NATO's new design
: struggles, practices, and the alliance's post-Cold war transformation

Student thesis: PhD Thesis


How did the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) survive the end of the Cold War, the changing international security environment, and the loss of its galvanizing Soviet threat? When the Alliance outlived the end of the Cold War, scholars provided explanations for the somewhat surprising persistence. While traditional approaches failed to provide persuasive answers, constructivists in International Relations (IR) emphasized that NATO persisted because it transformed. They highlighted the democratic identity and discourses as central to NATO’s transformation and its post-Cold War persistence.
I suggest that we can better understand NATO’s persistence by focusing on its practices and their transformative effects. I investigate NATO’s transformation and argue that the Alliance not only persisted because it relied on existing practices but also because it introduced and normalized new practices. Practices such as joint defense planning or the “show of force” in conflict zones established NATO as a democratic and interventionist identity community. I explain the meaning of practices, how they represented normality for NATO practitioners, and how they established a new identity community.
Struggles have been pivotal in introducing and normalizing practices. After the Cold War, Alliance policymakers struggled to build a “new NATO” in the context of post-communist states’ membership aspirations and the Bosnian war. These struggles resulted in the establishment of the “open door” policy and NATO military interventions beyond the traditional defense area.
For my investigation, I draw on Bourdieusian and the “practice turn” in IR. Bourdieu’s concepts such as field, habitus, and capital help me to explain the divergent approaches of Alliance policymakers that sparked struggles between them in the context of Eastern enlargement and NATO’s military interventions. Moreover, Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic struggles allows me to understand why policymakers asserted and reasserted certain practices after the Cold War as the dominant way of doing things.
Date of Award7 Jul 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Nottingham
SupervisorMaria Julia Trombetta (Supervisor) & Grant Dawson (Supervisor)

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