NATO at Fifty: An Unhappy Successful Marriage: Security Means Knowing What to Expect

Courtesy Reuters

NATO was always intended to be both more and less than a military alliance. The original idea was the brainchild of Britain's foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin. In January 1948, confronted by a Western Europe still in ruins and a Soviet Union triumphantly consolidating its conquests, Bevin suggested to Washington that it would be possible to stem the further encroachment of the Soviet tide only "by organizing and consolidating the ethical and spiritual forces of Western civilization." Peace and safety, he maintained,

could only be preserved by the mobilization of such moral and material force as would create confidence and energy on the one side and inspire respect and caution on the other. The alternative was to acquiesce in continued Russian infiltration and watch the piecemeal collapse of one Western bastion after another.

Cynics may allege that this downplaying of material and emphasis upon ethical force was deliberately tailored to the susceptibilities of isolationist members of Congress, but at that time the threat from the Soviet Union was not perceived primarily in military terms. The real danger seemed to lie in the moral and material exhaustion of a Western Europe that, in spite of Marshall Plan aid, still looked like a pushover for communist infiltration and propaganda. A purely military alliance did not seem the appropriate answer, but what did?

States are cold monsters that mate for convenience and self-protection, not love, and this became very clear during the negotiations for the creation of the alliance that dragged on throughout 1948. The State Department, both conscious of a Congress still hostile to any further "entangling alliances" and anxious not to accept the division of Germany and Europe as final, was at first prepared to act as no more than a benevolent godfather to a West European alliance. The French, on the other hand, remembering the desertion by their former allies in the aftermath of World War I, were demanding immediate military aid, to protect them as much against a German revival as against any

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