THE Communist military offensive in the Far East has given hard blows this year to the anti-Communist coalition in the West, and the Communist political offensive in the West greatly damaged the anti-Communist coalition in the Far East. As a result, the grand alliance formed in the West after the last war and strengthened by constructive measures for defense like the Marshall Plan and NATO is no longer what it was. It has not been so much broken as changed in substance, from something hard into something soft. When pressure is applied at one point, that point tends to yield; when attractions are offered at another point, that point tends to respond.

Granted that things which are hard are often brittle also and that there is danger they may break when the strain becomes too great. If the grand alliance as it was had been subjected to the strain of a direct Soviet attack it might have held or it might have broken; probably it would have held, and the probability deterred its enemies from trying. But what is soft lacks strength even as a deterrent. Does the alliance as it is now taking shape, soft but nevertheless still adherent in many of its parts, have enough tensile strength to continue to exist and even become in time the matrix in which new and effective agreements among some of the non-Communist Powers can crystallize?

Politically, the free world stood at its strongest at the start of the Korean war in June 1950. The Security Council of the United Nations voted that there had been an "armed attack" on South Korea and followed this by recommending that members furnish assistance to repel it. The greatest postwar emergency since the decision to break the Berlin blockade found the three chief Western nations together.

Militarily, the free world was probably at its strongest in the months immediately following, even though the forces of the individual nations were not fully developed. This was because its will to fight was at the peak. The nations which voted to stop North Korea and its backers by force did so reluctantly; but they believed not only that they were in the right but that they were risking less in stopping aggression then and there than in temporizing until it became more formidable.

The decline from that peak has been continuous and in the last year precipitate. Drastic alterations have occurred in the relative strategic positions of the Allied and the Soviet blocs; in the psychology of the Western peoples and the policies of their leaders; and in the declared attitudes of the so-called "uncommitted nations," meaning those that from temperament more than reasons of geography or inherent strength hope to remain neutral in a future war and meanwhile refrain from detecting legal or moral differences in the position of the Communist and non-Communist sides, whether in particular disputes or in the large.

The downward spiral started with the divergencies inside the free world caused by the entry of Communist China into the Korean war, the long retreat of the U.N. forces and the misgivings aroused by American talk about blockading and bombing China--with the vista thus opened of a major war on the continent of Asia and the likelihood of this spreading into a general conflagration.

The speed of the spiral was accelerated after Stalin's death. The passing of the Russian despot became the convenient excuse for the Kremlin to imply that it had changed its purposes and not merely its tactics for gaining them. And it was seized on by elements in every country which thought, or hoped or wished to hope (or simply guessed that it would be popular to say they hoped), that the Soviet objectives had indeed been modified.

The evolution was hastened by alarmingly able and successful Soviet diplomacy and propaganda--a demonstration in itself that the new group rule in the Kremlin was not less formidable than the old autocrat had been, indeed quite the reverse. The results even in the United States were considerable; everybody in authority warned that the Communist menace continued intact and almost everybody was loath to match the fact by the continuance intact of taxes and of appropriations for military programs, foreign military aid, foreign technical assistance or our own Foreign Service and information programs. With some of our allies and in the so-called uncommitted nations the results were still more disruptive.


When the French National Assembly let the European Defense Community treaty die, refusing it even the dignity of decent burial, Premier Mendès-France remarked that 18 months earlier a majority for it might have been found. What had happened meanwhile? Counting back, we come to February 1953. The next month Stalin died and the Kremlin's new "soft strategy" began. It cannot have been a coincidence that the French Premier who negotiated the French abdication in Indo-China should have felt that the subsequent French rejection of the European Army was linked to the new Soviet strategy. For the two actions were quite plainly linked together.

At Geneva M. Mendès-France gained much more favorable terms than the actual situation of the French forces in Indo-China warranted. He must have known that the relaxation of Communist pressure in Asia was in preparation for the final push of the Soviet political offensive in Europe to destroy the Western defense community. We need not suppose that Mr. Molotov's entourage at Geneva whispered with the entourage of M. Mendès-France about the fruits of a possible Soviet-French accommodation. There are indications nonetheless that both sides tacitly recognized the logic of the situation. One was the announcement by M. Mendès-France that he had the power to ratify the contractual agreements restoring German sovereignty, followed by his promise not to use it. Another was his proclaimed neutrality in the E.D.C. debate in parliament. By these two decisions the French Premier made sure that he could not do anything.

If M. Mendès-France supposed for a moment that it was the superiority of his arguments that persuaded Mr. Molotov to give him a personal triumph at Geneva in the midst of a national disaster he was promptly disillusioned. The true meaning and direction of Soviet efforts was made evident when Poland, 24 hours before the scheduled beginning of the debate on the European Army, offered France a treaty of alliance and mutual assistance and warned that the formation of a European Army would lead to a third world war.

At almost any other time, perhaps, the offer of an alliance by Soviet-administered Poland would have been such a transparent propaganda dodge that it would have boomeranged and wounded its authors, accompanied by a sharp shower of Gallic witticisms. Frenchmen would have recalled the circumstances in which their last treaty with Poland was signed after the First World War, and its history. It had followed the abandonment of France by the United States and Britain--the first step toward the Second World War. We had refused to ratify the Versailles Treaty, the League of Nations Covenant or--the most important of all in French minds--the Tripartite Treaty agreed to by Wilson and Lloyd George guaranteeing France against a new German attack. The British had refused to underwrite the commitment separately from the United States. France was left terrifyingly exposed, and she did all that was left for her to do--she began to form a network of mutual assistance pacts with the "new" countries of Eastern Europe.

After the failure of the Geneva Protocol in 1925 the French position became even more precarious, for this marked the explicit reversal of British policy toward the Continent that followed the arrival of the Baldwin Government in power. Rejection of the move to make the obligations of collective security more precise ended all hope that the League of Nations might be effective in preventing or defeating aggression. The Treaty of Locarno was the substitute for the Geneva Protocol. In it Britain with fine impartiality guaranteed France against attack by Germany and Germany against attack by France. Eastern Europe was left uncovered. And that was where war eventually came.

Meanwhile France was left increasingly isolated by the British rapprochement with Germany, which continued even after Hitler's advent to power and was particularly emphasized by the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935. France was paralyzed when the Nazis occupied the Rhineland the year following. At Munich the French and British retreated together, and again when Hitler occupied Prague in contravention of Munich. Then at last Britain perceived that the prevention of aggression in Eastern Europe did indeed lie within the range of her immediate interests, and Chamberlain gave his pledge to Poland. But that pledge gained no credence in Hitler's mind; he knew nothing about the British character and the significance of a promise to fight. Both Britain and France redeemed their bond when Hitler invaded Poland. Two years and three months later Japan brought the United States to their aid.

Communist Poland's offer of a treaty on the eve of the E.D.C. debate which was never held seems not to have made French opponents of a European Army conscious of the difference between their country's situation now and in 1920. American troops are still in Europe, nine years after the end of hostilities, and President Eisenhower promised on April 16, 1954, that they would be kept there in sufficient numbers to enable the United States to do its "fair share" in defending the Atlantic area so long as the threat to that area continues. Foreign Secretary Eden made a similar announcement that Britain would keep enough forces on the Continent to make up her "fair share" of the same defense effort, and a treaty between Britain and the E.D.C. Powers detailed arrangements to "ensure the integration of British with E.D.C. forces within NATO." All this supplemented the tripartite declaration of a year earlier by which Britain and the United States undertook to regard a threat to E.D.C. as a threat to themselves.

Thus France received from the United States the substance of what 25 years ago she sought in vain. As for Britain, she held to her traditional insistence that she is more than a Continental Power--she is "of" Europe but not "in" it--but she offered what the London Times following Mr. Eden's speech called "as complete and binding a partnership as is possible." For the majority of members of the French National Assembly the commitments were not enough to offset the risks that they saw in special ties with such a powerful military and economic competitor as Germany. They did not see why, even with American and British underwriting, France should enter a relationship with West Germany which Britain would not, and which did not touch the problem of what would happen if Germany were reunited. Still under the emotional shock of two German invasions in a generation, they could not face the fact that their choice lay between two things neither of which they liked--controlled rearmament of West Germany and uncontrolled rearmament of West Germany. Nor could they raise their eyes far enough from the German danger to see the Soviet danger beyond and calculate the differences between them. Apart from intrinsic differences, the two dangers differ for France in this stubborn respect: Britain and the United States view them differently than France does and will determine their attitude toward her largely by the attitude she takes toward them.

It would be a chilling and bitter result if the breakdown of E.D.C. were left as the final upshot of nearly a decade of effort by France and Germany to adjust themselves to their close neighborhood and of friendly help by other nations to make it easier for them to behave as good neighbors in a West European community. The great sections of public opinion in both countries which looked forward to a new era of understanding must be relied on principally in this crisis to see that no irretrievable steps are taken on either side. We shall not help by attributing the breakdown solely to French nationalism, by reproaching the Germans for showing new nationalist tendencies in their disappointment or by denouncing all nationalism as "narrow" and "bad." Nationalism is by definition the basis of any international agreement. Most adjectives are subjective. We did not call the spirit of nationalism that saved Free France from Pétain bad; we are not sorry that it has kept France and Italy clear of domination by international Communism or that it took Jugoslavia out of the Soviet orbit; we count on it to continue to fight Soviet puppet rule in East Germany; we hope it will be as vigorous in South Asia now that the colonial era is ending as it was while the struggle for independence was against Western Powers rather than domination by Communist dictatorship; we shall rejoice when it one day redeems Eastern Europe.

As the E.D.C. debate in Europe moved through its successive phases the only aim of the American Government was to be as helpful as possible to the forces working for West European friendship and defense. The Eisenhower commitment just mentioned was only one in a long line of friendly statements and encouraging actions. But we have tended to bear down too hard on the logic of a situation which was only one part logic and three parts feeling. We had gone to such really great lengths to help make E.D.C. possible that we could not believe that even so it might be impossible, and we had used such persuasive arguments in its favor that we had persuaded ourselves that no substitute would serve. Neither did we fully understand the importance attached by M. Mendès-France to strengthening the backward French economy before linking it more closely with the vigorous and expanding German economy, and his determination not to force the pace toward economic integration by political and military integration. Urged on by some of its most indiscreet supporters in the Senate, the Administration pressed what was a French scheme for utilizing German forces in the defense of Western Europe to the point where it was a French scheme no longer; suddenly it seemed not the child of MM. Schuman and Pleven so much as an American machination, the sine qua non of continuing American support of France, not for the benefit of the two countries jointly or of Europe as a whole so much as to serve American interests.

Our present business is not to continue arguing those differences but to learn from our experience. We begin again. We start building up from the bottom toward the achievement of as much of the program for a Western defense community as practicable, instead of trying to water down the E.D.C. to a point where it might be acceptable to its French opponents. Positions on E.D.C. had hardened to the point where they could not be chipped away. Now the stark choices confronting France may become more clear. Some who were sure they were right in rejecting E.D.C. in the last days of August may hesitate to accept some of the logical alternatives.

One course would be for France to try desperately to prevent any and all German rearmament. This would be the equivalent of opposing something that will indubitably take place regardless of French opposition or approval, namely the achievement of West German sovereignty. M. Mendès-France himself has approved that and it will be accomplished in one way or another at an early date. Chancellor Adenauer worked to avoid an independent German army, but there will be one unless there is a German army coördinated with the other armies of Western Europe at the same time West Germany becomes sovereign.

Another alternative would be to make a treaty with Soviet Russia "over Germany's back," as a former Socialist Premier of France described it to the writer. There are many voices in France urging that attempts be made again and again to reach an "understanding" on Germany with the Soviets. Some connect this with a project for general disarmament, including the abolition of nuclear weapons. Do they actually hope for Soviet agreement to any scheme for unifying Germany by democratic processes, one that does not end by turning the country over to the Communists, or to any scheme for disarmament that provides for either side to ascertain whether the other is doing what it promised to do? Would anything less really be acceptable to most Frenchmen?

Even those who mistrust Germany the most must recognize that the Bonn Government showed discipline and restraint in the past year in the face of disappointments abroad and growing restlessness at home. Several of Chancellor Adenauer's domestic critics long out of sight suddenly reappeared on the political scene to demonstrate how little they had forgotten and how little learnt since Hitler took over. He also had to overcome the inevitable efforts of German reactionaries to exploit the difficulties of a reconciliation with Germany's traditional foe and moderate the ambitions of German businessmen looking for trade openings in the East. Against him, too, were the neutralists of all colors. Neutralism does not appeal simply to humanitarians who fear the Russians and think only of ways to keep Germany out of another war; it also attracts nationalists who hold conceited ideas about Germany's ability to act as middleman between Soviet Russia and the West--a short step from thinking she can blackmail first one and then the other. The refugees and expellees from the Eastern zone have criticized Chancellor Adenauer for postponing demands for reunification (which for them means a return home) in favor of integrating Western Germany with Western Europe. They are only one element making up the general longing for unity and independence, channelled more recently into discontent that those who promised independence to Western Germany have withheld it so long.

None of these tendencies was unexpected, nor, unfortunately, was it unexpected that they should have been tremendously strengthened by the French refusal to collaborate in E.D.C. The aim of identifying German needs and hopes with some larger cause than Germany herself has received a severe check--among the broad masses of the people who followed Chancellor Adenauer and with him himself, as his bitter comment showed. Nationalism is a powerful force in Germany just as it is in France; yet as Meyer Handler advised in one of his dispatches from Bonn, we must distinguish between nationalism and nationalists. The German nationalists are there, and the job is to keep them from the saddle; this will not be done by neglecting to consider the national interests of Germany but by trying to satisfy them in as broad a framework of coöperation as possible. What we seek is the most practicable assurance that German nationalists will not once again menace the world, and we wish in particular to try to make sure that they will not menace the world following a marriage of convenience with the Soviets. It was the omission of this factor in the whole E.D.C. debate in France which people outside France found the greatest difficulty in understanding.


The situation we face is the typical Clausewitz-Leninist concept of unified war in which political and military weapons are used interchangeably to divide and destroy us. Our object is to prevent our enemies from succeeding--a much harder program than theirs because it depends on will power and restraint, not on manœuvre and small military aggressions as part of a continuing political offensive. To succeed, we must be willing to remain indefinitely on a war footing without setting our minds on war. Our own strengths for this are not so overwhelming that we can slough off hesitant allies except after the longest and most persistent effort to show them the community of our interest and persuade them to enlist as effectively as possible to defend it.

Europe feels that she is more in danger in the "front line" in case of an atomic war than we in the "rear." This estimate omits to note that it might not be logical for the Soviets to make an initial attack on the front line. In a war in which the opening phase could be decisive their first aim would be to cripple the essential power of their enemy. Where does that reside? In the United States, which alone possesses the power to counter a blow in Europe by a blow at the Soviet heartland plus the power in a long war to out-produce and out-fight the Soviet armies. In view of this, there is a natural American preoccupation which so far seems not to have been taken into account in Europe: the first attack may be without warning; it may be on the United States; it may be coupled with a Soviet threat to Europe and an offer to let Europe off the horrors befalling the United States if she will at once declare her neutrality or at least "wait and see." Faced with such alternatives, would every European government choose the risk of immediate devastation rather than the risk of Communist domination? Europeans, then, are not alone in wondering about the solidity of their alliances in times of mortal danger.

Such speculations do not merely bring back to us once more the absolute necessity of collective defense planning and effort (dispersal of forces, alternate series of bases, extension of warning systems, mobile task forces for special missions, ready forces to deter aggression in Western Europe, and so forth); they also emphasize the need of maintaining a functioning collective security system. The United States must stand firm for collective security and watch very sharply to see that the mechanisms for supporting it are not weakened anywhere. In the United Nations, in particular, the chance for collective action afforded by the "Uniting for Peace" Resolution must be kept alive. The United Nations is too important for good or ill to be neutral in a crisis. If members faithful to its purposes do not expect and plan to rally it against aggression, waverers will seize on its peacemaking functions to excuse a policy of wait and see--ending perhaps in mediating between the aggressor and the corpse of his victim, as some seriously proposed at the low point of the Korean war.

At Geneva M. Mendès-France seemed to respond to Communist pressure in Asia by accepting the demise of the European Defense Community--a great victory for the Soviet Union, as Pravda put it, the greatest defeat for the West in a long series of defeats, as M. Spaak put it. Still, that victory and that defeat were not final. One more Communist push was needed, and Peking and Moscow made ready to give it. Foreign Minister Chou Enlai announced the determination to take Formosa; the Quemoy islands were bombarded; and Soviet jets shot down a U. S. naval plane in the Sea of Japan. This threatening talk and action might have been planned with the incidental hope of making some of the conferees at Manila more cautious about committing their countries to an effective defense system in Southeast Asia. But the timing was much more with an eye to Europe, where the Soviet strategy of alternately frightening people away from strong measures by strong measures and attracting them by soft talk of "peaceful coexistence" was due for a showdown. The final test of the efficacy of Soviet diplomacy and propaganda in the current phase of the cold war will be whether or not they prevent any compromise that restores the possibility of Franco-German collaboration and brings German resources into the preparations to meet a possible Soviet attack.

The British Government was as distressed as the United States to see E.D.C. destroyed. But it too is under pressure in Asia--Communist pressure exercised via New Delhi, ably supported by left-wing British Labor. It is finding among other things that regional alliances which it trusted to avoid the difficulties raised by plans for direct collective action through U.N. can have the same drawbacks for a far-flung Commonwealth. Indeed, those difficulties were presented in an extreme form by India's violent opposition to any defense pact in Southeast Asia which implied that the Communists might not have halted their pressure for good when they signed the cease-fire in Indo-China.

Prime Minister Nehru is fully entitled, of course, to hope that a new era opened in the relations of the Communist and non-Communist worlds with that event and to base his country's policy on his personal confidence that this hope will prove justified. But the thesis that any effort to establish a basis for joint action in the future against possible aggression is an affront to the Communists, and hence is to be deplored and if possible thwarted, raises difficult questions for other nations. No matter how respectful they may be of the Gandhian inheritance of nonresistance, or how aware of the sensitivity of India's colonial scars, or how sympathetic toward the efforts of India's new leaders to raise her economic and social levels and remedy her chronic weakness, other nations must wonder how far they can adapt their policies to suit those who completely disbelieve in what seem to be the realities of present international life. The horns of the dilemma are particularly sharp for Britain. Unfortunately, a strong house cannot be built on one wall of a foundation. One wall is Europe, the other is Asia.

Containment in its valid sense--the sense in which we originally understood it--is not in conflict with what we call coexistence; but it is in conflict with what we think the Communists mean by coexistence. We want to establish a system of containment--coexistence in our sense--offering the best security that further Communist aggression, intervention and infiltration are not to end in the loss of independence by any more free countries anywhere, East or West. That is the objective of the defense pact for Southeast Asia and of any new program which the NATO Powers, or some of them, undertake in Europe.

The slogan of one of the great parties entering this fall's campaign is "Peace, progress and prosperity." Amen. But not in the sense of the slogan of Wilson's campaign managers in 1916 that he had "kept us out of war," or of Roosevelt's 1940 campaign argument that lend-lease would be enough ("I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." Boston, October 30, 1940.) In both cases the enemy thought our Presidents meant it, as in a way, of course, they did; the enemy imagined that peace in itself was all that the American people wanted and required. That understanding encouraged him to present us with situations in which we did, in fact, have to fight. It is not easy to avoid frightening our partners into thinking us too reckless to be trusted while showing our antagonists that we are to be feared. But that is the mean we have to find and hold.

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