Seth Johnston

Old Member (2003)

Seth A. Johnston is a major in the United States Army and recent assistant professor of international relations at West Point. He is a veteran of NATO missions in Europe and Afghanistan. How NATO Adapts began with his MPhil and DPhil research at Trinity.

Back to publications

Featured Publications

How NATO Adapts: Strategy and Organization in the Atlantic Alliance since 1950

How NATO Adapts: Strategy and Organization in the Atlantic Alliance since 1950

Publication date: January 2017

Today’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with nearly thirty members and a global reach, differs strikingly from the alliance of twelve created in 1949 to ‘keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down’. These differences are not simply the result of the Cold War’s end, 9/11, or recent twenty-first-century developments, but represent a more general pattern of adaptability first seen in the incorporation of Germany as a full member of the alliance in the early 1950s. Unlike other enduring post–World War II institutions, NATO stands out for the boldness and frequency of its transformations over the past seventy years.

In this compelling book, Seth Johnston presents readers with a detailed examination of how NATO adapts. Nearly every aspect of NATO—including its missions, functional scope, size, and membership—is profoundly different than at the organisation’s founding. Using a theoretical framework of ‘critical junctures’ to explain changes in NATO’s organisation and strategy throughout its history, Johnston argues that the alliance’s own bureaucratic actors played important and often overlooked roles in these adaptations.

Touching on renewed confrontation between Russia and the West, which has reignited the debate about NATO’s relevance, How NATO Adapts explores how crises from Ukraine to Syria have again made NATO’s capacity for adaptation a defining aspect of European and international security. Students, scholars, and policy practitioners will find this a useful resource for understanding NATO, trans-atlantic relations, and security in Europe and North America, as well as theories about change in international institutions.

Paperback, 272 pages, 3 line drawings

ISBN: 9781421421988

January 2017

US $29.95 | UK £19.50


Also available as an e-book


“Nothing is more important to NATO than the ability to adapt … How NATO Adapts is an honest and unbiased examination of the successes and challenges of this turbulent twenty-first century for the world’s premier security Alliance.”

James G. Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; Dean of The Fletcher School, Tufts University

How NATO Adapts offers a theoretically innovative and empirically rich account of why this post–World War II military alliance continues to play an important role in today’s multipolar world. This well-researched book constitutes an excellent addition to the growing scholarly literature that applies historical-institutional theories to the study of international relations.”

Giovanni Capoccia, University of Oxford

“Well-organized and well-written, this book should be of great interest to anyone with an academic or professional interest in NATO’s history and institutional dynamics.”

Stanley R. Sloan, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, The Atlantic Council, author of Defense of the West: NATO, the European Union and the Transatlantic Bargain

“A meticulously researched and in-depth historical study of the NATO Alliance… Johnston knows NATO, and he knows how to write. How NATO Adapts is illuminating and educational.”

Jeffrey A. Larsen, NATO Defense College, coeditor of On Limited Nuclear War in the 21st Century