Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 26–44 | Cite as

NATO from Kabul to Earth orbit: can the alliance cope?

  • Damon ColettaEmail author
  • Sten Rynning


It is widely acknowledged that NATO has multiple rationales. What is more contestable is the view that the burgeoning complexity of the security environment feeds these rationales and that NATO may not be able to cope. If each rationale is like a personality, then NATO’s multiple personalities have a corrosive effect on the Alliance since they prevent it from setting consistent goals and pursuing them. The prescribed cure is a clarified personality that emphasises one rationale at the expense of others. This paper questions the metaphor behind this debate. NATO’s multiple rationales are built into the Alliance, we argue, and a better metaphor may be NATO as a congress whose members are independent yet tied to an overarching political project. Such a congress will never be unitary, but it can at times make decisions. Sometimes decision-making will require grand and thus elusive bargains; sometimes it can be moved from formal committees to backroom caucuses that eschew big questions of rationale and instead focus on problem-solving. In any case, congresses can cope with persistent, competing preference orderings and divergent resource bases among constituent states. Where the split personality analogy leads to the collapse of NATO as a coherent actor, the congress metaphor affords better notional explanations for what we actually observe, a messy, raucous alliance that muddles through from Kabul to Earth orbit.


NATO alliance crisis management identity institutionalism 


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Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUnited States Air Force AcademyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdenseDenmark

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