Updated: 05-Mar-2001 NATO the first five years 1949-1954

Part 3
Chapter 14

by Lord Ismay

Secretary General



Non-military co-operation

The development of NATO as a defensive alliance has tended to concentrate public attention on the military aspects of the Treaty. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that from the outset it was intended that it should be much more than a military pact. To quote the words spoken by Mr. Lester Pearson on the day the Treaty was signed: 'This Treaty, though born of fear and frustration, must however lead to positive social, economic and political achievements if it is to live'. It was with this in view that the partners agreed, by Article 2 of the Treaty, to four binding commitments, namely:

  1. to strengthen their free institutions;
  2. to bring about a better understanding of the principles on which those institutions are founded;
  3. to promote conditions of stability and well-being;
  4. to seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies, and to encourage collaboration between any or all of them.

These four undertakings can be discharged by governments in any manner and by any means they think fit. They are a promise by governments to their peoples and to their partners to work together for a happier future. Article 2 was in fact regarded by many as a constitutional act which would, it was hoped, strengthen the unity of the North Atlantic Community.

The term 'Community' does not appear in the Treaty, but it was expressly used by Mr. Lester Pearson on the occasion of its signature. (1) It has since appeared in numerous Council documents and official communiqués. It conveys precisely the sort of relationship to which member states aspire; but it must not be confused with the idea of an Atlantic federal union. This has ardent advocates in some quarters but cannot yet be regarded as practical politics.

During the discussions which took place at the Council's first session in September, 1949, on the machinery to be set up to implement the Treaty, it was suggested that special agencies might be required in the future to carry out the provisions of Article 2. There was general agreement in principle, but not all governments were equally enthusiastic. Some were anxious to make Article 2 a reality at once; others tended to regard it as an ultimately desirable, though not immediately practicable, idea. As a result nothing definite was done, and it was not until two years later - at the Ottawa Conference in 1951 - that the Council gave serious consideration to the possibilities of closer co-operation in the Article 2 field.

The pearson committee

The upshot was the issue of a statement - sometimes known as the Ottawa Declaration - in the following terms: 'The strengthening of the North Atlantic Organization in the past two years .has developed in the minds of the peoples a strong sense of their common interests and ideals. There is a desire within the North Atlantic Community to meet specific needs in all fields where close collaboration will advance the welfare of the community'. (2)

The Council also set up a committee to consider 'the further strengthening of that Community and especially the implementation of Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty'. The Committee consisted of Ministers from Belgium, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway - small or medium Powers of different backgrounds and interests, yet all deeply concerned in what General Eisenhower has called 'the logic of larger groups and associations of nations'. (3) Mr. Lester Pearson was Chairman of the Committee, and Mr. Charles Spofford, Chairman of the Council Deputies, was the only non-Ministerial member.

The Pearson Committee first reviewed the work of this kind which was already being done by member governments in other international bodies. It soon found that quite a lot had been, and was being done. The five Brussels Treaty Governments, for example, had contracted to 'develop on corresponding lines the social and other related services of their countries' and to 'conclude as soon as possible conventions with each other in the sphere of social security'.

Subsequently, these same governments agreed on sundry codes and conventions to facilitate the movement of labour. They also reached reciprocal agreements relating to security benefits for workers moving from one Brussels Treaty country to another, the exchange of statistical and industrial information, health and medical benefits. Much of this work has been developed, and extended, to other countries by the Council of Europe, eleven of whose fifteen members also belong to NATO.

The Pearson Committee made an interim report to the Council at Rome in November, 1951, and a final report to the Council at Lisbon in February, 1952. It was not surprising that it had to say that little ground had been left untrodden either in the economic, social or cultural fields. On the other hand, it was able to point out that member governments were making progress within NATO in harmonising their policies on the following subjects:

  • the collective examination of their capabilities in relation to the common defence programme undertaken by the Temporary Council Committee (TCC);
  • the reorganization of NATO's civilian agencies which would provide for 'much closer co-ordination of the efforts of member governments' ;
  • the plans for close co-operation between the members of the projected European Defence Community.

To this last example might be added the co-operation of. five members of NATO in the Coal and Steel Community which became operative in 1952.

The Pearson Committee had felt hampered by the absence of representatives of any of the larger Powers. It therefore advised dissolution and the transference of its tasks to the Council in permanent session. This was approved by the Council at Lisbon. In its report the Committee recommended the following subjects for consideration by the Council:

  • co-ordination and consultation on foreign policy;
  • economic co-operation;
  • the movement of labour;
  • social and cultural co-operation;
  • information activities.

Economic co-operation

Co-ordination and consultation on foreign policy was discussed in Chapter VI. Let us here have a look at the other recommendations of the Committee. First of all, economic co-operation. The reader will be aware that there is an organization, the OEEC, whose task is to promote peacetime economic co-operation between its eighteen European members and its two North American associate members. AH members of NATO take part in the work of the OEEC, but all members of the OEEC are not members of NATO.

NATO's special interest in the economic sphere is the impact of defence expenditures on the economic situation of the Atlantic countries. As we have seen, the establishment of a defence plan led the Council to consider its political and economic implications in the several countries, the difficulties limiting each country's defence effort, and the means by which these could be overcome by national or international action. It has therefore been the duty of NATO to offer recommendations to governments about their economic policies - e.g. in the Annual Review which is part of its continuing work. It is also in accord with Article 2 that no country be compelled to bear a defence burden which would impose an intolerable economic or social strain.

There are thus certain economic problems connected with defence which are studied only in NATO. But, true to its policy of avoiding unnecessary duplication of work, NATO does not trespass on other international agencies. It leaves member countries to carry out any international implications of its economic recommendations through these organizations.

Labour mobility

The problem of surplus manpower in member countries was recommended for close study by the Permanent Council both by the Pearson Committee and the TCC. The latter, in its report of December, 1951, pointed out that solutions must be found to both surpluses and shortages of manpower. It particularly stressed that the pressure of surplus manpower in Italy could be relieved only by a substantial increase of emigration. At Lisbon the Council confirmed this analysis and recommended that governments should facilitate labour mobility between their countries. Apart from Italy, other member countries with crucial over-population problems are Greece and the Netherlands.

Certain international organizations - e.g. the International Labour Organization and the Inter-governmentaI Committee for European Migration - are specifically concerned with various aspects of manpower problems. NATO's role, as will be seen, is very much more limited.

In September, 1952, the Council set up a Working Group on Labour Mobility. This Group, in a report to the Council in November 1953, drew attention to two developments. First, the decision in August, 1953, by the United States Congress to admit, in addition to existing quotas, a total of 209,000 immigrants during the period ending the 31st December, 1956, of whom about half could come from NATO countries in Europe. This action followed a recommendation of President Eisenhower which stressed the United States interest in strengthening the Atlantic Community. Secondly, the adoption by the OEEC Council, also in 1953, of a code dealing with 'the employment of nationals of other member countries'. This introduces a measure of international control with the granting of work permits to foreigners. It applies between all the OEEC countries, except Portugal and Turkey.

Two conclusions may be drawn from NATO's study of the problems of labour mobility. First, progress is bound to be very slow because of the political, economic and social factors involved. Secondly, since other international agencies are dealing with it, NATO cannot, and should not, attempt to become an executive agency for labour mobility and emigration. Moreover, most of the overseas countries capable of receiving immigrants do not belong to NATO. The Council will continue, however, to remind their member governments of the dangers to the Atlantic Community, and to its defence effort, resulting from the existence of large surplus populations in more than one member country.

Social and cultural co-operation

The Pearson Committee believed that NATO's best contribution in the social and cultural sphere should be sought in furthering co-operation between the European countries and North America. It realised, however, that, in existing conditions, such work would be hampered by differences between social legislation and practice on opposite sides of the North Atlantic - obstacles due partly to the political systems of Canada and the United States, where responsibility for social legislation is divided between the federal governments and the provincial and state governments, respectively. In the social field, therefore, the extension of transatlantic co-operation seemed unlikely and, in fact, the Council have not found it possible to make any headway.
Cultural exchanges would seem to be less intractable and, in March, 1954, the Council appointed a consultant (4) to study the various forms of cultural co-operation between member countries (both on a bilateral and an international basis) and to suggest where NATO could fill gaps.

Although there are as yet no NATO-wide cultural projects, there are frequent cultural exchanges between individual member countries. To take one example, the Danish Society for the Atlantic Pact and Democracy, at the suggestion of a French professor, planned a summer course in 1954, under the auspices of Copenhagen University open to students from all NATO countries. The same Danish Society has also arranged an Atlantic Holiday Camp for young people employed in commerce. These are examples of the excellent initiatives that the NATO partners may take, on an official or private level. In the NATO budget, there are no funds for cultural activities: consequently future progress must primarily depend on the willingness of member governments to find the money required.

NATO and public opinion

A great international experiment like NATO must, to a large extent, depend for its success upon the support of the citizens of all the member countries: and they are unlikely to lend that support unless they understand the reasons for the exertions and sacrifices that are demanded of them. This has been recognised from the outset of the Alliance. At their meeting in May, 1950, the Council laid it down that one of their most important tasks "was to promote public information on the Treaty's objectives and achievements - while leaving responsibility for national programmes to each member government. In 1951, the Council Deputies agreed a similar resolution, and called a conference in London of information officials of all member governments to study this subject. (5) The Pearson Committee's report contained a further exhortation to increase public knowledge of NATO. The subject has since been raised in the Council on more than one occasion, while in every one of his reports to Ministers the Secretary General has stressed the immense importance to the Alliance of informed public opinion.

There is no doubt that a majority favourable to the Atlantic Alliance does exist among the citizens of the NATO countries. This was clearly demonstrated by the votes in the national parliaments on the Treaty's ratification; it is also evident from the approval accorded by parliaments to the annual defence budgets.

Nevertheless, paradoxically enough, the ignorance of these same citizens about NATO is still very great. In 1953, a survey by the International Press Institute at Zurich revealed that 79 per cent of the people of the United States, 82 per cent of the British, 87 per cent of the Italians and 89 per cent of the French had no idea of what NATO or OTAN stood for! The article in which this information appeared had the appropriate title of 'NATO remains the Great Unknown'.

This depressing state of affairs must not be attributed either to lack of interest on the part of the Council, or to lack of effort on the part of the International Staff. So far as the first are concerned, there is a Committee on Information and Cultural Relations under the Chairmanship of Mr. Dana Wilgress, the Permanent Representative of Canada, which has under constant consideration various methods by which the aims and progress of NATO can be made more widely known in member countries. As to the International Staff, an indication of their contribution is given below.

The various projects originated by the Information Division are restricted by three conditions. The first is finance. The total operational budget of the Division amounts to a mere £ 34,000 a year. The second is security; time and again the release of an interesting story has had to be forbidden because it deals with a subject which is 'classified'. The third is that the Division's activities are limited to initiation, suggestion and co-ordination: the responsibility for implementation rests with governments who, naturally, are free to adopt, reject or adapt the suggestions as they think fit. Governments, of course, have their own difficulties about NATO information: not all are equally well staffed or equipped to distribute this information, which is generally only one of many other preoccupations;

again, in some countries state information agencies can work only in restricted fields as laid down by law. Nevertheless a few NATO governments have already taken steps to overcome the obstacles which beset an international agency which has to distribute its material through national channels. Some for example have appointed officials to deal specifically with NATO information matters. Moreover, in the Council's Information and Cultural Relations Committee the fourteen representatives are gradually developing a 'NATO way' of handling and solving information problems.

Before mentioning some of the information projects approved by governments, a word may here be said about a subject on which there are widely divergent opinions: psychological warfare, or 'counter-propaganda'. On the one hand, there is a feeling in some quarters that member countries should examine in NATO the methods of combating the massive anti-NATO propaganda made by Communists and others hostile to the Alliance. On the other hand, it is argued that this is a matter which must remain the prerogative of each .government. Between the two points of view a compromise has been reached whereby NATO can act as a forum for consultation about psychological warfare. Such consultation is, however, restricted to matters affecting member countries only: NATO, as an international organization, has never envisaged carrying on propaganda to the peoples of the Soviet Union or of the satellite countries.

Here are some of the Information Division's initiatives, which have yielded good results:

1. Tours of Journalists: From time to time, parties of journalists from all member countries are assembled in Paris where, for a couple of days, they are briefed in the manifold activities of NATO. They then proceed under NATO auspices and with a NATO conducting officer to various countries of the Alliance. Up to the 1st July, 1954, there have been nineteen parties (making a total of over 250 journalists), and every member country, except the United States, has been visited. The coverage on the radio, in the newspapers and periodical press which has resulted from these tours has been encouraging and the tours are being continued throughout 1954.

2. Fifth Anniversary: The greatest efforts were made to take advantage of the publicity possibilities of the Fifth Anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on the 4th April, 1949. The Secretary General took part in a number of broadcasts and television programmes (including a special camera interview which formed the nucleus around which commemoration television programmes were made in a number of member countries), and the Information Division co-operated with the radio, television, film and press authorities in all member countries. The press results alone were impressive: almost 10,000 column inches of newsprint in the fourteen countries.

3. NATO Caravan of Peace: This is a large mobile exhibition which tells the story of NATO in graphic and pictorial form. After touring Italy, Greece and Turkey (where it was visited by over three million people) it was brought to France, opening in Strasbourg in September 1953. Since then it has been shown in the principal French cities, including Paris, and at the beginning of May, 1954, welcomed at Rennes its millionth visitor - a plumber. Smaller mobile exhibitions are on tour in Greece and Turkey; in the autumn one will visit Portugal.

4. Films: Although finance must limit NATO's use of this effective but costly medium, some progress has been made, largely thanks to the help of United States information agencies in Europe. For example, NATO has sponsored, with American help, a film of co-operation under the Treaty. This traces the Council's work, with particular emphasis on infrastructure. In the same way, a series of 14 films, under the general title 'The Atlantic Community - Know Your Allies' - one film on each member country - is being made for the use of educational groups and of the armed forces. NATO has also provided funds to make a revised version of the film 'Alliance for Peace', originally issued by SHAPE in 1951. This film, which will eventually be available in the languages of all member countries, shows why the Treaty had to be signed, describes the international command structure and NATO's present military strength. Finally, late in 1953, a short documentary film featuring the Secretary General was made for troop information purposes.

5. NATO Letter and Handbook: Since the end of 1953 the Information Division has produced a monthly NATO Letter giving, in condensed form, news of current interest relating to NATO. It is intended primarily for journalists not living in Paris, for government authorities and other persons interested in following the activities of NATO. Mention should also be made of the NATO Handbook - the official 'guide-book' of the Organization - of which well over 100,000 copies a year are distributed, and of a simple picture-book called 'Atlantic Alliance'. Some 250,000 copies of the latter, aimed at the schools and armed forces, have been published in all languages of the member countries. It was the first popular publication attempted by NATO and the response has been very encouraging.

6. Briefings and Talks: The Secretary General and senior members of the International Staff have given talks and briefings in all countries of the Alliance. By July, 1954, the Secretary General had made well over 100 speeches, broadcasts and television interviews, in addition to regular press conferences at Headquarters and during his visits to member countries. (6) Moreover, he and members of the Staff have given briefings to the United States National Defence College, the British War College, the French Ecole de Guerre, the Canadian War College and the NATO Defence College, as well as to several groups of parliamentarians and to various pro-NATO organizations.

Troop information and military community relations

This brief review of some of the information work done at Headquarters would be incomplete without a mention of two closely related subjects which are of special interest to the Alliance. The first is the instruction of Allied officers and men in the purpose and work of NATO. The second is the promotion of good relations between Allied troops (and their families) and the populations of the member countries where they are stationed.

The Council have more than once debated these matters; and in October, 1953, about 70 experts from member countries and international commands met at the Palais de Chaillot to review the problems together.

With regard to troop information, the scores of pamphlets, photographs and other publications exhibited at the conference showed the wide range of work already being done by governments to educate their troops. Delegates were able to agree on a number of ways of improving programmes and instruction methods and they recommended that the NATO Information Division, in addition to its production, should serve as the centre for an exchange of troop information material between governments. This has been done; and it has resulted in a marked increase both in the volume of troop information exchanged between countries and in the space given to NATO in national publications for the armed forces.

One of the lessons of the last war was that the need for good relations between visiting troops and the people of the host country was of the first importance. The same is even more true today when thousands of Allied troops are stationed in other Allied countries in time of peace. This may cause some antagonism and misunderstanding, attributable on the part of the soldiers to the bewilderment of young men who find themselves living in countries with whose customs and language they are unfamiliar and, on the part of the civilian population, to ignorance of the reasons for the presence of foreign soldiery and to a feeling that they are responsible for all ills: the rise in the cost of rent, food and amusements and so forth. Careful teaching of visiting troops about the country in which they are stationed, and explanation to the local people of why they are there, can do much to change suspicion into tolerance and even friendship. In these days when the soldier is a citizen in uniform, the value of such understanding is immense not only at the time, but after the troops go home. Then every soldier can, by contributing to the understanding and sympathy of his compatriots for the ways of life of their Allies, effectively continue in his daily life to work for the good of the Atlantic Community.

Clearly, military community relations concern principally the host government and that of the visiting forces. But all governments can learn from one another's experiences in matters such as language teaching, recreational activities, and orientation courses, to mention a few typical examples. The 1953 Conference was thus able to review the work being done by governments, international commands and voluntary societies and to make practical recommendations to the Council. So successful was this gathering that delegates were unanimous in proposing that a similar meeting should be held in the near future. The Council have decided that the next conference will meet early in 1955.

NATO and parliamentarians

Another idea of interest to NATO is how to effect a closer relationship between the Organization and members of national legislatures. During the last two years, parties of parliamentarians from Denmark, France, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom have visited the Palais de Chaillot and been fully informed of the problems and progress of NATO. Many parliamentary groups have also visited SHAPE.

Norway has always been particularly anxious to establish direct exchanges of views between parliamentarians and NATO. The Norwegian Foreign Minister, Dr. Lange, raised the matter as far back as the Ottawa session of the Council in 1951. In July, 1953, a parliamentary group from the Norwegian Storting visited NATO in Paris. In the following September the question of a closer association between parliamentarians and NATO was discussed at length at the privately sponsored Copenhagen Conference.

The International Staff have been delighted to receive these parliamentary groups and look forward to further visits. Should these national groups in course of time develop contacts between themselves and wish occasionally to hold a combined meeting, the International Staff would place all facilities at their disposal.

Voluntary Organizations

Official action is not of course the only way of making NATO known and understood. Private initiative may also do a great deal, and an encouraging feature is the growth in member states of voluntary associations in support of NATO. The rate of growth of such societies varies from. one country to another. In the Scandinavian countries, for example, and in the Netherlands, pro-Atlantic groups are thriving; the same is true for Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The movement towards an association of pro-NATO societies was initiated by the British Society for International Understanding which as a first step organized in September, 1952, an Atlantic Community Study Conference at Oxford. As a result of this meeting an international Atlantic Committee was set up. It sponsored the Conference on the 'Defence of the Free World' which was arranged in Paris in June, 1953, by the Centre d'Etudes de Politique Etrangere and organized, in co-operation with the Danish Society for the Atlantic Pact and Democracy, the Second International Study Conference on the Atlantic Community held at Copenhagen in the following September. More recently, on the 18th June, 1954, the constitution of an Atlantic Treaty Association was signed at a meeting of national Atlantic organizations held at The Hague.

Voluntary societies can help greatly in enlightening the general public about NATO and in developing a sense of community between the peoples of the fourteen Treaty countries. The Council's policy is to give such societies all possible support, without however attempting to run them or finance them. The value of such spontaneous enterprises would be diminished if they became too closely linked with either NATO or member governments.

Relations with international organizations

NATO, as we have seen, is in close touch with other international organizations. Among these are the Organization for European Economic Co-operation in Paris, the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, the International Labour Organization, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Inter-GovernmentaI Committee for European Migration - all at Geneva - and, of course, the Brussels Treaty Organization in London.

In the non-governmental field the International Staff have established valuable contacts with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. In November, 1952, in May, 1953, and in March, 1954, the leaders of this important body visited the Palais de Chaillot for informal conferences with the International Staff. Continuous liaison has thus been maintained between the two Secretariats, as well as regular exchange of information. A similar meeting was held in 1952 with the Federation of Christian Trade Unions.

The future

The aspects of NATO's work sketched in this chapter demand the most patient and careful tending. Article 2 empowers the signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty to find means of creating more effective economic and cultural ties with one another. NATO's modest efforts in the information field have been stressed because to a certain extent information must precede action and the people of the fourteen countries "will be prepared to support further co-operation under the Treaty only when they are convinced that, as co-operation has increased their security, so it can increase their well-being. Only modest beginnings have been made towards the development of an Atlantic Community; much remains to be done and Article 2 points to the direction which should be followed. There is undoubtedly a tendency to regard the implementation of that Article as entirely distinct from the defence build-up, and consequently of lesser immediate importance. Yet Article 2 contains the fundamental goals of the Treaty - the attainment by the fourteen countries of 'conditions of stability and well-being' and the 'strengthening of their free institutions'. The military effort, urgent as that is, represents one of the means, but not all, to achieve that end. Should the risk of aggression become less pressing than it is today, it may be discovered that Article 2 is the real battlefield: if, by building up positions of strength we are able to avoid a third world war, then the contest between the free countries and the Communist totalitarian countries may be won by those who have been the most successful in solving their economic and social problems.

Can NATO then continue to concentrate almost exclusively on defence?Council communiqués and government statements have stressed that NATO should be used increasingly as an instrument of co-operation outside the military sphere, and that the provisions of the Treaty for 'self-help and mutual aid' should be applied not only to the military build-up but also to the peacetime problems of the Atlantic Community.

We touch here on one of the profound reasons why so many of the peoples of the member countries show moderate interest in NATO. They are ready to accept the Atlantic Alliance as a form of insurance policy against armed attack but they are not yet prepared to recognise it as a means of achieving progress in more fruitful fields of human endeavour. It is up to the Council to correct this error, by their common decisions and by their deeds. The work will be slow, uphill and often frustrating. But it is worth any effort to give our nations - and particularly younger generations - the feeling that the sacrifices they are making for their security will not, in any case, have been in vain. Whatever may be our future relations with the Soviet world, NATO should help to build up a healthy Atlantic Community offering conditions of greater wellbeing and happiness to all its citizens.


  1. 'We, of this North Atlantic Community, the structure of which we now consolidate, must jealously guard the defensive and progressive nature of our League'.
  2. For full text of the Declaration, see Appendix V, page 201.
  3. Supreme Allied Commander, First Annual Report.
  4. Dr H. J. Reinink, Secretary General of the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Science and Arts.
  5. Another such conference was held in Paris, in February, 1953, and a third one is scheduled for the beginning 1955.
  6. See Chapter VI.

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