Alliance Cohesion in an Age of Populism
(PDF) The populist resurgence is global. Between 1990 and 2018, the number of populists in power around the world increased five-fold, from 4 to 20.5 Populist leaders now run five of the seven largest democracies: India, the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines.6 Since the watershed events of 2016 — the election of Donald Trump and the decision by the United Kingdom (UK) to leave the European Union (Brexit) — the rise of populism has become impossible to ignore in today’s geopolitics. Populism is changing the strategic environment across the world and within the transatlantic community.
As NATO cruises past its 70th birthday and approaches its next Strategic Concept, the surge of populism looms large along with other changes in the security environment. What does the rise of populism mean for the Alliance? How will it impact Alliance cohesion? How should NATO respond? This paper aims to advance the conversation about how NATO can adapt to this new reality. It does so with an eye towards Alliance cohesion, meaning the ability of member Nations to work together. The core thesis is that whether out of strategic necessity or earnest belief, NATO needs to adjust itself for today’s era of populist grievances about sovereignty, identity, and cultural change. Global politics will continue to shift and evolve, but populism isn't going away — not in the near-term at least.
The potential effects of populism pose significant threats to the cohesion of the Alliance. This paper explores these threats using the five cohesion themes identified by NATO’s Framework for Future Alliance Operations (FFAO) Cohesion Project.7 These threats are serious, and yet by forcing changes that better serve member Nations and fulfill its original mission, populism may prompt actions that help strengthen the Alliance.
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