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NATO: Literature

3 minute read

The trouble with alliances, Pericles said 2,395 years ago, is that “the common cause imperceptibly decays.” NATO’s common cause is not decaying —but it has vastly changed in the 15 years since NATO’s founding. As the threat of Soviet aggression in Western Europe receded, the alliance became a political assembly of independent-minded states rather than a military coalition huddling under the exclusive U.S. nuclear umbrella. What NATO has yet to prove is that it can rise to broader, subtler challenges. As Dean Rusk put it: “NATO must adapt itself to a situation in which the Communist threat takes more diversified and sophisticated forms, to a situation in which the cohesive element in this alliance must depend upon something more than an imminent military threat.”

Top Technician. At last week’s NATO foreign ministers’ conference in The Hague, the U.S. sought—with some apparent success—its allies’ participation in the multilateral nuclear force, also urged their backing for the Cuba blockade, and their “psychological support” for the war in South Viet Nam. West Germany demanded, and got, a strong resolution reaffirming NATO’s position that Germany must be reunited on the basis of self-determination.

Greece and Turkey came to hurl acrimonious charges and countercharges about the Cyprus conflict, finally agreed to a mild compromise by which NATO’s outgoing Secretary-General Dirk Stikker was asked to lend a hand in ending the dispute.

On one question the allies for once were unanimous: to succeed Stikker they picked Manlio Brosio, 66, Italy’s Ambassador to France. The new NATO Secretary-General is less well known than any of his predecessors, which suggests a downgrading of NATO’s top job; but Brosio is respected as a skilled diplomatic technician, is liked and trusted by Charles de Gaulle.

“Melancholy Sympathy.” There was general agreement that the NATO command structure is outmoded. Example: the military standing group (the U.S., France and Britain), which supposedly coordinates strategy, is located in Washington, while most command posts are in Europe; West Germany is not a member of the standing group, though it contributes nearly 50% of the ground forces under NATO command. But no matter how well NATO might be organized on paper, what really matters is France’s resistance to integrated Western military force and to overriding U.S. leadership.

This nettlesome issue was grasped by dynamic, unpredictable Paul-Henri Spaak, Belgium’s Foreign Minister and onetime (1957-61) NATO Secretary-General. In the sharpest attack yet on Charles de Gaulle’s policy of “independence” within the alliance, Spaak cried that those who undermined NATO should be “ashamed” of themselves. Without actually naming France—his speech was toned down at Rusk’s urging—Spaak challenged the Gaullists to “spell out just what you think is wrong with NATO, and how it should be put right. Otherwise, quit rocking the boat.” In a brilliant defense of Gaullist boat rocking, France’s Foreign Minister Maurice Couve de Murville also put his finger on one of the endemic ailments of all alliances. When no clear, common danger threatens, he argued suavely, their members naturally concentrate on their own problems, usually with little help from their allies. During its bitter wars for Indo-China and Algeria, France got only “melancholy sympathy” from NATO—as did Britain at Suez, Belgium in the Congo, The Netherlands in New Guinea, Portugal in Angola, the U.S. in Cuba and Viet Nam. But, in the Gaullist view, “if Russia threatens, NATO exists.” Couve’s scathing summation of the Hague conference: “The main current issue was Cyprus. The rest was literature.”

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