Time for NATO to Close Its Door
The Alliance Is Too Big—and Too Provocative—for Its Own Good
THE United States, in the words used by Dr. Charles Malik in these pages, is now "entering the history of the Near East." After years of evasion and delay this country has taken up a new and more active rôle of leadership. President Eisenhower's message of January 5 to the Congress is a firm declaration of intent to preserve the Near and Middle East for the free world. Despite the difficulties the President's specific proposals encountered in the Senate, the Congress clearly supports his basic purposes.
Most of our earlier attempts to build a "position of strength" in the Middle East have foundered on the rocks of extreme nationalism, neutralism, political instability and reckless leadership. The new American policy, like those that have gone before, will have to navigate among these same rocks and reefs, in a new and more dangerous situation marked by alarming Soviet gains, by the virtual disappearance of British power and prestige, and by a pattern of unrest and conflict within a large part of the area itself in which the tolerant and the moderate are apparently being swept aside by the intolerant and the fanatical. We shall have what advantage there may be in building on prior efforts where they have succeeded and also the considerable handicap of having to clear away the wreckage of those that have failed.
The Truman Doctrine program of aid to Greece and Turkey, initiated in 1947, succeeded because the Greeks and Turks shared our aims and welcomed our help. The success of the new "doctrine" will also depend in the last analysis upon the support and the coöperation of the peoples of the "general area of the Middle East." For the Soviet challenge in the Middle East is above all a political challenge. Military commitments and economic aid can be an adequate response only if grounded in a sound political strategy.
Whatever its shortcomings of method or scope, the Eisenhower Doctrine is designed to accomplish certain things it was necessary to do, above all to make the Congress and the American people aware of the seriousness of the Soviet threat in the Middle East and to put their weight behind the President in his future efforts to keep that area free of Soviet domination. It constitutes a clear warning to the Soviets. And it is a useful, even necessary, statement of American purpose to be pondered by the peoples of the Middle East.
But having posed the counterthreat to the Soviet Union, we are now faced with a dilemma. The United States can concentrate on establishing and maintaining a military position that will provide maximum deterrence, trying to build an effective regional alliance system and holding strategic positions still in Western hands even in the face of nationalist pressure. Or it can accept a militarily inadequate situation until political conditions change. The first course would be the logical one were we at war or on the brink. Otherwise it almost certainly would use up our political credit and jeopardize gains already made, embroiling us with the very nations we desire to protect. Experiments over the past few years have already shown the futility of trying to define and apply a general plan for the defense of the Middle East in the face of widely variant local conditions, reluctance to grant use of necessary bases, and unsettled political conflicts. The second alternative means accepting for the indefinite future an unsatisfactory military posture, leaving the Middle Eastern nations to decide for themselves when they want the American assurances to become really effective. Until then there is an obvious risk, but it is one which can perhaps be reduced to tolerable proportions by concentration on those elements of military power which can be maintained in and near the area without stirring up antagonism.
The risk of a less than perfect defense posture in the area is worth taking for the very reason that Soviet advances by nonmilitary means are a greater real danger than that of armed attack, and attempts to achieve that posture at all costs can only increase vulnerability to more pressing dangers. The new doctrine, for understandable reasons, is cast primarily in military terms. Its real contribution in the Middle East itself, however, must be first of all as a backdrop for political action.
Similar considerations apply to the other part of the doctrine, the provision of military and economic aid to the nations of the Middle East. Where it is requested and welcomed, it may contribute greatly to the ability to cope with the Soviet danger. But the contemplated expenditures for arms deliveries and economic assistance cannot be expected by themselves to bring strength and stability to the Middle East or to buy its allegiance. More than that has already been spent without stabilizing the area or buying the allegiance of anybody. The aim must be more modest.
Military aid is primarily important for internal security, for morale, for prestige, for keeping a balance. No amount of it will make these nations a real military barrier against Russia. Serious risks, moreover, are attached to the spreading of arms about the explosive Arab-Israel area unless accompanied by policies which control its effects. Yet the sending of arms to some countries--to stiffen the "northern tier," to increase Lebanon's feeling of security, to consolidate Saudi Arabia's ties with the United States, even to counterbalance new Soviet deliveries to Egypt--may well be necessary.
The general justification for economic aid has been that it would contribute to stability, higher living standards and conditions less favorable to the growth of Communism, while creating good will toward the United States. So far as the Middle East is concerned, the record justifies only the conclusion that no general approach applies throughout the area and no specific amount will guarantee specific results. In Iran, American aid has been of tremendous significance; in Egypt or in Jordan it seems to have accomplished little enough.
A long-range regional program, divorced from immediately political purposes, may be essential. To deal with the pressing problems that bear down upon us now, however, the great need is for unorthodox means, for flexibility, for the authority to attach "strings" or to leave them off as the occasion demands. Whether the problem be the Arab refugees, the Jordan valley scheme, or the continuance or orderly demise of the Kingdom of Jordan, economic aid can be one of the most effective instruments of American policy. Of itself it is not a policy and will not solve the intractable problems. Used in support of definite political objectives it may be indispensable.
The real problem is to find common interests with the nations of the Middle East, for in the last analysis they cannot be kept within the free world against their will. The overriding common interest is their continued independence. They must have the conviction that their independence is not threatened from the west, and one may hope they will come to realize that it is threatened only from the north. Soviet propaganda and conduct have had a real measure of success in convincing some of them of precisely the reverse. "National liberation of the peoples of the East" has been Moscow's most effective slogan in the Arab world ever since 1917. Middle Eastern countries that have had their independence for some time, however, are far less susceptible to this kind of blandishment. Turkey and Iran are not taken in by the talk of liberation from Western "domination."
The example of Turkey is worth studying. Perhaps in recent years it has been somewhat oversold to the American public. Turkey's recent reversion to authoritarian practices and its errors of economic policy have added a note of realism to earlier estimates. Yet the country remains strong and stable, impervious to Soviet pressure and subversion, anxious to coöperate with the West, unworried over the presence of American missions, willing to provide bases. Its main concern is to be strong for self-defense and to help deter Soviet aggression. Fortunately for us it holds a key geographical position and is the strongest state in the Middle East. In some ways Turkey is unique. It has had centuries of experience with Russian imperialism. In recent years it has "faced West," in its internal reforms as in its foreign policies, to the point of being more a Western than a Middle Eastern nation.
Iranians and Arabs, we have had ample opportunity to learn, are not Turks either in traditions or in temperament. The Arabs do not look to the Turks, their former rulers, as an example or for leadership, nor have the Turks thought it worth while to make a real effort to lead them. But certain facts in the Turkish experience may be significant. The Turks went through their nationalist revolution a generation ago. It was directed largely against the West, and Soviet help was welcomed as a means of winning the fight. Turkey then went through a period of neutrality while it consolidated its independence, and finally turned to the West when it perceived the full implications of the Soviet threat. It is now willing to collaborate freely with self-confidence and no psychopathic touchiness about "sovereignty."
Can others go through this same process toward maturity, and can we afford to wait while they do? What has happened in the northern tier is in fact quite encouraging, although it often tends to be overlooked amid all the turmoil caused by the nations farther south. Iran, having passed through its period of fanatic anti-Western nationalism, may now be settling down to greater political stability. It has come to the point of abandoning its historic neutrality, a courageous decision that has received too little recognition in the West. The Shah, having taken upon himself the responsibility for defying the Kremlin and making his policy stick, is in a difficult position. He has to show his people some results, especially in economic progress. Military aid is a political necessity even though every last bit of it may not be justified on purely military calculations. Eager for American help, Iran has welcomed the new American doctrine as providing an assurance sought in vain before.
The remaining Middle Eastern member of the Baghdad Pact is in a different situation. Iraq does not border on the U.S.S.R. and is in and of the Arab world. Its present isolation from its brother Arab states is unnatural and unlikely to be permanent. No other Arab state has been drawn into the Pact, and the pull of the Arab world is inherently stronger than that of the West. In the long run Western relations with Iraq must be considered in the context of relations with the Arab nations rather than exclusively with the northern tier. This does not mean a reversal of policy now or indifference to Abdel Nasser's campaign to oust Nuri es-Said and add Iraq to his Arab bloc. America should help Iraq to hold firm, recognizing that it will remain with the West only if the West can find a sounder relationship with the rest of the Arab world. Otherwise the association becomes too great a burden for Iraq to carry. It also suffers some internal handicaps in realizing its potential for leadership of at least a large part of the Arab world. The fact that this potential exists makes it all the more important that Iraq achieve a peaceful transition from its present paternal and feudal rule to a system more securely based on the people, and to escape a position that finds it isolated in the Arab community and charged with infidelity to the sacred cause of Arab nationalism.
To the extent that common interests have been found with the states directly bordering on the Soviet Union the northern tier concept had merit. Unfortunately the Baghdad Pact was by no means the best way to bring the concept to concrete realization. Leaving aside the question whether its formation provoked the Soviet jump into the "southern tier," the failure of the West to find a basis of common interest with the Arab states other than Iraq is what brought on the grave crisis that began with the Soviet-Egyptian arms deal and has deepened ever since. It is legitimate to ask, after recent events, where one can find such a basis of common interest. The winds of Arab nationalism are blowing strong; Arab nationalism seems to have been captured by Gamal Abdel Nasser; its tone is violently anti-Western; it welcomes the friendly support of the Soviet Union against the hated "colonialists" and "Zionists."
To command these winds to calm down is futile. To make a frontal assault on nationalism, as the British and French did, is fatal. To appease "Nasserism," as the United States has had cause to discover, gains nothing. The Soviets can bid higher than any Western nation. The only hopeful course is one which frankly accepts Arab aspirations to self-determination, equality and independence, but sets limits to support of extreme claims which deny these rights to others. It is the determination of those limits that is so difficult, for Arab claims and grievances range far and wide. An essential preliminary in any case is the establishment of a certain amount of confidence on the part of the Arabs in American motives, building on the prestige gained by our stand against the recent invasions of Egypt, but maintaining necessary bargaining power in working out specific agreements with them.
It is utopian to expect calm reason and statesmanship from the Arabs. Their political leaders, for the most part, retain the spirit and the methods of revolutionaries. The American hope that somehow the achievement of independence would bring normal and coöperative relations has been borne out neither in the Middle East nor anywhere else. Nothing is so unstable in the world balance as a group of newly independent states, weak, uncertain of their frontiers and their future, jealous and suspicious of each other, resentful of the "interference" of great Powers. The Middle East today recalls the Balkans of 50 years ago. Outside Powers who fish in such waters have to gauge the force of nationalism and to accommodate their policies to it if they wish to succeed at all. But woe to those who, in pursuit of supposed advantage or of a benevolent theory or principle, abdicate powers of decision vital to their own future. The important thing is that the Arabs know where the United States stands: that it is not an enemy of their cause; but neither, as a responsible world Power, can it give a premium to irresponsibility. On a number of matters (oil production, pipelines, economic development, regional planning) the possibility of arrangements of real benefit to them should provide some incentive. Saudi Arabia, for example, has an obvious interest in such practical relationships, rather than in beating the anti-Western drums for the greater glory of Abdel Nasser.
Only in that way can the West successfully support and encourage those Arab leaders who are moderate nationalists, who do not repudiate the West and all its works, or who have a substantial political or economic interest in coöperation. Such leaders may seem hard to find at the moment. The tide has been running so strong in the other direction that they have tended to ride along with it or to keep silent. They cannot make headway if the West persists in making Abdel Nasser the sole champion of Arab nationalism who can win victories.
It may be objected that to try to walk this fine line (if it exists at all) between encouragement of "good" nationalists and appeasement of "bad" nationalists is well beyond the capacities of our diplomacy. How can the West "accept" Arab nationalism without playing into the hands of the extremists and the pro-Soviet elements at the expense of Western interests? Our only hope of doing so is by consistent official and public attitudes which give Arabs the sense that they are regarded as equals and are being treated fairly and impartially; by recognizing the futility of trying to hold Western positions based on former "imperial" relationships that are an offense to Arab feeling and serve to unite all Arabs against the West; by encouraging greater unity among Arab states desirous of maintaining freedom, and even taking a more tolerant attitude toward the Arab League if the League will itself develop a measure of tolerance; by respecting the neutrality of those Arab states that prefer it, provided it is genuine; and by a courageous attempt to tackle the question of Israel in a way that does some justice to outraged Arab feeling without feeding the fires of Arab megalomania.
This last point illustrates the basic dilemma in which the existence of unsolved and seemingly insoluble conflicts in the Middle East has placed the Western Powers. The United States, on Palestine and other thorny disputes, has not been eager to make proposals sure to be rejected and to earn the abuse of both sides. Yet it is the persistence of unsettled conflicts that has brought us to the present pass. The Soviet Union is entrenching itself not through aggression or the threat of it, not through its skill in undermining and subverting non-Communist governments, but because certain non-Communist Arab governments have invited Soviet power and influence into the area to serve their own ends. As long as there is not even an approach to a settlement, the danger will continue. The situation has elements of blackmail, but the plain fact is that the West cannot have any standing in the Arab world unless it takes positions which moderate the conflicts and which well-disposed Arab leaders can defend before their own peoples.
This is not the place to make concrete proposals on the involved controversies over the Suez Canal, Palestine, Buraimi, or the Yemen-Aden border. It is, perhaps, the place to suggest that the United States should take the lead in getting these matters into U.N. channels for solution and make the diplomatic efforts necessary for pursuing them there, and that it should not be afraid to put itself on record both as to principles and as to the major points of settlement. If there was any momentum for a new approach to the question of Palestine at the time of the cease-fire and the first appearance of the U.N. Emergency Force, it was soon lost. Attention inevitably was riveted on the pressing problems of troop withdrawal, the impasse over Gaza and the Gulf of Aqaba, and reëstablishment of the armistice (which may not work any better than it did before). Yet the urgency remains to face the real issues of boundaries, refugees, and the use and development of water resources. However unfavorable the atmosphere, we cannot delay indefinitely pushing on beyond the general points made by Secretary Dulles in his speech of August 26, 1955. Israel wants, above all, national security, which has just been proved unattainable by her own efforts. Outside guarantees are the only answer. The Arabs want, above all, a more just settlement in Palestine. This they can get only with outside support. Here is at least the opportunity to devise proposals that might satisfy the basic drives on both sides, even if immediate claims cannot be satisfied.
Whether or not the United States is morally bound to support a territorial settlement more favorable to the Arabs than the current armistice lines or to do something more for the Arab refugees may be a subject for debate, but it would certainly be politically wise to do so. Such proposals, even if in a package containing guarantees of new frontiers, will bring loud cries from Israel. They may be unacceptable to the Arab States. The Soviets would almost certainly hold out promises of much more, feeding Arab hopes of destroying Israel altogether. There is no answer to this except firmness.
Here is where the chief value of the new doctrine lies. It puts up a fence on the northern border of the Middle East, ruling out the use of force (including, if the doctrine's logical corollary is followed in practice, the sending of "volunteers"). It thus limits the degree of Soviet intervention and the degree of Arab expectation of the benefits to be derived from it. The President's message to Congress, moreover, pointed out that subversion often depends for success on the threat of direct aggression, and that to eliminate the latter is to go far toward eliminating the former. Similarly, once the Arabs can be convinced that Soviet military power will not be introduced into the area, either for them or against them, chances will improve for progress on the tough problems that have resisted all attempts at solution hitherto.
In addition to the outer fence there must also be an inner fence along new borders between the Arab states and Israel--a fence guaranteed by the United States and, to the extent feasible, by the United Nations. The Arabs and the Soviet leaders might just as well know that the United States will not permit the destruction of Israel. If the United States takes a firm position, letting the Arabs know they will not get anything more even if they try to play the Soviet card, and letting Israel know that only thus can it get a dependable guarantee of security, then forces may begin to work toward acceptance of settlements worked out through the United Nations. We cannot expect any "peace treaty" at this stage. Neither side can be expected to negotiate with and make concessions to the other. Both might reluctantly accept something unpalatable that was nevertheless less distasteful and less dangerous than the status quo, especially if they saw the futility of standing on maximum claims that they could never fulfill. Many in the Middle East say that they have long been waiting for the United States to act with the firmness and assurance of a great Power that knows its own interests and deals justly with the interests of the others. The opportunity is there.
One striking feature of the new doctrine is that it seems to have no place for other interested Powers as active partners. With a nod to the United Nations, the United States appears as the self-appointed policeman and patron of the Middle East. Secretary Dulles in his testimony was frank to state that any association with Britain or France in this area could only be a handicap. While the United States still holds to the provisions of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950 it is now a unilateral policy and not a tripartite one. The Declaration itself was killed by the Anglo-French action in Egypt. The rejection and failure of anything presented to the Arabs as a "Western" or "Anglo-American" policy in the aftermath of those events could not be a moment in doubt. Nor is it merely a matter of waiting a decent interval while passions have time to cool. Anti-British feeling among the Arabs is rooted in many years of history. France, now no longer a Middle Eastern Power at all, has earned bitter Arab hatred because of Algeria. These are facts which have to be taken into account. They are, however, no cause for smugness or satisfaction on the part of the United States. For, aside from the strain on Western ties generally, new relationships have to be worked out in the Middle East itself where Britain still has vital interests, still controls territory and can still bring power to bear in time of crisis.
What is needed, as many on both sides of the Atlantic have suggested, is a new understanding between Britain and America on how the vital interests of both countries are to be preserved. Britain's overriding interests, and those of the rest of Western Europe, are security--to prevent the outflanking of Western Europe by Soviet advances in the Middle East--and oil. These are also interests of the United States. It would be tragic if the inability to agree on methods, which contributed so greatly to the recent crisis, continued to divide the two Powers in the future. The "combination of British experience and American resources," a phrase one often hears in London, is surely not the right formula. Years of experience did not keep Britain from making the wrong decisions. On the other hand, the idea of the replacement of "imperialist" British leadership by "disinterested" or "enlightened" American leadership--which oversimplifies to the point of distorting the truth--does not meet the real problems. The American record on Palestine, after all, is hardly remarkable for political wisdom and remains a nearly insuperable obstacle to good relations with the Arabs.
According to Soviet propaganda the United States is trying to "replace" the British, both in their political position and in the ownership of oil interests. This is precisely what the United States is not doing and should in no circumstances attempt to do. There should be, obviously, a common understanding on policy. But it should not be a joint policy presenting a solid front to the Middle East on all issues; rather an understanding on how, in a period of American leadership, vital common interests can be safeguarded. In taking on the rôle of leader, however, the United States also takes on certain obligations such as to get a Suez settlement that really protects the rights and interests of Britain and Europe. In doing that it cannot rely entirely on Egypt's good will; it has to build up an effective bargaining position including practical alternatives to the canal route.
In the non-Arab northern tier states the transition to American leadership has already been made without damage to Anglo-American relations. Britain has given up its position as the leading Western Power but its security and its interests are being protected under new arrangements. The same trend is now discernible in Iraq, where Nuri es-Said finds his former close association with the British a political handicap. On the Persian Gulf, however, the British are still physically present as the protecting Power for a series of Arab sheikhdoms backward in political and social life but, in most cases, rich in oil. They are not ready for independence, nor do the neighboring Arab states have a God-given right to annex them. But they are already the target of Arab nationalist agitation and internal disorders bound to generate future crises with the West. Britain and the United States must work out some solutions in advance. That does not mean that Britain should immediately give in to every Arab claim; it probably does mean that the future of these territories should be discussed and worked out with Saudi Arabia and other neighboring states. The Western world cannot afford to have its whole position in the Middle East jeopardized by a series of Buraimi disputes.
The new doctrine says nothing about alliances or collective defense organizations. It states only that the United States will give aid to states or groups of states that want it. Significantly, the Baghdad Pact is not mentioned, although the President's message cited a recent official statement that a threat to the integrity or political independence of Iran, Iraq, Pakistan or Turkey would be viewed by the United States "with the utmost gravity." The Baghdad Pact was for all practical purposes invented and nursed through infancy by the United States, though the actual negotiations were left to the local states. In April 1956 the United States "half joined" it, participating in several committees but avoiding formal adherence for a number of reasons: the desire not to antagonize Egypt, to sidestep further objections from Israel, and to avoid going to the Senate for ratification in an election year. In our absence the Pact was widely regarded through the Middle East as an instrument of its one Western member, Great Britain, which had indeed joined primarily as a means of keeping its position in Iraq (including access to two bases there) and of continuing, despite setbacks, to play a more modest but still significant rôle of leadership in the Middle East. Then after the Anglo-French intervention in Egypt, the four Moslem members of the Pact met ostentatiously without the British and denounced the aggression of their treaty partner. Whatever the Pact may be henceforth, it will not be subject to British leadership.
The choice for the United States, then, has been whether to strengthen these states through the Baghdad Pact, joining it for that purpose, or outside the Pact. The formulation of the new doctrine leaves the question open, but one has the impression that the Pact will be allowed to drift into obscurity like its prewar antecedent, the Saadabad Pact of 1937. When it was the only sign of Western determination to hold the Middle East in the free world, the Baghdad Pact could not have been abandoned without presenting the Soviet Union with a great political victory. Now that the United States is making an even stronger commitment than the rather vague obligations of the Pact would have imposed, the Pact itself no longer holds great meaning for its Middle Eastern members.
As long as there are so many divisions among Middle Eastern nations themselves, a Western-sponsored alliance tends to accentuate the divisions and magnify the problems. The Baghdad Pact, laboriously constructed as a barrier against the Russians, had as its most direct result the explosion of Egyptian resentment that led to the arms deal of September 1955 and a gigantic forward stride in Russia's march into the Middle East. By splitting the Arab front it brought the United States into the middle of an inter-Arab dispute in which all but one of the Arab states were ranged on the other side. As ground was gained in the Pact countries it was lost in others. The danger was that, for lack of flexibility of policy, the losses might be multiplied beyond all hope of recovery. The threat of a Soviet breakthrough in Egypt or Syria was there for all to see. A virtue of the new doctrine is that it offers the possibility of checking the losses among "neutrals" without alienating those nations that have chosen alignment with the West.
Lebanon has welcomed the Eisenhower Doctrine, where it never spoke up for the Baghdad Pact. Saudi Arabia appears to be well disposed, although it would be unwise to count heavily on King Saud's influence as a counterweight to "Nasserism." At least the United States is not coming into the Middle East with a policy that is automatically rejected by the Arabs. Wisely it does not seek to make them stand up and be counted or to promote a new regional pact.
From whatever angle one looks, conditions in the Middle East itself proclaim the importance of the political. Declarations of warning and military dispositions can help fence off the area from Communist armed adventurism. Military and economic aid can bolster friendly governments and help grease the wheels of diplomacy. The real challenge, however, is to diplomacy itself, to the ability to make political decisions and carry them out in complex situations fraught with dangers and difficulties. To stand on sound principles, to lay down the right general lines of action over the long term, will be essential. But the United States is no longer above the battle, preaching to others. It has "entered into the history of the Near East." It should use to the full such moral and political force as the United Nations represents, but it cannot hide behind the Secretary-General or leave all initiative to the United Nations. It is already apparent that we cannot avoid making specific proposals of our own, or engaging in hard bargaining with Arabs, with Israelis and even with Russians. American representatives will have to dirty their hands with some of the problems with which the British have long been wrestling. Determination to hold the Middle East in the free world, the essence of the Eisenhower Doctrine, will be unavailing unless matched by a determination boldly to attack its vexing political problems with a resourceful and resilient diplomacy. One may hope that diplomacy will have full freedom of action, unhampered by the partisan demands of domestic politics or undue restrictions of legislation.