THE postulates of a study of the defense of Western Europe can be stated briefly.

We can assume in the first place that the Soviet Union strives to spread Communism throughout the world and to dominate the world. It is true that very little of the doctrine of Marx and Engels is left in present-day Soviet Russia, and that a state based on Stalinist dictatorship and state capitalism can hardly be said to seek to advance Communist ideology. But the fact remains that Soviet Russia strives to spread Stalin's version of it, and that the series of actions which express and promote that political aim show that she seeks to control the rest of the world.

A second assumption is that the rulers in the Kremlin will employ every means they consider expedient to attain their goal and that, should it be necessary, they will employ the means of war.

Another assumption is that, in the present world situation, an open resort to armed force by the Soviet Union will launch the Third World War. Despite the immense masses of population in Russia, her satellite countries and her Chinese ally, their military potential is and will remain considerably below the potential of their opponents. The conclusion must be that as long as the Soviet dictators base their decisions on reason they will not openly resort to war unless--an important qualification--they see an opportunity of changing the present unfavorable ratio between their resources and those of their enemies by gaining some quick successes in a surprise offensive.

It must not be forgotten that for some time the Soviet Union has maintained in readiness great land forces supported by strong air forces, thereby creating the possibility of a surprise attack and initial success. These land and air forces are so grouped as to be capable of aggression in several directions, as well as of general defense. A large part of the Russian industry has been dispersed so as to enable it to supply the various groupings in the vicinity, even though "vicinity" is naturally a relative term in view of the vast Russian distances and the condition of the transport system. Indeed, these factors make warfare on widely separated fronts a decidedly risky undertaking for the Soviet Union.

Should the rulers of Soviet Russia decide upon open war--perhaps after gaining further successes in the cold war--then only one road exists by which they may hope to progress toward final victory through the expansion of the Russian war potential at the expense of the West. That is the road to Western Europe, to the shores of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. And if Soviet Russia sets out on that road, she will also have to seize the Middle East.

The occupation of Western Europe would bring Russia raw materials, industrial capacity and skilled labor in enormous quantities; its coasts would provide bases from which Russian submarines could further damage the Western war potential; its fields would provide space for airports and launching sites for the guided missiles which would help toward the destruction of Western power. The Middle East produces oil; once it has been overrun it opens the door into Africa; and, in any case, it is an obvious place for severing the Western link with the Far East. The Mediterranean, from the Middle East to the Iberian Peninsula, is the ancient World Sea which has in such great part shaped the history of mankind through so many centuries.

If Soviet Russia goes to war to win the hegemony of the world she will finally, of course, have to impose her will on the United States of America. Now it clearly is impossible to conquer the American continent and occupy it with land forces. Russian strategic air forces would therefore have to play the decisive part in destroying the American war potential. But the Russians will never be able to subdue the United States unless they have Western Europe and possibly also the Middle East in their power.

Here and there in the world there are other prizes which the men in the Kremlin might like to pick up. But only a chance to seize Europe will tempt them to open war. The Soviets hardly can want a third world war to start in Asia. The concentration of Western forces in Korea, directly threatening important Russian centers, would, at the outbreak of an open conflict, subject the Soviet Union to the dreaded prospect of a war on two fronts.

During the Second World War the Western Allies were unwilling or unable to remember the everlasting objectives of the Soviet Union. Now they have awakened and are preparing their defenses. This task must not weaken their determination to prevent war by all means possible. It is a fact, however, that weakness and leniency are simply grist for the Russian mill. Only strength and power impress the Soviet leaders. The Western strength now being built up will therefore have to be greatly increased. This is an arduous task and demands resolute leadership.

The decision whether the West will be able to stand firm against Moscow and attain its political aim will turn on three factors. For purposes of discussion the first may be described as the question of leadership, the second as the question of means, and the third as the question of information. Let us take them up in that order.


To understand better the different elements entering into the factor of Western leadership we must review the political and strategic positions of East and West. The end of the Second World War found Soviet Russia in a strong situation, and subsequent gains in the cold war have built up buffers of friendly and satellite states both east and west; in the north she is protected by the Arctic Sea and to the south by strong natural frontiers and neutral states. At two points on this protective perimeter fighting is at present going on, with the Soviet Union a nonbelligerent but highly interested onlooker--Korea, where joint United Nations forces (with the United States as the driving power) have taken up the Communist challenge, and Indo-China, where the French Union is doing the same with American support.

The United States and adjacent Canada must be the ultimate objectives of the Soviet Union's effort at world domination. They are almost wholly surrounded by oceans. On the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific are states and islands which either border on Soviet Russia's protective perimeter or dominate her coasts. All save China, now under Communist control, are friendly to North America and wish to avoid coming under Soviet control because they dislike the dictatorial government, the low standards of living, the absolute denial of human rights and the slavery which prevail alike in the Soviet Union and the satellite countries. In principle, therefore, although there may be various differences in short-term interests they have the same primary interest as the United States.

In the West the situation is especially plain. The countries of Western Europe afford the United States protection because their geographic situation has so far prevented the Soviet Union from reaching the Atlantic coast. Should they be overrun, Russia would be in a far stronger strategic position for the final battle with the United States. The United States would still be far from lost, since it could considerably reduce the value of this Russian advantage by destroying (either during or after the Russian advance) all the installations and much of the resources which give Western Europe its strength.

The prospect for these countries themselves is altogether different. To be overrun by the Soviet Union would mean the end of their existence. Like the present satellite countries, they would be sucked dry for the benefit of the Soviets; their populations would be terrorized and scattered; their industries would be dismantled and transferred to Siberia unless previously destroyed by American bombs. Perhaps after many years they would be liberated--if the United States finally came out on top. By then, however, the worst would have happened. The United States would have had temporary protection at the price of their obliteration. Clearly they cannot feel attracted to such a feat of heroism and naturally they can have but one principal aim: to assure their own survival.

More precisely defined, therefore, the fundamental common interest of the United States and Canada on the one hand and of the Western European states on the other lies in preventing the Soviet Union from starting a third world war while denying her victory through the cold war. To make certain that if war comes Soviet Russia will lose it, and that the Soviet leaders know this, must be the ultimate goal of Western strategy. The necessities for the success of that strategy will, in turn, determine the structure of the joint Western military organization and the size of the force to be created.

The build-up of the organization and the preparations for its use in the event of war require the direction of a strong and determined leader who has the above ends very clearly in view. If it is agreed that the Western forces, after some initial withdrawals, should be able to halt the aggressive hordes from the East, the first question is whether they could hold out long enough for the further build-up which would enable them in turn to push the Russians back. And could they then conceivably press the counterattack so far as to rout and destroy the Soviet land and air forces within the Russian border?

If the Western land and air forces were developed to a pitch of perfection they might, with the assistance of strong fifth column activity, succeed in liberating the satellite countries and possibly might start a revolution in Russian states like the Ukraine. It is not justifiable to believe, however, that they would be able to cope with the obstacles presented by the vastness of the Soviet Union, its bad roads and railways, its gruelling climate. The Soviet Government has made full use of its geographical advantages by dispersing its productive machine throughout Asiatic Russia. Napoleon reached Moscow, and Hitler was halted just outside the city gates; but armies seeking to conquer and occupy Soviet Russia this time would have to continue far beyond Moscow. In the end they would choke in space. The West can defeat Soviet Russia only by neutralizing her main source of strength--her vastness--by an overpowering air arm.

This air arm, the strategic air force, would first have to drive the Russian strategic air force from the skies by destroying its airfields, bases, aircraft factories and, so far as possible, its sources of raw materials. After that, it would have to embark upon an unrelenting effort against the rest of the industries and establishments which form the basis of Russian military might. Only then would the West be able to impose its will on the Soviet Union; only then would the West have won. If the Western Powers are determined to keep Moscow from going to war their task, then, is dual: to build an air arm sufficient to achieve the objective just described; and to create the means of preventing the Soviet Union from conquering the whole of Western Europe during the time which the strategic air force needs to perform its task. I mention these general strategic considerations here because they are controversial, and conflicting views upon them affect the plans for building up the necessary forces. The primary requisite is that the Western countries work together under a leader who knows what he is doing and sees where he is going.

Obviously the United States must supply this leadership. This is not because of the Atlantic Pact but because of the realities of America's strategic position and financial and economic power. The Pact is an agreement among the United States, Canada, the countries forming the Western bridgehead on the Eurasian continent, and the islands of Great Britain and Iceland, plus (since the recent invitation) Turkey and Greece. In this defense organization all members are equal. The equality causes difficulties, since it plainly is impossible for all of the 14 countries to exert an equal influence in the conduct of a war in which all the enemy's decisions would be centralized in one spot--the Kremlin. All the member states have a say in the matters under discussion in NATO bodies--and it is proper that they should, since the European countries are threatened most severely and directly. Only the highest permanent body of military experts--the Standing Group--to which the Supreme Commanders are directly responsible, is restricted in numbers, being composed of representatives of the United States, Britain and France; and there already has been much oppositon even to this degree of centralization.

There is another important reason why NATO will never offer an effective solution to the problem of thwarting the Soviets or ensure the efficient conduct of operations in the event that war comes. The struggle between the Soviet bloc and the countries which resist Stalinist domination is world-wide. The United States, Britain, France and, to a lesser degree, certain other countries as well, must bear in mind that they have interests in other parts of the world outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and that sometimes these interests must determine their attitude within the NATO bodies. Moreover, the United States knows that although most of the "North Atlantic" countries are dependent on it for economic and military aid, American resources, which obviously have limitations, must support countries outside NATO--Japan and Korea, for example. The United States must look in all directions. To membership in the Atlantic Pact it has now added membership in the two agreements for Pacific security, one a tripartite pact with Australia and New Zealand, the other with the Philippines. The Atlantic Pact and the Pacific security pacts offer each member state the welcome certainty of support from the other members in case it is attacked. This alone makes these pacts indispensable; but none of them provides a guarantee that the build-up of the defense effort of the whole anti-Soviet world will be rapid or efficient or appropriate.

NATO has not succeeded in inducing all the participating countries to undertake their defense preparations energetically. It has been unable to prevent serious delays. It has not produced the necessary degree of subordination of national interests to the larger interests even of the Atlantic community. I repeat that in its present form NATO does not offer the necessary guarantees of quick decisions and effective leadership in war. Its best achievements have come as a result of the well-understood self-interest of the largest partner, the United States, which has increased its war production in peacetime to unprecedented heights, put the nations in economic distress on a firmer footing, given material assistance to others to enable them to build up their own forces, and sent troops to Europe ready to fight. In these ways the United States has spurred the other members to greater effort. Yet this is but a beginning.

The United States reproaches Europe for her disunity, and quite rightly. Her efforts could and should be far better coördinated. Certainly both the preparations for a fight against Stalin's schemes for conquest, and the fight itself, if necessary, would be carried out much more effectively if only the United States could join hands with a united Europe. How much simpler it would then be for the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe to visualize the structure of his command organization and the channel through which he would receive his political directives! Yet urgent as is the need for greater unity in Europe, we would be foolish to imagine that it can be attained at short notice, even against the background of the mounting danger. International relationships in Europe are too old, too strongly rooted in the history of the Continent and in the character and nationalism of the various peoples. All that cannot be wiped out in one stroke. Europe herself must seek hard and earnestly for an ever-increasing degree of integration, but the process will be so protracted that it will have no significant bearing on the present dangerous situation. A solution to NATO's inadequacies can emerge only from recognition of the fact that no defense against Stalinist imperialism is possible without the assistance of the United States. This is the undeniable reality which compels the whole free world to accept the leadership of the United States in the preparation for defense and the conduct of operations in case of war.

Since I have stressed this primary aspect of the problem, I would like to emphasize its corollary. Recognition and acceptance of American leadership must never mean that the other countries are excluded from consultation or from a very definite say where their interests are concerned. It is essential that all have a chance to make themselves heard. Only if the best experts from all countries are able to put their knowledge and experience in the service of the common cause will the United States be enabled to shoulder successfully the heaviest burden of the common security. The United States should undertake not to act without previous consultation with other countries in regard to their interests, as defined by their nature or the region of the world concerned. These are delicate matters, requiring tact and careful handling. On certain problems people in other countries have a deeper knowledge and a longer experience than do Americans. The possession of a strong financial, economic and strategic position does not justify the treatment of other countries as minors; to act as if it did breeds opposition and not the concord we all seek.

The lesson of the situation thus roughly outlined is that we must find a solution for the problem offered by NATO's inadequacies. The solution will require an agreement on the basic policy toward the Soviet Union which would be followed in time of war. It also calls for the creation of two supreme organs to carry out that policy, one in the political and one in the military sphere. As explained above, NATO cannot provide those supreme bodies, and for obvious reasons the United Nations is not the suitable organization to supply them. A Combined Chiefs of Staff Organization, consisting of no more than three high-ranking military men, with the American member in the chair, should be set up. To such a body all the non-Communist countries could, on the highest level, delegate the military conduct of operations in case of a global war. These Combined Chiefs of Staff, with their seat in the United States, would issue directives to the Supreme Commanders in all parts of the world and take decisions on the allocation and use of forces--especially long-range strategic air forces not allocated to any particular theater.

During the course of a war the Combined Chiefs of Staff would receive directives from a top-level political body, acting on behalf of all the countries united in the global struggle. I believe that it would be of the utmost importance for those countries to agree that this Supreme War Council would be composed of no more than three members, of whom the President of the United States or his representative should be the chairman. To enable the Supreme War Council and the Combined Chiefs of Staff to be advised quickly of the views of countries not represented in the two high bodies, those countries might station high-ranking political and military representatives in the United States, especially entitled to speak for the special interests of their countries before the Supreme War Council and the Combined Chiefs of Staff, and to make suggestions to them. The difficult decision as to which countries should be represented in the two high bodies is beyond the scope of these preliminary proposals.


The second question is that of means--the amount, type and quality of the armed forces which must be built up. Here the principal difficulty continues to be the fear of many Western countries that a stronger military effort might weaken their economies and thus cause social unrest that would play into Stalin's hand. But the United States cannot be expected to go on indefinitely adding to the number of American troops in Europe. Were it to do so it would fail in its main task--not always understood--which is to act as controller of the whole global effort. Reserves must be at the disposal of the central headquarters if it is to take action where needed, and the larger the reserves the more opportunities for effective action.

It is obvious that armed forces are significant instruments of power against the Soviet Union only if they are ready to be deployed immediately the Soviet Union starts aggression. It is clear, too, that those ready forces must be capable of preventing the Soviet Union from gaining its first objectives by surprise, and that there must be among them a large slice of the air arm to open the counteroffensive immediately against the enemy war potential. To prevent Russian aggression in Europe, and to stop it if it occurs, there must be locally available land forces, coöperating closely with air forces whose task it would be to keep the enemy out of the skies and give tactical support to ground troops. Calculations of the number needed must be based on the strength of enemy forces available for use against Western Europe and the most probable way they would be employed. The personal evaluation of all the factors involved by the commander who will have to handle the Western forces is an inseparable part of those calculations. This evaluation will not be attempted here. But it is plain that the forces now available or planned for the near future are insufficient, not only on the European front but in the Middle East and in other theaters where Soviet Russia might attack with her own troops and those of her satellites.

In the circumstances the essential problem is how to obtain the maximum effect with the smallest means, not only in the use of ground forces but in airfields, communications, the command organization and all other establishments essential to the conduct of a war. The principal task of the ready forces is to hold out during the first phase of the fighting. They must be highly mobile, stripped of everything not absolutely essential. However, greater mobility is not to be sought by increasing the number of vehicles but on the contrary by decreasing them through eliminating services that are necessary only during prolonged warfare. The soldier's fighting spirit and efficiency are much more likely to be high if he is allotted a task he can accomplish than if he is pampered in the attempted execution of an impossible task. Such streamlining would result more or less automatically in a needed reduction of the size of headquarters and staffs. The very best equipment available should be put in the hands of the ready forces and not saved for a later stage; the objective is maximum firepower and minimum encumbrances. These forces will have to be superbly trained, which means long-service personnel as far as possible. The air arm should receive first consideration.

Safeguarding the sea lanes is the obvious task of the great naval Powers, assisted by the smaller countries whose geographic position makes it desirable for them to have naval forces. The strategic air force which is of such great importance for the attainment of the ultimate goal can be provided only by the advanced industrial countries already in possession of large aircraft industries, namely, the United States, Canada and Great Britain. The tactical air forces, destined to act in close coöperation with the land forces, should be provided by the same countries that provide the land forces, but reinforcements by other countries are both possible and permissible.

In principle, the European land forces must be provided by the European countries themselves, including Germany, with Britain providing an important share since her first line of defense against operations on land lies on the Continent. As outlined earlier, United States ground forces should not be heavily committed to a certain front from the beginning, since the United States must retain immediate control over the general reserves and be able to deploy from its advantageous central location. But American troops must remain in Europe as a token that the people of the United States are fighting shoulder to shoulder with European people all over the world. And as long as Europe has not achieved the minimum required strength American forces must fill the gap.

If the political integration of Europe were an actual possibility in the near future a European Army would naturally be part of that development, but since it is as yet little more than a distant target, it is a mistake to reckon on a single European Army Corps. After all, is not the possession of armed forces the principal attribute of state sovereignty? While the European nations cling jealously to other aspects of sovereignty the emergence of a European Army seems improbable. The Pleven Plan seems to be an attempt to get ahead of the clock. If it is motivated less by the desire for such an army than by fear of a new or reborn Wehrmacht, then it must be said that fear is a bad teacher. But though we should do well not to count too heavily on the success of the Pleven Plan we may hope that it will be possible to reach agreement on a common strategic doctrine, to standardize arms and equipment, and to set up European staff colleges and military academies. These are the right measures to pave the way for a European Army. The European countries must produce their own equipment, with assistance from the United States in making full use of their industrial potentialities.


It is a grim and depressing thought that as long as the ready forces in Europe are too weak to do their job, we shall have to reckon very seriously with the possibility that, in the event of war, large parts of the vital regions of Europe may have to be abandoned. But the vital interests of both Europe and the United States call for the defeat of the Soviet Union if it attacks, and the concentration of all available forces on a single front, important as the particular region may be, would never prevent the Kremlin from winning the war. We cannot be confident that we can keep Western Germany out of Russian hands should a war break out in the near future, nor can we be certain that all or part of Western Europe west of the Rhine will remain in our hands. But the way to ward off such a catastrophe is not to adopt a strategic plan that would merely play into the Kremlin's hands, but to redouble our efforts to inform the European people of the realities of the situation and the need for herculean efforts.

It is of paramount importance to keep a solid hold on the great bastion of Africa, and to make due preparations for integrating Spain--a bridgehead to Africa--into the defense of the European continent. It is no less essential to prevent the enemy from dominating the Mediterranean, gaining entrance into the Middle East and extending his sphere of influence in the Far East. The primary purpose of the West is to prevent war. To do that we must be prepared to wage it on many fronts, while at the same time holding over the rulers of the Kremlin the threat of utter devastation by Allied air operations if war is their choice. Denmark's opposition at Ottawa to the admission of Greece and Turkey to NATO, and the horror shown by most European countries at the thought of military coöperation with Franco Spain, prove how far many Europeans still are from understanding the character of world-wide collective security. Europe cannot be saved if the problem is looked at from a narrowly European point of view.

We come back, therefore, to the theme with which we began--the urgent need of stronger leadership, and NATO's incapacity to move with the needed speed and energy. The increased effort required from each Western European citizen will come only if there is stronger faith that the goal is feasible. Faced with Soviet domination and exploitation, which would mean the degradation of living standards to the Russian level, the loss of all personal freedoms, a reign of terror and the extinction of European civilization, it is hard to believe that the European nations are not now making the most intense effort possible to save themselves. But they are not. Many people seem not to understand the reality of the danger or the possibility that it can be averted if they will summon their full energies. It is hardly conceivable that even the numerous Communists in the various European countries have a clear notion of what is in store for them if once the Soviets rule their country. Certainly the idealists and theorists do not, or they would not assume that the Soviet Union is merely engaged in an ideological effort to popularize the doctrine of Marx and Engels. Their fifth column activities are supposedly for the sake of abstract Communism but actually help to extend the iron rule of imperialist Russia and of Stalinist state capitalism. And of course the naïve are reinforced by the despairing and the cynical, who seek to float with what they imagine is the wave of the future.

The third requisite for the defense of Europe is, quite simply, better information about the crisis with which we are all faced. Information must be spread, in an organized and intensive way, not only about the nature and extent of the danger but about the means of averting it. The pessimism and indifference which prevent the West from exerting its full strength can be overcome. When every European is aware of what he can expect from a Russian victory and of what he can to do help prevent it there will be a unison of devoted effort which will prevent war or, if necessary, bring victory.

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  • GENERAL H. J. KRULS, of the Royal Netherlands Army; Chief of the Netherlands General Staff and Chairman of the Netherlands Chiefs of Staff, November 1945-February 1951
  • More By General H. J. Kruls