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Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 73–91 | Cite as

Of ambiguous symbolism and variable geometry: NATO’s relevance to national security in the twenty-first century

  • Hugues CanuelEmail author
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Notes

  1. 1.
    This milestone refers to the evening of 9 November 1989 when Germans from both sides of the Iron Curtain peacefully scaled the Berlin Wall and tore down that symbol of division, unopposed by East German authorities.Google Scholar
  2. 1a.
    The circumstances leading to this dramatic event are narrated in Michael R. Beschloss and Strobe Talbott, At the Highest Levels — The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1993), 131–8Google Scholar
  3. 1b.
    as well as in David Pryce-Jones, The War That Never Was: The Fall of the Soviet Empire 1985–1991 (London: Phoenix Press, 1995), 233–43.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    The Warsaw Pact refers to the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance concluded on 14 May 1955 in Warsaw, Poland. This military alliance of the Soviet Union and her Eastern European satellites was envisioned as a counterpart to NATO, precipitated by the re-armament of West Germany and its integration in the Atlantic organisation. The Warsaw Pact was officially dissolved on 1 July 1991.Google Scholar
  5. 2a.
    On the beginning of the alliance, see Vojtech Mastry, ‘The Soviet Union and the Origins of the Warsaw Pact’, in Niels Erik Rosenfoldt, Brent Jensen and Erik Kulovig, ed., Mechanisms of Power in the Soviet Union (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2000), 241–66.Google Scholar
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    For its demise, see Henri Paris, Strategie soviétique et chute du Pacte de Varsovie: la cle de l’avenir (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1995), passim.Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined in 1999. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia followed suit in 2004. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, ‘Issues — Enlargement’, https://doi.org/www.nato.int/issues/enlargement/index.html, accessed 4 August 2007.
  8. 4.
    After hostilities erupted in Croatia in 1991–2, fighting focussed in Bosnia-Herzegovina through 1992–5 despite repeated efforts by the European Union and the United Nations to broker a negotiated settlement. Continued fighting and atrocities, conducted despite the presence of a large UN-mandated peacekeeping force, eventually led to NATO providing air support to UN troops but it was not until the United States became actively committed that peace returned to the region. An agreement was concluded in December 1995 in Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton Accords resulted in NATO taking over peacekeeping duties from the UN contingent, deploying the 60,000-strong Imposition Force (IFOR). This body was eventually re-designated as the Stabilisation Force (SFOR).Google Scholar
  9. 4a.
    For a brief summary of the IFOR/SFOR deployment, see Lawrence S. Kaplan, The Long Entanglement — NATO’s First Fifty Years (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999), 205–10.Google Scholar
  10. 5.
    NATO aircraft conducted a 78-day campaign of bombardment in Serbia from March to June 1999, following Belgrade’s refusal to accept the terms of an agreement concluded at Rambouillet, France earlier that year. Unlike the ‘peace enforcement’ action in Bosnia that took place following the Dayton agreements, NATO initiated the hostilities without a UN mandate as it was expected that Russia and China would block such an initiative.Google Scholar
  11. 5a.
    There was no declaration of war but it was clear that NATO undertook offensive military action against a sovereign country in support of an ethnic minority within that same country. For a succinct overview of these events, see Stanley S. Sloan, NATO, the European Union, and the Atlantic Community — The Transatlantic Bargain Reconsidered (New York: Roman & Littlefield, 2003), 101–05.Google Scholar
  12. 6.
    NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in August 2003. The force was created in December 2001 as a result of the Bonn Conference following the ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Initially numbering 8000 troops from both NATO and non-NATO members, the force was tasked with assisting the Afghan Transitional Authority in establishing a safe and secure environment throughout the city of Kabul, eventually expanding that authority to the rest of the country. As of December 2007, ISAF counted 41,700 troops from 39 countries, including 25 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, ‘Issues — International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)’, https://doi.org/www.nato.int/issues/isaf/index.html, accessed 8 December 2007.
  13. 7.
    Richard E. Rupp outlined such pessimistic views in ‘NATO Enlargement: All Aboard? Destination Unknown’, East European Quarterly 36 (Fall 2002): 341–64. Carl Cavanagh Hodge presented a more balanced but still doubtful assessment in Atlanticism for a New Century: The Rise, Triumph, and Decline of NATO (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005), 82–97.Google Scholar
  14. 8.
    Richard Holbrooke, chief American negotiator for the Dayton Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, repeatedly emphasised in his memoirs the fundamental influence of US military might on the success of the negotiations and the following deployment of NATO troops. Richard Holbrooke, To End a War (New York: Random House, 1998), passim. One European observer proffered a more objective view but nevertheless recognised that the success of the NATO mission was ultimately dependent on American involvement in the Balkans. Catherine Durandin, Les Etats-Unis: grande puissance européenne (Paris: Armand Collin, 2002), 116–22.Google Scholar
  15. 9.
    American General Wesley Clark, who planned and led NATO’s military effort during the war as Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), used his memoirs to launch acerbic attacks on the organisation’s diplomacy and policy-making machine as well as the conduct of the campaign ‘by committee’.Google Scholar
  16. 9a.
    Wesley K. Clark, Waging Modern War — Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat (New York: Public Affairs, 2002), 417–61.Google Scholar
  17. 9b.
    More objective but equally critical views were proffered by Tony Mason in ‘Kosovo: The Air Campaign’, in Stephen Badsey and Paul Latawski, ed., Britain, NATO and the Lessons of the Balkan Conflicts 1991–1999 (London: Frank Cass, 2004), 39–63; andGoogle Scholar
  18. 9c.
    William M. Arkin in ‘Operation Allied Force: “The Most Precise Application of Air Power in History”’, in Andrew J. Bacevich and Eliot A. Cohen, ed., War Over Kosovo: Politics and Strategy in a Global Age (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 1–51.Google Scholar
  19. 10.
    Although focused on the deployment of Canadian troops to the Kandahar province, the report Canada in Kandahar: A Case Study of the Military Coalitions in Southern Afghanistan (London: The Senlis Council, 2006), passim, is representative of the views held by those critical of the wider ISAF operation.Google Scholar
  20. 11.
    See for this typical line of argument Asle Toje, ‘The First Casualty in the War against Terror: The Fall of NATO and Europe’s Reluctant Coming of Age’, European Security 12 (Summer 2003): 63–76; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 11a.
    E. Wayne Merry, ‘Therapy’s End — Thinking Beyond NATO’, The National Interest (Winter 2003/04): 43–50.Google Scholar
  22. 12.
    Arnold Wolfers, ‘National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol’, Political Science Quarterly 67 (December 1952): 481–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 13.
    The famous ‘Iron Curtain speech’ was made by Churchill on 5 March 1946 at Fulton, Missouri. By then leader of the Opposition in Great Britain, the veteran politician was touring the United States, openly advocating an alliance between the US and the British Commonwealth to face down the threat of an expansionist Soviet Union.Google Scholar
  24. 13a.
    The significance of the speech and the nature of the Churchill’s argument are exposed by Henry Kissinger in Diplomacy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 442–3.Google Scholar
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    For a short yet detailed synopsis of the origins of the Cold War, see Lawrence Freedman, The Cold War — A Military History (London: Cassell & Co., 2001), 22–45.Google Scholar
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    Truman proposed in September 1945 to reduce the US Army from its wartime strength of over 8 million to 1,950,000 by June 1946, with proportional cuts for the Navy and the flying services.Google Scholar
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    Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of War — A History of the United States Military Strategy and Policy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), 368.Google Scholar
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    X, ‘The Sources of Soviet Conduct’, Foreign Affairs 25 (July 1947): 575.Google Scholar
  29. 16a.
    George F. Kennan was head of the Policy Planning Staff of the US State Department when he wrote this famed article for the periodical Foreign Affairs. The essay was published anonymously under the nom de plume ‘X’ and first introduced the term ‘containment’ to the larger public. The article was based on a classified cable to the State Department sent by Kennan in February 1946 during his service at the American embassy in Moscow. Later known as the ‘Long Telegram’ and the ‘X Article’, these two documents would greatly influence the Truman administration’s view of the Soviet threat. On the genesis of containment and its eventual adoption as the Truman doctrine, see Kissinger, Diplomacy, 446–72.Google Scholar
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    For an extensive coverage on the rise of the Soviet nuclear capability, see D. Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb (London: Oxford University Press, 1994), passim.Google Scholar
  31. 17a.
    The actual detonation of the USSR’s first atomic device on 29 August 1949 is detailed by Richard Rhodes in Dark Sun — The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 364–8.Google Scholar
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    Kissinger, Diplomacy, 574.Google Scholar
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    The initial commitment by the US to a large fleet of nuclear-armed, long-range bombers is detailed in W.S. Borgiasz, The Strategic Air Command: Evolution and Consolidation of Nuclear Forces, 1945–55 (New York: Praeger, 1996), 140–5.Google Scholar
  34. 20.
    Alliance members endorsed at the Lisbon Conference of February 1952 a force goal of 90 NATO divisions, half of them on active duty, to be implemented by 1954.Google Scholar
  35. 20a.
    Weigley, The American Way of War, 397. Admittedly, this target proved so unrealistic that the North Atlantic Council approved a drastic reduction in December of that same year.Google Scholar
  36. 20b.
    Amos A. Jordan, William J. Taylor and Lawrence K. Korb, American National Security — Policy and Process, 3rd edition (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 65.Google Scholar
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    Lawrence Freedman, ‘The First Two Generations of Nuclear Strategists’, in Peter Paret, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 740.Google Scholar
  38. 22.
    The Universal Military Training and Service Act passed the US Congress in June 1951. Weigley, The American Way of War, 395.Google Scholar
  39. 23.
    Hans J. Morgenthau’s thought at the time is best exposed in his Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), passim; and In Defense of the National Interest (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951), passim.Google Scholar
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    Wolfers, ‘National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol’, 481. The author specifically identified George Kennan and Hans Morgenthau as leading lights of the realist movement favouring a policy of the national interest. Ibid., 498 (note 15).Google Scholar
  41. 25.
    Ibid., 482. Wolfers’s point is best illustrated when contrasting the focus on economic and social reform of most administrations before 1939 (with the exception of Wilson in the immediate aftermath of the First World War) with that of Truman, primarily preoccupied with military and security issues as underlined in Jordan, Taylor and Korb, American National Security, 46–9.Google Scholar
  42. 26.
    Wolfers, ‘National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol’, 483.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 484.Google Scholar
  44. 28.
    Ibid., 489.Google Scholar
  45. 29.
    Ibid., 487.Google Scholar
  46. 30.
    Ibid., 488.Google Scholar
  47. 31.
    Ibid., 494.Google Scholar
  48. 32.
    Ibid., 497.Google Scholar
  49. 33.
    Ibid., 497.Google Scholar
  50. 34.
    Ibid., 497.Google Scholar
  51. 35.
    Ibid., 500–01.Google Scholar
  52. 36.
    Ibid., 492.Google Scholar
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    The text of the agreement signed in Washington, DC on 4 April 1949 is available at North Atlantic Organisation Treaty, ‘The North Atlantic Treaty’, https://doi.org/www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/treaty.htm, accessed 4 August 2007.
  54. 38.
    A self-destructive process that is nowhere better illustrated than by Barbara W. Tuchman in her dated but still magisterial study The Guns of August (New York: Macmillan, 1962), passim.Google Scholar
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    For a wider overview of the rise and fall of the European balance of power system, see A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848–1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954), passimGoogle Scholar
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    and the more recent work by Stephen Walt, The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press 1987), passim.Google Scholar
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    Preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty. NATO, ‘The North Atlantic Treaty’, https://doi.org/www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/treaty.htm, accessed 4 August 2007.
  58. 40.
    Article II to the North Atlantic Treaty. NATO, ‘The North Atlantic Treaty’, https://doi.org/www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/treaty.htm, accessed 4 August 2007.
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    R.B.J. Walker, Inside/Outside: International Relations as Political Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), passim.Google Scholar
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    Alexandra Gheciu, NATO in the ‘New Europe’: The Politics of International Socialization after the Cold War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 4.Google Scholar
  61. 43.
    Such an argument is aptly summarised by the realist Henry Kissinger when commenting on the founding of NATO in Diplomacy, 456–60.Google Scholar
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    Kaplan, The Long Entanglement, 32–5.Google Scholar
  63. 45.
    Sloan, NATO, The European Union, and the Atlantic Community, 24–6.Google Scholar
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    Alexandra Gheciu discusses the NATO enlargement process during the Cold War in NATO in the ‘New Europe’, 40–50.Google Scholar
  65. 47.
    Franco died in 1976 but it took a number of years for the alliance to accept that democratic institutions and processes were firmly in place. On the circumstances of Spain joining NATO, see Alain De Neve, Politique de defense — Serie 5 — Espagne, Grèce, Portugal (Bruxelles: Centre d’etude de defense, 2003), 23–7; and Gheciu, NATO and the ‘New Europe’, 44–5.Google Scholar
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    On the origins of the democratic regime in West Germany, see Anne-Marie Le Gloannec, La nation orpheline — Les Allemagnes en Europe (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1989), 40–3.Google Scholar
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    See Gheciu, NATO and the ‘New Europe’, 46–50 for the circumstances of West Germany’s adhesion to NATO.Google Scholar
  68. 49.
    On the creation of the ‘Committee of Five’ as it became known (being composed of representatives from Canada, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands)Google Scholar
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    see Lord Ismay, Five Years of NATO: A Report on the Atlantic Alliance (Paris: NATO, 1955), 201–02.Google Scholar
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    Gheciu, NATO and the ‘New Europe’, 57.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 59–60.Google Scholar
  72. 52.
    Although making a rather overly sweeping argument by denouncing all alliances the United States is currently engaged in, author Rajan Menon does provide a good compendium of the typical arguments against NATO in his chapter titled ‘Whither the Atlantic Alliance?’.Google Scholar
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    See Rajan Menon, The End of Alliances (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 53–101.Google Scholar
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    North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, ‘Press Release — Statement by the North Atlantic Council’, https://doi.org/www.nato.int/docu/pr/2001/p01-124e.htm, accessed 4 August 2007.
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    NATO Allied Joint Force Command Naples, ‘Operation Active Endeavour’, https://doi.org/afsouth.nato.int/JFCN_Operations/ActiveEndeavour/Endeavour.htm, accessed 4 August 2007.Google Scholar
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    On the alliance’s reaction and initiatives in the weeks following 9/11, see Durandin, Les Etats-Unis: grande puissance européenne, 181–92.Google Scholar
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    Hodge, Atlanticism for a New Century, 96. For an appropriate survey of the tensions that divided NATO in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, see Menon, The End of Alliances, 57–69.Google Scholar
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    Hodge, Atlanticism for a New Century, 48 and 95; and Menon, The End of Alliances, 67–8.Google Scholar
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    For recent transatlantic perspectives on NATO operations in Afghanistan, see the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service Report for Congress by Paul Gallis, ‘NATO in Afghanistan: A Test of the Transatlantic Alliance’, Congressional Research Service (online library); available from https://doi.org/www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33627.pdf, accessed 11 August 2007; and ‘The Western Alliance: Shadows over NATO’, The Economist, 18 October 2007 (online edition), https://doi.org/www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm7story_id =9988776, accessed 7 December 2007.
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    Andrew A. Michta, ‘What Next for NATO?’, Orbis 51 (Winter 2007): 155–64; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Paul Cornish, ‘NATO: The Practice and Politics of Transformation’, International Affairs 80 (January 2004): 63–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, ‘Issues — Enlargement’, https://doi.org/www.nato.int/issues/enlargement/index.html, accessed 4 August 2007.
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    A background briefing on the 1995 enlargement study is available at North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, 1995 Study on Enlargement, https://doi.org/www.nato.int/issues/study_on_enlargement/index.html, accessed 5 August 2007.
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    Speech to the Bundestag by German Defence Minister Volker Ruhe in 1994. Quoted in Hodge, Atlanticism for a New Century, 29.Google Scholar
  86. 63a.
    The expressions ‘demilitarisation of security’ as well as ‘security partners’ and ‘security dependants’ appear in Richard L. Russell, ‘NATO’s European Partners — Partners or Dependants?’, Naval War College Review 1 (Winter 2003): 38.Google Scholar
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    See Kissinger, Diplomacy, 602–16 for a short but informative narrative of the political process that led to these decisions.Google Scholar
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    The purely military aspects of France’s withdrawal from the integrated NATO structure is detailed by Philippe Masson in Histoire de l’armée française de 1914 a nos jours (Paris: Librairie academique Perrin, 1999), 458–61.Google Scholar
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    ‘Neoconservatives’ (or neocons) may be characterised as aggressive moralists abroad and social conservatives at home. The term itself is controversial as it is more often used by those who oppose these policies than by those who subscribe to them.Google Scholar
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    For a representative view of neoconservative positions on the transatlantic relationship, see Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), passim.Google Scholar
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    Toje, ‘The First Casualty in the War against Terror’, 65. The CESDP is but the most recent of a number of similar European Defence projects, starting with the Communaute europeenne de defense (CED, the European Defense Community) between France, Italy, West Germany and the Benelux countries. This plan, introduced by French socialist Prime Minister Rene Pleven in 1950 sought to ‘harness’ the rearmament of Germany through the integration of a ‘European Army’. The project slowly faded away until 1954 when France failed to ratify the founding treaty of May 1952. This was a result of the campaign led by Charles de Gaulle, who denounced the spectre of a European military organisation dominated by Germany in the absence of a British counterweigh, as London was not a signatory. On the life and death of the CED, see Masson, Histoire de l’armée française, 384–90.Google Scholar
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    On de Gaulle’s approach to this first pan-European military project, see Eric Roussel, Charles de Gaulle (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 2002), 562–4.Google Scholar
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    The CESDP has made very slow progress, as EU members are reluctant to make the required defence investments to meet the objectives developed at the Capability Pledging Conference of November 2000. For an extensive treatment of the CESDP’s growing pains, see Sloan, NATO, the European Union, and the Atlantic Community, 163–82.Google Scholar
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    On the need for a common approach to Iran, see Bruno Tertrais, ‘Deterring a Nuclear Iran: What Role for Europe?’ in Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt, ed., Deterring the Ayatollahs: Complications in Applying Cold War Strategy to Iran (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Focus #72, July 2007), 16–20.Google Scholar
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    Thomas S. Szayna, NATO Enlargement, 2000–2015: Determinants and Implications for Defense Planning and Shaping (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001), 41–8; and ‘The European Union: The Ins and the Outs’, The Economist, 15 May 2007 (online edition), https://doi.org/www.economist.com/specialreports/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8808134, accessed 10 August 2007.Google Scholar
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    as well as Stephan Frühling and Svenja Sinjen, ‘NATO Missile Defence: The Political and Operational Case for a Two-Base Structure’, The Royal United Services Institute Journal, December 2006 (online edition), https://doi.org/www.rusi.org/publication/journal/ref:A4587FDAF90810/, accessed 12 August 2007.Google Scholar
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© Taylor & Francis 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Canadian NavyCanada

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