultimate evolution of theater nuclear forces in Europe. Journal of Cold War Studies 16(1): 180–199.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Readman, Kristina Spohr. 2011. Conflict and cooperation in intra-alliance nuclear politics: Western Europe, the United States, and the genesis of NATO’s dual-track decision, 1977–1979. Journal of Cold War Studies 13(2): 39–89.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Joffe, Josef. 1981. European-American Relations: The enduring crisis. Foreign Affairs 59(4): 835–851.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Rogers, Bernard W. 1982. The Atlantic alliance: prescriptions for a difficult decade. Foreign Affairs 60(5): 1145–1156.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Bertram, Christoph. 1983. Europe and America in 1983. Foreign Affairs 62(3): 616–631.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Kober, Stanley. 1983. Can NATO survive. International Affairs 59(3): 339–349.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Layne, Christopher. 1987. Atlanticism without NATO. Foreign Policy 67: 22–45.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Kaldor, Mary. 1984. Europe after cruise and Pershing II. Journal of International Studies 13(1): 73–81.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Bull, Hedley. 1983. European self-reliance and the reform of NATO. Foreign Affairs 61(4): 874–892.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Kaiser, K., Winston Lord, T. de Montbrial, and D. Wa. 1981. Western security: What has changed? What should be done. London: Council on Foreign Relations and Royal Institute of International Relations.Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Ludlow, N.Piers. 2013. The unnoticed apogee of Atlanticism? U.S.-Western European relations during the early Reagan era. In European integration and the atlantic community in the 1980s, ed. Kiran Klaus Patel, 17–38. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Kaplan, Robert D. February 1994. The coming anarchy. The Atlantic. Accessed 21 Aug 2018.
  71. 71.
    Kaplan, Robert D. 2000. The coming anarchy: Shattering the dreams of the post cold war. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Rynning, Sten. 2012. The liberal disconnect: NATO in Afghanistan. Stanford: SUP.Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    Williams, Michael J. 2011. The good war: NATO and the liberal conscience in Afghanistan. Houndmills: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Woodward, Bob. 2010. Obama’s wars: The inside story. London: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Kaplan, Fred. 2013. The insurgents: David Petraeus and the plot to change the American way of war. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    Morelli, Vincent, and Paul Belkin. April 17, 2019. NATO in Afghanistan: A test of the transatlantic alliance. In: Congressional research service, RL33627.Google Scholar
  77. 77.
    Auerswald, David P., and Stephen M. Saideman. 2014. NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting together, fighting alone. Princeton: PUP.Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    de Graaf, Beatrice, George Dimitriu, and Jens Ringsmose (eds.). 2015. Strategic narratives, public opinion, and war: Winning domestic support for the Afghan war. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  79. 79.
    Thies, Wallace J. Why NATO endures, pp. 4–5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    Risse-Kappen, Thomas. 1996. Collective Identity in a democratic community: The case of NATO. In The culture of national security, ed. Peter Katzenstein, 357–399. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  81. 81.
    Gheicu, Alexandra. 2005. NATO in the ‘New Europe’: The politics of international socialization after the cold war. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  82. 82.
    Lucarelli, Sonia. 2005. NATO and the European system of liberal-democratic security communities. In Socializing democratic norms: The role of international organizations for the construction of Europe, ed. Trine Flockhart, 85–105. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  83. 83.
    Daalder, Ivo, and James Goldgeier. 2006. Global NATO. Foreign Affairs 85(5): 105–113.Google Scholar
  84. 84.
    Mowle, Thomas S., and David H. Sacko. 2007. Global NATO: Bandwagoning in a unipolar world. Contemporary Security Policy 28(3): 597–618.Google Scholar
  85. 85.
    Brzezinski, Zbigniew. 2009. An agenda for NATO: Toward a global security web. Foreign Affairs 88(5): 2–20.Google Scholar
  86. 86.
    Bunde, Tobias, and Timo Noetzel. 2010. Unavoidable tensions: The liberal path to global NATO. Contemporary Security Policy 31(2): 295–318.Google Scholar
  87. 87.
    Moore, Rebecca R., and Damon Coletta (eds.). 2017. NATO’s return to Europe: Engaging Ukraine, Russia, and Beyond. Washington, DC: Georgetown UP.Google Scholar
  88. 88.
    Mattis, James. February 15, 2017. Intervention by US secretary of defense Jim Mattis. NATO defense ministerial. Accessed 21 Aug 2018.
  89. 89.
    Brooks, Stephen G., and William C. Wohlforth. 2016. America Abroad: Why the sole superpower should not pull back from the world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  90. 90.
    Rynning, Sten. March 2019. NATO’s futures: The Atlantic alliance between power and purpose. In: NDC Research Paper No. 2.Google Scholar
  91. 91.
    Ringsmose, Jens, and Sten Rynning. 2017. Now for the hard part: NATO’s strategic adaptation to Russia. Survival 59(3): 129–146.Google Scholar
  92. 92.
    Rynning, Sten. 2015. The false promise of continental concert: Russia, the West, and the necessary balance of power. International Affairs 91(3): 539–552.Google Scholar
  93. 93.
    Samaan, Jean-Loup. 2018. Outflanked? NATO’s Southern hub and the struggle for its middle east strategy. The International Spectator 53(4): 58–74.Google Scholar
  94. 94.
    Rynning, Sten. 2019. As NATO looks east, will it stumble in the south? In Fear and uncertainty in Europe: A return to realism?, ed. Roberto Belloni, Vincent Della Sala, and Paul Viotti, 217–240. Cham: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  95. 95.
    Mattelaer, Alexander. 2018. Rediscovering geography in NATO defence planning. Defence Studies 18(3): 339–356.Google Scholar
  96. 96.
    Macaes, Bruno. 2018. The dawn of Eurasia: On the trail of the new world order. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  97. 97.
    Rogers, Katie, and David E. Sanger. February 16, 2019. Among European allies, Americans offer competing visions. New York Times. Accessed 10 Mar 2019.

Copyright information

© The Editor of the Journal 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Southern DenmarkOdense CDenmark

Personalised recommendations