By 2010, NATO had remained without a revised strategic concept for 11 of the most eventful and challenging years in post-Cold War history. This suggests that the Alliance thrived in obfuscating its member states’ irreconcilable interpretations of the strategic shifts that had occurred in the interval. NATO held on to the 1999 concept precisely because it was antiquated and increasingly irrelevant. Updating the document would only shed light on internal fault-lines that already plagued the allies, but at least did so tacitly. The “near-death experience” of the Iraq crisis momentarily forced these disagreements out in the open: yet subsequent years were spent in a desperate effort to lock them back into Pandora’s box, in order to preserve the illusion of Alliance comity. Until 2009, NATO safely restricted the codification of its doctrinal evolution to the less contentious military realm, when the Riga Summit in 2006 produced the so-called Comprehensive Political Guidance.1 The elucidation of NATO’s grand strategy remained too controversial; protagonists clung to the deluded mantra that it was left unexplained because it was self-evident. As a result, silence was golden. First and foremost, it allowed NATO to blur, mitigate, and circumvent the momentous implications of 9/11. The attacks did not merely produce a shift in NATO’s deployments but reversed the founding rationale of the Alliance. Throughout the Cold War it had aimed to import an American security guarantee into the European theater: after the attacks, Washington now saw NATO as a means to export European capabilities out-of-area in order to advance global US objectives in the “war on terror.” Washington’s security guarantee seemingly was now diffusing insecurity among the allies. Such a revolution was unprecedented among multilateral organizations. European countries unwilling to deploy troops abroad, and unconvinced by the doctrinal underpinnings of the American war on terror, now had to live with the unrecognizable implications of US hegemony. The “global war on terror” produced other shifts that undercut NATO’s habits, and perhaps its viability. From a normative standpoint, 9/11 challenged the Alliance to explore whether conventional rules of war applied to the new conflict. Warsaw Pact soldiers now gave way to “enemy

combatants,” whose status under international law was unclear. In 1999 Operation Allied Force already had suggested that NATO’s allegiance to the UN system might not always be compatible with Western interests, when paralysis at the Security Council precluded UN approval for a projected NATO operation. Most challenging of all, the nature of post-9/11 threats reopened the poisonous question of the legitimacy of preventive war. These evolutions were intolerable among European allies whose post1945 national renaissance was in part predicated upon a rigid codification of the ethics of war. Germany was not alone in refusing to revise its understanding of war’s rationale and tactics: in Berlin’s eyes this was not simply a matter of military doctrine – but the cornerstone of the nation’s identity. The indivisibility of Alliance security had been self-evident when NATO had confronted the Soviet threat across the Iron Curtain. Surely an invasion by the Red Army would not pick and choose among NATO allies; Germany was but the first line of defense in a battlefield that comprised the entirety of Western Europe. For better or worse, all allies (or at least all European allies, as de Gaulle was quick to point out) shared a common fate. After 9/11, however, terrorist strikes would impact countries individually. Indivisibility had become merely notional. In principle, an attack on one ally implied a threat against Western “civilization” as a whole – yet in practice, 11 March was Spain’s problem to deal with, and 7/7 was Britain’s. The temptation reared its head that an ally could ensure, rather than undermine, its own safety by proclaiming the divisibility of alliance security, and erecting firewalls at the edges of its homeland security efforts. As the paradigm of “collective security” found itself in jeopardy, the meaning of Article V in turn was undermined. In 1949, the drafters of the article had foreseen a massive, conventional attack by the Warsaw Pact, which would be unmistakable, and would unmistakably threaten the vital interests of the Alliance. Yet NATO now confronted creeping, insidious, and shapeless challenges. The tripwire that had guaranteed Alliance solidarity was being circumvented. The shapelessness of emerging threats in part took a geographic form. Before 1989, NATO’s planners knew where an attack on the Alliance would come from; they could distinguish between the frontline and the rear. The “Fulda gap” symbolized this predictability. After 9/11 the geography of confrontation was revolutionized. The issue was not only that the allies’ security was now at stake on the Hindu Kush. Post-9/11 terrorism would also be fought among European societies, as home-grown threats emerged from Hamburg to Madrid and London. This shifted the implications of the American hegemony that NATO enshrined: while US dominance had been unproblematic when the allies prepared to confront the Soviets, emerging threats implied that Washington through NATO would now influence the homeland security policies of its European vassals – traditionally the core of a nation’s sovereignty. In addition, Washington’s sway over the Alliance restricted the geography of out-of-area

deployments. Terrorist threats emerged from a “Crescent of Crisis,” where any foreign intervention led by the US would be perceived as an intolerable expression of American imperialism. As a result, NATO could hardly deploy in the very areas where new threats were most pressing. Lastly, risk now transcended geography altogether. This was especially true with respect to cyber and biological terrorist attacks. The front line was everywhere – among the critical nodes and arteries of complex systems; the rear, from which a response could safely be planned, was nowhere. Equally challenging was 9/11’s impact on the Alliance’s management of time. NATO through the Cold War had faced a threat that was conventional in part because it would materialize through a conventional chronology – with the exception of short-range nuclear strikes. On the far side of the Iron Curtain, armies would be mustered, deployed, and set in motion. The North Atlantic Council would meet, reflect, concur, and activate SHAPE’s defensive measures. On 9/11, however, lack of time had defeated the decision-making processes of a single nation’s chain of command. The only substantive reaction by the White House – the order to shoot down hijacked planes – had come after the last aircraft had crashed in Pennsylvania.2 Should NATO confront a similar threat, its decision-making process, involving dozens of member states and constrained by a rigid consensus rule, would be even less capable of effecting a timely response. Indeed, the Alliance had already proven too ponderous to wage an efficient conventional campaign in Kosovo.3 This was the concern that prodded the Bush administration to substitute a “coalition of the willing” to NATO as it undertook Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. A self-selected group of nations – by definition ready to accept Washington’s strategic leadership – would perhaps prove more manageable than an unwieldy alliance. Delaying the revision of the strategic concept dispensed NATO from formally elucidating the lessons of the Afghan war. Constituencies that pressed for a “global” Alliance4 and a Revolution in Military Affairs among all member states saw Afghanistan as a watershed, and the template of NATO’s future. Others deemed that it must remain an exception to the rule, a momentary distortion of the Alliance’s enduring purpose. In addition, taking stock of Afghanistan would force NATO to assess its military limitations with a critical eye. It also would make “free-riding” behavior intolerable. As long as calls for a more equitable allocation of responsibilities, and the resulting military benchmarks, were buried in obscure summit communiqués, allies could happily ignore both. But a new strategic concept, by framing the controversy within the Afghan experience, would publicly highlight the lethal costs of free-riding: and thereby shift the condemnation of allies’ broken promises and excessive caveats from the political to the moral realm. An explicit assessment of the Afghan war would also underline NATO’s inability to adopt the “comprehensive approach” that was so critical to

ISAF ’s outcome. This was more than a tactical or organizational matter. At bottom, NATO’s struggles with the “comprehensive approach” threatened to undermine its very rationale as a military alliance: as they suggested that all such alliances were inadequate tools in the twenty-first century. Indeed, cultural and organizational impediments plagued NATO’s comprehensive performance. Civilian experts in Afghanistan had long dispelled the illusion that they would simply fall in line, and fill niches among NATO’s operational capabilities. Humanitarian NGOs in particular have been reluctant to contribute to NATO’s efforts – especially within the structure that enshrines NATO’s comprehensive ambitions, namely the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) – out of fear that their inclusion under a military framework would jeopardize their effectiveness, their credibility, and ultimately their security.5