Hannah Colbath is an intern with the Strategy Initiative at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security She graduated from the University of Texas with a double major in International Relations and Asian Studies. Hannah focused her graduating thesis on domestic Chinese influence on Chinese foreign policy and national security, as well as a case study on Beijing’s response to separatism, extremism, and terrorism. She speaks Spanish and Mandarin.
Jeremy Shapiro’s poignant fictional piece in Foreign Policy, This is How NATO Ends, bristles the academic, humors the skeptic, as it paints a dark future for the 68-year-old alliance. Good fictional speculation should draw on history to explore and challenge through imagination; it is the reader’s role to test his or her own assumptions as well by putting themselves in another person’s shoes.
Especially one who is a witness to monumental events as is Karl Van Aachen, a fictional Flemish security guard. He is the last one to shut off the lights and close the gate to NATO HQ for good on a dreary future evening three years from now.
Shapiro writes that the NATO alliance, though faced with conflicting messages from the US, holds up in the aftermath of 2017 inauguration. However, as the clock ticks the alliance finds itself leaving challenges and crisis unaddressed, undermining the strength and power of an alliance that has made great steps to hold itself together. Unable to take meaningful action, NATO quietly slips away from relevance, and slowly breaks the bonds of solidarity that made NATO work. The alliance, despite efforts from Germany, the United States, and Britain to continue and reshape it, is impotent. The Flemish security guard who locks up NATO ends up holding on to the key to the gate: nobody wanted it back.
The story Shapiro weaves reveals the eventual demise of NATO in a credible manner. Shapiro uses the step-by-step path of decline to let the reader see the plausibility of just such an outcome, even with such a monumental implications for global security. The brilliant use of symbols-the unwanted key, a presidential speech in front of the Las Vegas Eiffel Tower, and the unwillingness to invoke Article V bring the story up another level of alarming verisimilitude.
Ultimately, Shapiro’s story gives the chance to look at the big picture through the lenses of a future possibility. Doing so is invaluable to policy makers, politicians, strategists, and academics alike. In reality, NATO, ever more, faces a number of challenges that if left unanswered would turn the alliance into something that could easily fade into the realm of irrelevance. Consider the weariness of war and unwillingness to take action that Shapiro describes as the death of NATO. This is not so hard to imagine today, after 15 years of involvement in the Middle East and Asia, the effectiveness of Russia’s frozen conflict zones and political outreach, failure in Libya, unwillingness to help eastern neighbors, as well as current White House conflicting messages about NATO’s utility to the US. In the end, the jump from a world that has gotten used to a strong NATO alliance to a world that sees NATO as so irrelevant as to forget its existence is not so hard to envision, thanks to the creative foresight of Shapiro’s piece.