The Harmel Report
The 1967 “Report of the Council on the Future Tasks of the Alliance”, also known as the Harmel Report, was a seminal document in NATO’s history. It reasserted NATO’s basic principles and effectively introduced the notion of deterrence and dialogue, setting the scene for NATO’s first steps toward a more cooperative approach to security issues that would emerge in 1991.
- The 1967 “Report of the Council on the Future Tasks of the Alliance” was initiated by Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel at a time when the existence of the Alliance was put into question.
- The Report reasserted NATO’s basic principles and introduced the notion of dialogue and deterrence, while setting out a programme of work.
- The Report advocated the adoption of a dual-track policy for NATO: the promotion of political détente while maintaining adequate defence.
- It is considered as a key political and strategic think piece, which communicated to the public the spirit of the classified strategic documents adopted in 1967.
- The Report had a lasting impact on the Alliance’s strategic thinking, broadening NATO’s approach to security and anticipating the breakdown of the deadlock between East and West.
While recognizing that the international environment had changed since 1949, the Report reaffirmed the aims and purpose of NATO and its twin functions - political and military. It also introduced a new dimension, committing the Alliance to a dual-track policy: it advocated the need to seek a relaxation of tensions of East-West relations while maintaining adequate defence, i.e., military defence deterrents would be balanced alongside political détente.
For the political dimension, there was a plea for balanced force reductions in the East and West, as well as a solution to the underlying political problems dividing Europe in general and Germany in particular; for the military dimension, the Report spoke of examining “exposed areas”, citing in particular the Mediterranean.
Its namesake, Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel, originally highlighted the need for the report in 1966, at a time when the existence of the Alliance was put into question. Four separate reports were initially drafted and, consequently, summarized. It was this summary that constituted the Report, which was presented and unanimously approved by defence ministers in December 1967.
The impact of the Report was both short-term and long-term. In the late 60s, NATO was under increased public scrutiny: France had withdrawn from the integrated military command structure and, for some, 1969 marked the end of the Alliance or, at least, of the Alliance as it had existed up to then (a belief fed by a misinterpretation of Article 13 of the North Atlantic Treaty). The Report not only reiterated the Organization’s key principles, but it also set out a realistic programme of work, therefore reasserting the existence of NATO in a practical as well as a political way.
In the long term, the Report had a lasting impact on the Alliance’s strategic thinking. Building on the Report of the Three Wise Men (1956), it broadened the Organization’s approach to security, anticipating the breakdown of the deadlock between the East and West.
Climate of change and fundamental questioning
NATO had been advocating massive retaliation for a decade before it adopted a strategy of flexible response in December 1967. Up to then, Kennedy’s assassination and the US plight in Vietnam had slowed down any new thinking on NATO strategy; the Berlin crises had been a reality check for NATO’s strategy of massive retaliation; and France’s withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military structure in 1966 was a shock to Alliance solidarity.
1966-1967 were therefore pivotal years for the Organization. The world was in flux and there were unjustified fears - but fears nonetheless - that three years on NATO would no longer exist. Article 13 of the Washington Treaty stated:
“After the Treaty has been in force for twenty years, any Party may cease to be a Party one year after its notice of denunciation has been given to the Government of the United States of America, which will inform the Governments of the other Parties of the deposit of each notice of denunciation.”
The article only gave the possibility for member countries to renounce their membership of the Alliance, no more. Should a member take up this provision, it would not put into question the existence of the Alliance as such.
Harmel and time for adjustment
Recognizing that the Organization needed to adjust to remain relevant and united, Pierre Harmel made a proposal at the 16 December 1966 ministerial meeting for the Alliance “to undertake a broad analysis of international developments since the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949”. The purpose of this was “to determine the influence of such developments on the Alliance and to identify the tasks which lie before it, in order to strengthen the Alliance as a factor of durable peace.”
Work on the “Future Tasks of the Alliance” was undertaken in parallel with the drafting of a new strategy for the Organization, which was published in December 1967. MC 14/3 and its accompanying military document (MC 48/3) were so inherently flexible, in substance and interpretation, that they remained valid until the end of the Cold War. The Harmel Report reflected this philosophy and was to be considered as a key political and strategic think-piece. It effectively communicated to the public (it was an unclassified document) the spirit of the classified strategic documents (MC 14/3 and MC 48/3).
The top political authority of the Organization – the North Atlantic Council (NAC) -tasked Harmel, as a member of a group of special representatives, to undertake the drafting of the Report. It evolved in two principal phases: first with the setting up of Special Groups in February 1967 and second, with the political stage when the findings of each group were compared.
The first stage – the formation of special groups
A Special Group of Representatives was set up under the chairmanship of the Secretary General Manilo Brosio on 22 February 1967. The Special Group then established broad sub-groups, each one chaired by a rapporteur named by member governments:
- East-West relations, chaired by J.H.A. Watson from the British Foreign Ministry and Karl Schutz from the West German Foreign Ministry;
- interallied relations, chaired by former NATO Secretary General Paul-Henri Spaak;
- general defence policy, chaired by US Deputy Under Secretary of State Foy D. Kohler; and
- relations with other countries, chaired by C.L. Patijn, a professor of international relations at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands.
These groups began work in April 1967.
The second stage - consultations and negotiations
The second and political stage of the process took place in October 1967. The rapporteurs met for the last time on 11 October at DitchleyPark in the United Kingdom. Here, each sub-group’s findings were compared.
The Secretary General, Manilo Brosio, consulted members directly, often to mediate on standoffs for instance between the United States which was unwilling to be forced into something by France and the United Kingdom, along with other members, who wanted a report more acceptable to the French authorities.
The methods used by the groups’ rapporteurs varied, sometimes causing complaints among some permanent representatives that the groups’ methods were chaotic. Two of the four rapporteurs were criticized for their “highly personal manner”, while others such as Spaak, were criticized for addressing issues in a more theoretical, than realistic way. Additionally, there were inevitable disagreements over substance, considering that 15 member countries had to discuss such a broad range of issues. For instance, on the key issue of East-West relations, views differed, with the United Kingdom’s more optimistic outlook on détente being confronted with the scepticism of the Federal Republic of Germany. Eventually, the conclusion was that NATO and a policy of détente were not contradictory and that US presence in Europe was important to peaceful order.
The four reports formed the basis of the summary report – known as the Harmel Report - drafted by the International Staff early December 1967. It was presented to foreign ministers and further debated. Following amendments, the final report was approved by ministers on 14 December 1967 and issued as an annex to the final communiqué.
The Harmel Report is a very short document, consisting of 17 paragraphs. It highlights two main tasks for the Alliance and several other key issues.
Two main tasks for the Alliance
- “…to maintain adequate military strength and political solidarity to deter aggression and other forms of pressure and to defend the territory of member countries if aggression should occur”;
- “…to pursue the search for progress towards a more stable relationship in which the underlying political issues can be solved.”
And the text continues:
“Military security and a policy of détente are not contradictory. Collective defence is a stabilising factor in world politics. It is the necessary condition for effective policies directed towards a greater relaxation of tensions. The way to peace and stability in Europe rests in particular on the use of the Alliance constructively in the interest of détente. The participation of the USSR and the USA will be necessary to achieve a settlement of the political problems in Europe.”
- Adaptability: The Alliance is capable of adapting itself to changing circumstances within the terms of the Treaty and continuing to help maintain peace within a very different international security environment to that of 1949;
- Stability: Alliance members share ideals and interests. NATO's cohesion generates stability in the Atlantic area;
- Détente: Allies are not obliged to submit their policies to collective decision, but consultations should be improved with a view to seeking common ground in pursuing the divisive issue of détente with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe;
- German reunification: détente or the “relaxation of tensions” was not the ultimate goal but Allies were aware that if they wanted to reach a “lasting peaceful order”, the German question had to be resolved;
- Disarmament: arms control or balanced force reductions play an important role in working toward and effective détente with the East;
- Exposed areas: these have to be examined, in particular the South-Eastern flank and the Mediterranean.
The Report concluded that the Alliance had a very important role to play in promoting détente and strengthening peace. As such, it advocated the adoption of a dual-track approach to defence where “Military security and a policy of détente are not contradictory but complementary”, or as US Deputy Under Secretary of State Kohler described it in his sub-group’s report, it advocated a two-pillar security strategy.
The entire process of self-examination not only served to reassert Alliance unity and cohesion but it clearly laid out its concerns and principal objectives. Additionally, the inclusion of language on defence in the final report provided an opportunity to gain support for the Alliance’s new military strategy published the same year.