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After Twenty Years

by Marcus G. Raskin, by Richard J. Barnet
Random House, 243 pp., $5.95

Next to organizing an alliance of nominally equal members, formulating its aims in convincing language is the most difficult test of statesmanship. In a sense of course both matters come to the same thing. Alliances after all are held together by shared beliefs as much as by anything else. Ideally it should be possible to arrive at an acceptable statement of aims, simply by generalizing the common interest of all concerned. Yet experience shows that alliances break down just over the definition of what constitutes their raison d’être. If the partners are equal, they will tend to quarrel. If one of them achieves hegemony over the rest, the term “ally” becomes a euphemism for “auxillary.” If a hegemoniac relationship is avoided, it may still be difficult to elude the choice between a confederacy with fixed rules, and an ad hoc relationship which leaves the partners free to rat on each other. In the best of circumstances, material will always be at hand for a polemicist determined to denounce the conduct of the allies as a mixture of blind egoism and base perfidy.

In appearance things are greatly simplified if the original purpose of the alliance is the defense of a transcendental good, such as religion, freedom, or Our Way of Life. An appeal can then be made from private or national selfishness to a common purpose which is really perceived as such by all who are committed to the common cause. Historically, alliances have generally worked best when they were cemented by what is vulgarly called an “ideology,” meaning a common faith. Examples that come to mind are the Wars of Religion, or the wars provoked by the French Revolution. The trouble is that in these cases the normal political process tends to collapse. Politics after all is a matter of resolving conflicting interest, war (as Hegel and Clausewitz pointed out) a mere means to this end. If this is forgotten or lost sight of, armed conflicts may drag on beyond the point where they still serve a rational end. In order to get rid of the irrational element, an appeal must then be made to the cynicism of the professionals. This happened conspicuously during the later stages of the Thirty Years War—originally a religious dispute stemming from the Reformation—when Catholics and Protestants forgot what they were supposed to be fighting for and reverted to the Machiavellianism they had solemnly abjured. Europe then witnessed the edifying spectacle of Catholic France under Richelieu allying itself with Protestant Sweden to fight the Catholic Habsburgs. It was the birth, or rebirth, of Realpolitik. In later days Bismarck stood out as a major practitioner of this art, and today the Elysée is occupied by a man who resembles Richelieu and Bismarck more closely than he does the political crusaders of the recent past.

Professor Kissinger is aware of this background, as are Messrs. Raskin and Barnet. All three worry a good deal about De Gaulle, though they are not sure whether he should be regarded as a portent of things to come, or as a throwback to a less enlightened age. The uncertainty is deepened by the Mona Lisa expression which perennially hovers about the General’s features these days when he addresses a press conference. Napoleon the Third was known as “the Sphinx of the Elysée.” In the end the Sphinx turned out to have no secret. My guess is that history will class De Gaulle with Richelieu and Bismarck, but it is too early to tell. There is evidence that he is bored with the Cold War, and it is just conceivable that he may be planning a major stroke which will rid Paris of its NATO obligations. But from there to a true renversement des alliances, which would align France with the USSR, is still a major step. What looms in the middle distance, so to speak, is a proposal that Germany be reunited on condition that East and West withdraw their forces from the Center of Europe: a glorified version of the longstanding Polish project known as the Rapacki plan. This project at least has the merit of confronting the Germans with what is clearly the real choice for them: if they want to recover their national unity (and what nation does not?) they must make peace with their Eastern neighbors, and this means recognizing the frontiers laid down in 1945. So far, no one besides De Gaulle has had the elementary common sense to point this out though there are signs that some influential advisers to the State Department would like Washington to follow the General’s lead in the matter.

Mr. Kissinger is farther advanced along this road than are Messrs. Raskin and Barnet. He is aware that German nationalism has recently begun to revive, and that the Germans are becoming suspicious of their allies. Considering the extent to which they have been effectively duped in the matter of national reunion, it would indeed be odd if they did not resent the degree to which NATO has come to depend on them (though there are still more American than German troops in Western Europe). The fact remains that during the 1950s Bonn cooperated in creating the illusion that both NATO and reunification could be had simultaneously. As for the coming choice between reunion and frontier revision, it is one the Germans will have to make themselves. No one else can do it for them, and it would be disastrous to present them with a bargain sealed behind their backs. Yet it never does any harm to tell people the truth about the situation. The real gravamen against Washington and London lies in the fact that twenty years after the European war ended, the Germans still have not been told officially that they lost it and must take the consequences. No German government or party has had the courage, and no Western statesman—save De Gaulle—has said in public that the price of eventual reunion is the reunification of the lost territories.

It is this dishonesty, and not the wrangling over the share-out of nuclear arms, that has poisoned the NATO alliance and may yet bring it down in ruins. It is all very well for Raskin and Barnet to say “The United States and the other Western Powers have never encouraged Germany to take the prospect of recovery of its eastern lands seriously.” Technically this is true, but it eludes the real issue, which has to do not with what diplomats tell each other in the privacy of their offices, but with what electorates are given to understand. In the case of Germany, it is not too much to say that the popular attitude built up over a period of twenty years has rested upon a carefully cultivated illusion.

It is no accident, as they say in Moscow, that several books dealing with this tangle of issues have all come out simultaneously—more or less on the twentieth anniversary of the Yalta and Potsdam settlements—with fresh policy recommendations. Professor Kissinger has long been an influential adviser to various departments in Washington. It is no criticism of his latest work to say that it reads in part like a “position paper” drawn up for the benefit of State Department officials who may need to be reminded of what has been happening in Europe since 1945. For the rest, it will be useful to students of that rapidly expanding academic subject, International Affairs: not for factual material (that can be obtained elsewhere) but for its lucid discussion of the basic issues dividing the Western Allies. Its major theme is summed up in a sentence on p. 216: “Only a united Atlantic Alliance facing jointly the issue of Germany’s future can minimize the danger of a sharp conflict between Germany’s national goals and its Atlantic ties.” The final chapter quite logically is headed “What kind of Atlantic partnership?” That indeed is the question confronting all who believe, or at least hope, that NATO still has a future.

In this regard Professor Kissinger is closer to official orthodoxy than are Raskin and Barnet. They too have had official ties (“This book grew out of the experience of the writers in the White House and the Department of State”), but the ties have weakened and the tone is correspondingly critical, at times even despondent. Raskin and Barnet, like Kissinger, have elaborate policy recommendations (far too elaborate for a reviewer to summarize, let alone criticize), but their major purpose is to re-examine the presuppositions of American policy since 1945. In the long-standing dispute which for years has divided the Acheson school from the followers of Mr. George Kennan (and Mr. Adlai Stevenson, when he still stood for something), they are plainly on the side of Kennan and “disengagement.” Equally plainly they believe De Gaulle is merely stating the obvious when he points out that “Atlanticism” is an ideological cover for American hegemony. One gathers that it would not distress them if the Europeans took the hint and formed their own defense community. Such views do not make one popular in Washington, but that may change: after all, Senator Fulbright has recently begun to sound like a convert to this line of reasoning.

NATO’s future is the central theme of both these books, and NATO of course hinges on the settlement of the German problem. Yet from the American viewpoint even NATO is only one element in the global struggle against the Sino-Soviet bloc. Here the authors diverge. Professor Kissinger’s theme is built around Germany and the defense of Europe. Insofar as he considers the future of the Atlantic partnership, he does so on the assumption that the purpose of the Alliance demands mutual and reciprocal concessions from Americans and Europeans alike. With Raskin and Barnet one has the feeling that they are uncertain whether the Alliance still serves the wider interest of the United States. As they see it, there was always a latent conflict between the “Atlantic vision” and America’s global commitments. What may have been happening lately is that exclusive concern with the Atlantic area has caused the United States to lose ground in the uncommitted “third world.”

This is a suggestion which will always appeal to liberals, though not necessarily for the reasons given by the authors, since they are concerned with ending the Cold War (not that they put it in such crude language). It is of course perfectly possible to argue that the United States is doing badly in the Cold War because it is tied to reactionary allies. With regard to Spain and Portugal—neither of them very important—this suggestion makes sense, though it is politically explosive. When applied to Britain and France it is less plausible, especially now that France has shed its Algerian burden and Britain has been driven from the Middle East (with the active support of the Washington policymakers). “Because its primary commitments were to its European allies, America often found itself opposing the anti-colonial efforts of the Asians and Africans,” Raskin and Barnet write. This will be news to the British—they still remember Suez. It will also be news to many Asians and Africans, from Vietnam to the Congo: they have lately been under the impression that there is precious little to choose between European and American attitudes.

The fact is—I am sorry to have to say it, but Raskin and Barnet leave me no choice—that the United States does not have a better record than its principal European allies. In Latin America its record has on the whole been worse. Elsewhere it has tried to keep in step with developments quite unrelated to its own aims. As matters stand today, its “image” is that of a great imperial Power, rather more conservative than either Britain or France, and not markedly less ready to employ force when its interests are threatened. Moreover, its leaders have not yet learned to employ the kind of language which sometimes reconciles weaker and poorer countries to this sort of relationship. They are, for example, notoriously shy of the word “socialism.” This is not merely foolish, but imposes a positive hindrance to winning the Cold War, since the elites of the “third world” (all of them, without exception) are sold on this kind of language. It may mean nothing (it does mean nothing), but It sounds good and evokes a popular response. It also makes for better relations among former enemies. For example, it has made it possible for France and Algeria to strike up a tolerable relationship, notwithstanding Ben Bella’s publicly professed admiration for Moscow and Peking. I am ready to wager all my earthly possessions that if the matter had been left to the Washington policy-makers and their Senatorial confederates, Ben Bella would have been pushed all the way into the Chinese camp. As it is, he has kept his independence (and his country’s French markets and subsidies), and all concerned are the better off for it.

It cannot be said that our three authors shed a great deal of new light on this tangled subject. Professor Kissinger is concerned to reconcile the Atlantic Alliance with Europe’s newly burgeoning self-confidence. Raskin and Barnet are inclined to think that NATO may have outlived its usefulness, and that in the US itself domestic improvement has been sacrificed to an endless and hopeless struggle against the Communist bloc. Their underlying assumptions are quasi-isolationist. Their favorite statesman is Senator Fulbright. Their hope is that the arms race may be ended and that the major powers may at last get down to the real business of making this globe a place fit to live in.

Now it is possible to share these attitudes without being very sanguine about the long-term prospect. It is one thing to suggest that Western Europe, or even the whole of Europe, can and should be neutralized and de-nuclearized. Most Europeans favor this, for the good and sufficient reason that a nuclear war would make an end of their civilization. It is quite another matter to preach reasonableness to the new nations which are now beginning to embark on the traditional game of politics. There is absolutely no evidence that they are capable of even understanding what Western liberals are talking about, let alone acting on the advice that reaches them from such quarters. Anyone who has spent ten minutes listening to a Pakistani on the subject of India (and vice versa), or to President Sukarno on the subject of Malaysia, or to Nasser on the subject of Israel, must be aware that their principal concern is and remains preparation for the next round of slaughter. This being so, it seems to follow that the world will have to be policed either by an international authority or by the great powers, until such time as reason has come to prevail. And since no effective international authority is in sight, the United States will have to do most of the policing. As matters stand, the alternative to the Pax Americana is all-round chaos and the massacre of the weak by the strong. The same applies to those regions of the globe where, for better or worse, a kind of Pax Sovietica has been established.

All this is not to say that we may not see a gradual diminution of the Soviet-American antagonism, particularly in Europe, where it is now tacitly understood that the 1945 settlement cannot be revised by force. The residual hostility between the two blocs can then be transferred to the realm of ordinary political and ideological discourse. This outcome is both probable and desirable; with any luck it may come about within a decade. It will then be possible for Americans and Russians to withdraw from the center of Europe, where strictly speaking they don’t belong and are not wanted. This is a reasonable aim—certainly more reasonable than the current craze about giving West Germany access to nuclear weapons. But it will not usher in a new golden age for mankind; it will merely make another European catastrophe less likely. So far as the rest of the world is concerned, the situation seems likely to grow worse, if only because of the poison injected into the antagonism between the United States and China. The pacifist argument suffers from the weakness of treating political problems in technical terms. Its exponents are forever worrying about matters such as arms control or industrial conversion to peaceful purposes. What they should worry about is the mental framework within which the crucial political decisions are made.

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