It was by coincidence that the situation around Venezuela was heating up even as the NATO alliance marked its 70th anniversary in Washington, DC, this week. Amid the celebration, however, experts raised new questions over whether the alliance was sufficiently equipped for the long period of strategic geopolitical competition that likely stands before us.
"NATO is the most successful Alliance in history because we have always been able to change as the world changes," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said before a Joint Session of Congress, the first time any leader of a multilateral organization has been invited to give such an address.
Yet if the consensus is right that the 21st century's great challenge would be a competition between democratic and authoritarian countries and systems, and in particular China and Russia, then Russia is making the next play in our hemisphere, and NATO is already behind the curve.
"…the United States should lead a more concerted effort to thicken the political bonds and operational ties between NATO and its global partners," said the Atlantic Council's Damon Wilson in testimony before a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "Specifically, the United States should consider formalizing the links among US treaty allies in Europe and those in Asia, namely Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, we should begin fostering alliance-like links among our existing allies with strategic partners such as India and, in Latin America, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico."
He sees all that as a possible precursor "to a more formal alliance among democracies who are committed to protecting their way of life and a democratic international order."
There are plenty of reasons to think such ambitions are fanciful when President Trump remains ambivalent about the value of alliances, NATO's European members are so divided on how to manage relations with China and when only a minority of Europe's NATO members have risen to their promised defense spending obligations.
Yet NATO has learned over the years that the alternative to changing when the world changes is irrelevance – and a world whose guiding rules and principles would no longer be shaped by democracies. Venezuela may be the right place to catalyze deeper links among the United States, Canada, key European allies and leading democracies of Latin America.
Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States' most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper's European edition. His latest book – "Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth" – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter
and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week's top stories and trends.