POLITICS FEBRUARY 21, 1949
The North Atlantic pact, which involves one of the most fateful decisions in American history, is being discussed in a series of articles in the New Republic. Last week Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, noted British military expert, analyzed the defensibility of Western Europe, and in an editorial we gave our reasons for believing that the North Atlantic pact deserves support.
The article below, by Blair Bolles, offering an argument against the plan, is published for its intrinsic interest. The author is director of the Washington Bureau of the Foreign Policy Association and a well-known specialist in the field of international relations. —THE EDITORS
THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY diplomatic boneyard is littered with dead defense treaties that failed in their purpose. They did not prevent the outbreak of war and, once war came, they did not always ensure victory. The Triple Alliance, the Locarno Pact, and Hitler's mutual-assistance treaties were all slaughtered by gunfire along with the Entente of Britain, France and Russia of pre-World War I and the guarantee of military support that Britain gave Poland on the eve of World War II.
Ignoring that disappointing record, President Truman is now recommending American participation in a North Atlantic defense pact, on the grounds that its existence might prevent an armed attack endangering our national security from ever taking place.
Such a treaty has great superficial attractions. Its supporters, like the drafters of previous defense pacts, assume that the show of inter-country solidarity will smother the aggressive tendencies of Soviet Russia. But the inevitable consequence of this kind of treaty-making is to provide the other side to make treaties of its own. The Triple Alliance was the direct cause of France and Russia making their military convention in 1894 And the psychology of nations today is as it was 50 years ago. Nobody keeps the peace by an alliance race. Alliances simply inflate suspicion.
While past alliances have not staved off war, they sometimes have been useful in war when the pacts creating them called on the signers to give armed help at once to a partner when attacked. France supported Russia in l914, and Britain declared war when Hitler attacked Poland in 1939. On the other hand, Italy not only ignored the Triple Alliance when World War I broke out, but joined the enemies of the Triple Alliance in 1915. Some pacts simply fade away like the treaties France signed with the Little Entente powers during the 1920’s; either they represent no enduring common interest or they do not create the stability in international relationships that their sponsors seek.
The negotiation for the North Atlantic defense pact is the most questionable piece of unfinished business that Secretary of State Dean Acheson inherited from George Marshall. Although Marshall has gone, the Administration is committed to it. President Truman espoused it both in his Budget Message and his Inaugural Address, where he announced his intention to “provide unmistakable proof of the joint determination of the free countries to resist armed attack from any quarter.” Determination to resist attack is the basis on which the defense pacts of history have usually rested.
An apparently irreconcilable conflict between the powers of Congress and the wishes of Europeans blighted the conversations aimed at the creation of the new alliance which opened at the State Department on December 10 among Robert A. Lovett, then Undersecretary of State, and representatives of Canada and the signers of the Brussels Treaty of last March 17—Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. These negotiations are still far from their end. The Europeans want an absolute guarantee that America will go to war the moment any of them is attacked. But since the Constitution authorizes Congress alone to declare war, leading Senators have advised the State Department that they will not stand for an automatic guarantee. We can give Europe assurances of interest but no promise to fight.
A SERIES of deeper questions overshadows that practical difficulty. Considering the inability of America to go to war automatically, does the prospective treaty’s capacity for exciting the Soviet Union to countermeasures exceed its ability to strengthen the “West to resist the Soviet Union? Can it bind us to support of reactionary colonialism which strengthens the Soviet's appeal? Since the Dutch would surely be our colleague in the treaty, one may ask whether we would be urged to go to war to save the Dutch from the consequences of some imperialistic stupidity like their attack on the Indonesian Republic. One may ask also whether the draft articles would be fatal for the United Nations, although they are rich in references to that institution. Above all, would the treaty make the cold war a permanent feature of world politics, by treating an insuperable barrier to the eventual establishment of East-West tolerance?
The outline treaty which Lovett handed on to Acheson has a novel feature missing from the useless defense treaties of the past. Following the wartime pattern set by Britain and America in the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee and adopted by the Brussels treaty powers in their Chiefs of Staff Committee, the treaty would set up a small bureaucracy of international committees, through which the allies could make political and military plans against every conceivable eventuality and adjust themselves jointly to day-to-day developments in international relations. Thus the treaty not only calls upon the signers to support one another in emergencies but to cooperate intimately with one another in peace and war. It implies economic as well as military cooperation, for no chiefs of staff can plan a war without planning the use of the resources available to them.
The treaty is modeled also after the Inter-American Defense Pact signed at Rio de Janeiro in September, 1947. That treaty has a look of strength and the quality of weakness. It provides that “an armed attack by any state against an American state shall be considered an attack against all the American states”—a thesis taken over wholesale for the North Atlantic alliance. Yet no signatory of the Rio pact is required to use armed force without the consent of its national legislature, although the treaty states that decisions reached by two-thirds of the members concerning any breach of the peace are binding. The Rio pact requires its signers to consult, and no more.
LIKE BOTH the Rio and the Brussels treaties, the text of the pending pact states that the alliance depends on the United Nations for its existence. As a regional treaty, its framers invoke Articles 51 and 52 of the UN Charter which authorize member nations to make regional arrangements and set up regional agencies and to defend themselves collectively if attacked. Article 51 exists in the Charter because the United States delegation to the San Francisco Conference in 1945 put it there. Their thoughts dwelt then on the American republics.
But last June in a speech to the Senate, Arthur H. Vandenberg, recommending a regional pact, complained that we had been “too often stranded on the veto rocks” of the United Nations. If the alliance is intended to circumvent the veto power in the Security Council, its sponsors cannot be taking seriously the require and decisions with the Security Council. Actually the Charter makes the old-fashioned defense alliance futile since, to quote the State Department as of 1945, “no enforcement action may be taken under regional arrangements without specific authorization of the Security Council.” The alliance can operate only by defining the powers of the UN to suit itself.
THE TREATY DIFFERS from its predecessors also in that it encourages standardization of the weapons of the alliance members and provides for distribution of arms to the members at American expense. Thus it embodies features of lend-lease and the Marshall Plan. A number of Western countries have asked America for weapons during the past year on the ground that inadequate military strength prevents the development of the sense of national confidence encourages investors to put money into capital enterprise and thus get on with the Marshall Plan. Some of the requests, as that of the Norwegians, are certainly sincere.
Yet this military effort to make the Marshall Plan work might harm the plan unless the Administration can control the American economy strictly than it does now. America lacks material to equip her own armed forces at authorized strength. Despite its hullabaloo over the need for an air force of 70 groups, the Air Department is able to arm adequately only 34 of the 55 groups that now comprise it. The need for steel in peacetime industries is so much greater than present production that President Truman, in his message on the State of the Union, threatened the industry with his plan to have the federal government set up steel mills. Congressional approval of the St. Lawrence Seaway agreement and construction of the power plant at International Falls would enable Canada to manufacture some arms for Europe. But the plant would not go into operation for years.
The scarcity of arms gives the European governments with whom the United States has been negotiating the character of heirs to a moderately wealthy man. Each heir hopes the beneficiaries of the legacy will be limited in number. If there is not going to be a mountain of weapons, the Brussels-pact powers want what is available for themselves alone. This again produces conflict. The United States is said to want the membership of the alliance to be wide, to embrace, now at least, the Scandinavian powers (including Iceland, and probably excluding Finland) and Portugal, and perhaps in time to extend over the whole of non-Soviet Europe, taking in Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain (if this can be wangled over the sensibilities of France and the British Labor Party), and Western Germany, besides the countries which have signed the Brussels pact.
To dissuade Norway, Denmark and Sweden from organizing their own regional alliance separate from the North Atlantic pact, the State Department has announced that non-members of the Atlantic alliance will not receive arms. But Washington has been giving planes, tanks, machine guns and artillery for two years to Greece and Turkey without benefit of alliance, and the conclusion of the North Atlantic pact, if it ever is concluded, would not mean cutting off Greeks and Turks without another bullet. Those who get the weapons may be asked to give up bases in return, but at the moment we have rights in Portuguese bases, while we have not given Portugal arms for the Privilege. If America assumed an obligation to furnish every member of the alliance with arms by signing the pact, she could not live up to it. At that point we would have given the Soviet Union justification for the complaint that it was being encircled, without having strengthened ourselves to cope with the policies the USSR might adopt in reprisal.
The belief that the United States should ally itself in a military treaty with Western European powers is a hangover from the war scare last winter and spring which led to the demand for a permanent universal-military-service program, a draft act and big appropriations for the Defense Department. President Truman’s new budget, limiting the military agencies to $1.5 billion, has signaled the end of the hysterical period during which Washington seemed to believe that national military power provided the main assurance of national survival. Having rejected that notion at home, we seem to be proffering it abroad.
The Administration began to think seriously of the pact after the Communist coup d’état in Czechoslovakia at the end of last February. Bernard Baruch and John Foster Dulles had proposed such a treaty during the early days of the congressional hearings on the Marshall Plan, and the State Department publicly expressed interest when Ernest Bevin told the House of Commons that the British government intended to negotiate a defense alliance with the Benelux powers and France. That negotiation for a 50-year compact led to the signing of the Brussels Treaty on March 17, the same day President Truman addressed Congress and asked for a peacetime draft in order to give America what Secretary Marshall called a “military posture.” Noting the action in Brussels, the President said:
“This development deserves our full support. I am confident that the United States will, by appropriate means, extend to the free nations the support which the situation requires. I am sure that the determination of the free countries of Europe to protect themselves will be matched by an equal determination on our part to help them do so.”
The pact thereupon became a dead subject for President Truman until his budget message of last January 10. All others directly concerned with the treaty idea have maintained an attitude of secrecy, with the result that the American public is uninformed and confused about one of the most momentous undertakings in foreign policy which a President and a State Department have ever seriously entertained.
Inspired stories about the pact appeared in a few large papers between March, 1948, and January, 1949. They served only to befog the issue. Those who read the stories grew bored with the subject before it came to a boil, and those who did not read them have not been stirred to excited interest by the State Department’s one comprehensive statement on the subject, issued less than a week before the Inaugural Address.
A GOOD DEAL OF ACTIVITY has taken place behind that screen of secrecy, for which the American government is not primarily responsible. Secretary Marshall in the middle of last spring recommended to Senator Vandenberg and his colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that they push through the Senate a resolution encouraging the Administration to negotiate a regional-defense treaty. From the suggestion was born the Vandenberg Resolution, which the Senate passed on June 11 by 64 to 4. The Administration took that vote as America’s repudiation of her traditional opposition to balance of power arrangements, but the statements during the debate on the resolution by even the most ardent advocates of regionalism and anti-Sovietism, including Senator Vandenberg, hardly bear such interpretation.
Vandenberg told the Senate that a pact negotiated under the prod of his resolution would not “step outside the final authority of Congress” to declare war. And Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (R, Mass.) said that “the purpose of the resolution is to show that we are in sympathy with the broad trend of strengthening the freedom-loving countries, but it does not commit us to anything definite.”
Despite that vagueness, the State Department after June 11 arranged for conversations with Canada and the Brussels powers about ways and means of creating an Atlantic alliance. The Defense Department assigned an observer to the military committee of the Brussels powers, and early in the summer the observer, Major General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, became an active participant in the committee’s discussions. After those preliminaries, the serious negotiations began on December 10. On January 14 the State Department admitted the public to the secret with a long argument about the desirability of the pact.
Assuming that the need for armaments in Western Europe is real, the United States could choose between two courses each of which would more effectively keep the peace than a treaty of regional defense, especially a treaty which cannot guarantee American action at the moment a treaty member is imperiled. The heart of the security problem is to find a policy which will enhance security and at the same time provoke the least possible counterpresssure which endangers security. The conclusion of a North Atlantic pact would at once invite the Soviet Union to establish a competing system, probably including China if Communist government becomes supreme there.
THE FIRST alternate course is to distribute weapons from America to individual countries after making agreements for the standardization of arms and after broadening the existing Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee to include representatives of all the arms recipients. That would strengthen our friends Western powers to consult continuously about military problems without formally creating an impervious bloc that would barricade future progress toward the resumption of worldwide cooperation. It substantially safeguards the purpose of the pact without burdening the West with the weaknesses of the pact.
The second alternate course is to negotiate a pact which provides for universal membership, following the recommendation of Hamilton Fish Armstrong, editor of Foreign Affairs. A pact of limited membership would be in effect only an extension of the Truman Doctrine. But a wider instrument would lose the character of a political weapon aimed at some portion of the world. It would stand instead as the foundation for the system of worldwide peace enforcement which the authors of the United Nations Charter intended to create but which they have never been able to achieve.