April 1, 2019

NATO limps to its 70th birthday: legacy may carry it forward

April 4 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The alliance, whichmany credit for helping secure a period of unprecedented peace in Europe, has repeatedly been called into question by President Trump who says that NATO’s financial burden is unfairly tilted towards the U.S. Cornell historians say that despite its current challenges, NATO’s legacy is one of remarkable success.

Barry Strauss is a classicist and military historian at Cornell University. 


Barry Strauss say:

“Few alliances last for 70 years. Even if NATO comes into its anniversary limping and weakened, it survives, and that’s a remarkable achievement. Alliances are fragile, a truth as old as the ancient Greeks.

“Athens tried to guarantee its allies by having them throw iron ingots into the sea and swearing loyalty until the iron floated up again, which it never would, of course. But that ended badly, in revolt after revolt, and finally in the Peloponnesian War. Alliances need care and tending, and NATO’s future isn’t guaranteed, but the mere possibility of having a future provides reason for hope.”


John Hubbel Weiss is a professor at the department of history at Cornell University, where he focuses on the history of 20th century Europe.


John Hubbel Weiss says:

“NATO has endured because of its flexibilities, the perception of its members that the cost of leaving has been higher than the cost of staying, and the ability of its leaders to promote a cooperative spirit at times when decisions had to be made that could have been fatally divisive.

“Successfully applying an operating principle of flexibility given the differences in culture, attitude, political interests, and style among the leaders of an ever-expanding alliance has required an extraordinary degree of ‘social skill’ among three generations of men and women. Perhaps it is finally time for a thorough investigation of how this group of diplomats, military officers, political leaders, and high civil servants managed to create a legacy of cooperation that has brought the world more peace and freedom than most of the founders of the alliance probably expected.”

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