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.”

THIS WAS A HARD BLOW from our Friendly Neighbor to the North, but the French heresy is becoming contagious. All the allies secretly envy the French for saying openly what everybody is thinking. Gaullism is picking up converts everywhere, for it represents a reawakening of European nationalism. In fact it is no stranger to Washington, where an American form of Gaullism has always been practiced under the pious mantle of Atlantic unity. In pursuing a foreign policy absolutely independent of its allies, the United States has been the most Gaullist (i.e., nationalistic) of all the NATO partners. Like Monsieur Jourdain, it has been speaking prose without knowing it, while demanding that all its allies chant in iambic pentameter. Demanding a good deal more partnership than it has ever been willing to grant, Washington is now getting its own back in the form of European resistance to its direction. As the institutionalized form of US dominance over Western Europe, NATO is now under assault by a whole generation of Europeans who may find De Gaulle’s methods irritating but who share his assumptions.

Gaullist diplomacy, as David P. Calleo observes in his penetrating study of the pratfalls and pitfalls of European unification, “invariably appears puzzling, idiotic, or sinister to those who cannot imagine why anyone except a communist would want to be independent of the United States.” Thus it is not surprising that the General has become the favorite scapegoat for the Atlantic theologians in Washingon who are currently tearing out their hair over the disintegration of NATO. To their eyes the very substance of Western civilization is enshrined in the sub-clauses of the NATO pact, and anyone who would want to change a word of the scripture as it was written eighteen years ago is either demented or, worse yet, “in-ward-looking.”

While he avoids the sanctimony of the State Department zealots, James L. Richardson is a firm believer in the Atlantic “community,” and his scholarly study of Germany and the Atlantic Alliance sticks closely to the grooves of NATO orthodoxy. A British scholar now working on disarmament at the Foreign Office, Richardson wrote his book mostly at Harvard during the hey-day of the Grand Design from 1961-63. Both the setting and the timing apparently confirmed his view that there is no realistic alternative to a strong NATO centered around West Germany. He presents this view with sincerity, dedicated scholarship, and an agreeable literary style that makes this complex book comprehensible to the average reader. As a justification of NATO’s utility in the past it is impeccable; as an argument for its indefinite perpetuation in the future, however, it is a good deal less convincing.


Aside from tending to take current arrangements too much for granted, Richardson has tried to squeeze too much into this book. It is not only a study of Germany’s role in the Alliance, but an essay on the Russian threat, an exegesis of NATO strategy, a history of the Berlin crisis, and speculations on reunification. Richardson has a firm grasp of his material, but he has not been able to blend it into a single unified theme. It is unfortunate that he didn’t channel his impressive analytical skills into the theme suggested by the title. As it is, he has written a compendium which contains much valuable information for the specialist, but which breaks no new ground and loses its impact by trying to cover too much.

RICHARDSON’S BOOK, in its preoccupation with allied unity, already has a dated look now that the cold war military blocs are breaking up. During the past half-dozen years the nature of the Soviet threat and the relations between Russia and the West have changed so profoundly that the arrangements set up in the late 1940s no longer seem particularly relevant. Even the vocabulary has become archaic, and we are stuck with concepts like “cold war,” “iron curtain,” “containment,” and “Red menace,” that no longer mean what they did, or even describe anything much at all. They simply make it harder for us to grope with the changes that have been taking place.

Take the current argument over the principle of integration of military forces within NATO, for example. De Gaulle says that integration is no longer tolerable now that Europe is back on its feet, and so he yanks French troops out of NATO. Dean Rusk pleads that integration lies at the very heart of the Atlantic alliance and that without integration no defense of Europe is possible. Does this mean De Gaulle is crazy? Or that he wants to invite a Russian invasion? Not at all. It means that both sides have set up straw-men which they proceed to knock down as it suits their pleasure. Integration may be a sacred principle, but it has never been much of a reality.

What was the Nassau Pact, signed by Kennedy and Macmillan without inviting or consulting the other allies, if not bilateral? What, for that matter, was the little-publicized but wide-ranging 1964 arms accord between the US and West Germany? In diplomacy, as on the home front, integration is not always observed by those who talk the most about it. De Gaulle was calling for the integration of allied diplomacy as far back as 1958. Neither Washington nor London was interested then or since. Except for a joint supply system and an air defense alert network, integration has been mostly a cold war fiction. Every nation’s armed forces have been ultimately subject to its own control, and if De Gaulle has found such integration “intolerable” it is hard to see how it has tied his diplomatic hands so far. The US has certainly never let integration prevent it from fighting a war in Vietnam that could at any moment involve its allies in a conflict with Russia, or from withdrawing seasoned troops from Germany without so much as bothering to inform its NATO friends.

Integration was always a polite word that was supposed to make German rearmament respectable. It was never meant to be taken seriously by the other allies, and it never has been. The bloated NATO bureaucracy, which has been ensconced in the woods outside Paris and is now looking for a new home, never had any more authority than the national governments were willing to give it—which was not very much. The big boss of NATO has always been an American general, and although he wears two caps, his orders always come from Washington, DC. Nor has there ever been any pretense about this. The Pentagon, under the direction of a man who is not only a brilliant strategist but a clever salesman, has penetrated the miasma of State Department propaganda about the Atlantic family and has seen western Europe for what it is: a vast, lucrative dumping-ground for US military equipment. Thus, under the lofty banner of integration, the allies are being told that they must either balance the US trade deficit by buying US arms exports, or else the GIs will silently fold up their tents along the Rhine and go away…presumably to Danang.


THE ALLIES KNOW that their defense does not rest in the hands of the variagated generals roaming around NATO headquarters saluting one another, nor even in the GIs sitting in tents along the frontier between the two Germanies, but in the American nuclear deterrent. And there has never been anything integrated about the Bomb. It is under the exclusive control of the President of the United States and all the State Department’s pious evocations of integration cannot change that one iota. Britain and France excepted, the allies have so far been willing to go along with it because they prefer the promise of American protection to the expense of providing for their own defense. Call it realism, call it laziness, call it cynicism—but please don’t call it integration. It is about as integrated as a Mississippi swimming pool with a Negro janitor.

This is why nobody in western Europe is particularly worried about De Gaulle’s departure from NATO. They know that the United States is obliged to cover France with its nuclear umbrella, just as it covers neutral Switzerland and the rest of western Europe. The reason has nothing to do with treaty commitments, but with realities of national interest. Western Europe is too rich and too important to be allowed to fall into unfriendly hands. This would be just as true whether NATO existed or not. For purposes of deterrence, NATO is irrelevant.

Everybody knows this, but De Gaulle alone is willing to act upon it. Assured that the US is not going to let the Russians take over France, he has gone off to Moscow to probe the terms of a general settlement that would wind up the cold war in Europe. Finally liberated from its colonial wars, enjoying a stable government and a strong economy, and without any territorial designs on anybody, France has a freedom of action denied to the US, Britain, and Germany. Having maneuvered France into this position, De Gaulle is determined to make the most of it. Thus the new mission to Moscow, coming twenty-two years after the accord he signed with Stalin, and designed to forge a new relationship between a restored Europe and an evolving Russia.

It is surely no accident that this master diplomat has cut his ties with NATO just in time to make his triumphant descent upon the Soviet Union. The Russians have not known quite what to do with De Gaulle, but they know they cannot ignore him. They would prefer to strike a deal directly with the US, for they know perfectly well where the power lies within the Atlantic alliance. But the Americans cannot negotiate so long as they are incinerating communists in Vietnam, and thus there is no one but De Gaulle for the Russians to talk to. In doing so, they cannot be particularly happy about his vision of a Europe “from the Atlantic to the Urals,” since this implicitly writes off all of Siberia to a resurgent China. But for all their doubts, the Russians share French feelings about the war in Vietnam and the nuclear armament of Germany, and so they could hardly turn down the chance to see what the State Department’s tormentor has in mind.

Among other things, De Gaulle wants to let the Russians know that they cannot work out another Yalta-type deal with the Americans over Europe’s head. To do so he must establish that Europe has a voice of its own. But since a timorous, abstentionist Europe does not have a voice of its own, the voice of Europe will have to have a French accent, and even a French baton in the form of the force de frappe. While De Gaulle can be under no illusions as to the power France wields in comparison to the giants, he is determined to show that the fate of Europe cannot be decided without the active participation of the Europeans.

IF SUCH AMBITIONS seem disloyal and “inward-looking” to the Atlantic theologians in the State Department, they are shared by most Europeans. While the allies have been grateful for American protection, they do not intend to remain permanently under a benevolent American military occupation, and they are quite in agreement that the future of Europe should be decided by Europeans. Now that the cold war is running out of steam, the fear of Soviet attack has all but vanished, and the super-powers are discovering a whole range of common interests, the old equation in Europe is being re-written. On both sides of the iron curtain there is a desire to emerge from under the thumbs of the nuclear giants, to break down the barrier across the Elbe, and integrate the communist states back into a wider European community.

Whatever settlement is reached in central Europe, it is obvious that the new equation is going to be very different from the one that is still such an article of faith in Washington. There has been much sanctimony, and even more self-deception, in America’s attitude toward postwar Europe. Our policy has been dominated by pious generalities, wishful thinking, and hypocritical rhetoric. Nobody has understood this better than David P. Calleo, a young professor of political science at Yale, whose unduly neglected study of Europe’s Future: The Grand Alternatives is a brilliant and incisive analysis of American misconceptions about postwar Europe. Penetrating the miasma of official propaganda and unofficial daydreaming, Calleo describes the “grand alternatives” open to Europe with objectivity, scholarship, grace, and wit, and has written what is perhaps the best single account of America’s role in the drama of European unification.

Beginning his analysis with a thoughtful essay on nationalism, which helps dispel some troublesome illusions about a much-abused term, he proceeds to discuss the three major approaches to tomorrow’s Europe: the tightly-integrated federal Europe envisaged by the founders of the Common Market, the Europe of States as conceived by General de Gaulle, and the Europe of the Atlantic “community” currently favored by Washington. While sympathetic to a federated Europe organized around the Common Market, Calleo observes that the technocratic ideal has been unable to provide a substitute for nationalism as a unifying symbol of loyalty. Ultimately he comes to the conclusion that De Gaulle is probably right in arguing that “there will either be a Europe of States or no unity at all.” With an understanding of Gaullist philosophy and an objectivity rare in most Anglo-American writers on the subject, Calleo has presented an impressive analysis of De Gaulle’s European policy.

PERHAPS THE MOST VALUABLE PART of the book for Americans, however, is the section in which he probes the federalist approach to European unification which has so entranced official Washington. On it rests the whole extraordinary record of American interference in postwar European affairs. Inspired by the dream of a united (western) Europe linked to the US through the eternal bonds of an Atlantic “community,” Washington has behaved like the field marshal of European federalism: declaring who should be permitted to enter the Common Market, playing favorites among the allies, trying to break up the Franco-German accord reached by De Gaulle and Adenauer, and in general behaving as though the unification of Europe were an affair to be decided in Washington, D.C. It is not surprising that these strong-arm methods culminated in De Gaulle’s veto at Brussels—and it is indicative of where the pressure lay that the blow was taken a good deal harder in Washington than in London.

De Gaulle did not take anything away from the British that they showed any signs of seriously wanting, but he did destroy a certain conception of Atlantic “community,” and for this the State Department has never forgiven him. While it never had any intention of pooling its own sovereignty with its European allies, the US has persistently told the Europeans that they should tear down their national frontiers and build a United States of Europe on the American model. But such a Europe is opposed by both France and Britain, and even if it could be created it is doubtful that Washington has ever given any serious thought to what a truly united Europe would be like.

It would hardly be the mute and obliging partner that Washington seems to imagine. It would demand access to the American nuclear arsenal, or else it would build a Bomb of its own. Nor would it be content to play deputy sheriff to America in the unruly states of the southern hemisphere, applauding every landing of the US Marines and dutifully chipping in to help our foreign aid bribes. A unified Europe would want to work out its own arrangements with Russia—in whom it might find a useful ally to balance off the overwhelming weight of American power—and it would almost certainly not share Washington’s mania about China. Indeed, it would have every reason to build up China as a counter to Russia in the East.

In no case would a unified Europe tolerate the continuation of the present situation in which it can automatically become involved in a major war as a result of some unilateral American action in a place like Vietnam. There has been a good deal of cant in Washington’s daydreams about European unification, and Calleo is quite right in pointing out that:

…before allowing her power to be enlisted to impose an ideal on others, America had better give that ideal a close look to see whether it corresponds to her real interests, whether it cannot be achieved in some other way, and whether it appeals to her better or worst instincts.

THIS IS A LESSON worth remembering, and one already becoming apparent as the Europeans try to shake off the Russo-American protectorship over the Continent and find some new form of association that will combine their desire for independence with their quest for security. The old formula, which decreed that Europe should indefinitely remain divided into rival military blocs, has been rejected by the Europeans themselves, and even the Rumanians are declaring that the cold war alliances are “anachronisms incompatible with national independence and sovereignty.” The nationalism which we have applauded on the other side of the iron curtain is now spreading westward and is expressing itself in a growing European discontent with the premises of an Atlantic alliance which seems based on the perpetuation of the status quo.

With the US apparently dedicated to an anti-communist crusade in Southeast Asia, the Europeans have become fearful that they may be dragged into a war against their will. As a result, the appeal of some kind of armed neutrality has grown proportionately, and Gaullism has gained converts throughout the Continent. The desire to detach Europe from the perils of American globalism may yet be the greatest impetus to European unification, and its implications are already being glimpsed in new Gaullist overtures to bring Britain into the Common Market. The old dream of a “little Europe” west of the Elbe is being absorbed by the vision of a greater Europe stretching to the Vistula, one which will be liberated from both Russian and American dominance.

Papa’s NATO is dead, and the message De Gaulle has brought back from Moscow is that it is now up to the Europeans themselves to start lifting the iron curtain by dismantling the cold war military blocs, and bringing Russia back into the European community. If the Atlantic theologians in Washington have a more appealing program than that, they had better unwrap it quickly before they find themselves sitting all alone at NATO’s next family reunion.

This Issue

July 28, 1966