The Day They Buried NATO

Europe's Future: The Grand Alternatives

by David P. Calleo
Horizon, 192 pp., $4.95

Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle; drawing by David Levine

The day they buried NATO was warm and sunny, and everybody was too busy to come to the funeral. The French were off flirting with the Russians in Siberia, the British were immobilized by strikes, the Greeks and Turks were threatening war over Cyprus, the West Germans were busy debating with the East Germans on television, the Italians were having a governmental crisis, the Portuguese were fighting in Angola, the Belgians were rioting about what language they speak, and the Americans were launching a new intervention in the Caribbean. It was, in short, a typical day, and all the members of the family sent their regrets. The deceased was quietly laid to rest in a filling cabinet overlooking the Potomac, and nobody seemed to pay any attention, except for a Russian with binoculars. The nearest of kin held a brief wake in NATO’s elegant Paris quarters—which was soon to become the new Chinese Embassy—and then went their separate ways exchanging vows to write one another regularly.

If this is a fanciful scenario, it is not a particularly exaggerated one, judging by the latest series of convulsions to shake the alliance. The French have walked out altogether, Erhard’s heir-apparent openly speculates on inviting Russian troops to remain in a reunited Germany, and Washington conducts a continually-escalating war in Asia, oblivious to the protests of its allies. If NATO is still alive, nobody would ever know it from the actions of its members, all of whom are behaving as if they were responsible to no one but themselves. For better or worse we seem to be getting back to that “wholesome state” described by British foreign secretary George Canning in the last century: “Every nation for itself and God for us all.”

Although the Atlantic alliance is falling apart, just like its Soviet counterpart in the East, the sky does not seem to have fallen. The General has marched his troops out of NATO, but the Russians aren’t sprinting to the Channel, and nobody in the West feels any more insecure than he did before. The disintegration of NATO, which in earlier times would have been greeted as a catastrophe, is now generally accepted with the quiet resignation of a woman counting her gray hairs. All this became obvious at the recent Brussels conference which was supposed to deal with the consequences of the French defection, and ended with the allies unanimously agreeing to postpone all decisions. Dean Rusk’s pleas for unity were tinged with all the resignation of Billy Graham holding a prayer meeting on Macdougal Street—and his audience was just about as receptive. Rather than punish the French heretic, some of the allies suggested that the prosecutor had dirty hands. Later the Canadian Prime Minister went so far as to declare that “NATO is paralyzed by inertia and interested only in the maintenance of the status quo.”


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