With the end of the Cold War, the context and challenges to the security strategies of the United States and the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization changed. Even so, a complete new understanding of post-Cold War strategies did not, and still has not, evolved. Not until the War on Terrorism and Iraq did the security policies of the U.S. again seem focused, and NATO found itself in a new continent with the engagement in Afghanistan. In order to understand the evolution of U.S. strategies and the transformation of the role of NATO within them, and to comprehend the foundation for present security strategies, the research question of this project is: How did U.S. national security strategies evolve from the end of the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, and how did the role of NATO change within that strategy?
The thesis argues that U.S. national security strategies evolved as strategies of engagement. From relying on containment and deterrence to secure U.S. interests during the Cold War, strategies of engagement gradually came to constitute a new type of approach. In an intermediate phase, with a new primary position, and without an existential, monolithic threat, the three post-Cold War presidencies’ strategic deliberations were largely captured by a question of when and how to engage in the now more fragmented international security situation. In line with such U.S. strategies, NATO moved from a territorially defensive organization towards a new role engaging “out of area”. Through the Balkan engagements, NATO obtained such a role within U.S. strategy in Europe, but the alliance stayed separate from U.S. strategy beyond Europe, as part of the fragmented nature of the post-Cold War world. As U.S. strategic outlook coalesced in the War on Terrorism, NATO did attain a more global role through the Afghanistan engagement. But the Cold War structure of alliances was not integral to U.S. strategy in the War on Terrorism, and consequently, NATO’s new role was not as cohesive as that of the Cold War.
The project empirically investigates the period 1989-2003, based on an extensive set of primary sources, including annual U.S. national security strategy reports and interviews conducted in Washington D.C. and the NATO headquarters. A synthesis of U.S. strategies and their implications for NATO’s role is provided through a four-step systematic analysis, discussing the three successive post-Cold War American presidencies’ approach to U.S. interests and objectives; perception of threats; assessment of strategic areas, allies and partners; as well as strategic thinking and implementation, and within these, NATO’s changing role.