THE preamble to the North Atlantic Pact sets forth that the parties "are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security." To give practical effect to this resolve, Article 9 of the Pact provides for the establishment of "a council, on which each of [the parties] shall be represented, to consider matters concerning the implementation of this Treaty." The council "shall establish immediately a defense committee which shall recommend measures for the implementation of Articles 3 and 5." Article 3 deals with self-help and mutual aid, and the maintenance and development of "individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack." Article 5 provides for common action, in case of armed attack against any of the parties, "to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."

The tasks of the council and of its defense committee are therefore to survey the resources of the parties to the Pact, and to make recommendations for the most effective use of these resources in developing the "individual and collective" military power of the parties, and plans for common action "to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area" in case an armed attack upon one of them actually takes place. These are tasks of almost unbelievable complexity and difficulty.

II

In coördinating the military efforts of a coalition of independent states, not only must there be agreement by the governments as to political objectives, and agreement by the military leaders as to the best method of attaining these objectives, but the military plans are subject to the constant pressure of governments for change in direction or character under the influence, at times, of purely local and individual considerations. In war, this is particularly likely to be so during a defensive phase, when each of the allied Powers or coöperating forces expects the enemy attack to fall upon it alone, and each is therefore desperately determined to retain every resource for its own defense, and reluctant to part with any of its resources for common purposes, even for the establishment of a common reserve whose commitment to action it cannot wholly control.

The basic character of the North Atlantic Pact is, by definition, defensive. Its intent is to provide unified security for 12 states against armed attack on any one of them. But it is only human nature for each state, especially on the continent of Europe, to imagine itself as the object of such an attack and therefore to seek from the less exposed states (the United States, Britain and Canada) the largest possible allocations of weapons, reinforcement and other support. In coming to an agreement on this point, the responsibility of each government concerned for the security of its people and the safety of its territory is directly involved.

It will be no easy matter for representatives of the general staffs of all the parties to come to agreement as to the ideal plan, from the purely strategical viewpoint, for making the most effective use of the total resources at the disposal of the alliance. It will be infinitely more difficult to induce the various governments to accept any such plan simply on the basis of its over-all military efficiency, for complications coming from individual national interests and feelings of insecurity will inevitably arise. There are three general principles affecting military coalitions which experience suggests will have to be taken into account, and constantly kept in mind by all concerned, civilians and military, if the task set before the council and its Defense Committee is to be accomplished. These principles, like the principles affecting the conduct of war, are simple; it is their application to variant situations that will call for genius.

The successful conduct of war by a coalition, and therefore preparation of a coalition for the common defense, requires:

(1) Political and economic coördination, in which the governments of the Parties agree on a common objective, and establish agencies for the survey and pooling of their total resources, and for common diplomatic action.

(2) Strategic coördination, in which the military staffs of the parties prepare plans for the military use of their forces to achieve the common objective, and establish an agency for the constant revision of such plans to meet changing conditions, and for the exchange of military information.

(3) Unity of command in any theater of possible operations where the forces of two or more of the parties may be concurrently employed.

Examining these principles in the light of experience, we find that in most military alliances preceding World War I, there was little more in the way of political and economic coördination than a general expression of a common aim, reinforced by occasional consultations in which it was rare for complete confidence and frankness to prevail. Strategic coördination was generally limited to "staff talks" between the parties, with occasional joint manœuvres or other military exercises, and the exchange of military observers. Unity of command was simply not thought of as a practicable arrangement in time of peace, and only rarely became so in war. The success of military coalitions of this era was in general dependent on the presence of some one dominating military personality, such as Marlborough, Washington or Wellington, who could by sheer force of character and recognized genius weld the disparate parts of the allied forces into a working military machine, while retaining the confidence of the several governments to a sufficient degree to give him the necessary freedom of action.

The alliances formed against Frederick the Great, and the earlier coalitions against Napoleon, lacked any such controlling personality and were dismal failures in consequence. The alliance against Russia which won the Crimean War was fortunate in its logistical advantage, and in the fact that the Russian command was as divided and inept as its own. Bismarck began the Franco-Prussian War only after securing the agreement of the South German states to a common military command, which in effect meant placing their armies at the disposal of the Prussian General Staff, and subordinating their policies to that of the Prussian Government.

The alliance against Germany in World War I was almost destroyed for lack of political coördination, which was brought about only in the aftermath of disaster, following the Italian defeat at Caporetto and the collapse of Russia in the closing weeks of 1917. Then the Supreme War Council was set up, and subsequently the principle of unity of command found expression in the appointment of Foch. It is not generally realized how much of his success Foch owed to the fact that he had a single political master. Two previous attempts at unified command, under Joffre and Nivelle, had failed largely because of the lack of such a central agency of political coördination. Without it, strategical agreement and unity of command were not sufficient.

In World War II, the Allies were supremely fortunate, at least as far as the United States and Britain were concerned, in finding their political coördination ready-made, as it were, in the extraordinary personalities of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. These two men worked together informally, but effectively. As necessity appeared, they created agencies for allied coöperation—dealing with food, shipping, fuel, blockade, economic warfare and other essential matters. For the higher strategical direction of the war, they brought into being the Combined Chiefs of Staff, that astonishing military instrument which seems for all time to have disproved Napoleon's scornful dictum that you cannot win a war with a committee.

In each theater of operations an Allied commander-in-chief was appointed—Eisenhower in Europe, Nimitz in the Pacific, MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific, Mountbatten in Southeast Asia, Wilson in the Mediterranean. Thus in the conduct of this war, all three of the great principles of coalition warfare were generally observed, and almost unbroken success was the result. Yet it is notable that whenever any of these principles was disregarded—as in the closing days of the war in the Pacific, when MacArthur's and Nimitz' commands came together, and no arrangement was made for preserving the principle of unity of command—difficulties at once resulted. Nor was it ever possible to observe any of these principles in dealing with the Soviet Union, save intermittently and very partially, so that such coöperation between the western and eastern Allies as actually existed was largely a matter of luck and of the waning strength of the Germans, which forbade the Nazis taking advantage of offered opportunities.

Analyzing these lessons of the past, we cannot help but see that our three basic principles for military coalitions are not only imperative in character, but are interdependent; to observe only one of them, or two of them, is not enough. The greater the demands of war upon the national resources, the more diversified its techniques and the more globe-encompassing its operations, the more complex becomes the machinery of supervision and control required for its successful conduct. But the principles remain. The added complexities only create additional occasions for disaster resulting from their nonobservance.

III

We have drawn our lessons almost altogether from the experience of war itself, because it is only in war that these principles have heretofore been seriously tested and applied. The North Atlantic Pact is in this respect a unique experiment. Never before have 12 sovereign nations sought in time of peace to create so complete and interlocking a structure of military unity as is contemplated by the terms of this Treaty.

What kind of agencies, and how constituted, must the parties to the Pact create to insure that unity of action upon which their security will be based? Clearly, the council provided for in Article 9 will be charged with the task of drawing together the views of the several governments as to the objectives to be sought, and with the creation of such subordinate bodies dealing with specific political and economic questions as may be found necessary. In this, no doubt, the considerable experience of the Allied Powers in World Wars I and II will be extensively drawn upon. In the field of strategical coördination, the first task may well be to examine existing military agencies involving two or more parties to the Pact, with a view to determining their continued usefulness and whether they or any of them can be consolidated, or whether arrangements can be made to coördinate their work to serve the purposes of the Pact. These existing agencies are as follows:

(1) The Military Staff Committee of the United Nations, which consists of representatives of the chiefs of staff of the permanent members of the Security Council—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and the Soviet Union. The last two are not members of the North Atlantic Pact; two of the members of the Pact (Italy and Portugal) are not members of the United Nations. Moreover, the underlying reason for the existence of the Pact is assuredly fear of Soviet aggression. Thus it seems unlikely that the Military Staff Committee can in any way be drawn into official relationship with any military agency which the parties to the Pact may bring into being. Its chief usefulness to the parties may well be found in the experience which so many officers of three of them have gained in working out military problems together, and in the personal relationships which have thus been established during the past four years.

(2) The Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff, which still exists, though as a cadre establishment. Under this arrangement, senior representatives of the British Chiefs of Staff are stationed in Washington, with a small group of assistants, maintaining close touch with the American Joint Chiefs of Staff. The problems being immediately dealt with relate very largely to questions affecting the standardization of arms and equipment and to the joint occupation of Trieste. But the nucleus for expansion is there, and the invaluable experience of the war years has not been dissipated.

(3) The American-Canadian Permanent Joint Board of Defense, with offices in Washington and Ottawa, which deals with matters affecting the common security of the two major nations of the North American continent.

(4) The rather vague but effective military relationship between the United Kingdom and Canada, of which the products are a common military doctrine, the exchange of information and of officers for training, and a kind of general military "understanding" which is not implemented by anything like a Combined Staff. Suggestions for an Imperial General Staff to include all the Dominions have frequently been made, but, within the Commonwealth, military policy remains a subject for discussion at the political rather than the professional level.

(5) The various military agencies of the Western Union, which includes the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Since this is a recent effort, and still largely in the formative or rather the experimental stage, the experience of this group provides a useful yardstick and may well be examined in some detail.

Western Union has been organized with due regard for the three principles of political coördination, strategic coördination and unity of command. Political coördination is undertaken, primarily, by the Consultative Council, which normally consists of the Foreign Ministers of the five members, but may be attended by the Prime Ministers in case of need. Under the Consultative Council is the Permanent Commission, with its Secretariat; this Commission is composed of permanent officials dealing with day-to-day problems of common interest. Another committee has been set up to deal with fiscal and economic problems; it includes representatives of the appropriate Ministries of the five governments. In parallel with the Consultative Council, there exists a Committee of Defense Ministers, in which the civilian Ministers of Defense of the five members deal with political and military relationships. This body is essential to preserve that control of the military by the civil power which is traditional in all the members of Western Union. The Defense Ministers are the connecting link between the purely military agencies and the governments which those agencies serve in common.

Under the Defense Ministers' Committee there is a Chiefs of Staff Committee, sitting at London, on which the Chiefs of Staff (army, navy and air) of all five members are represented—save that Luxembourg has only an army representative. The permanent military planning agency is the Military Committee, which is the subordinate both of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and of the Permanent Commission. The officers who form this committee are permanently assigned to it, and represent all the military services of the member states. A Military Supply Committee, including both representatives of civilian ministries dealing with supply questions and of the supply branches of the military services, has also been organized. Finally, there is the Commanders-in-Chief Committee, called Uniforce, which is located at Fontainebleau, near Paris, under the chairmanship of Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. It includes a Commander-in-Chief of Land Forces (General de Lattre de Tassigny of France), a Commander-in-Chief of Air Forces (Air Chief Marshal Sir James Robb of Britain), and a Naval Flag Officer (Vice-Admiral Jaujard of France). It was decided not to appoint an officer with the title of Naval Commander-in-Chief, due to the world-wide responsibilities of the Royal Navy and the consequent reluctance of the British Admiralty to accept the implications of such a title.

This may seem a complicated and clumsy organization when set down on paper. However, Western Union—as already observed—is still in the experimental stage, and the various agencies thus far created are those for which need has been shown as the experiment proceeded. It may be confidently expected that the closest attention will be given by the North Atlantic planners to the experience thus far gained by Western Union—an attention which will be facilitated by the fact that American observers have been working closely with it.

Certainly similar difficulties will be encountered in implementing the North Atlantic Pact, perhaps in an aggravated form. The problem created by the fact that the British Navy has responsibilities far beyond the scope of Western Union's geographic limits reminds us that every one of the major North Atlantic Powers has responsibilities and military anxieties far outside the geographic limits of the North Atlantic Pact. The security of the Middle East is vital to the United States, Britain, France and Italy. The first three of these, and also the Netherlands, are imperatively concerned in the security of Southeast Asia and its adjacent islands. Britain has certain well-understood responsibilities to the various Dominions in the matter of military security, and only one of the Dominions—Canada—is a Party to the North Atlantic Pact. Several of the Parties have African and Pacific colonial possessions of great value and importance, and the basic strategy of the Alliance is dependent in part on maintaining a foothold in all North Africa and in the Mediterranean region as a whole. Thus hardly any of the Parties (the only exceptions are Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg and Iceland) can unreservedly and without thought of other commitments and other responsibilities place the whole of its resources at the disposal of the Alliance.

Another example of the sort of trouble that may have to be ironed out is seen in recent reports of friction between Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery and General de Lattre de Tassigny over General Montgomery's desire to be definitely designated as Commander-in-Chief of all the forces of Western Union rather than merely Chairman of the Commanders-in-Chief Committee. General de Lattre, true to the traditional French attitude which counts as really worthwhile only those forces which can be actually deployed on the frontiers of France, is said to feel very strongly that the security of France cannot be committed to the hands of a general representing a nation which, however powerful at sea and in the air, is not prepared to make a major and immediate contribution to the armies which must secure France from being invaded again.

It is reported that there would be less French reluctance to accept an American commander-in-chief, should the appointment of an over-all commander be considered desirable by all the Parties to the Pact. But there is certainly a very definite French determination to maintain the structure and character of Western Union as such—within the terms of the North Atlantic Pact, but preserving its own identity, and not having its agencies merged in those of the larger body. Difficulties of the general character illustrated by these examples may cause many headaches to those who are developing the military organization of the North Atlantic Pact. But they will all, it is safe to say, pale into insignificance before the central strategic problem: the allocation of American forces and the priority of their employment in case of an armed attack on Western Europe.

IV

Groups of staff officers can, of course, quite easily decide in the cold light of military logic that such-and-such a country's territory cannot be initially defended, and must therefore be abandoned, to be "liberated" when American fighting power has been sufficiently built up for the purpose and when air bombardment has reduced the aggressor's power to deal with such a counter-effort. But it will be next to impossible to sell such an idea to the government of the country concerned, a government which is not only primarily responsible to its people for their national security, but is composed of individuals who would very likely be among the first to be liquidated by the invading forces.

It is not within the province of this paper to examine in detail the many questions which can arise for discussion and decision under this general heading. We may, however, profitably reflect on the political repercussions of these problems, and the effect they may have on the international policies of the parties and upon their internal decisions in the field of military policy. As just one example, we might note the pressures that are engendered by a realistic examination of the present grave shortage of ground forces available for the security of Western Europe against a possible aggressor whose greatest strength is in ground forces. An effort to meet this problem will perhaps not only result in recommendations for speeding up the dispatch of American weapons and equipment to our Allies in Western Europe, but may well cause a reëxamination of the allocations of our own military budget with a view to increasing the number of available American divisions. Likewise, such considerations would provide a strong argument against any proposal which may be made by the Soviet Union or anyone else for the withdrawal of existing American ground forces from occupied Germany.

The procedure to be followed in preparing the initial military arrangements of the Pact will perhaps follow some such lines as these: First, a political directive, couched in very general terms, will be agreed upon by the governments of the signatories. Second, in the light of this directive military consultants will seek agreement on very general and broad-gauge plans for achieving the objects set forth in the directive under a variety of possible contingencies; these plans will in the first instance be based on purely military grounds, after a thorough survey of available military resources. Third, there will be consultation between political and military leaders, both within each government and within and between the agencies of the Pact, to trim and fit these military proposals to political and economic requirements and possibilities. Fourth, an agreed military policy having thus been outlined, much more detailed and concrete plans will be prepared by the military to execute that policy. Fifth, the constant survey and revision of these plans to fit changing conditions will be provided for.

This is a process which involves a vast amount of discussion, study and interchange of ideas. Within the military establishment of each country, agreement must be reached between the three Chiefs of Staff (land, sea and air) as to what part that country should play, and what should be expected of the others. Possibly such agreements can be facilitated by discussion with the staffs of the other Parties. The Chiefs of Staff of each country must then secure the approval of their political superiors, who in turn must come to agreement with the governments of the other parties on the political level. Out of all this, presently, the outlines of a workable organization will begin to emerge, but those outlines will for some time be constantly changing, contracting and expanding here and there as experience in this novel enterprise makes necessary. There will be many mistakes to be corrected, false steps to be retraced, disagreements to be resolved.

It is certainly not even remotely feasible to predict in any detail what form the final organization of the Pact's political and military agencies will take. It does seem certain, however, that they must include, in one form or another, most or all of the following: (1) a council composed of Foreign Ministers or their representatives, with a permanent Political Committee as its working agency; (2) a Defense Committee composed of Defense Ministers or their representatives, charged with maintaining close touch between political and military considerations; (3) a central military planning group, composed of Chiefs of Staff or their representatives, with a permanent combined staff as its working agency, and including sections dealing with operational plans, intelligence, standardization of armaments and logistics; (4) either the actual designation of commanders-inchief for possible theaters of operations, or at least the appointment of nuclear staffs to study problems peculiar to these theaters; (5) a Military Supply Committee, and other bodies subordinate either to the council or to the Defense Committee, to deal with specific problems of coöperation, such as shipping, raw materials, manpower, food, communications, and no doubt many others.

The problems of policy, strategy and command presented by the Pact are enormous. On the military side, at least, the signatories are fortunate in still having at their disposal the services of many distinguished officers who have had experience in the conduct of war by a great coalition, and in political-military relationships. Names which come readily to mind, among others, are those of Generals Marshall, Eisenhower and W. B. Smith and Fleet Admiral Nimitz in the United States; Field Marshals Alexander and Wilson and General Ismay in Great Britain; General McNaughton of Canada and General Juin of France.

The challenge of the North Atlantic Pact is a challenge to freedom itself—a challenge to the ability of free nations to create effective instruments for common action to preserve their free institutions from the threat of aggression, or from actual attack. It is a challenge to deep-rooted traditions, to time-honored reluctance to assume military commitments in advance, to all the ingrained distrust of free peoples in military alliances, to vested interests and to the old persistent idea that to prepare for war is to endanger peace. The North Atlantic Pact is a long step forward on the road which Americans, and all those who share our heritage of freedom, must tread together if peace is ever to become more than a pious aspiration. The problems which it presents are not easy of solution, but they can be solved, given a reasonable measure of good will and determination and the spirit of unity in a common cause. Their solution will present the world with the first instrument of true collective security which it has ever seen.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now