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  • Greening the Alliance: The Diplomacy of NATO's Science and Environmental Initiatives by Simone Turchetti
  • Per Lundin (bio)
Greening the Alliance: The Diplomacy of NATO's Science and Environmental Initiatives Simone Turchetti. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019. 249.

Simone Turchetti has carried out a fine study of NATO's science diplomacy and, later, environmental diplomacy. It covers the period from the organization's inception in 1949 up until the present. NATO's Science Committee, funded in 1958, and the individuals that shaped and populated it, the majority of them scientists, occupy center stage in Turchetti's narrative. Another NATO organization, the Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society (CCMS), whose establishment in 1969 manifested NATO's environmental turn, also has a key role.

At first sight, it may seem surprising that a military alliance acted as a patron of science, let alone environmental research and management. But NATO was always more than a military alliance. It was also a political integration project. Tensions between member states were at times considerable. The agenda of the United States and the European member states often differed, not least when it came to conflicts like the Suez Crisis, the Algerian War of Independence, the Vietnam War, or the installment of nuclear missiles on European soil, particularly the medium-range ballistic missile Pershing in the 1980s. One observer has succinctly described the alliance as "a troubled partnership." It was in this context that science emerged as a diplomatic tool to lessen the often-strained political relations between member states. Because of science's universality, argues Turchetti, the new science diplomacy appeared more persuasive than the old traditional diplomacy.

What kind of science did NATO's Science Committee fund? From the outset it focused on the physical environmental sciences. In the 1950s, the environment was an ambiguous term that could refer to a natural space as [End Page 276] well as a topographical one. Knowledge of the terrain has always been central to military affairs and consequently a key theme for military thinkers. Sun Tzu devoted considerable space to the subject in his classic The Art of War, for example. With the advent of aircraft, nuclear submarines, and satellites, the military terrain now included the skies, the deep seas, and even the upper atmosphere. Not surprisingly, meteorology, oceanography, and radio meteorology were singled out as key areas for NATO-funded scientists.

The choices made were the outcome of negotiations, however. The negotiations, in turn, were shaped by NATO's particular structure as a multilateral defense organization. Admittedly, the United States had a leading role throughout the organization's history, but, as Turchetti shows, the European member states had considerable leverage. Thus, his detailed narrative of the negotiations suggests that the storyline of American hegemony that features prominently in the historiography, most notably in John Krige's writings, needs to be revised.

In late 1960s, NATO began to take interest in the problem of environmental degradation. It established CCMS and launched an environmental program. Although the idealism behind NATO's environmental turn should not be dismissed entirely, the overarching motive was a combination of strategy and opportunism. Shortcomings in NATO's science diplomacy efforts led to a shift to environmental diplomacy. It certainly helped that the remote-sensing techniques NATO had elaborated for military purposes could also be used for environmental monitoring.

What were the larger implications of NATO's patronage? Most obviously, they were political. NATO's sponsorship activities helped to hold the fragile alliance together by strengthening the bonds between the member states. But was the science diplomacy, as Turchetti claims, "absolutely decisive" for the alliance? Undoubtedly it was important, but the book does not substantiate such a strong claim. More interestingly perhaps, at least for historians of science and technology as well as environmental historians, are the sponsorship's repercussions on the environmental sciences. As Turchetti asks in the introductory chapter: "If it was the Cold War that originally shaped studies of the natural environment, then what does this mean for the current configuration of environmental studies and policies today? What have we inherited and what have we abandoned?" (p. 10). In answering these excellent questions, he points out that NATO...


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