Progression to NATO
Generals are often said to spend their time preparing to fight before war just as Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) prepared to achieve the kind of peace that had eluded Woodrow Wilson after World War I. In the book Forging the Alliance: NATO, 1945 – 1950, Author Don Cook links American’s Truman and Kennan with England’s Churchill and Bevin in a dramatic fashion to provide the most significant facts that had culminated in the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Cook also discusses how the special relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain with their common heritage, values, and traditions contributed to their common goals of peace and security. Although the events which led up to the birth of NATO have faded away, the treaty still remains as the longest standing alliance in history “[enabling] Europe to revive, grow and prosper in economic health beyond the wildest dreams of 1949.”1 As a result, the North Atlantic Treaty has committed the United States to a role of an active and powerful arbiter of peace and freedom in Europe.
Victory and illusion often go hand in hand throughout history. In the beginning of WWII there was an illusion of a “Great Power harmony,” which believed that with their unlikely association with USSR, the U.S. and Great Britain could share the same ideals and objectives of peace with the communist nation. This illusion was sustained throughout the war from one conference to another until the Potsdam Conference. Although President Roosevelt clung to his ideals, he was fully aware of looming issues and complexities at the time. Aware of those disputes, as a politician FDR preferred patience while British Prime Minister Churchill was an activist ready for confrontation. Churchill stated, “We should join hands with Russian armies as far to the east as possible, and if circumstance allow enter Berlin.” to deal with Stalin’s closing stages of the war2. Meanwhile James Byrnes, the democrat nominee for vice president in 1944, was appointed as the Secretary of State in 1945 by President Truman. Byrnes only contacted his inner circle on foreign policy and did not discuss it with anyone else, even President Truman. Although foreign policy was Byrnes’s specialty he also had a politician’s debating skills and a parliamentarian’s tactical expertise. One of Byrnes most significant actions was the speech he delivered at the Paris Peace talks. It was a turning point in German policy in, and Byrnes declared that Germans should be given back control of their own local affairs. As soon as the negotiations were over with all except Germany and Austria, Byrnes resigned and General Marshall was appointed to replace him. On March 5, 1946, Churchill delivered his Iron Curtain speech in which he stated “nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its communists international organization intends to do in the future or what the limits to their expensive and proselytizing tendencies.”3 The speech originally known as the “Sinews of Peace,” was significant in that it conveyed his fear of USSR’s intentions for expansionism and communist tyranny.4 It was not long before the exhortations and warnings of Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech began to translate into decisive American response and government action.
When George Marshall took office as Secretary of State in January 1947, he brought a new sense of clarity, purpose, vision, and above all firm American leadership. His capability was first put to test when an economic crisis began in Britain: the country’s largest automobile plant had shut down, forcing Ernest Bevin and the Labor government to reassess British global commitments. The freedom of Greece, Turkey, Iran and Italy from USSR domination was essential to western European security but Britain could no longer carry the burden alone. Consequently, Marshall and the U.S. took over the responsibility of the emergency aid to Greece and Turkey. The Marshall Plan, delivered in June of 1947, required a clear distribution between economic revitalization in Europe and American support. Its purpose was to revive the working economy in the world and to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist. On June 27, the French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault proposed a plan at Quai d’Orsay, which would join Britain to convene a conference under a direct committer of France, Britain, and the USSR which would create a plan of European self-help for submission to the U.S. Later Vyacheslav Molotov, the USSR minister of foreign affairs, announced Soviet rejection to the French proposal. Stalin’s negative response to the Marshall Plan ended the creation of the new “Cominform.”5 The Cominform represented a new communist information bureau to mobilize the communist parties in the USSR. The Pentagon talks did not accomplish much in their brief meetings. “The Pentagon talks which ended on April 1, 1948 only lasted eleven days and created five principal recommendations.”6 The recommendations created there were crucial because they were the procedures and rules to the agreement. By mid-April the “crucial period” in Europe began to pass as recovery aid began to flow from the US.7
For two and a half centuries, the diplomacy of Europe, its wars and history, revolved around German political geography. When Stalin arrived in Potsdam, he was determined to turn East Germany into a communist puppet state. There seemed to be little doubt to the West what Stalin intended to do with the Soviet occupation zone in Germany. The merger of the British and American occupation zones failed to produce much change and the economy remained weak because of inflation, so the London Council of Foreign Minister meeting ended in December 1947. Consequently, Marshall suggested that the French examine the Bizonal agreement. Berlin was the high point of Stalin’s postwar challenge to the West, and thus by imposing the blockade on Berlin, the USSR could avoid making any direct demand for the western allies to withdraw from the city. Meanwhile, Hendrick Vandenberg, a Republican who had served in the Senate from 1928, played a significant role as a prewar leader and a symbol of American isolationism. Dean Acheson wrote of Vandenberg’s experience and stated, “He was not a creator of the ideas but he had the capacity to learn and action.”8 Acheson informs the reader that although Vandenberg’s capabilities did not exceed in creating ideas, his skills were far more valuable for he could make others ideas into reality. The Ambassadors’ Committee’s only decision was to immediately establish a Working Group of diplomatic technicians from the staff of the seven participants in Washington. The Working Group meetings were informal and no records were kept, but with it the “NATO spirit” was born. Jack Hickerson was an important author, and with Theodore Achilles handling the drafting committee, they drafted the treaty. Achilles prepared a proposal for a North Atlantic Treaty, similar to the Rio Treaty of 1947, in which an armed attack or threat would be considered an attack against all and its objectives for security problems of Europe and America. Meanwhile, the Marshall Plan aid began flowing to Europe like a blood transfusion, and soon after in November of 1948, Truman won the presidential election.
President Truman was known for being one of the most thorough and sensible presidents in history, and his first goal of foreign policy was to have a collective-defense alliance with Europe. The first major act by President Truman after the election was signing the National Security Council directive, which formally instructed the State department to open negotiations seeking a North Atlantic Treaty. Although Marshall, Truman’s Secretary of State, was known for never concerning himself with publicity and recognition, his active role in transforming United States foreign policy into the active exercise of power in a world role “[Marshall] left a mark of his eminence on history and on the Tate department that a few secretaries will ever attain.”9 After Marshall resigned, President Truman appointed Dean Acheson as Secretary of State. The North Atlantic Treaty proposed by Achilles was very vague about what NATO has become today. A week after the NATO treaty was unveiled, Stalin stated he was ready to discuss calling off the Berlin blockade. The treaty signing was discreet, and Truman delivered a speech in hope that the treaty would protect Western Europe from Eastern communism stating, “[the treaty would] create a shield against aggression and fear of aggression.”10 A month before the signing, the Berlin blockade finally ended thus, the U.S. aided Europe in the hopes of stabilizing Europe to look after its own economic and security problems. Soon West Germany was stabilized and on September 15, West Germany held its first democratic election. In the NSC study under Acheson, the emphasis of American policy now shifted from containment to “building up situations of strength.”11 By January of 1951, the NATO alliance became a visible reality. It would be nearly five years before these sentiments were ultimately fulfilled, but in the meantime Eisenhower had reached out a hand that to German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his people could grasp. The great, simple, and historic truth at the end 40 years of the North Atlantic Treaty is that the policy of containment has worked, and the West had prevailed. NATO is now a fundamental part of collective foreign policy, diplomacy and security of its members and it will continue on.
Don Cook, the book’s author, follows the most important and significant changes in American foreign policy history from the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty to the creation of NATO. The author made numerous references to how, “the United States would have never considered joining alliances with Europe before 1947.”12 No high government officials, including President Truman and General Marshall, had any intentions of aligning with Europe since there were very strong doubts from Truman’s administration against aligning with Great Britain. The treaty was also a major historic achievement and transformation for Britain’s foreign policy as it committed the U.S. to a world role that the Great Britain could no longer fulfill. Although the small events which led to the birth of NATO have since been forgotten, NATO continues as the longest standing alliance in history from 1949 because it enabled Europe to revive, grow and prosper its economic health during a time of crisis.
As a European foreign correspondent, Don Cook had chronicled the momentous events of Europe at wars and at peace. Born in Connecticut in 1920, he began his newspaper career shortly after graduating from high school. He worked his way up to the service’s national bureau in Washington during wartime and was soon appointed as the European diplomatic correspondent in Paris. His work carried a neutral standpoint on the U.S. and Western European participants, since Cook often gave information from both the Europeans and the US. Cook states, “America joined in a military and political alliance… Ernest Bevin and the British had a major transformation of foreign policy with the North Atlantic Treaty.”13 The statement conveys an unbiased point of view because Cook presents information from both the U.S. and Europe. Cook is known for his incisive, analytical pieces that attempt to unravel the complexities of European diplomacy during the Cold War.
Since the book was written forty years after NATO was created and founded, Cook possesses a more comprehensive view of how the alliance has worked. Cook would have a better understanding on if NATO actually was an effective idea or not and it would reflect his unbiased view. From his extensive research, Cook concludes that NATO was actually a successful and effective idea, stating, “The truth at the end of forty years of the North Atlantic Treaty is that the policy of containment has worked.”14 Many writers and historians in the 1980’s, including Don Cook, are considered part of the Neo-Conservative historiography. Similar to consensus historians in the 1950’s, Neo-Conservative historians stress traditional American values, viewing the United States as a moral and stable country. Neo-conservative historians proved to be unique because they emphasized the historic use of federal government to shape American culture. Cook continues this trend, making many references to the state department in this book which supports this type of historiography.
According to most critics, including Edward A. Geodeken and Dennis Felbel, Forging the Alliance: NATO, 1945 – 1950 provides substantial information about the birth of NATO and broadens students’ knowledge. Reviewer Edward A. Geodeken from Purdue University comments that the book educates undergraduates and laypeople interested in Truman and the creation of NATO, because it broadens people’s “perspective on the major European politics in the postwar era.”15 However he also notes that further suggests the book’s information would have little or no use to specialists in U.S. politics and diplomacy. Dennis Felbel from the University of Manitoba Cook expresses that the book provides well-researched information on the subject. Felbel also sates he would find the book more useful if it contained more discussion and insight about the first forty years, lamenting how it “unfortunately discusses NATO’s first 40 years of existence in the space of few final pages.”16 Although the Cook contains a vast repertoire of information, both Geodeken and Felbel felt it lacked information concerning NATO’s beginning years.
Forging the Alliance possesses a great deal of information about the events which led up to the formation of NATO and unlike most books, it offers a great deal of insight to not only the active role of the United States, but also of Great Britain. Cook implies that the reduction of USSR threat would most likely to result in tensions in the Atlantic partnership. He also stresses the importance of a strong bond between the movements of European unity and Atlantic community. Cook stated that “without NATO the Soviet threat to Western Europe could have never been contained at all that” and points to the importance NATO had in protecting conserving Europe from communism.17 However the book contains an excessive amount of information it contains little information about it since its years of creation.
During the 1940’s, the North Atlantic Treaty was a turning point in American foreign policy. According to Cook, the 1940’s was indeed a watershed period because the signing of the treaty linked the U.S. with Western Europe and aimed for political, economic, and social cooperation. The survival of Democratic European nations was crucial for keeping communism at bay. Cook concludes that “NATO’s purpose and its raison d’etre of stability and peace remain as valid as they were when the treaty was signed in parlous times four decades ago.”18 NATO’s success lies in its establishment of both political and military alliances.
The signing of the North Atlantic treaty in 1949 linked America permanently in an entangling web alliance with the nations of Western Europe, yet NATO achieved its purpose of reviving and stabling the economy of Europe. The North American Treaty has provided Europe with its longest period of peace and greatest period of economic stability, expansion, and well-being. Its overwhelming success has proven that it is vital for foreign policy and diplomacy, and it will continue on to keep the international democratic community united against oppression.
1. Cook, Don. Forging the Alliance: NATO, 1945-1950. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1989. Viii.
2. Cook, Don. 8.
3. Cook, Don. 53.
4. Cook, Don. 51.
5. Cook, Don. 96.
6. Cook, Don. 131.
7. Cook, Don. 134.
8. Cook, Don. 158.
9. Cook, Don. 200.
10. Cook, Don. 222.
11. Cook, Don. 233.
12. Cook, Don. Vii.
13. Cook, Don. Vii-Viii.
14. Cook, Don. 272.
15. Book Reviews. EBSCOhost, n.d. Web. 25 May 13.
16. Felbel, Dennis. "Social Sciences." Rev. of Forging the Alliance: NATO 1945-1950. Library Journal (1989): 128. Print.
17. Cook, Don. Forging the Alliance: NATO, 1945-1950. London: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1989. 274.
18. Cook, Don. Ix.