NATO and 9/11 On 12 September 2001 President Bush declared a ‘War on Terrorism’ following the devastating terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC of 11 September 2001 (9/11) that killed just under 3,000 people. On the same day, the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) invoked Article V of its Washington Treaty, declaring an attack on one member of the alliance to be an attack on all. The outpourings of grief and sympathy from Europe following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 suggested that a new era of transatlantic solidarity had arrived. Gone would be the tensions and disputes that had marked the Bush Administration’s first eight months in office; in their place would be a renewed spirit of cooperation and support. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC presented NATO with an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate both its willingness and its ability to confront the dangers posed by international terrorism, a task the alliance had previously acknowledged as a core priority in its 1999 New Strategic Concept. Following NATO’s historic invocation of Article V, the United States was inundated with allied offers of both moral and practical support for the ‘War on Terrorism’. For the most part, such offers were spurned, as the United States chose instead to build ad hoc coalitions on a case-by-case, mission-by-mission basis. As the United States marched on into Afghanistan, the NATO alliance that had served as the bedrock for transatlantic security for more than 50 years was left to ruminate on missed opportunities and future probabilities. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 followed a decade of transformation by NATO. This had proved a sometimes slow and painful process, but one which the alliance recognised was imperative in ensuring its wider relevance and utility in a post-Cold War era characterised not by the monolithic threat of the Soviet Union, but a multitude of new security challenges. Despite NATO’s ongoing evolution and transformation, the Bush Administration was disinclined to turn to the alliance after 9/11, reflecting not only the unilateralist tendencies of the administration, but also wider US concerns over whether NATO could be of any strategic utility. Amidst the debates and arguments that gathered momentum following 9/11, the potential role and contribution of NATO soon disappeared from
the heart of the debate, and many were to be disappointed by the failure of the alliance to go beyond pledges of solidarity and support. As differences emerged between the US and key members of the allied coalition over military action in Afghanistan, and subsequently in Iraq, NATO was relegated to the very margins of debate. While NATO members, notably Great Britain, made significant contributions to the military operation in Afghanistan, there was no single, NATOled operation during the campaign. As NATO leaders gathered in 2002 for the Prague Summit, one headline declared ‘The last days of the Atlantic Alliance’ (Kupchan 2002: 23), depicting NATO as a creaking institution, and suggesting that as America turned to fight the War on Terror, NATO had little validity.