Updated: 18-Dec-2001 NATO Speeches

Delivered to the Norwegian
in Oslo
15 May 1956

Speech by Lord Ismay

I am delighted and honoured to have this opportunity of addressing the Norvegian Atlantic Committee. From the first moment that I took over the appointment of Secretary General of NATO over four years ago, I felt that voluntary organizations could be invaluable in enlightening public opinion about NATO, and in developing a sense of community between the peoples of the member countries. They have already rendered signal service in many countries to the cause so dear to all our hearts - the cause of peace.

I believe that voluntary organizations can be specially helpful at the present time. We are confronted by many difficulties and uncertainties, and there is a good deal of misunderstanding. It is therefore more than ever necessary that the people of all the member countries should be told the truth.

In order to get the proper perspective, we must take a quick glance at the past. Seven years ago, Western Europe faced the threat of imminent aggression by Soviet forces of overwhelming strength. In that hour of mortal danger the North Atlantic Treaty was signed. The decision to accede to the Alliance required great vision and great courage on the part of many of the members. For the United States, it meant abandoning their traditional policy of isolationism from the affairs of Europe. For Norway and others it meant abandoning their tradition of neutrality.

The free world owes a deep depth of gratitude to the Statesmen of the Western Democracies in these days. Their vision has reaped a rich reward for us all.

The Alliance which they brought into being saved the free world from the unfathomable disaster which threatened it. Peace in Europe has been preserved. Soviet westward expansion has been halted. A shield of armed forces has been built up which, though not yet strong enough to resist an all out attack, is at least a significant deterrent to aggression. The forces of NATO are no longer a dream, they are a reality.

But there is another achievement which altough invisible and imponderable is, perhaps, the greatest of all. I refer to the unity that has grown up between the member countries. It is perhaps our most precious and our most potent possession.

Thus the position to-day is very different from what it was when the Treaty was signed; and it may be claimed that NATO is the most successful peacetime coalition that there has ever been. And yet, paradoxical though it may seem, its very success has brought another set of difficulties in its train.

The Soviet leaders have always disliked and feared the North Atlantic Alliance, and all that it stands for. They did their utmost to prevent it being born. You will remember that just as your distinguished Foreign Minister Mr. Lange was about to leave Oslo for Washington to enquire about the North Atlantic Treaty, a Note was received from the Soviet Government inviting Norway to conclude a non-aggression pact with them. Norway made her choice. She declined the Russian offer; and on the 3rd March, 1949 decided to join the Atlantic Alliance, while making it clear that she would not allow armed forces of foreign powers to be stationed in Norway so long as the country had not been attacked or threatened with attack. Thus the Soviet failed to prevent the Treaty being signed, but this did not deter them from trying to prevent the Alliance being extended or strengthened. When there was a question of Greece and Turkey joining the Alliance, the Soviet did their utmost by a mixture of blandishment and threats to prevent their doing so. Two years ago they took exactly the same line when the question of the accession of the Federal Republic of Germany was under consideration.

Having failed in all their attempts to weaken and disrupt NATO, and having seen the Alliance growing in health and strength, the Soviet leaders decided some 12 months ago to change their tactics. The smile has been substituted for the frown. Good will visits all over the world have taken the place of isolation within the walls of the Kremlin. Stalin, whom the Soviet people had been taught to worship as a God, is now reviled as a tyrant; which the Free World always knew him to be. Fair words about "peaceful co-existence" and "relaxation of tension between East and West" have taken the place of bullying and threatening.

If we could believe that these changes in tactics meant a real change of heart, how truly happy we would all be! But are we justified in basing our plans on that belief? Quite recently Khruschev himself gave us the answer. This is what he said:

"The West say that the Soviet leaders smile, but that their actions do not match their smiles. But I assure them that the smiles are sincere. They are not artificial. We wish to live in peace. But if anyone thinks that our smile means that we abandon the teachings of Marx and Lenin or abandon our Communist road, then they are fooling themselves."

In other words, the Soviet, on their own showing, maintain the ideology and ambition of world revolution.

And there are other reasons for not taking the Soviet 'new look' at its face value. Soviet military power continues to increase. They profess to want disarmament, which we have been pressing on them for many years, and by way of showing their sincerity, they announced only yesterday a proposed reduction of one million two hundred thousand men in their colossal armed forces. This seems very plausible at first sight, but it cannot by any stretch of imagination be interpreted as a genuine step towards disarmament. On the contrary they have their war industry working at full blast, and they are merely reorganizing the pattern of their defence to meet the needs of modern war, while at the same time making available much needed manpower to industry and agriculture. And the stark fact remains that they reject every proposal that we put forward for inspection and control machinery which alone would make any disarmament plan effective.

They preach peaceful co-existence, but their iron curtain is almost as rigid as ever. It is still a barrier which prevents the people of the Western democracies from travelling freely in Russia and the people of the Soviet from travelling freely in our world and seeing our way of life. The battle we are waging is a battle for the minds of men: and if there could be unfettered intercourse between East and West there could be no doubt as to which side would win.

Finally, what is to prevent the Soviet leaders from again chaging their tactics in whatever way at whatever time it suits them? There is no Parliament or public opinion to prevent them. May I remind you of the Communist somersault in June 1940? On many walls in England they painted slogans "Stop this imperialistic war". But when Hitler attacked Russia on the 21st June, 1941, all these were scraped out over night and replaced by "Second Front Now".

There is in fact no guarantee that the frown will not again take the place of the smile, and bullying and threats the place of fair words. While therefore the Atlantic powers warmly welcome the recent easing up of tension, and are sincerely determined to do their utmost to reach a lasting accomodation with the Soviet, they cannot afford as yet to relax their vigilance. To do so would be to risk making a mockery of all the sacrifices and exertions that they have made these last seven years.

But when all is said and done, one must admit that the Soviet arguments are plausible enough to have had a good deal of effect on public opinion in many member countries. The reasons are not far to seek. Many of our peoples have been at war or under the shadow of war for getting on for 20 years. All of us yearn passionately for peace. All of us long for the day when we can cease spending so much money on unprofitable things like armaments and devote it to the greater happiness and well-being of all peoples. Added to this, the fear which brought the Allies together has now receded. There is therefore a great temptation for people to indulge in wishful thinking and to make themselves believe that we can now safely relax. The danger of doing so, and the true facts of the situation must be brought home to public opinion.

There is also a feeling of pessimism, almost defeatism abroad, owing to the troubled conditions in so many parts of the world - the Cyprus quarrel in which three members of NATO are involved; the French difficulties in North Africa which have necessitated the temporary withdrawal of a large part of the Frence forces assigned to NATO; the tension between Israel and the Arab world; the problem of the reunification of Germany - and so on.

No one can deny that the dangers and difficulties are at the present time very great, but I submit that they are not greater than those through which we have already made our way successfully.

I now turn to another source of misunderstanding. The North Atlantic Council at the Ministerial Meeting held early this month decided that the time had come for NATO to advance more actively in non-military fields, and to try to establish that same unity in political, economic and social and cultural matters as has been established in military matters. With that end in view, they appointed a Committee of three of their colleagues - Mr. Pearson of Canada, Signor Martino of Italy, and your own Mr. Lange, to explore ways and means of how this can be done.

There is, of course, nothing new in this idea. It was contemplated from the very start, and it is indeed implicitly stated in Article 2 that the Treaty should be much more than a military alliance, and that its ultimate purpose was to build up a real Atlantic Community in every sense of the term - a group of like-minded nations, thinking together and acting together in all matters.

In other words, the recent decesion of the Council represents a perfectly natural evolution of ideas.
It has, however, been interpreted in some quarters as meaning that NATO's military tasks have been completed, and that the organization must now concentrate almost entirely on non-military duties.

This is a complete misunderstanding. The words of the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting speak for themselves. Security remains a basic problem, and the Atlantic Powers must continue to give priority to the maitenance of their unity and stregth. This makes it quite clear that whatever measures they may take in the non-military fields are intended to supplement and not to supplant their military activities. Here, therefore, is another misunderstanding which voluntary organizations may help to dispel.

Now, may I turn for a moment from policy to what I call emergency planning. We all know from bitter experience that modern war is not a matter for sailors, soldiers and airmen alone. The skill of the Commander, the valour of the troops, the excellence of their equipment would be of no avail if the home front were unable to stand the strain of war. It is therefore essential that plans and preparations should be made in time of peace to ensure that in the event of war - which God forbid - the civilian populations of all member countries should be effectively organized, and all civilian activities effectively directed.

We are working hard at plans of this kind, and I am happy to be able to tell you that in the matter of civil defence and emergency planning of all kinds, Norway is one of the most advanced of all NATO nations. She has set a splendid example. Nevertheless, I feel that this is another field in which voluntary organizations can help to make the position even better.

Will you forgive me if I now strike a brief personal note? I have not the time to enter into details about the contribution which Norway makes to the North Atlantic Alliance. Considering the size of her population, it is remarkable. I should, however, be failing in my duty if I did not say something about Norway's contribution which your Foreign Minister cannot say himself. Ever since the Treaty was signed, Mr. Lange has, by his statesmanship, wise counsel and manifest sincerity rendered unsurpassed service to the cause of freedom. Whenever I have been in need of advice during my four years of office, it is to your illustrious Foreign Minister that I have turned. He has recently added to the debt under which he has placed me by sending as the personal representative of Norway in Paris my good friend Ambassador Boyesen. Although he has been with us only a relatively short time, he has already earned the deep respect and, if I may say so, the warm affection of all his colleagues.

May I conclude with a few words about the attitude of the North Atlantic Council towards all voluntary organizations. It is our policy to give them all possible encouragement and support, but at the same time not to attempt to run them or finance them. For even if we had the funds which to help you (which we haven't) I believe that the value of your spontaneous enterprise would be diminished if you became too closely linked with either NATO itself or even with your own Government. But, except for money, we will do our utmost to help you in any way that we can.

For example, we would be only too glad to provide you from time to time with lecturers on the wide range of problems with which NATO deals.
We can arrange tours of journalists.

We can supply you with publications. Here we have a good deal of material. There is the book which appears under my name entitled: "NATO - The First Five Years". Then there is the simple picture book book called "Atlantic Alliance"; and finally the monthly NATO Letter which gives in condensed form news of current interest. Our distribution of this has been limited until recently by lack of funds. I am happy to say that this has been corrected in the new information budget, and we are now in a position to let you have, within reason, as many copies as you wish.

We have also produced several films about NATO and a series of films called the Atlantic Community Series. This consists of short documentary films about each member country. I see in the papers to-day that BBC Television is going to show this series to TV audiences in the United Kingdom. The first film will be shown next Sunday, and, appropriately the BBC has chosen the film entitled "Introducing Norway" to start the series. We hope very much that Norwegian language versions of these films can be produced, but Norwegian help will be necessary.

Lastly, there are the NATO Mobile exhibitions. These have already been seen by nine million people in Italy, Greece, Turkey, France, Portugal, Denmark and Germany.

To sum up, all our knowledge and experience, and all our resources - except money - are at your disposal. Please do not hesitate to draw upon them. I promise to give my personal attention to any requests.

It is my earnest hope that the efforts of the Norwegian Atlantic Committee will be crowned with success, and that when the history of our times comes to be written, the verdict will be that they have made a significant contribution to the hearts desire of every one of us - "peace, and good will towards men".

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