History counsels that defeat and victory are the two deadliest moments in the life of alliances. Defeat is nature's way of telling an alliance that it does not work, that its reason for being has vanished. Surrender is the end, dissolving both bonds and obligations. And so no coalition has ever survived capitulation.
But alliances also die when they win. The European-wide league against Napoleon had unraveled by 1822 if not sooner. The Western compact against Imperial Germany was a dead letter by 1920. The Soviet-American partnership of World War II survived victory by only a few months. These were not mere accidents of history. For victory, too, robs coalitions of their raison d'tre. When the great threat disappears, so does the glue that binds nations in alliance. Worse, once partners no longer need to worry about their common enemy they begin to worry about one another: How will yesterday's comrade-in-arm use his unshackled power tomorrow? With nothing to absorb his might, will he not turn it against me? Rivalry resumes as the victors turn to face one another.
True, NATO still endures even in the year 6 A.C., (After the Cold War). No member has moved to dissolve it, none has even intimated a desire to abscond. Everything is still in place: the Brussels headquarters and the secretary-general, the infrastructure and the training, the doctrine, and the maneuvers. Nonetheless, the longest-lived alliance of free nations cannot escape the question that confronts all victorious coalitions: What is its reason for being if the threat that spawned and sustained it is gone?