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

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  • Michael Howard is a former Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford and Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale. He is the life president of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
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