News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

International Relations Scholars Comment on NATO at 70

Apr. 04, 2019

As NATO marks its 70th anniversary today, April 4,  Belfer Center international relations experts comment on the value of—and threats to—the largest and strongest alliance of democratic countries in the world.

In NATO at Seventy: An Alliance in Crisis, former NATO Ambassadors Nicholas Burns and Douglas Lute describe the importance of NATO to security, stability, and peace in Europe and North America.


Expert comments:

Douglas Alexander — Senior Fellow, Future of Diplomacy Project, Belfer Center; former member of Parliament and Secretary of International Development, UK

"NATO has been the cornerstone of our collective defence for many decades. When serving as UK International Development Secretary I came to appreciate anew just how vital is our alliance when observing the service and sacrifice of NATO forces during the Afghanistan mission. Working in partnership with allies remains the surest foundation of our defence. Seventy years on from the establishment of NATO now is the time to remake that case for collective security in the face of emerging and shared threats." 


Nicholas Burns — Faculty Chair, Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship, Belfer Center; former NATO Ambassador

"We celebrate April 4 the seventieth anniversary of the strongest military alliance in history—NATO. We Americans have been fortunate indeed to have Canadian and European allies who have been with us through the Cold War, the end of communism in Europe, the fight against the Islamic Caliphate, and in Afghanistan today.  We are so much stronger inside NATO than if we tried to live alone in the world. When I was Ambassador to NATO on 9/11, the allies came to our defense by ratifying with us NATO's mutual defense clause, Article 5, of the 1949 treaty. They stood with us on that terrible day and have been with us since. Americans are lucky to have such friends in the world."


Ash Carter — Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School; former Secretary of Defense

"I am in the long tradition of secretaries of defense of both parties who have simultaneously bearded the NATO Allies to spend more and defended the Alliance's utility to our country. NATO forces were and are a force multiplier for us in the counter-ISIS and Afghanistan wars, not to mention in standing strong against Russia. Spin a globe and find countries that share our founders' basic values as derived from the Enlightenment. Other than NATO allies and a very few others in Asia and the Middle East, true allies in the ethical sense are hard to come by in a world of fiercely competitive ideological alternatives. It would be unwise to discredit NATO in the eyes of American and European publics. We are all democracies, and if people lose support for the Alliance even the most geostrategic leaders will not have political room to stick up for it."


Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook — Executive Director, Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship; Executive Director, Future of Diplomacy Project

"NATO's 70th anniversary is deeply personal for me. The alliance pulled together a continent ravaged by war into which my German father was born in 1942.  It provided the security anchor which eventually allowed for the reunification of a divided country - Germany - and with it a Europe "whole, free, and at peace." NATO is the institutionalization of the West, founded on democratic values in a commitment to a joint fate in Article 5. Faced with significant internal and external challenges - from illiberal democracies within, to Russian and Chinese overt and covert efforts to undermine its integrity and weaken its reach, allies must now recommit to their obligations while recasting the alliance for the future. Germany in particular - which owes its prosperity to the American security architecture - must realize its historic responsibility and live up to the commitments it made at the Wales Summit in 2014. As NATO turns 70, it is a time to reaffirm and renew our powerful shared history."


Paula Dobriansky — Senior Fellow, Future of Diplomacy Project, Belfer Center; former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs

"NATO's 70th anniversary finds a successful alliance that is still imbued with considerable vitality, but also beset with complex challenges.  Allies on both sides of the Atlantic, share democratic values and espouse a strong common desire to maintain stability and security.  NATO's institutional arrangements remain effective.  The alliance is conducting enhanced training and stepped-up exercises and a number of key alliance members have increased their contributions.  On the other hand, some alliance members are not meeting NATO-prescribed spending, military procurement and readiness goals.  Equally troubling, Russia seeks to fragment the alliance and continues its aggression in Eastern Ukraine, its illegal annexation of Crimea and other forms of disruptive and dangerous behavior.  Nevertheless, none of these problems is unique for an alliance that overcame similar and at times more difficult internal and external challenges in the past.  With determination and close cooperation, NATO can and will continue its role as a foundation of Western security."


Karl Kaiser — Senior Associate, Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship, Belfer Center; former Director, German Council on Foreign Relations

“NATO succeeded in breaking the cycle of wars in European history by deterring  aggression from outside and by providing the shield for the survival of democracy,   the success of European integration and the creation of a strong transatlantic economy as the core of the liberal world economy. NATO remains indispensable in an unstable world where new forms of war and cyber security, challenges to nuclear stability, Russia’s expansionism, the rise of China, and the disruptive effect of climate change all require the close cooperation of like-minded democracies and American leadership. America’s allies as well as three quarters of the American public want the US to exercise that responsibility.”


Douglas Lute — Senior Fellow, Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship; former NATO Ambassador

"The United States created NATO and has maintained the alliance for 70 years because NATO is in America’s vital national security interest.  America benefits economically, politically and militarily from the Alliance.  NATO and our other treaty allies are the single greatest geo-strategic advantage we hold over any potential peer competitor.  Russia and China have nothing to compare.  This simple truth is why NATO is worth leading, worth sustaining, and worth improving as it faces a daunting array of challenges.  In short, NATO is indispensable."


Eric Rosenbach — Co-Director, Belfer Center; former Chief of State to Secretary of Defense and former Assistant Secretary of Defense

“NATO is a truly unique political-military alliance: no group of like-minded nations has ever contributed so much to peace and security in the world.  That said, NATO was built for the Cold War and has evolved into a mostly-lethargic bureaucracy that needs to reinvent and re-energize itself for the coming decades.  The New NATO needs the capabilities and dynamism to respond to hybrid warfare, cyberattacks, and destabilizing refugee flows.”


Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall — Senior Fellow, Belfer Center; former Deputy Secretary of Energy andformer White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control

"Since its creation in 1949, NATO has been a force multiplier for American power, advancing our values and our interests in Europe and beyond.  President Trump has destabilized our unique network of alliances in both Europe and Asia by calling their value into question and mischaracterizing our treaty commitments as gifts that our partners have not sufficiently paid back.  This attitude gets the logic of alliances wrong: our support to allies is not charity.  Enduring bonds generate confidence and capability to tackle tough problems that no country can meet alone — from preventing nuclear proliferation to countering terrorism to reducing energy vulnerabilities.  Our enduring bonds with other countries make us stronger and safer.  Without allies, the United States will be weaker and less effective in meeting the challenges of a highly disordered world — and Americans will be less secure."


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:International Relations Scholars Comment on NATO at 70.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, April 4, 2019.