60 years of NATO: 1989 – present | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 01.04.2009
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60 years of NATO: 1989 – present

Two decades after the end of the Cold War, NATO is again having reconsider its relevance in a new world order. Part two of DW-WORLD's NATO retrospective looks at the years 1989 to the present day.


NATO is doing a little soul searching these days

Berlin, Nov. 9, 1989: The fall of the Berlin Wall created an entirely new political situation in one fell swoop. The Warsaw Pact dissolved, and many of its former members were eager to join NATO. In July of 1997, under the leadership of former General Secretary Javier Solana, three former communist countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland were invited to join NATO; their membership became official in 1999.

Within just a few years, 10 new members joined the alliance, and the expansion process continues today. This in part has contributed to tensions with Russia, a problem which likewise continues today. Security issues and joint projects between NATO and Russia are now handled within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, established in 2002.

NATO evolving

A man hammers away at the Berlin Wall on Nov. 12, 1989

The end of Communism signalled a major shift for NATO

NATO's tasks have also evolved. Prior to 1989, defending the alliance against a potential attack from Warsaw Pact countries was at the forefront of NATO's activities. Now, NATO is increasingly focused on missions outside its boundaries.

“What you see here is the new NATO, a NATO that can be an expedition force to ensure stability far away, that can send its soldiers to far-off places and mobilize them efficiently and effectively,” said General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in 2006.

The most significant event for NATO since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 / 1990 was undoubtedly the radical Islamic attacks on the United States in September 2001. For the first time in its history, NATO invoked Article 5, which states that an armed attack against one or more of the Allies in Europe or North America shall be considered as an attack against all. At the time, Gerhard Schroeder was chancellor of Germany. He assured the United States of Germany's "unlimited solidarity," although he knew the move meant that for the first time in the country's postwar history, German soldiers were to become involved in a combat mission outside Europe.

Former US President George W. Bush, however, had different ideas. He forged a "Coalition of the Willing" in order to carry out an invasion of Iraq. The Iraq war sparked a massive protest movement in Europe. Bush's unilateral action also prompted the most serious transatlantic conflict in decades. Former French President Jacques Chirac lead the resistance to Bush's efforts to involve NATO in Iraq.

"We don't see any reason to change our logic, which is a logic of peace, to move over to a logic of war," Chirac said in 2003.

Bush's Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, further escalated tensions with a now oft-quoted remark made during a press conference.

New vs. old

Three boys in foreground with two NATO soldiers in background

NATO troops are active in Afghanistan

"Now, you're thinking of Europe as Germany and France," he told a journalist in January of 2003. "I don't. I think that's old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east."

The rift has slowly been healing, and with new US President Barack Obama in office, many Europeans have been looking forward to a new era of better cooperation. Still, there is much evidence that a basic conflict will remain, when it comes to missions such as that in Afghanistan, currently NATO's most important mission.

"In an alliance where it's all for one, there can't be any division of work, meaning that one partner specializes in combat, and other partners specialize in peacekeeping," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said a year ago about Afghanistan.

Today, the new NATO is bigger than ever, and it will likely continue to grow. But it could well be that because of its size, consensus will become ever more elusive.

Author: Christoph Hasselbach / dc

Editor: Trinity Hartman

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