“Turkish obstinance notwithstanding, it seems ever more likely that Finland and Sweden will soon join NATO. That is all to the good. The two Nordic countries are staunch democratic Western powers, and they have invested more in their defenses than most NATO members. Their inclusion will strengthen the alliance militarily, diplomatically, and geographically in Europe. Moreover, inducting them will make it undeniable that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a grave mistake. Whatever Putin may accomplish on the ground in the Donbas—and even that seems increasingly up in the air—driving Finland and Sweden into NATO’s arms is a heavy price to pay. He may insist that the war was worthwhile regardless, but most Russians are likely to conclude that it left them in a weaker geostrategic position overall.

“Yet there is an important, overlooked caveat. Bringing Finland and, especially, Sweden into NATO is likely to be the final nail in the coffin for the alliance’s missions outside Europe. The idea for fighting “out of area” came about at the end of the Cold War, when the collapse of the Soviet Union removed the original raison d’être of the alliance. But NATO’s members were in no hurry to disband, recognizing that the alliance had served them well. Instead, many on both sides of the Atlantic began to consider what other purposes it might be put to. “NATO out of area” thus became the battle cry for those who believed that a coalition that had served so brilliantly in mastering Western security concerns in Europe could be repurposed to address threats beyond it.

“But what seemed so obvious in theory did not work in practice. NATO members sometimes could not agree on what constituted a vital interest outside Europe. They found it even harder to reach a consensus on how to address the threats they did agree on, with few of the European NATO members willing or able to contribute military forces to missions beyond the continent. And NATO’s awkward command-and-control arrangements, particularly the need for consensus on every major political decision, made it nearly impossible for NATO to actually operate outside Europe, no matter how great the threat. … “

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