Full Reflection Post


Engaging to Encourage a Global NATO

James Goldgeier

The challenges:

  • How to present novel, controversial ideas without damaging one’s credibility in the policy circles in which one travels
  • How to present views that may be considered extreme, with the goal of reframing the policy space on a particular issue

The background and policy setting:

James Goldgeier has worked for many years on NATO. In the mid-1990s, he spent a year in the government working at the State Department and as a director of Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs on the National Security Staff. In 1999, he published Not Whether but When: the US Decision to Enlarge NATO, based largely on elite interviews, including conversations with many individuals he had worked with in government on European security issues. He has continued to write for academic and policy audiences and remains closely connected with people working on issues related to NATO. He describes his engagement as a set of long-term relationships with people working on and writing about NATO. He has often co-authored with people who went on to serve in government, including Michael McFaul, Derek Chollet, and Ivo Daalder. While his writing is involved with government and often includes interaction with government officials, he described his work less as collaboration on a specific issue and more as using his academic knowledge over a long period of time to put current concerns in historical context and offer new ideas that could be useful. One of these ideas was “global NATO.”

The engagement:

Goldgeier’s impetus for writing “Global NATO (with Ivo Daalder) was spurred by concerns about NATO’s strategic decisions (Daalder and Goldgeier, 2006). Having already undergone two rounds of enlargement, NATO was considering further enlargement to countries with little military capabilities. At the same time, the threats that the US and other NATO member countries faced were increasingly global. Goldgeier was worried that the organization was focused on adding countries with little military capability, and he believed it needed closer engagement with countries outside of Europe that could contribute to its expanding missions. He wanted to shift the conversation. This engagement, then, was aimed at reframing the plausible policy space.

A concern he had at the beginning though, was the whether the controversial idea of including as new members countries that are outside the Treaty area (and would require a change to the 1949 Washington Treaty that established NATO) would cause people to think he was too far outside the mainstream conversation and take him less seriously in the policy community with which he had been so involved. Do you write something that you believe in, with the knowledge that others in the field might take you less seriously? Would the introduction of a very controversial idea compromise your credibility?

Goldgeier wanted to create an opening for new thinking as NATO itself was redefined through enlargement. He reflected that since the end of the Cold War, the main questions surrounding NATO were “What is this institution going to do? Why is it going to continue? What is the value added of an institution that was designed for the Cold War?” (Goldgeier Reflection). The initial rounds of NATO expansion had already added several major eastern European countries. Was it best to continue to add smaller countries with less ability to contribute to NATO’s military mission? Were there other strategies that might make more sense? “We were just trying to think about how do you shape this alliance for a different period?” (Goldgeier Reflection).

“Global NATO” argued that NATO could best maintain the responsibilities and characteristics of its alliance by broadening its membership to the world’s other democracies. The argument for a global NATO suggested that democracies like Australia, Brazil, Japan, India, South Africa, and South Korea could bring their democratic values and contribute military forces to the response toward global threats, despite lacking transatlantic geography (Daalder and Goldgeier, 2006, p. 109). The piece pushed the conversation further than other discourse at the time, by arguing that alliances and partnerships with these countries were not enough. Rather, formal membership in NATO ought to be the goal.

Much of the writing Goldgeier has done has been to illuminate the history behind the evolution of policy, and as with other work, the global NATO recommendation considers NATO in historical context. He knows that people have used this work to understand what happened previously and how it came about and sees importance in historical illumination for people who may not have been involved. In Goldgeier’s view, the response to the Global NATO idea has become more favorable over time. Initially some saw the Global NATO idea as “crazy,” in his words, but through writing repeatedly in different forms he sees how his attempts to shape the discourse have aligned with NATO’s need, as a threat-based organization, to consider non-regional threats. He stated “I do feel strongly that over time people have come to realize that for NATO, as a threat-based organization, this is the path that it has to consider, how it can operate in a world where the threats are not regionally focused. It’s writing these things in different forms over and over and over again where you just hope that you can then shape the discourse in some way” (Goldgeier Reflection).

Over the past 15 years, Goldgeier has continued his work to shape a view of NATO as a global organization rather than a regional organization through continued reference to “Global NATO” and his 2010 Council on Foreign Relations special report, The Future of NATO.  Initially some in policy circles complained of the global orientation and suggested they had enough difficulty pressing for change in the organization without pressure to think of a broader membership issue. But Goldgeier felt that someone had to make the “extreme” argument and if he did not, he was not sure anyone else would.

Goldgeier has sought to use social science tools to analyze NATO in a systematic way. Though no one has previously done a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of NATO’s possible alternative enlargement paths, Goldgeier has begun to attempt to do this working with Boston University professor Joshua Shifrinson. By working backward to reflect on alternative policies considered and unconsidered, actions appropriate and inappropriate he saw progress. Goldgeier sees theory as influencing his work but is less interested in generating theory per se. He sees writing in a digestible form as the most impactful way of influencing policy formation, mentioning his pieces with Bruce Jentleson in Foreign Affairs on President Biden’s Summit for Democracy (Goldgeier and Jentleson, 2020) as an example. These two articles challenged the Biden Administration’s stated plan to affirm democratic norms and institutions through a global summit (potentially including NATO allies like Hungary and Poland that are violating democratic norms), arguing that it would be more effective, even in a foreign policy sense, for the U.S. to focus a summit on democratic reforms at home while utilizing other forums to foster democracy globally. Goldgeier has heard that the piece was discussed inside government.

What were the implications of the engagement?

Goldgeier reflected on his initial decision to write “Global NATO,” asking “Did it make sense to make an argument that was in no way realistic from a policy standpoint and what were we trying to accomplish with it?” His answer that followed was yes, it did make sense. In many ways NATO has followed the path Goldgeier envisioned in its global relationships. His two pieces in 2006 and 2010 were, “efforts to argue if this institution just stays focused on Europe the US is going to lose interest over time.” Goldgeier thus sees his work as having had some ability to shape thinking in the field, and as an iterative process of testing ideas and receiving feedback at an arms-length. While NATO will not be enlarging its membership outside of Europe, it is continuing to develop deeper global partnerships with some of the key countries he and Daalder discussed in their article.

Goldgeier was most influenced early in his career by Stanford professor Alexander George. George held the idea that from the outside of policy spaces you ought to be helpful with your expertise, and therefore include contingent generalizations, checklists for policymakers, and/or lessons learned in your writing. While Goldgeier does not follow this advice to the letter, he does follow it in spirit. For example, he wrote the “Global NATO” piece and The future of NATO to make the case that the U.S. needed to conceive of its role and interests differently. He included specific propositions and recommendations that still stand. More recently, he co-authored pieces that raised questions of how to create synergies and opportunities across regions, specifically through the lens of NATO and the Asian alliances. He sees two ways this style of engagement can influence. First, it can give policymakers new ideas. Second, it can provide fodder for policymakers already advocating for a new path.

Daalder, Ivo H., & Goldgeier, James M. (2006). Global NATO. Foreign Affairs.

Goldgeier, James M. & Jentleson, Bruce W. (2020). A Democracy Summit Is Not What the Doctor Ordered: America, Heal Thyself. Foreign Affairs. Goldgeier, James M. (2010). The future of NATO. Council on Foreign Relations.

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