The effect of external security threats on collective burden sharing in NATO

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This thesis examined to what extent external security threats to NATO have influenced the balance of the collective burden that its members have to bear with regard to the collective security of the alliance. Financial, political, and military contributions by member states to collective efforts during the Korean War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the post 9/11 “War on Terror” were researched. Although the North Atlantic Treaty itself was a peace-time agreement, the most important changes to the composition and institutionalization of the alliance happened during, or were a result of, external security threats. From a rationalist point of view (material and individualist), countries that were members of NATO generally looked to the alliance for resolving external security threats to their territories out of cost-benefit considerations. This significantly influenced intra-alliance negotiations and burden sharing outcomes to the point where the United States often had to actively encourage their European allies to contribute, with mixed results. A constructivist point of view (social and collective) explains why NATO members made efforts to bolster the alliance when they deemed that there was high interdependence and common fate (in the form of external security threats), which emphasized for them the legitimacy of the Kantian culture. Whenever NATO members did not adhere to burden sharing norms, they always offered justification in the form of other norms such as economic reconstruction norms (Korean War), consultation norms (Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) or, in the case of the war in Iraq, the norm that intervention requires a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. This means burden sharing as a norm exists and is widely recognized in NATO, but it is not a norm that overrides all others. That NATO survived as a multilateral arrangement, despite internal upheaval during the Cold War and the disintegration of NATO’s ‘raison d’être’ (the Soviet Union), can best be explained with reference to the collective identity and collective trust that was developed over the years. This made the Atlantic Alliance always the best, though suboptimal, security option for its member states.
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