Saving the Western Alliance

Henry Kissinger has done the Western world—and not only his own country—another important service. Even though governments in Europe and Washington, reacting through some of their second and third-level officials, have publicly raised a fuss about Kissinger’s “Plan to Reshape NATO,” nevertheless this essay in Time of March 5, 1984 begins with an enormous advantage over previous criticism and commentaries. Kissinger gives a case history and a diagnosis before making proposals for treatment. In his first sentence, he emphasizes that the Atlantic Alliance must remain the fulcrum of American foreign policy. I agree.

Only after stating this central point does Kissinger analyze the current ailments of the North Atlantic Alliance along with their components and causes. And only then does he propose remedies. He also recommends appointing a group of “wise men,” people whose commitment to the Western cause is firm, who would be assigned, for no more than two years, to make a new assessment of the policy of NATO, its military doctrine, and its distribution of forces based on a fresh evaluation of the Soviet threat.

The “theoretically” possible finding of this council Kissinger foresees as leading either to an optimal recommendation for the future of NATO or to an acceptable one, or to one that is miserable. It is with respect to the last, the “miserable” outcome, that he sketches some of the conceivable consequences for American policy. They include cutting in half the number of US troops currently in Europe. So this part of Kissinger’s essay ran into criticism—some of it very superficial, some of it unjust. It was seen by some in Europe as a dangerous threat and by some in Washington as a threat that was politically ill-timed.

Kissinger’s critics overlook his justified and urgent appeal: that NATO finally work out once more a grand, over-all strategy for the Alliance with regard to problems between East and West. This appeal is the important and true core of Kissinger’s analysis. So that what he is driving at would not be misinterpreted either in Washington or in Paris or Bonn, Kissinger concludes his essay by stating the goal of preserving and consolidating the Atlantic Alliance, since it embodies our hopes for the dignity of the individual and for human decency. To this reason I would add another: if the Alliance is not consolidated in the foreseeable future, Europe’s freedom of decision cannot be guaranteed; and America cannot afford to have Europe lose that freedom.

The major impetus that Kissinger provides is not diminished by the fact that he has written primarily for American readers and for this reason approaches “the Europeans” as if they were a homogenous group of nations and states. For this reason, too, he expresses in only relative terms his own criticism of the behavior of the United States and its government. Even so, he points to what he calls the consistently astonishing turns taken by American policy. He observes that every change in Washington’s course finishes off some European statesmen who…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!

Online Subscription

Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue – that’s 10 issues online plus six months of full archive access for just $10.

One-Week Access

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on

If you already subscribe to the Online or Print + Online Edition, please be sure you are logged in to your account.