THE OFFICES of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), NATO’s command centre near Mons in Belgium, are the opposite of imposing. Instead of granite and marble, the low-ceilinged corridors are decked out with plasterboard and tiled carpeting. Four-star generals prefer offices high above the fray, naturally—but SHAPE only has three storeys. The building, erected in the late 1960s, was supposed to be temporary.
Never before has the flimsiness of SHAPE so belied NATO’s monumental sense of mission. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, on February 24th 2022, has revitalised the alliance. It is armed with its first new set of goals since 1967, the year shape’s offices opened. Whereas the old NATO was reactive, it is now being rebuilt to deter Russia in peacetime and to respond immediately and in force as soon as it threatens to encroach on its members’ territory. “We are rapidly enhancing the readiness of our forces,” says General Sir Tim Radford, SHAPE’s second-in-command, “and our overall military responsiveness is increasing exponentially.”