I DO not intend to set forth once again the historical and political considerations which necessitated and to this day justify the existence of the Atlantic Alliance. At the most I should like only to state that NATO today seems to me to be every bit as essential as it was in 1949, and perhaps more so. During the ten years which have elapsed, the Communist world has not grown weaker. The threat which it represents to the free world has, indeed, been aggravated in that it is now economic as well as military and is spreading far beyond the borders of Europe to Asia and Africa. With each passing day I am more convinced that the surest and perhaps the only way to resist it successfully is to develop among the countries belonging to the Alliance a sense of oneness based on mutual understanding and loyalty.

Fortunately NATO is not, as some people think, in a state of crisis. On the contrary, it is flourishing.

No one can deny that the Alliance has been wholly successful in its essential purpose of halting the expansion of Soviet imperialism in Europe without the need to resort to force. Soviet imperialism, which chalked up one conquest after another in the period from 1939 to 1948, has made no further progress in Europe since the day the Atlantic Alliance was formed. Only a confirmed skeptic could regard this as fortuitous. The fact is that it constitutes the direct and very logical outcome of what we in the West have accomplished. Small wonder that the Soviet Union has been persistently and rabidly hostile to NATO.

If this is true, then surely it would be the utmost folly to dissolve or even weaken the Alliance. To do so would be simply to restore the conditions which made the gains of Soviet imperialism possible. This consideration should be a signal to the policy-makers to proceed with caution.

It would be a serious mistake, however, to think that the great success achieved by the Alliance is definitive or even sufficient. As is always true in politics, the future is much more important than the past. Nothing is more dangerous than to take too much satisfaction in what has already been accomplished. Fortunately the statesmen of the West are aware that attention should be directed rather towards what remains to be done, and they have been endeavoring since 1956 to strengthen the Alliance's political structure through greater coördination of the foreign policies of the 15 member countries. Important progress has been made along these lines during the past year, although the public generally is not yet aware of it.

Certainly it is not an easy thing to coördinate the foreign policies of the 15 countries comprising NATO, widely separated geographically as some of them are and in many cases differing considerably both in power and historical experience. At first glance the odds would seem to be against the possibility that the foreign policies of such countries as the United States and Luxembourg, Turkey and Norway, could ever be coördinated.

Nevertheless, I maintain that we have almost succeeded in doing so. In any case, the present experiment is worth continuing. If it is successful, the posture of the free West will be profoundly altered.

The Permanent Council of the Atlantic Alliance is today an important and extraordinarily active body. It met more than 70 times during the first nine months of 1958 and gave serious consideration to almost all the world problems which have arisen. It was, of course, more successful in dealing with some problems than with others. While substantial policy agreement was reached regarding relations between the West and the Communist world, differences persist with regard to the policy to be followed in the Middle and Far East. They have unquestionably been narrowed, however, and the exchange of views in the Council has led to greater understanding and closer coöperation. Little by little, without fanfare or useless publicity, a sort of collective diplomacy is taking the place of the individual diplomacy that was for so long traditional.

The constructive results of this unremitting activity became apparent when the Foreign Ministers met last December. Faced with the grave and difficult problem of Berlin, the Ministers took less than three hours to reach agreement on a position which, although in no way provocative, is none the less firm and courageous. Such speed in reaching a unanimous decision would have been impossible had it not been for the constant joint effort made during the preceding months, as a result of which each government was able to keep itself thoroughly informed and to follow, through the record of the discussions, the development of the ideas and attitudes of the other members of the Alliance.


The decisions taken with regard to Berlin and Germany were wise. The Ministers were right in affirming that unilateral denunciation of international undertakings cannot be permitted; such practice inevitably destroys confidence and makes it impossible to achieve a stable peace. They were also right in stating that the party which unilaterally denounces a treaty does not thereby cease to be bound by the obligations to which it is committed, and even less does its illegal action nullify the rights which the other contracting parties enjoy.

Nevertheless, we must not delude ourselves that, because all of this is perfectly true, it offers any solution to our problems. The certainty that we have right on our side can serve to reassure our consciences and strengthen our resolve, but it will not bring us any nearer to a solution. We must face the facts: as long as the Soviets are our opponents, we cannot solve the problems of Berlin and Germany by having recourse to the texts of treaties. Political questions are involved and only political solutions will avail.

The Ministers showed logic and wisdom in asserting that the Berlin situation must be examined against the background of the German problem as a whole and that once the latter is solved the former will cease to exist. They were also right in expressing their willingness to negotiate on this basis.

It is here that the situation becomes more complicated. The Soviets were well prepared for their latest manœuvre and they have made the most of their opportunity. Since the beginning of the year they have been sending the Western countries more and more detailed notes on the German problem and in their eagerness, or apparent eagerness, to settle it they have even submitted a draft peace treaty with Germany to 27 governments. All this diplomatic literature is interesting and even useful, for it enables us to take our bearings.

In my opinion, two conclusions are inescapable. Both are of major significance and both are fraught with consequences. The first is that in the present state of affairs--and I stress the word "present"--an agreement on Germany appears almost impossible. The second is that the proposal for a peace treaty with Germany throws us into a real diplomatic hassle. I am convinced that the Soviets will never accept the West's terms for the reunification of Germany, while we on our part will find it impossible to agree to theirs. The West says, "Let us organize free elections throughout Germany--free according to our understanding of the word. The government so chosen shall be free to adopt its own policies. If it opts for the Atlantic Alliance, we shall offer the U.S.S.R. a European security treaty which will make it safe from all aggression." The Soviet Union replies, "Recognize that there are two Germanys. Decide that they must confederate and that this confederation is to be neutralized and demilitarized."

I repeat that I think there is no possibility that the Russians will ever agree to reunification through free elections. We would not be able to reach an understanding with them on the way in which such free elections should be conducted; indeed, the very term "free elections" as used by the two sides has completely different meanings. In any case the Soviets would not accept as valid the results of elections in which 50,000,000 inhabitants of West Germany would participate with less than 20,000,000 East Germans. An election which resulted in the disappearance of a Communist state and was tantamount to a rejection of the Communist system would have enormous repercussions throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. It is inconceivable that the Soviets, recognizing the importance and the dangers of such a test, would expose themselves to it. We, on the other hand, could not agree to a situation created in violation of international undertakings and in effect condemning millions of human beings to live under a régime which they detest. That mistake we have committed before. Having seen what it leads to, we cannot repeat it.

What, then, must we do? First of all, we must take stock of the impasse in which we find ourselves. The two sides have adopted courses of action--each with its own logic--which can never be fused, because they are based on two irreconcilable points of view.

I see only one possibility of compromise. We must convince the Russians that once Germany was reunified our concept of European security would be wholly different from what it is today. For purposes of this hypothesis it would matter little how reunification was brought about, whether by free elections, a joint decision or a process involving several stages. Many of the things which the Russians are either protesting or proposing and which today are difficult or impossible to accept--a qualified disengagement, a controlled demilitarized zone, a non-aggression pact between the NATO powers and the members of the Warsaw Pact--all these would then become conceivable and practicable. Having once agreed in principle to the reunification of Germany, the Russians might be willing to discuss European security. Perhaps the offer we could make them along these lines would be sufficiently attractive to persuade them to alter their basic position. This, at any rate, is the direction in which negotiations ought to move.


The draft peace treaty with Germany drawn up by the U.S.S.R. is an extremely interesting document. It takes us on a remarkable journey into the past, offering us an uncanny glimpse of what we would doubtless have been led to do in 1945 if we had wanted to sign a peace treaty with vanquished Germany immediately after the war. With bewildering intellectual agility, the Russians obliterate 12 years of international life and unabashedly propose that we treat Germany today as we would have treated the Germany of Hitler.

This is obviously out of the question. How is it possible in 1959 to imagine the Soviet Union, the United States and all their allies of the Second World War ranged on one side of a conference table and Germany alone on the other--the victors imposing a diktat on the vanquished in the manner of the Treaty of Versailles? It would be exceedingly dangerous to resuscitate so many ghosts. We must resolutely refuse to be drawn into this diplomatic imbroglio. Other ways must be found to settle the problems which have been pending since the end of the war.

Yet we must realize that if we do not reach a solution of the German problem as a whole we will again be confronted with the problem of an isolated Berlin. We must understand, further, that it is a matter of the utmost gravity.

The reasons which prompted the Soviets to raise the Berlin issue are not easy to understand. Whatever they may have been, our resolve must not be shaken. The lesson of Hitler must not be forgotten. The world's great mistake prior to 1939 was not Munich. Its great mistake was to allow the Rhineland to be reoccupied by Germany in 1936 in violation of treaty provisions. At that time it would not have taken much to nip all Hitler's ambitious plans in the bud, thereby altering the course of history and in all probability sparing the world the tragedy of the Second World War. We lacked foresight and perhaps courage as well. It required much more courage later to make up for our mistake.

We must not allow Berlin to become the first act of a tragedy whose final act is a third world war. It is true that the West's rights in Berlin had their origin in wartime agreements, but this is not the essential consideration; what is essential is the existence of more than 2,000,000 Berliners who a few weeks ago gave evidence of their will to live in freedom, who have rejected Communism, its rules and its laws. If we were to abandon them today, on what grounds could we claim to defend other free men, to defend our very selves, tomorrow?

West Berlin cannot be abandoned. It cannot be left isolated--an island which could all too easily be submerged in the Communist sea. Whatever the solution envisaged, it must be accompanied by genuinely effective guarantees, the surest of which is obviously the presence of Western troops. It is ridiculous to maintain that such troops, numbering a few thousand, are a threat to the security of the Communist world. Their presence means only one thing, but that one thing is essential--namely, that in the event of aggression the beleaguered inhabitants of the city can count on the effective support of NATO. Only the continued presence of these troops can guarantee that vital requirement of West Berlin, its freedom of communication. No verbal guarantee, no treaty provision can take the place of this physical presence. On this point we must be unyielding. Such a presence can, however, be based not on the principle of occupation but on a new agreement or on a mandate from the United Nations.

Our firmness on the basic issue will enable us--if the Russians really feel that they can benefit from a change in the status quo--to explore compromise formulas for bringing such a change into effect.


We cannot, however, let the diplomatic problems confronting us at the moment cause us to lose sight of what might be called our "perennial worries." Among these can be included everything relating to atomic armaments.

One segment of European public opinion, though it is progressively weakening, continues to oppose the idea of equipping the armies of Europe with atomic weapons. Those who take this position are wrong. They are wrong not only because such a position is indefensible from a military standpoint, but also because it does not, as they suppose, serve the cause of peace.

From the military standpoint it is profoundly illogical to acknowledge the need for an army yet refuse to provide it with effective weapons. How, indeed, could European armies which were denied atomic weapons fight an enemy who possessed them in every size and kind and who did not intend to refrain from using them? Such forces simply would not have a chance. And that settles the argument. In the absence of an agreement on general and controlled disarmament we must either adopt a policy of unilateral disarmament, which would most certainly ensure Soviet supremacy throughout the world, or we must make up our minds to take the military measures which, by enabling us to restore the balance between the Communist forces and those of the free world, will deter aggression and strengthen peace.

What many people today apparently fail to realize is that the problem for an aggressor is not how to drop a certain number of atomic bombs on enemy territory. That is possible and relatively easy. The real problem an aggressor faces is how to destroy at one and the same time all bases from which possible retaliatory attacks might be launched. For if he cannot be sure of doing this, he can be certain of the punitive action that will be taken against him. This being the case, it is obvious that the more bases there are from which reprisals could be launched, the less will be the danger of aggression. In short, if balanced disarmament cannot be achieved, a balance of terror is better than no balance at all.

Nevertheless, equipping Europe's armies with atomic weapons raises some new problems. During these past years the responsibility for atomic retaliation has rested primarily on the United States and to a lesser extent on the United Kingdom, the members of the Atlantic Alliance which alone possessed atomic weapons and which, moreover, still kept them under government control. Of late, however, the situation has been changing as European armies, or at least some of them, have been receiving tactical and, more recently, strategic nuclear weapons. Continental Europe's ability to play an effective part in atomic retaliation is now a fact. Would it not be legitimate, then, to give Europe some share of the responsibility for the conduct of this kind of warfare?

Common sense dictates an affirmative reply. It is difficult to see how a member of the Alliance can agree to have long-range atomic missiles based on its soil without having some share in the responsibility for their use. This in turn raises the whole problem of determining what authority is to decide for the Alliance whether atomic weapons will be used in a particular situation. I have the impression that up to now this problem has not been clearly stated and that it is for this reason that we have become involved in lengthy and needless controversy.

It seems to me that there are only two conceivable hypotheses and that in either case the answer is easy. On the one hand, we may be the victims of a surprise atomic attack, in which case there will be no question of hesitating, for atomic counterattack must be automatic. Consultation will be neither necessary nor possible. On the other hand, it may be that the aggression against us will not be launched suddenly and will not involve the use of atomic weapons. In other words, we may be faced with a so-called "conventional" war. Although our military authorities have been telling us for years that in such a war we would have to use our atomic weapons in order to restore the balance of forces, consultation within NATO would not only be perfectly possible but imperative. It should not be difficult to decide now on the procedure for such consultation.

Nevertheless, these common-sense solutions seem to be running head on into stubborn forces of nationalism and individualism within the Alliance. Despite what I should have thought was the dazzlingly clear lesson of history, the governments of the free peoples are not yet ready to seek security and salvation through integration. The most they will agree to is coördination and coöperation.

Yet is it not contradictory to say to an ally, "I insist on sharing all your secrets, knowing your innermost thoughts, but I intend to keep my own freedom of action; I agree to consult with you but I retain all my rights to do as I see fit?" Here we are faced with the real weakness of the Atlantic Alliance in every sphere--the lack of unity. This is the problem which we are up against whether we are dealing with scientific research, armaments production, aid to underdeveloped countries, military organization or the conduct of diplomacy. We still jealously guard our individuality. I fully appreciate the very genuine values which this encompasses; yet I realize, too, what it is costing us in duplicated effort, both intellectual and financial, what it means in terms of wasted energy and how difficult it makes it for us to get results.

Let us take the example of France, which is doing all over again in the atomic field, alone or almost alone, what has already been done by the United States and the United Kingdom. France is spending and is being obliged to spend billions of francs and a wealth of intellectual energy on the task of discovering for itself what its allies already know.

It will succeed, but at what a sacrifice! Would it not be wiser to spare France such effort and thus free it to devote its energies to the common good? This would imply, of course, the conviction that there exists today a real community of interest among the members of the Alliance which must be served with the same energy, love and pride that for centuries have been put at the service of each individual country. I know that at present this is a dream. Yet the dream must one day become a reality, for it is on this reality that our future depends. Of that I am convinced.

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  • PAUL-HENRI SPAAK, Secretary General of NATO since 1957; three times Prime Minister of Belgium and four times Minister for Foreign Affairs; President of the U.N. General Assembly, 1946
  • More By Paul-Henri Spaak