April 4th, 1949
NATO is established
In the wake of World War II, and at the beginnings of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded between the United States, Canada, and a large number of European nations. Ten years after the establishment of NATO, Proceedings published an article by Admiral W. F. Boone, USN, in its April 1959 issue. The article focused on the objectives of NATO as well as the acheivements and challenges encountered during the first ten years of its existence. Though establishing such an international union, especially in a time of peace, proved to be challenging for every member, the article, excerpted below, demonstrates that NATO, overall, has proven to be a success in preventing another global war.
NATO is the keystone of the supporting arch of United States foreign policy. Yet, public opinion polls have indicated that a majority of the American public have, at best, only a fragmentary knowledge of the Alliance upon which over 450 million peace-loving, free people depend for the protection of their territories and their institutions against the aggressive moves of imperialistic Communism.
The North Atlantic Alliance is in accord with the principles of the United Nations Charter, Article 51 of which recognizes the right of nations to enter into agreements for collective self-defense. By exerting a powerful influence for peace, NATO makes a vital contribution to the aims of the United Nations. There is, however, no organizational link between the two.
NATO came into being when events following World War II revealed the aggressive, expansionist policies of Soviet Russia. The seizure of Czechoslovakia and the Berlin Blockade were the clinchers. The Soviet objective of world domination could only be countered through a collective effort.
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The North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington on April 4, 1949. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States were the twelve original signatories. Through subsequent protocols, Greece and Turkey became members on February 18, 1952, and the Federal Republic of Germany joined on May 5, 1955.
The Treaty sets forth objectives in the political, cultural, and economic fields, but common defense is fundamental to the concept and development of NATO. The genesis of the military organization and activity of NATO is found in Article 5 of the Treaty, which states in part:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all; and consequently they agree that, if such armed attack occurs, each of them … will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
History has known many alliances forged under the stress of war, but a coalition such as NATO is unprecedented in time of peace. Never before in peacetime have nations placed their forces under the overall command of foreign officers. Never before have so many nations signed a treatyto consider an attack one an attack on all. This is the core that binds the NATO nations together.
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All things considered, it is somewhat of a miracle that an alliance such as NATO has hung together thus far, and in fact, without the impetus of war, continues to grow in strength and cohesiveness. Today, the NATO partners meet and agree on policy and concerted action to a degree that would have been unbelievable eight or ten years ago. But NATO is not without its internal stresses and strains. There are many problems yet to be solved, and probably always will be, if NATO is to continue to evolve with the changing world situation, and to grow stronger in pace with the implacable and ever-increasing Soviet threat.
First, there are political problems, and it might be said that these are at the root of nearly all of the problems, since the political thread runs through every piece of NATO cloth. Any successful alliance will involve the sacrifice of a degree of national sovereignty-the more cohesive the alliance, the greater the relinquishment of national prerogatives to the common cause. In addition to national sensibilities of pride and prestige to be overcome, it must be recognized that there are individual national economic interests which require much patience to be reconciled. . . .
Sir Winston Churchill defined the NATO challenge when he said: “We must rise to a level above the passions which have laid all Europe in ruins. Old feuds must die, territorial ambitions must be set aside. National rivalries must be confined to proving who can render the truest service to the common cause.”
The problem of unanimity is often an impediment to rapid decision and progress; yet, it is the democratic way and must be the rule of order in an alliance of free, independent nations. Agreement must be voluntary and unanimous in every case. There is no way to induce conformity except by demonstration of a mutuality of interest. Unanimity is sometimes a time-consuming basis for action, but it is inherent in an alliance of this nature.
At times, United States Government officials, both civil and military, and even the American public, become impatient that what they believe to be right, necessary, and equitable is not always readily accepted by our NATO partners. Some feel that because the United States is the largest and most powerful member, it should have a controlling voice. Not so. No country can dictate in NATO. Support and acceptance of one’s ideas can only be gained through logical, persuasive argument, and compromise is the usual order of the day.
There are economic problems–the old, familiar shortages of men and money. Not only has the cost of things–materials and labor–greatly increased through a general inflation throughout the Alliance, but the new highly diversified, and enormously complex weapons systems, essential to meet the evergrowing threat, are fantastically expensive to produce, maintain, and operate. Technological progress is such that the expensive weapons of today must continually be replaced by the even more expensive weapons of tomorrow. In many cases, these new weapons systems, despite their degree of automation, require more men to operate them rather than fewer, contrary to popular conception, and these men must be highly trained.
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The obstacles to be overcome in this field are many, but are not insurmountable. There are problems of security, patent rights, cost sharing formulas, national pride, diverse national needs, and perhaps worst of all, the conflicts of commercial interests among the member nations. But a good start has been made in pooling talents and resources.
NATO planning must be based on the assumption that there will be little warning of a Soviet attack. Since the democracies would not deliberately start World War III, they must concede the factors of surprise and initiative to an aggressor. Few laymen realize the enormous advantage these factors give to a potential enemy.
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Then finally, there are psychological problems–the constant threat of complacency; belief that since war has not occurred, it will not occur; the pious hope that perhaps the Communist rulers are retreating from their goal of world domination. There are a few who seek a bargain basement defense–who think that there must be a cheaper way to provide an adequate defense of the Alliance. Most dangerous of all, perhaps, is a threatened letdown through sheer weariness of the cold war.
In the face of all these problems, one might question whether NATO is, or can be, a success. But problems engender moral strength and vitality. NATO is a success–make no mistake about it. The prime objective of NATO is to prevent war, and there has been no war in Europe since NATO was born.
Between the closing phases of World War II and the time NATO came into existence, seven European countries, with a population of some hundred million people, were annexed by Russia or disappeared behind the Iron Curtain as satellites. Since NATO was formed, not a square foot of NATO territory has passed under Soviet control. In addressing the Ministerial Council at their December, 1958 meeting, Secretary of Defense McElroy said:” … adequate NATO military strength is the indispensable shield for our economic well-being and our political liberties.”
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Hand in hand with these numerical and material gains, there has been a steady improvement in the quality of NATO forces, so that there is now a much greater readiness, cohesiveness, and combat capability than in the early years of the Alliance. NATO commanders and supporting staffs all down the line know their jobs and, within the limits of resources provided, are fully prepared to go into action. Plans have been refined, tested, and rehearsed in many NATO training exercises, large-scale and small.
Best of all, the NATO partners are learning to understand and trust each other and to work smoothly and effectively together.
All this is progress. But progress in NATO is meaningful only as it is measured against the constantly increasing military capability of the Soviet Bloc. Military posture is purely a relative thing. The threat which brought NATO into being still exists.
Nevertheless, NATO may review its first ten years with a sense of solid accomplishment, and may enter the second decade with renewed confidence. NATO is working. It is working so well that the dissolution of the Alliance has become a prime political objective of the Kremlin. What better proof is needed that NATO is a success?