|Updated: 04-Sep-2001||NATO the first five years 1949-1954|
The first steps
In the North Atlantic Treaty, the member governments
had undertaken collective obligations which called for immediate and
continuous action. Clearly, therefore, their first task was to devise
and create collective machinery which would enable them to fulfil these
obligations. They were in fact specifically committed to doing so by
Article 9 of the Treaty; and a Working Group had been set up two-days
before the Treaty was actually signed to make recommendations as to
the agencies which should be established, and the methods which should
be adopted, to prepare a collective plan of defence for the protection
of the North Atlantic area.
On the 5th April, 1949, the day after the signature of
the Treaty, the five Brussels-Treaty Powers submitted a formal request
for military and financial assistance to Washington. Similar requests
were made by Denmark, Italy, and Norway.
Now let us trace the beginnings of the Organization set up to implement the North Atlantic Treaty. The report of the Working Group mentioned at the beginning of this Chapter was considered by the North Atlantic Council at their first session in Washington on the 17th September, 1949. The principal decisions may be summarised as follows:
At this first session the Council recognised that comprehensive
questions of military production and supply, and of economic and financial
factors would have to be studied. At their second session held in Washington
on the 18th November, 1949, it was decided to set up two new agencies,
namely: a Defence Financial and Economic Committee, and a Military Production
and Supply Board.
The Military Production and Supply Board was to report to the Defence Committee. Its functions were to recommend ways and means of increasing available supplies when they fell short of military requirements and to promote more efficient production of military equipment.
Both the Defence Financial and Economic Committee and the Military Production and Supply Board were to have permanent working staffs in London, composed of qualified personnel from the interested countries.
Thus NATO now had the nucleus of an organization and a scheme on which to work. Nevertheless, as is only natural, the preparation of collective defence plans between sovereign states using different official procedures, different technical definitions, different languages and different currencies, was to prove extremely complicated. There were any amount of teething troubles to overcome, and work proceeded at a slow pace.
On the 1st December, 1949, the Defence Committee, meeting in Paris, agreed on a strategic concept for the 'integrated defence of the North Atlantic area', and on the methods by which a programme of production and of deliveries of military weapons and equipment should be devised. The Committee had, of course, taken into account the studies carried out in 1948 by Western Union, and later by the United States Joint Chiefs-of-Staff.
The Defence Committee's recommendations were approved by the North Atlantic Council at their third session in Washington on the 6th January, 1950. The Council stressed that 'these recommendations embody the principles of self-help and mutual aid and will provide the basis for the common defence of the Parties'. On the 27th January, the day of the signing of the bilateral military aid agreements, President Truman approved the 'master Defence Plan' for the North Atlantic area. (2)
Meanwhile, the Defence Financial and Economic Committee had begun work on a number of projects aimed at:
This was the beginning of the discussions on an eventual 'common fund' and on a fair 'burden sharing', which were to be frequently debated later on.
When the Council met in London on the 15th May, 1950, they were brought up against the fact that there was a lack of co-ordination between NATO's military and civilian agencies. The military authorities were awaiting information from the Defence Financial and Economic Committee on what resources would be available to meet the Medium Term Defence Plan; this required a much higher level of forces than member countries were actually planning. At the same time, the Defence Financial and Economic Committee was awaiting specific information from the military authorities about the priorities and especially the costs of the plan. Long memoranda were being exchanged on the subject without much result. Ministers also showed concern at the considerable financial burden implied in the Medium Term Defence Plan. (3)
In this somewhat confused situation the Council decided that the time had come for the creation of a permanent civilian body which would be responsible for carrying out the policies of the NATO governments in the intervals between meetings of the North Atlantic Council. Accordingly, they established the Council Deputies to meet in continuous session in London. Each government was to be represented by a Deputy to its "Council Representative (i.e. its Foreign Minister). The Deputies were enjoined to select a permanent chairman from among their own membership and to establish a 'suitable full-time organization composed of highly qualified persons contributed by member governments. The Council also established a Planning Board for Ocean Shipping to deal with all matters relating to merchant shipping in defence planning.
The Council defined the numerous tasks of the Deputies and stated that 'the problem of adequate military forces and the necessary financial costs should be examined as one, and not as separate problems. They also said that 'the combined resources of the members of the North Atlantic Treaty were sufficient, if properly co-ordinated and applied, to ensure the progressive and speedy development of adequate military defence without impairing the social and economic progress of these countries' and they urged the member governments to concentrate on the creation of 'balanced collective forces in the progressive build-up of the defence of the North Atlantic area.
Two expressions here need to be qualified and stressed. The first is balanced collective forces', which marked a new development in NATO's thinking. The idea was to conceive the military build-up so that all effort be directed in the best possible way and to the best possible place. Duplication and overlapping were to be avoided; a government should not be wasting its money on building, say ships, if it could do more important work, equally useful to North Atlantic defence, in some other field.
The second expression worth noting is 'progressive build-up of defence. This reflected the rather leisurely pace of Western rearmament during that period. Clearly the NATO countries intended to take their time about rebuilding their armed strength; and each of them, before deciding on costly and somewhat unpopular measures, had a tendency to wait and see what the other fellow was doing.
Let us now pause to take stock of the situation a little over a year after the signing of the Treaty. The Council, the Defence Committee and the Defence Financial and Economic Committee had had a number of meetings. Their subsidiary agencies had been continuously at work on the complicated and novel problems that confronted them. Much useful experience had been gained and much useful information collected. The habit of working together was growing sensibly. So far so good.
On the other hand, international tension all over the world had in no way relaxed and in Europe the military situation was fraught with danger. To the west of the Iron Curtain the members of the Atlantic Alliance had about 14 divisions on the Continent and less than 1,000 aircraft. These divisions were of varying quality both in training and equipment and several were below strength. They were not controlled by any single authority and arrangements for their effective command in case of war would have had to be hastily improvised. On the other side of the Iron Curtain Russia had about 25 divisions stationed outside the Soviet Union, supported by about 6,000 aircraft available for immediate attack, the whole under a centralised command: and behind these 'forward' Russian units was the massive bulk of the Red Army and air forces.
The figures alone make the picture bleak enough from the Allied point of view, but they do not tell the whole story. The Allied forces in Germany and Austria, apart from lacking the advantages of cohesion and unified direction, were disposed for easy administration, without any regard for their operational role. The three zones of Western Germany, American, British and French, had been demarcated as zones of occupation, not zones of defence - with the result that the line running from the Elbe down to Austria was not a defensive line in any sense of the word. One or two examples will illustrate this: the British troops were supplied through Hamburg, about an hour's drive down the autobahn from Lubeck, itself only 10 minutes from the Russian garrison. The only British armoured division was placed slightly behind its main base, and the British infantry division behind the armour. It is difficult to imagine dispositions that could be more unsuitable for operations in the event of an aggression. The American forces were just as badly placed. Their line of supply ran from Bremen parallel to the direction from which attack might come, and right through the British zone. Nor were the French forces prepared for anything beyond the administration of German territory.
These dispositions may in retrospect look extraordinary; but, as explained
above, the forces maintained in Germany after the end of World War II
by the Western democracies had not been organized with any idea of warlike
operations. This situation was graphically described by Field Marshal
Montgomery, Chairman of the Commanders-in-Chief Committee, Western Union,
in a report to the governments of the Brussels Treaty Powers dated the
15th June, 1950: 'As things stand today and in the foreseeable future',
wrote the Field Marshal, 'there would be scenes of appalling and indescribable
confusion in Western Europe if we were ever attacked by the Russians.