Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
NATO gave proof that the United States was determined to save and consolidate the democracies of Western Europe after World War II. Following the economic underpinning provided by the Marshall Plan it constituted a fairly satisfactory solution to the problems which both they and the United States then had to face. Having subjugated Eastern Europe, Stalin was turning to the West; his prime aim was to undermine democracy there before it could get firmly on its feet. By assuming the leadership in organizing Western defense, the United States provided an effective answer to this challenge.
Since that time, however, there has been a series of transformations in the world scene. The development of atomic arms and missiles has forced the two major powers to review their policies and to seek a way toward peaceful competition. At the same time, they have extended their rivalry and hence their commitments in an ever-increasing number of critical areas all over the globe, which as a result absorb an increasingly large portion of their resources and energies. Meanwhile, Western Europe has enjoyed tremendous economic growth; she has changed from a weak, frail American dependency to an "affluent society," not much inferior to the United States itself. And the rest of the world has passed from a period of political inertia to one of intense change.
In these new circumstances, the solidarity of the advanced Western democracies is as essential as ever. The question is whether the particular form this solidarity has assumed in NATO is still useful and efficient. Indeed, it will be argued here that NATO involuntarily has become the cause of excessive responsibility for the United States and of excessive irresponsibility for its European partners.
The Atlantic Pact is a defensive alliance among sovereign states, but it is fundamentally different from the traditional alliance common in European history. The latter remained dormant, as it were, until the common enemy had committed an act of aggression. In the meantime, each ally carried out its own foreign and military policies, free from any specific commitment toward its partners. In letter, the Atlantic Pact conforms to this conception, but in reality it has rapidly gone beyond it.
Although no actual aggression had taken place in Europe, NATO came into being because the danger was so grave that a permanent and relatively united military defense was essential. Each member of the Alliance keeps its own national armed forces, but not all are given the same role. As the predominant military power, the United States has the decisive arms and the right to use them. The European states provide the larger part of the troops slated to stand an initial blow, and to this end each puts part—or in the case of Germany, all—of its national army at the disposal of a unified High Command, headed by an American general. The strategic concept of such a permanent coalition is inevitably a reflection of the military position and policies of the country which has the major responsibility. The European forces are hardly more than auxiliaries, as the Romans used that word.
Institutionalized in this manner, NATO is not a classical alliance but rather a true military confederation—an association of states that have decided on a common defense of particular territories, for which purpose they have created representative bodies, as well as various common military services and a common strategy. As with all other confederations which have meant something in history, this one is viable only because it contains one member "more equal than the others"—indeed, a super-power.
In assuming and maintaining heavy obligations toward Europe, the United States has undoubtedly felt that it was acting in its own interests. Yet NATO did not come into being and did not become a confederation owing to an imperial wish of the United States, but rather by force of circumstances. The most remarkable—one is tempted to say noble—aspect of the American hegemony in Europe lies precisely in the fact that the United States has refused to consider it the beginning of empire. Yet in a sense this is its weakness.
Without the Soviet threat the United States would hardly have been induced to recommit itself in Europe so soon after liberating it. But that this new commitment should have taken the specific form of a confederation under American hegemony was essentially due to the political structure of Europe. Economic reconstruction required a central European authority which would distribute aid in a way to promote a balanced recovery of the various countries. Political reconstruction of Germany had to take place in such a way as not to generate mistrust and disagreement between victors and vanquished. Military defense and related foreign policies had to be harmonized. But Europe, founded on the principle of national sovereignties, was organically incapable of undertaking such tasks alone. The American hegemony, willingly accepted by the European states in the dramatic period after the war, supplied the supranational power which Western Europe needed but did not possess.
If we compare the political condition of Western Europe in 1935, 16 years after the First World War, with that in 1962, 16 years after the Second, we may appreciate the positive impact of what could be called, without much overstatement, the establishment of a pax americana throughout this area.
The aim of the Atlantic Alliance has been to safeguard the liberty and democracy of its peoples. Various unpleasant contradictions to that aim could be explained, if not justified, by more urgent reasons of a military or diplomatic order. An eye had to be closed to the fact that Portugal is certainly not a democratic country, that Turkey has often fallen short of the mark, that Franco's Spain has been accepted (even though indirectly) into the Atlantic system, that no effective objection could be made to the degeneration of the French Republic into authoritarianism. What is much more serious is that though the Atlantic Alliance has helped safeguard democratic forms within most of the countries of Western Europe, it has at the same time emptied their democratic processes of no small part of their substance. In the area of foreign and military policy, each European government has come to exercise a good share of its responsibilities through the Atlantic Alliance and to that degree has escaped the control of national legislative bodies. Yet no serious attempt has ever been made to create supranational democratic institutions.
From an American point of view, this is understandable. Unlike the European countries, the United States has had such a predominant position within the Alliance that it has been able to preserve a substantial measure of its sovereignty. The American people have seen no reason to merge their own political life into that of a wider community.
But Europeans have felt a need for some form of integration going beyond military defense. Since an Atlantic union seemed a practical impossibility, the idea of European federalism has spread both among peoples and statesmen, and all sorts of plans and projects have been widely debated. A proof that the American hegemony had nothing imperialistic about it is that the United States has shown unconditional sympathy for the concept of European union, although its success was bound to end American supremacy in Europe.
At first, this American attitude was helpful, but in the longer run the effect proved to be negative. This was because neither American nor European statesmen seemed to realize that, however much they emphasized the idea that NATO was complementary to European unity, the fact was that it was impossible to strengthen the former and simultaneously organize the latter. It has become necessary to choose between two forms of supranational political power—one constituted by American hegemony, the other by an over—all European government. And in fact, the only instances where the idea of European unity has yielded results—modest but real—is where it was not in competition with the idea of American hegemony; whereas it has failed to prosper wherever the ground was covered with Atlantic vegetation.
Thus American and European statesmen have long assumed that the very substantial part of Western European foreign policy concerned with the attitude to be adopted toward the Soviets had to be planned jointly by the various Atlantic councils and commissions. Consequently no serious attempt has ever been made to establish any European institution which could determine a European foreign policy—harmonized with, but independent of, American foreign policy. Neither the Council of Europe nor the more recent project of l' Europe des patries can be considered a truly serious undertaking.
Similarly, since American participation in NATO appeared to assure the defense of Europe, Europe has failed to provide for a European defense in conventional war, and each member has been allowed the luxury of maintaining its own separate national army. In fact, it was NATO which permitted the French to keep the greater part of their forces outside Europe in an effort to preserve their obsolescent overseas empire for a few more years.
On the other hand, while the United States encouraged European union, it has not—so far—committed its own economy to help build a united European-American market. As a result, it is only in the field of economic policy that the idea of European unity has been fulfilled.
Europeanists are very proud indeed of this achievement and usually maintain that the three economic Communities form a living nucleus of European supranational power, only awaiting further development. But this is wishful thinking. The successes of the Common Market have shown that the economic integration of Europe is much less difficult than was generally supposed; if political unity is one day achieved, the Communities will have accomplished an excellent preparatory job. But European unity is something more than a mere cut in customs duties; it will exist when real supranational political power has been created, capable of deciding and carrying out economic, military and foreign policy. By themselves, the Communities are simple treaties of very advanced economic liberalization; but the power to rule, to make laws and to enforce them still rests exclusively and absolutely in the hands of the several national governments.
It might be deduced from these considerations that however wonderful the idea of European unity may be it has missed its historical chance and that to keep on thinking about it today is like beating a dead horse, since the only unity possible is Atlantic unity under the leadership of the United States. There are many Americans who contend that the Atlantic Alliance should go beyond its present military scope and become a real and true "Community," with the United States assuming much more vigorous leadership.
This doctrine cannot be refuted in the abstract. If an Atlantic Community under American hegemony were able to face the more serious political problems of our time with a good probability of success, we should enter a positive judgment in its favor and develop it coherently. This is how empires have historically been born, not because a great nation decided to establish one, but because it became that nation's role to assume and maintain supreme political power over a group of nations. In the case of Europe, however, things have not turned out in that way.
The American hegemony over the states of Western Europe was due to their extreme economic weakness after the war. Unable to defend themselves against the massive conventional forces of the Soviet Army, they required the protection of atomic weapons, then an American monopoly. Today these conditions do not apply. If nuclear war comes, the defense of Western Europe will not be really important, for the outcome will essentially be decided by the nuclear first-strike and retaliatory capabilities of the Soviet Union and of the United States. In such circumstances Europe can do nothing. The defense of Western Europe makes sense only if it is conceived and prepared as a conventional defense against a possible conventional attack. If conceived in this way, Europe can contribute largely to world stability and therefore to peace.
Leaving aside the political difficulties, we must conclude that Europe is today quite able, without undue effort, to form an army capable of defending itself against attack with conventional weapons. Its population is larger than the population of either the Soviet Union or the United States and its economy is superior to the Soviet economy and only little inferior to that of the United States. Since an attacking force should be up to three times as large as the defending army, the Soviet Union could not achieve victory with its conventional forces alone—once, that is, Western Europe had made a reasonable effort to equip itself. A "reasonable" effort would be one that provided Western Europe with a conventional defense in proportion to the strength of the Soviet conventional forces which might be used against it. (In time, the forces on both sides might be reduced by bilateral negotiations.) Western Europe should give up nuclear weapons, on the basis of an arrangement by which the United States would intervene only if the aggressor employed nuclear weapons. Such a concept of European defense would go far to ease international tensions; it would make the presence of American troops and atomic warheads in Europe superfluous, and this in turn would facilitate the search for a basis for atomic disarmament.
Quite possibly the withdrawal of American military forces from Western Europe could be traded for a parallel withdrawal of Soviet military forces from Eastern Europe. But even if such an agreement could not be reached, the defense of Western Europe still would no longer require the presence of American troops.
To return to the political difficulties of arranging this system of defense, they arise from the fact that for Western Europe to be able to assume its military responsibilities it must be able to act as a political unit through a real federal government. Under the present Atlantic system, although the European states are the most directly interested in the question of their own defense, they have only marginal responsibilities. The major responsibility is borne by a power whose main strength is on the other side of the ocean, whose military presence in Europe has become a permanent commitment, and whose strategy relies on nuclear weapons over which Europe has little or no control. Such a conception of European defense is becoming obsolete; it contributes to keeping tensions high between the United States and the Soviet Union, increases the danger of war and hinders progressive disarmament. But so long as Europe remains divided into fully sovereign states, this permanent and preëminent American commitment is necessary to hold them together.
Necessary does not mean sufficient. The authority of the United States is no longer as strong as it once was, partly because its forces are now committed over a much larger area of the world, partly because the European states no longer feel as helpless as they did in the past. Indeed, now that they are rearmed to a considerable extent and enjoying renewed prosperity, they are eager to play a more autonomous role in international affairs. Since as things stand they cannot develop a realistic picture of the role Western Europe must play in the world today, they tend to look backward for sources of inspiration and guidance. Old files in the foreign ministries are dusted off and re-studied. Once again we hear the former great themes of foreign policy-the grandeur nationale for France, the Wiedervereinigung (reunification) for Germany, the temptation of double-dealing for Italy, the role of a wise mediator for Britain. For the most part these are themes that in the present world have lost all meaning.
To keep its European protégés united, the United States finds itself forced more and more to tolerate, and even to take over as its own, many of their irresponsible claims. When it rendered its independent judgment on the Suez adventure, and took the liberty of opposing it, it was called a bully. It must accept the decision of Britain and France to make atomic bombs purely for reasons of national prestige. It must condone the fact that none of its allies ever completely fulfills the military commitments which are made each year in the councils of NATO. It could not dissuade France from engaging the greater part of her armed forces not for the defense of Europe but in a lost cause in Algeria. It must allow the German myth of reunification to complicate, if not prevent, a reasonable compromise with the Soviet Union. It cannot prevent Portugal from sending large bodies of troops to Angola nor can it influence Belgian and British interests to stop intriguing in Katanga. It must accept the fact that Europe as a whole is extremely reluctant to make sufficient sacrifices to help the emerging countries, or, as in the case of France, makes them largely to maintain old imperial ties. Summing it all up, Western Europe, thanks to American protection, has become a paradise of political, military and social irresponsibility.
For the advanced democracies, the temptation is strong to become simply satisfied societies. Ready to do business with the rest of the world, but indifferent to the main currents of what is happening there, they appear mainly anxious to defend their position among the privileged of this earth. Switzerland and Sweden furnish examples of this attitude. It is of little use to moralize from outside; each of the advanced democracies must learn of itself to become aware that its own future is linked with that of the entire world and that to a considerable extent the future of all depends on what each will or will not do with its own power. To cease dreaming of restoring situations as they were in the past; to help provide for one's own defense to the full measure of what is possible; to study how to contribute to atomic and possibly to general disarmament; to accept the sacrifices necessary to help the emerging countries progress toward social and economic as well as political democracy; to adopt policies toward the Communist world which foster the liberalizing currents existing there rather than the totalitarian forces which now predominate—these are the new tasks of the advanced democracies. This is their "New Frontier."
The United States cannot be said to have risen to this challenge with all its strength and intelligence, but at least it feels the gravity of the challenge and endeavors to face it. It is unlikely to succeed, however, unless Western Europe, the second great center of advanced democracy in the world, commits its own forces fully. This it is incapable of doing because its political structure of national sovereignties does not allow it to perceive its responsibilities; and American hegemony exempts it from the effort to perceive them and, the problem understood, to proceed to the creation of the necessary common institutions and policies.
Though many recognize that the situation of NATO is most unsatisfactory, no very imaginative effort has been made to remedy it. Yet it seems likely that a critical point is approaching at which even the most reluctant will have to reconsider the whole matter afresh.
First, the fragile political balance in Western Germany seems to have begun to deteriorate dangerously. Either the Federal Republic must become engrossed in a task more important than national unification—and one that can be undertaken in concert with the other European democracies—or after having obtained all that it can from the West, it will progressively lose interest in the Atlantic Alliance. It will more and more be tempted to wonder whether neutrality, or even an Eastern orientation, will not bring some kind of Wiedervereinigung closer.
After the loss of Algeria, France finds herself face to face with her own hour of truth. Either she will continue with a strongly authoritarian régime more dedicated than ever to issues of national prestige and resentful of those who do not acknowledge in every respect her great-power status; or there will be a return to democracy, in which case the French people must be given a new sense of mission which will allow them to forget the Empire and Algeria. It is difficult to conceive of a purely national mission which would be sufficiently challenging for this purpose.
Most of the other West European countries are not in as explosive situations as are France and Germany. However, since any relaxation of world tension will weaken the American hegemony and strengthen the centrifugal forces in Western Europe, the alternatives for these other countries, too, will be to withdraw toward nationalism or to participate in a great common enterprise of democratic integration. The present effort to keep the Atlantic Alliance on its feet may stave off the crisis for a while; but it also may make it more serious and perhaps irretrievable when it comes.
As the friendship between the United States and Western Europe is more important than the particular form which it has assumed in the Atlantic Alliance, the latter should be dropped in order to maintain the former. This does not mean that it will be sufficient merely for the United States to give back effective sovereignty to the European states—to put an end to American hegemony and leave nothing in its place. That would immediately strengthen the nationalistic forces which are already so evident, with the result that Europe would be "Balkanized." The course to choose, instead, is to go back to the plan for European federal unification, conceiving it, however, for what it really is, and not as an appendage of the Atlantic Alliance. Popular feeling in Western Europe is definitely favorable to this course; and what has been accomplished in the three economic Communities has helped to undermine the resistance of economic interests.
Clearly, a move in this direction must come first and foremost from Europeans, and particularly the democratic Left, which is not so dedicated to the status quo as are the conservatives. However, though Americans are generally very reluctant to admit it, United States policy can do much to hinder or help create the conditions for European unity. Remembering that in the recent past the too-open support of the United States for the European Defense Community was strongly resented in Europe, Americans incline to think that they would not serve the cause of European unity by playing too active a part. This notion is fundamentally wrong. It is an inescapable fact that European unity means the disappearance of American hegemony in Europe. Consequently, the possibilities and means of achieving federation are necessarily conditioned by the manner in which the United States conceives and exercises its responsibilities with regard to Europe.
If the United States conceives its hegemony as a permanent feature of the European system, Europe will not be able to find the necessary political will to move of its own accord. Europeanism will continue to be a relatively superfluous appendage of Atlanticism and will hardly go beyond the economic liberalization promoted by the three Communities. But it must be remembered that in any case American hegemony is likely to become progressively weaker as restiveness in Europe increases. In order to counteract such a trend, the United States might then be tempted to adopt policies designed to maintain rather than lower world tensions and to uphold the conservative forces in Europe more and more openly. However, leftist opposition parties are likely, out of the very logic of democratic life, to come into power eventually, and in that case would probably push individual countries toward neutralism. In such conditions, the popular feelings which at present exist in favor of real European integration will fail to become a political force and in the end will completely dissolve.
On the other hand, the United States can decide to conceive its hegemony as temporary and NATO as a provisional structure fulfilling responsibilities which are intrinsically European and which should be returned to the Europeans. Such a change in outlook would imply notable changes in policy. The general American sympathy toward European unification should be translated into conscious and farseeing actions which would tie a gradual American withdrawal from Europe to the creation of a constructive political will in Europe and the beginnings of federal institutions. This will not be easy. Unlike a simple maintenance of the Atlantic system, however, it will have the advantage of being in harmony with the present requirements of world political developments and the needs of European democratic life.
The United States must be prepared to disengage itself militarily and to accept the denuclearization of Europe. It should do this on condition, however, that the defense of Western Europe against attack with conventional weapons is entrusted to a European army and not to a coalition of national armies. It will be necessary to recognize the present frontier between West and East, and thereby to accept the division of Germany; but instead of Western Germany being abandoned to the unavoidable nationalistic resentments natural to a sovereign state, it would become a vital part of the new European federal democracy.
Two different but equally great challenges have been hurled by the Communist world and by the emerging countries at the great advanced democracies of the West. They can be met only if there is a very strong political and moral commitment from the peoples living on both sides of the North Atlantic. For Western Europe to assume its share of such a commitment is impossible, however, as long as it remains an irresponsible military and political dependency of the United States.