Whither the specter of American arrogance or misplaced ridicule of European neglect, there has been a tangible loss of the solidarity that held the alliance together for much of the twentieth century. As with any longstanding institution, transformative events redefine the organization's core purpose, and lead to a gradual divergence of the traditional continuity. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is no longer a collective bulwark against the Soviet Union, but a cooperative military alliance for the modern era. Fortunately, this shift is not so grandiose that core principles have been lost in their entirety. If that legacy is to continue, NATO leadership must commit to the restoration of a solidarity that can empower responsible partnerships for peace, security, and prosperity; transcendental values that can be mapped throughout a binding historical narrative.
Long before the alliance there was an America founded by statesmen nurtured on ideals of the European enlightenment. Centuries henceforth the vast majority of the Atlantic embraced freedoms enumerated within declarations and constitutions bolstered by popular sovereignty, inalienable rights undermined palaces of divine authority, and fundamental truths became self evident in the pursuit of happiness. When the security of these ideals came under threat at various points in the twentieth century, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic quickly came to regard their counterparts as equitable partners in a dangerously competitive world. The very survival of their own liberty was tied up in the fate of their brethren across the ocean, and an enlightened self-¬‐interest drove common purpose in conduct abroad. This source of purpose, of international duty to individual freedom and liberty, must be imbued within the next generation of policy makers and practitioners within the alliance itself.
Conventional wisdom holds American power as exceptional in its robust capability; backed with European credibility in exercise and use. These dynamics are unsustainable, as it remains an inequitable partnership in both physical security and partner responsibility. European powers must meet minimal defensive guidelines for self-¬‐defense and limited operations abroad, as this would give them a larger stake in world affairs and build credibility with American skeptics. So too should American defense planners reduce military forces in Europe, as this would encourage progress toward continental force integration. Leaders must build trust and faith in one another as a matter of mutual interest, for the success of any arrangement is set upon a foundation of self-¬‐respect and respect of your partner. Be it friendly, grudgingly, or critically; friends must be honest with each other to foster constructive defense policy. At the heart of this respect is a kindred spirit among generational leaders and citizenry committed to the defense of Western ideals embodied within democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
This should be wholly embraced at every level. For the next generation of civilians and strategic planners, there should be a NATO partner at every institution of higher learning in member states with coursework dedicated to government and international relations. Younger generations will gravitate toward these ideals, and future generations can learn from their example. Vibrant student exchange programs between North America and Europe should not be ruled out as opportunities for dialogue and a lifetime of friendships in and outside of the professional world. Military personnel not typically exposed to joint exercises should be rotated accordingly, if possible, along with complementary visiting lectures or friendly competitive events. Raising the public visibility of key leadership and the next generation of thinkers will bolster NATO as an integral force in wider discussions abroad; not simply at the highest levels of government, but from the bottom up. Increasingly responsive democratic leadership around the world will listen to their constituents; and future leaders will remember their positive interactions with NATO scholars, practitioners, and personnel.
There need not be a new command or agency created to pursue such a mission, as the requisite leadership is already in place. The Partnership for Peace program and Committee for Public Diplomacy represent mechanisms through which the heirs of a legacy can pass on this storied tradition of enlightened self-¬‐interest, the core foundation of the most successful military alliance in the history of human civilization. A tailoring of portfolio responsibilities is more than adequate to fit present and future challenges. These efforts must be raised ten-¬‐fold, as the strategic importance solidarity is far more vital in an era of increasing globalization where synergy begets security. Present leadership must strive to impart these lessons of history to the next generation, for states standing in solidarity are safer and more prosperous than those drifting apart.
Michael Miner is a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University. He is a member of The International Institute for Strategic Studies and a graduate of Dartmouth College.