Slobodchikoff on Moore and Coletta, 'NATO's Return to Europe: Engaging Ukraine, Russia, and Beyond'

Rebecca R. Moore, Damon Coletta, eds.
Michael Slobodchikoff

Rebecca R. Moore, Damon Coletta, eds. NATO's Return to Europe: Engaging Ukraine, Russia, and Beyond. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, August 22, 2017. 272 pp. $34.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-62616-488-8.

Reviewed by Michael Slobodchikoff (Troy University) Published on H-Diplo (January, 2018) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach

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NATO’s Continued Role in European Collective Security

NATO’s Return to Europe, edited by Rebecca R. Moore and Damon Coletta, examines NATO’s role in providing collective security in Europe following the rise of a resurgent and more aggressive Russia. The book’s aim is to examine NATO’s relevance and purpose following the Ukrainian Crisis of 2013. In this respect, the book is very topically relevant, and should provide important insight into deescalating tension in Europe and working toward a new collective security arrangement in Europe. Unfortunately, it does not provide a nuanced account of NATO’s history as a security organization; such a chapter could have helped explain how NATO got into its current quagmire in the first place. However, the book does shed important light on the decisions that NATO faces moving forward, decisions that will have a profound impact on the future of the organization.

Despite offering useful insights into the challenges facing NATO, the book would have been well served if it included a chapter about the history of NATO from a collective security perspective instead of the one offered in the last chapter. Unfortunately, the volume is missing any historical discussion about how NATO defined “Europe,” which was certainly different from the expanded definition of Europe that NATO currently possesses. A broader historical chapter could have addressed NATO’s evolving historical identity from initially being a static collective security organization to an expanding collective security organization in search of a broader raison d’être. The final chapter, “Conclusion and Comment: NATO's Ever-Evolving Identity” by Stanley R. Sloan, offers a general history of NATO and gives a timeline for the organization’s main historical events. Specifically the chapter focuses on NATO expansion and general historical facts and meetings without providing much analysis associated with these events. Unfortunately, the chapter does not attempt to offer a more focused history dealing with the perceptions of NATO and its member states of collective security in Europe. If this chapter had appeared at the start of the book, it might have provided the necessary background needed to understand the difficulty that NATO faces when providing collective security in Europe. In addition, the volume lacks discussion about the end of the Cold War period and the assurances provided to the Soviet Union that NATO would not expand farther than the borders of a newly unified Germany. A historical discussion about post-Cold War promises is important, as it provides some explanation for a newly aggressive Russian foreign policy in Europe.

This lack of historical perspective means that the work does not offer a broad historical understanding of NATO’s identity and future mission in Europe. For example, despite acknowledgement of John J. Mearsheimer’s assertion that NATO was responsible for Russia’s aggressiveness in Europe and in Ukraine more specifically, the reference is only mentioned in passing in the foreword and is immediately dismissed without attention to the fundamental criticism.[1] This criticism is fundamentally important because if NATO’s actions are one of the reasons for a resurgent Russia, which in turn destabilizes the security of Europe, then NATO’s own actions are partially responsible for a lack of security in Europe. Even if the authors disagree with the view that NATO expansion threatened Russian security interests and led to Russian assertiveness in its near abroad (specifically in Georgia and Ukraine), it is a serious flaw that this argument was not addressed. The fact that NATO expansion is not addressed leads to a circular and predetermined argument that NATO was established to counter Soviet aggression in Europe, and that NATO needed to expand to contain the Russian threat. Despite the fact that Russia was not a threat to European security in the 1990s, this argument would support that it was only a matter of time before Russia would again become a threat. Indeed, this argument becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as countering the Russian threat provoked Russia to become more aggressive, thus leading to the necessity of further expansion of NATO. In short, this argument is a perfect illustration of the security dilemma, and therefore should have been discussed in this book.

Since a resurgent Russia features prominently as the main challenge to NATO in this book, it would have also been beneficial to provide a historical chapter on Russia’s post-Cold War history. This chapter could have examined Russia’s initial efforts at cooperating with and embracing the West under Russian president Boris Yeltsin, its cautious engagement with the West under Vladimir Putin’s first term as president of the Russian Federation, and its current antagonistic behavior to the West. Further, while NATO’s Partnership for Peace program with individual states including Russia is addressed, more attention should have been paid to explaining NATO’s efforts during this period to cooperate with Russia on collective security in Europe. Although NATO wanted to cooperate with Russia on collective security, NATO-Russian cooperation was actually much more focused on individual issues such as terrorism. While Russia desired a greater role in decision-making processes, it was often relegated to a supporting role and cooperating with NATO on minor issues. A chapter focused on NATO-Russian cooperation efforts during this period would have helped the reader to develop a more in-depth understanding of the challenges currently facing NATO.

Despite their lack of enough historical material to properly nest the current challenges facing NATO, the contributors to this volume do provide interesting insights. In fact, they demonstrate a very nuanced understanding of the current issues confronting NATO. Most are very realistic in their assessment that the challenges facing NATO are not easy to overcome, and that each possible decision facing NATO is fraught with even more challenges. This is truly this book’s greatest strength. The contributors all understand that Russia and NATO are at the closest point to armed conflict since the end of the Cold War. Even still, each of the contributors helps to illuminate the dilemmas facing NATO, how NATO and Russia can begin to ease tensions, and whether there is a future for peace in Europe.

For example, one of the contributors, Shuyler Foerster argues that despite a resurgent Russian threat, NATO should not look to expand to Ukraine and Georgia, as that would dilute NATO’s ability to actually provide collective security. In other words, NATO would be overextended, and would not be able to provide aid in the case that Russia invades one of those states. Further expansion without the ability to fully protect new member states would be a grave mistake as that would conceivably destroy NATO as an organization. NATO survives on the commitment of its member states to protect each other, and if member states cannot do so, then NATO would cease to be a viable security organization. Similarly, Andrew Wolff presents three options for NATO policy towards Ukraine. The first option is to expand by accepting Ukraine as a new member state. This might allow NATO to dictate how Ukraine can reform and help Ukraine become a viable state. The second option is to continue the status quo of dangling NATO membership and hoping that Ukraine reforms on its own. He dismisses the status quo option as a poor choice, as it is not currently working. The final option he proposes is to make it clear that Ukraine cannot join NATO. Of these options, he argues that not adding Ukraine as a new member state is the best. Not only would allowing Ukraine membership antagonize Russia, but Ukraine’s problems with corruption and poor record of reform would make it a poor addition to NATO.

Damon Coletta, who is both an editor and a contributor to this book, also writes a very interesting chapter on NATO-Russian cooperation.  Providing an interesting alternative to prevailing pessimism about the future relationship between NATO and Russia, Coletta argues that the one issue around which cooperation would help to ease tensions is technology. They could work together to develop a missile shield or other technical innovations that would show that the two sides can cooperate. If the two sides could cooperate on something technical, then that technical cooperation could lead to an easing of tensions between the two sides.

Ultimately, this book is a significant scholarly contribution that elucidates the difficult choices that NATO faces. It must make choices that are in conflict with its own ethos if it is to survive as a viable organization. While this book does not provide enough of the historical context of NATO’s present dilemma, nevertheless, the assembled scholars offer an excellent discussion of the ramifications of the possible decisions that NATO faces and the consequences of each decision. Scholars of European security would be well served in reading this book.


[1]. John J. Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin,” Foreign Affairs 93, no. 5 (2014): 77.

Citation: Michael Slobodchikoff. Review of Moore, Rebecca R.; Coletta, Damon, eds., NATO's Return to Europe: Engaging Ukraine, Russia, and Beyond. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. January, 2018. URL:

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