Book Reviews

Cover image of Transforming NATO: New Allies, Mission, and Capabilities.

Cover image of Transforming NATO: New Allies, Mission, and Capabilities.

Transforming NATO: New Allies, Mission, and Capabilities

by Ivan Dinev Ivanov
Toronto: Lexington Books, 2011
280 pages, $70.95
ISBN: 978-0739137147

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Reviewed by Derek Spencer

A staff officer in the Canadian Forces at age 40 today would have been sitting in Grade 8 Social Studies in 1984. It would have been a minor current event in that class to discuss the fact that Spain had joined NATO two years earlier. The alliance that represented the institutionalization of the transatlantic coalition that won the Second World War had been relatively static for many years. If that officer joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1992, the Alliance had still really not changed much: it continued to provide a categorical commitment to the collective security of its members. Now, if one fast-forwarded to the present, that officer could be forgiven for thinking that the NATO that fought over Kosovo in 1999 and remains in Afghanistan today is really just an out-of-date relic of the Cold War. Canada as the junior member of NATO’s transatlantic wing, has not recently had European dramas in its face and many of its citizens have missed the substantial changes in the Alliance Canada helped shape 63 years ago.

NATO is a living, dynamic thing, and so its progress and direction is very hard to track without active effort and study. However, the reality is that NATO has dramatically changed in character and complexity since 1999 as the global security environment, European political and economic integration, and transatlantic relations have evolved. With respect to that evolution, references and resources devoted to understanding those changes may be plentiful in number, but they have various shortcomings. One option for an inquiring mind is to slowly and selectively find and read leading articles in learned publications. Another option is simply to read Ivan Ivanov’s book, Transforming NATO: New Allies, Missions, and Capabilities.

Ivanov manages to accomplish three valuable and specific tasks with his book. First, it is a very current and relevant work, having been published in August 2011. Therefore, he would appear to be the first to publish a work of this academic rigour that comments upon the 2010 Strategic Concept. Second, he has cobbled together 63 years of reference literature, with focus upon the last 20 years, to provide a single descriptive voice dealing with the nature of NATO. This is somewhat unique in a field where books are often collections of single issue papers. In my opinion, decent sources in this regard are the Bison Papers from the University of Manitoba, and NATO in Search of a Vision, edited by Gulnur Aybet. However, while these works provide expert analysis of a number of aspects and issues, and they are well edited, they each nonetheless provide a fractured voice on their respective themes. Not so with Ivanov. His voice and perspective always ring clear, from start to finish.

The greatest contribution Ivanov makes with this book is to provide a logical framework for understanding the modern NATO in the context of its new missions, allies, and capabilities. As he is the single unifying voice expressed herein, he can take the time to develop two linked concepts borrowed from Economics: ‘Club Goods’ and ‘Complementaries.’ Clearly, NATO fits well the description of a heterogeneous club, and therefore, much of its behaviour as an organization can be placed in context. His development of ‘club goods theory’ as a description of NATO may be somewhat generous, but it does nonetheless provide a view that the Alliance is a rational actor in an evolving global environment.

It is fascinating to view the rapid expansion of NATO from 16 nations to 28 nations through this lens. Previously, NATO had focused upon the Cold War and practical related issues, such as the number of Western combat-ready divisions available in Western Europe. Using Ivanov’s framework, the addition of small states, such as Estonia and Croatia, make more sense because they broadened the Alliance membership, brought new capabilities, and supported new missions.

With the theoretical framework firmly established, Ivanov rigorously reviews NATO’s alliance structure, its previous and current missions, and its present capabilities. This is not bedtime reading: it is a textbook where each page literally drips with facts and footnotes. The bibliography itemizes 20 pages of press releases, academic works, and policy documents. This is truly a ‘one-stop shop’ for acquiring an understanding of NATO in the modern era. It is slow to start, and an academic book, especially through the first two chapters covering Club Goods and Complementaries. Those without an Economics background may need to simply bypass those chapters to get on to the review of alliances, missions, and capabilities. However, the review of these latter elements is engaging and complete. Ivanov’s expertise and knowledge allow him to lay bare NATO’s complexity in a meaningful way.

It is recommended that those in the profession of arms should read this book. NATO is definitely not an optimal organization, and even an apologist like Ivanov makes this clear. Furthermore, NATO is ‘not going away,’ and Ivanov’s framework provides evidence supporting this premise. NATO outlived its first and largest enemy, just as it has outlived many of its critics. Perhaps Robert Kaplan said it best: “NATO is not perfect but there is nothing better to replace it.” The Government of Canada recently re-committed to the Alliance at the Chicago Summit in May 2012, and so the Canadian Armed Forces will remain as contributors to NATO. With that reality solidly reaffirmed, it is important to understand it and to use it to the benefit of our armed forces. Ivanov’s book is a good foundation for that understanding.

Major Derek Spencer is an alumni of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment and the Mapping and Charting Establishment.  He is presently employed as Chief CIED in the NATO Rapid Deployable Corps, Istanbul.