1967: De Gaulle pulls France out of NATO’s integrated military structure

Video lecture by Dr. Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges

  • 03 Mar. 2009 -
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  • Last updated: 12 Dec. 2016 11:18

Well, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Welcome back. This is lecture number three in this series on the turning points in the history of NATO. And today we get to the 60s.

This is for me a pleasurable moment, at least in terms of going through NATO's history, because this marks the turning point from talking about things that I was too young to have lived through and, therefore, I have had to discover them through research to a point, the 60s, which basically corresponds to my generation – let's use that phrase from The Who – a period when of course I was young enough but also mature enough to know what was going on, or more or less what was going on. And it's therefore for me a great pleasure to recall today the 1960s.

For those of us who lived through the 60s, and I probably see a couple of people here, this was a golden talismanic age. It was a time when the drabness and the austerity of the 1950s gave way to a period of prosperity and endless human freedom. The dominant image is Easy Rider on his Harley Davidson riding off into the sunset. Or, to recall a slogan that I saw painted on the walls of the Sorbonne in Paris in May 1968: "L'imagination au pouvoir"; everything seemed possible.

Indeed, sometimes looking back on the 60s, I am reminded of what the British poet and English poet William Wordsworth said of the French Revolution "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive / But to be young was very heaven." It seemed therefore a time when social relations were being changed and equality, particularly vis-à-vis repressive authority, would be henceforth the name of the game. As one very famous slogan at the time put it "If it is wrong for me to hit the policeman, then it must also be wrong for the policeman to hit me."

Now, Wordsworth quickly soured on the French Revolution once it turned into the guillotine and the terror. And no doubt my quick evocation of the 60s is also based largely on the distortions of nostalgia, because it is true that if one goes beyond hippies at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and Woodstock rock festivals and flower power, and looks at the NATO scene and East-West relations, we were still very much in the Cold War in the 1960s. Indeed, in the early 60s on two occasions we came closer to the Third World War and an East-West nuclear exchange at any time since 1945 and at any time since.

The first was in October 1961 at Checkpoint Charlie looking over the Berlin Wall which had gone up on the 13th August 1961, the Anti-Fascist Protection Wall as East Germany used to refer to that wall in a very Orwellian 1984-ish evocation of the distortion of language. The United States diplomats were refused permission to go into East Berlin unless they showed their identity cards. The US considered that this was a breach of the Four Power Agreement of Potsdam on the status of Berlin. And at the time, Khrushchev and Walter Ulbricht the East German leader, were actively talking about the Soviets signing a separate peace treaty with the GDR whereby the Soviets would have handed over their control of access roads into Berlin and Berlin itself to the East Germans. The Americans immediately feared that if this happened, it could lead to the end of West Berlin as a Western capitalist enclave. It would demoralise the Germans and so they decided to resist with tanks. The Soviet Army then brought up 40 tanks on its side and the standoff went on for several days. Although the East Germans believed that what they were doing in putting up the Berlin Wall, was preventing the haemorrhage of their population. About one-fifth to one-sixth of the entire East German population left East Germany through West Berlin in the late 1950s. That's the reason why the Wall went up and that they, therefore, couldn't afford to give in either.

The second time was pretty much a year later, when the United States discovered through its U-2 overflights over Cuba that the Soviet Union was installing intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Cuba, aimed directly at the United States. This became the celebrated Cuban Missile Crisis when the American Secretary of State Dean Rusk famously said, "We went eyeball to eyeball and they blinked first." Eventually, in exchange for lifting the American blockade against Cuba, Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the Soviet nuclear weapons, although something that wasn't advertised very much at the time was that Kennedy was also a person perfectly willing to make concessions, because in a secret deal he agreed to withdraw Thor and Jupiter missiles stationed in Turkey as a quid pro quo.

But on two occasions therefore, the world came close to doomsday Armageddon, but even looking beyond these two particular crises, the 60s was a testing time. Superpower relations seemed to be breaking down across the board. Khrushchev banged his shoe on the table at the United Nations. The Soviets shot down an American U-2 aircraft with Gary Powers in it, flying over the Soviet Union. The first Khrushchev-Kennedy summit of Vienna in 1961 ended in acrimony. And as the decade went on, the situation didn't seem to get much better either. The Americans, rediscovering containment in March 1965, introduced ground troops into South Vietnam. By 1968 the Americans had 550,000 – over half a million – ground troops fighting in South Vietnam, and they believed that they were not simply fighting against the North Vietnamese liberation movement, but like in Korea a decade earlier, they were taking on directly the communist forces, particularly as the Soviets and the Chinese were supplying the North Vietnamese.

Lyndon Johnson famously declared that if the Americans didn't fight communism in Vietnam, they would be fighting it on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. "The strength and determination of the United States," he said, "inevitably would have to surrender to communism in the Pacific if we do not take up our defences in Southeast Asia." Vietnam became a massive drain not only on the American budget, but also on American forces stationed in Western Europe, thereby also raising fears that the Americans might abandon Western Europe to the Soviets by giving priority, as they had done in Korea in the early 1950s, to Asia instead.

Then in the late 1960s we had the Six-Day War between the Arabs and the Israelis when, again, the Soviet Union and the United States, each supporting their ally in the region, found themselves at loggerhead. And then finally, in August 1968, the end of the Prague Spring, when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. Now, if you compare the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 with the Soviet invasion of Hungary in October 1956, one could argue that it was a much more benign exercise. After all, Alexander Dubček, the Czechoslovak leader, simply became a boilerman in a factory, unlike the Hungarian leader Imre Nagy, who in fact was executed by the Soviets for this uprising.

But the invasion of Czechoslovakia led to the promulgation of the celebrated Brezhnev Doctrine, named after the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, in which he said quite explicitly that any state belonging to the communist system would only have a limited degree of sovereignty and it would not have any control of its own foreign policy. In other words, the Soviet Union decided if the choice was between reform and the long-term viability of the system or short-term Soviet control, they would always prefer short-term Soviet control. This to many Europeans opened up the perspective of an endless Cold War, an endless division of Europe.

This turbulence was reflected at the time in NATO as well. Vietnam was extremely divisive, rather like Bosnia became later in the 1990s. When the Korean War broke out, the Americans had 18 allies, mainly Western European, joining them in Korea, many of whom, for example my country the UK, suffered very heavy losses. In Vietnam there was virtually nobody, some Australians, some South Koreans. Lyndon Johnson famously said to the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan that he would accept a band of Scotch bagpipers if only the Brits would agree to help out. Nobody did. The Americans felt abandoned and embittered.

Second problem was that NATO had to come to terms in the late 50s painfully with US-Soviet nuclear parity. In the 50s, NATO had relied on a very simple tripwire strategy whereby the Americans would put large numbers of nuclear weapons in Europe. An American admiral, Admiral Radford, in the 50s had in fact called for 60,000 American nuclear weapons in Europe. This also had the virtue of being very cheap compared to the cost of conventional forces. And if the Soviet Union crossed the tripwire, there would be a nuclear release. It was of course pure deterrence based on the theory of massive destruction.

But of course it also was based on the assumption that the Soviet Union would be unable to respond by attacking the United States directly. At the end of the 1950s indeed, the Soviets were still very, very far behind the United States in rocket technology, in long-range bombers, the ability to deploy intercontinental missiles. One of the reasons why they put the missiles in Cuba in the first place was because they needed to be close to the United States so that their short-range rockets could in fact place the United States in a hostage situation.

But Kennedy, when he campaigned against Nixon in the election of 1959, was convinced that there was a missile gap, as he famously referred to it, that the Soviets were much, much more advanced than anybody believed and the end of American nuclear superiority was coming to an end. He may have been a little bit, ladies and gentlemen, taken in by the boasting of Khrushchev, who famously claimed that the Soviets were turning out missiles like sausages. And, indeed, we now know in hindsight that the missile gap, or the bomber gap, never existed. The American advantage throughout the Kennedy administration was 17 to 1 in long-range nuclear rockets vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. But nonetheless, what was clear was that eventually the Soviets would catch up. And as General Omar Bradley, the American commander, once put it "When the Soviets get a bomb to match our bomb, then we had better get an army to match their army."

Now this, of course, was very unpalatable for the Europeans. It first of all meant that if nuclear weapons could no longer be depended upon, if the United States could no longer be relied upon to use its nuclear weapons and to put itself in danger to support the Western Europeans, then the Europeans would have to invest in costly, conventional defences instead, i.e. end of the period of economic growth, the 'Wirtschaftswunder' or 'Les Trente Glorieuses' of the late 50s and early 1960s.

Secondly, that Europe could not risk however a conventional war. If a war was fought in Europe and not in the United States, then Europe would suffer the destruction, not the United States, which seemed to undermine the principle of sort of equality of sacrifice on which deterrence relied.

The next problem was of course that if the Soviet Union acquired long-range rockets, the temptation for the United States would be to accept what nuclear experts called 'sanctuarisation', which means that the Americans would do a deal with the Soviets to fight a war out in Europe on the assumption that neither side would place each other's territory at risk through a nuclear exchange because that, of course, would then mean the destruction of their homelands.

Even Eisenhower, who was the archpriest of the reliance upon nuclear weapons, began to have doubts towards the end of his presidency. He once said, "Of course," I quote, "in the defence of the United States itself we will certainly use nuclear weapons, but to use them in another situation might prove very difficult." Henry Kissinger later on expressed this much more abruptly when he said that no US president would ever risk the safety of the housewife in Kansas to protect the housewife in Hamburg.

This had a big impact on General de Gaulle, who had returned to power in France in 1958. If France could no longer rely upon the American nuclear bomb to protect French territory, then why would not France wish to acquire a bomb of its own for that purpose? And a French bomb which, unlike the UK Polaris system which was bought from the United States, would be entirely independent of US control and totally in the hands of the French.

Finally, a strain in the Alliance occurred in the 1960s through the famous Mansfield Amendments, which started in 1966. Senator Mansfield, seeing the strain the Americans were under in Vietnam, seeing the Americans underinvesting in conventional forces, started a series of amendments which ran in the Senate for 20 years right up until the mid-1980s, introduced every year, which basically called on the United States to offset, the famous offset agreements, in other words to give US interest-free loans or even credits in exchange for the US paying the dollar price of maintaining its forces in Europe. At one stage in 1971, the West Germans were handing over two billion dollars a year in interest-free loans to the United States as part of those offsets. But that, of course, increased a debate in NATO which goes on in Afghanistan to this very day on what is equitable burden-sharing and how do you measure it.

The growing disenchantment between France and NATO in this period is also one of the reasons why we remember the 1960s. This of course is always associated with that prickly character, the hautain French aristocrat Charles de Gaulle. And we are going to talk a lot about him in just a moment. But to be faithful to the historical record, I have to point out that the French disenchantment with the Americans began really in October 1956, after the Suez debacle when the British and the French invaded Egypt, who captured the Suez Canal back from Nasser as part of a secret agreement with the Israelis, and the Americans rather than support them, pulled the plug. Eisenhower famously said about the French and the British, "These guys are about to lose us the entire Arab world." It was still a time when the Americans were optimistic that they could convince the Arab nationalists like Nasser to be on the side of the Americans, rather than on the side of the Soviets.

In the UK we took the decision that Suez meant that we should never do anything without the Americans again. And in Paris, Suez was interpreted as meaning we shall never do anything with the Americans again. Christian Pineau, the French foreign minister said, "The main victim of the affair was the Atlantic alliance. If our allies have abandoned us in difficult, even dramatic circumstances, they would be capable of doing so again if Europe found itself in danger."

Of course the French also were fairly dissatisfied with the lack of American support when they had been trying to hang on to French Indochina in 1954 during the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu, in what today would be North Vietnam, with what they considered to be inadequate American support for their attempts to hang on to Algeria. But there's no doubt about it that once de Gaulle returned to power, this sense of distancing France from the Atlantic alliance and from the United States continued.

France tended to be a faithful ally when NATO was in danger, for example during Khrushchev's ultimatum in Berlin in 1958, during the construction of the Wall in August '61, during the period of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But once the crisis passed and things settled down, the French began to feel restless. They began to resurrect the old idea from the early 50s of Europe as a third force, independent of both superpowers.

There was one further source of strain, ladies and gentlemen, in the 1960s. I mentioned a moment ago the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which suggested with the Brezhnev Doctrine that the Soviets would maintain at any price the division of Europe. The crisis of course had also made clear what we learned after Hungary in '56, that the West was not prepared to challenge that division of Europe either if it meant a Third World War. That meant that even staunchly anti-communist figures like de Gaulle or the foreign minister of Germany in 1966, Willy Brandt, who in 1969 became chancellor, began to think that if therefore the division of Europe couldn't be overcome, it should be at least ameliorated, it should be lessened through a policy of greater closeness. That if you couldn't tear down the wall, you could at least drill some holes through it, which would allow more dialogue, more commercial exchanges, more people-to-people contact.

This of course became known as the Ostpolitik. It was famously expounded in a speech given by Willy Brandt's foreign policy advisor Egon Bahr, who is still very much alive and kicking today, in 1966 when he coined the phrase 'Wandel durch Annäherung', in other words, change through closer ties, coming together. Or what Willy Brandt himself in 1969 said "What belongs together must come together", in putting down an early marker for ultimate German unification.

But General de Gaulle also believed in a similar policy, if not German unification, at least seeking a relaxation of tensions, when he went off to Moscow in 1966 to visit the Soviet Union. In other words, would NATO survive if one group of allies was not only distancing from the US but coming closer to Moscow in the hope of negotiating a political solution to the division of Europe at a time when the Americans were still refusing to have anything to do, no diplomatic relations, with the vast majority of the communist governments of the East.

So, ladies and gentlemen, in short, the 60s saw NATO more divided and under greater stress than at any time since its creation in 1949. Differences on Vietnam, differences on détente. Would NATO survive the defection of its most important or its key member state in Europe, France? Would differences over military strategy, particularly the role and use of nuclear weapons, divide the Allies? In other words, when the Treaty expired in 1969 and was due to come up for renewal after 20 years, would Allies take the opportunity to pull out of NATO and go their own way? It's not surprising that in 1962 the first book that I know about with the title The End of the Alliance, by the US academic Ronald Steel, appeared.

To answer the question about how serious this crisis was, we need to look a little bit in more depth at the three key issues. First, military strategy. And here we have to look at the paradox of nuclear weapons. By the early 60s, US policymakers had come to the conclusion that nuclear weapons were unusable. They had been threatened in Korea but not used. They were threatened in 1957 during the crisis between communist China and Formosa – now of course Taiwan – over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. They had been threatening again in Vietnam, but never used.

A whole generation of US strategists, brilliant people, Henry Kissinger, Herman Khan, Thomas Schelling, Bernard Brodie, the great wizards of Armageddon, had written book after book after book trying to find a role for nuclear weapons as a rational tool of foreign policy and all failed. But nuclear weapons couldn't be gotten rid of either. Neither side trusted the other to truly disarm. Each wanted the other to set the example and go first. And even if nuclear weapons were unusable, they were still the ultimate status symbol, the passport to the big league. Indeed, as the Soviet Union ran out of economic steam in the 1960s and the problems that led to the ultimate collapse in the 90s began to appear, nuclear weapons became even more important to the Soviet leadership as the reason why they remained a superpower. This led Helmut Schmidt, the famous German chancellor, a decade later to famously describe the Soviet Union as "Upper Volta with nuclear weapons." Perversely it became a Soviet interest to keep the nuclear arms race going.

But if nuclear weapons were unusable, conventional war was unthinkable. Forty percent of the German population, the West German population, lived within 100 kilometres from the inner German border, Hamburg, 60 kilometres from that border alone. A conventional war could potentially lead to the deaths of millions of German civilians.

So there was a contradiction. The Europeans needed a nuclear strategy which promised to go nuclear quickly and thus deter a war, while the Americans wanted a conventional strategy to delay nuclear strikes for as long as possible to try to limit the war geographically and to limit its intensity and to avoid nuclear strikes by the Soviet Union on the US homeland.

This caused a massive row in NATO in the 1960s when Kennedy's Defense Secretary, the well-known Robert McNamara, Bob McNamara former president of the Ford Motor Company, grappled with this problem. McNamara basically decided that first of all NATO should change its strategy, should move away from massive retaliation towards a strategy which became known as flexible response, in other words to be able to fight it out conventionally. If NATO was failing, then to selectively step-by-step escalate using first of all tactical nuclear weapons, then intermediate-range nuclear weapons, and if everything else failed at the end of course a strategic nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States, but at least this one time for negotiating an end to hostilities.

At the same time, McNamara believed that the way to sell this to the Europeans was not simply to give them nuclear weapons which they had already – the tactical nuclear weapons which had been introduced in the 1950s – but to give the Europeans a greater say over American nuclear thinking and nuclear policy. In fact, the Kennedy administration even went so far as to offer the Europeans a famous multilateral force which was a set of 25 surface ships which would sail around the oceans with American nuclear weapons on board operated by NATO crews so that they would … it was almost like a kind of NATO equivalent of the European Defence Community, which had been offered the European army, which had been offered in the 1950s.

As I've said, the French hated this idea because they didn't trust the Americans any longer. The idea was too complicated in any case in terms of who would really have control over the release of those nuclear weapons. And the United States was pushing the Europeans to invest more in their conventional forces. Finally, in 1967, after a terrible wrangling, and only possible because a year before Général de Gaulle had decided to pull out completely from NATO's integrated military structure with flexible response adopted.

Second, the French withdrawal in 1966. Once de Gaulle came back to power, he immediately came up with the idea of a 'directoire', in other words as George Orwell once said, "all allies are born equal but some are born more equal than others." This idea was there at the beginning when NATO was first born, the idea of a steering group of the French, the British and the Americans. But that disappeared after SHAPE was created with General Eisenhower, the first SACEUR in 1952. France wanted a 'directoire'.

The French were also unhappy because, as I have said earlier, they were giving assistance to the British with the British nuclear programmes, Blue Streak for example, then Polaris. The Americans, Kennedy, Macmillan with the British Prime Minister signed an agreement at Nassau in 1962 on nuclear cooperation, whereas all that the French received was a little bit of enriched uranium-235.

There was a real sense of not being treated equally. De Gaulle refused to deploy Thor and Jupiter nuclear weapons in France with the result that the SACEUR at the time, General Norstad, removed American nuclear-capable aircraft from France. And in 1959, de Gaulle, in a very famous speech to the Ecole Militaire in Paris announced that the French were going to have their own "force de frappe", their own nuclear force. In 1959, de Gaulle then pulled the French naval fleet out of NATO's Mediterranean command.

The real blow came in 1962 when McNamara, who hated independent nuclear systems and wanted total American control, gave a very famous speech at Ann Arbor in Michigan, where he called the French nuclear programme, I quote, "dangerous, expensive, prone to obsolescence and lacking in credibility." You know the rest. In 1966, at a very famous press conference, de Gaulle announced that he was pulling out of NATO's military structure and ordered SHAPE out of France.

To make it clear, because we are at NATO Headquarters here in Brussels, Belgium, he didn't ask NATO's civilian headquarters to leave. We could stay. But in a gesture of reckless solidarity, I say this off jokingly, NATO civilian headquarters based at the Trocadero decided to show solidarity with SHAPE and move. I say this because when I joined NATO in the 80s, there were lots of old types hanging around with tears in their eyes as they got on the train to Paris every weekend that they had been forced to move from the wonders of Paris to Belgium. But anyway, c'est la vie, or as the French would say "à la guerre comme à la guerre".

At the time, this French withdrawal seemed truly dramatic. It certainly did not help NATO's public relations vis-à-vis the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact. Probably it could not have been stopped. The French Ambassador, a few years later, François de Rose said that, of de Gaulle, I quote "Pulling out was the decision he wanted, the rest was pretext." And Gabriel Robin, a very famous Gaullist French Ambassador who was here in the 80s when I first came, confirmed all of this to me as well. There was probably little that the Americans could have done even if they'd handled de Gaulle in a more flexible, gentle, caring way, little that they could have done to have explained, to persuade the general otherwise.

But was it really such a drama? I think no. First of all, the French were very careful to stay in NATO military programmes where they saw an advantage. The NADGE air defence system, they kept the nuclear tasks in Germany. They kept a lot of personnel in NATO. When I joined in 1980, my first boss was a very charming French lady who used to let me have Friday afternoons off because it didn't really matter during the Cold War.

I also believe, in a rather strange way, that because France took on this sort of one foot in, one foot out stance vis-à-vis NATO, it wasn't integrated, the French actually felt under more pressure than integrated allies to show that they were true allies. So we may have got more out of the French over the years in terms of their troop commitments to operations in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, Afghanistan lately, because they felt as integrated allies under greater pressure to show that they hadn't broken away completely. Indeed in 1974, NATO's Ottawa Declaration finally buried the nuclear hatchet with the French by recognising the contribution of French nuclear weapons to allied solidarity.

Now it's true that the French defection vastly irritated a whole generation of American political scientists. If you read Henry Kissinger's book, The Troubled Partnership, from the 1960s, which is pretty tough on de Gaulle, you can understand why. But looking back on it with the perspective of history, the French withdrawal may actually have helped NATO at the time to move forward. We could finally adopt the new strategy of flexible response. The small countries, which had been rather snuffed out of NATO business because of the domination of the Big Three, finally came into their own. And I'm going to give you an example of that in just a moment when I talk about the Harmel Report of the Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel. And NATO had shown, which was good for our propaganda at the time vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, that we did not treat our dissidents, i.e. de Gaulle, in the same way that the Soviet Union treated its dissidents, Alexander Dubček of Czechoslovakia, or Imre Nagy of Hungary, Nagy as I say were executed. That in fact NATO was an alliance which did not go belly up because of dissent and that rule of course applied even more forcefully in the 1980s when we had to deal with Danish footnotes or Greek footnotes, or the Greek withdrawal also from the integrated military structure after the Colonels' coup of 1967 too and ongoing.

So in other words, you know, rather than dramatise the problem, NATO played it down. The Defence Planning Committee was created which was essentially the North Atlantic Council minus the French to look at military business and life moved on.

Third, détente, Ostpolitik. I suppose the phrase here is 'if you can't beat them, join them'. What was clear at the time was that the Germans in particular and the French were going to go forward with Ostpolitik. And indeed the strategy of flexible response made this all the more necessary because if NATO had adopted a riskier strategy, fight it out with conventional weapons, an area where the Soviet Union was bound to have a massive advantage, three to one at least in conventional superiority, the Americans were far away over an ocean, the Soviet Union was next door as a land pal. So if this strategy was seen as riskier by many allies, what did it mean? It meant that of course you could no longer rely upon military means alone to ensure stability. There had to be a political track as well. You had to reduce tensions, you had to have dialogue, you had to negotiate.

And so détente did not just mean talking to the Russians but arms control, confidence and security building measures, transparency, the equivalent of the hotline that the United States and the Soviet Union had set up after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

And this became the genesis of what is still even today, for example just a few days ago in an article in Le Monde and the German press by the German Foreign Minister, Steinmeier, still today is referred to in respectful terms as the Harmel Exercise, the report by the Belgian Foreign Minister. In 1967, we have a group of other countries on the future tasks of the Alliance when he said that NATO must maintain defence, but also promote dialogue, that NATO must maintain deterrence but also pursue détente. In other words that NATO to survive has to have a political track and stop being an exclusively military alliance.

This saved NATO at the time, from what to my mind alternatively would have been, if not dissention in its own ranks and prolonged obsolescence. In other words, NATO's role was not simply to preserve the status quo but ultimately to change it and those people today, ladies and gentlemen, who are calling for NATO to develop a new strategic concept in a much more complex world of the 21st century, remember Harmel was the man who managed to craft a balance in which everybody could see their interest, a coherent strategy that made sense, that reunited the alliance, and above all a strategy which was done by a group of wise men that didn't have to be negotiated, word for word, you know, comma for comma, in some boring endless communique, but which was a report to the North Atlantic Council and which could be adopted as such. In other words, that NATO's job was not simply stabilisation, but also transformation.

What's my conclusion therefore after the 1960s? The first thing is that whereas in the 1940s and the 1950s, the threats to NATO were really external. You remember: would Germany go neutral, would the Soviet Union march all the way to Calais, would the United States agree to have a peace time commitment to Europe, did the Korean War mean that the Soviet-Chinese alliance was going to form?

In the 1960s, the threats were all internal: divisions over nuclear policy, the defection of France, the dangers of the allying gang, the going it alone in policy. And therefore interestingly NATO's challenge was not just to manage the outside world but to manage its own members. The Secretary General of NATO in the 1960s for the first time spent as much of his time keeping the allies together as keeping the Soviets and the Communists out, and of course that is a lesson which has stayed with us today.

The second lesson was that NATO had to adapt if it was going to survive. We had to tolerate dissent in the hope that eventually the prodigal son would return to the fold as the Greeks did ultimately, as the Turks did later in the 1970s, and as some of course hope will happen with France at some time in the future as President Sarkozy has publicly announced that he will return France to the heart of the alliance and to the integrated structures.

But, but most importantly of all, alliance policy is often the management of contradictions, that the test of NATO is no ways to be out to point a clear way forward but to be able to manage the contradictions that would break weaker alliances apart.

For example balancing conventional and nuclear defence, balancing détente and defence, balancing the process of European integration which de Gaulle wanted with alliance of Atlantic solidarity, balancing national interests, which are very strong, with the need for a common denominator of collective security. Seeing policy as simply maintaining the status quo or seeing policy as essentially about making the world a better place actively. In other words, I know we didn't use the dreaded word transformation in the 1960s. The Alliance that emerged from that period was much similar to what we have today, very similar in fact paradoxically 40 years later to what we have today, than to the alliance of the 1950s, very much a military American-dominated affair which I described you last time.

But NATO had stood three massive tests and had survived. Michel Montaigne, the famous French philosopher, once said about marriage that "those who are on the inside want to get out, and those who are on the outside want to get in." While it's certainly true I think after the 1960s talking about NATO that those were on the outside wanted to get in, but as I've said in 1969 nobody left, which proved that despite all of the wrangling and all of the differences, when allies looked at the fundamental reasons for them to stay together, all of them decided, contrary to Montaigne, that none of them wanted to get out.

However, that's not to say that there weren't going to be pretty severe tests ahead and in the lecture that I'm going to present next, we're going to come right up to the 1980s when NATO faced another very, very severe test with the INF debate, the modernisation of the cruise and Pershing nuclear systems to balance the SS-20s, which lead not only to a major confrontation with the Soviet Union, but also to a major confrontation with NATO's own public opinion in the form of massive, hundreds of thousands of nuclear protesters on the streets of Europe and in the United States and to a real political crisis among many NATO governments.

How did we turn that crisis into the end of the Cold War? It's an amazing story, but I'll tell it next time we meet. For today, thank you very much. Any questions?

Questions and answers

Q: I have a question. We're talking about France returning back to the alliance, what do you think would change when Sarkozy actually makes the step and then reintegrates France?

Dr. Jamie Shea: I don't think as much will change as de Gaulle, were he alive today, would have believed after his dramatic announcement in 1966 that France was going to leave the integrated structure, for two reasons. The first is the reason I gave which is that once it took this stand, France felt sort of even more obliged than others, first to spend a lot of money on defence, which meant that throughout the Cold War and after the Cold War the French defence budget was much higher than the NATO average. France was one of the few countries that had the full panoply of nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, foreign legion, expeditionary forces, and so on. So in a way we saw that pattern I referred to earlier, which is that countries outside NATO feeling that they were by themselves to some degree, felt more obliged to spend on defence which meant that when they participated in NATO operations they could bring hard core military capabilities to the table which they could deploy their own forces in a way that other allies dependent upon the United States couldn't.

The second thing was, as I mentioned, the French believed they had to show solidarity to show that they weren't renouncing their Article 5 obligation to the alliance, they weren't renouncing the treaty simply because they preferred to have military independence. And therefore France became a big contributor to NATO's missions, which meant that even today it's about the third to fourth largest contributor to the missions, it goes up and down of course but France have always been up there in the top four: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, air campaigns, naval operations. The French have commanded in Kosovo on many occasions. The French recently, as you know, deployed additional forces to the eastern sector of Afghanistan. And so the French have tended to sort of make a distinction between the alliance to which they are fully committed and l'OTAN, the organisation which de Gaulle would have called le machin, you know, the thing which, the bureaucracy which they feel less positive about.

The second answer to your question which is a very good question, is that over the years there has been a kind of creeping reintegration of the French. Jacques Chirac, during his presidency, even got close to negotiating a French reintegration there and then by trying to persuade the Americans that Europe should take over the AFSOUTH, the Mediterranean naval command, during the Clinton administration. The American said no. But it did not stop Chirac from for example participating once again in the military committee, sending liaison officers to the International Military Staff. Today, for example, the French have officers in the integrated command of Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia. So although they haven't gone the whole hog of putting their forces under a peace-time integrated planning, they are basically, they started to participate in most of the NATO mechanisms. For example, I mentioned the Defence Planning Committee which was set up in 1967 as a way for the allies to meet without the French. Because the French are participating in so much these days the DPC virtually never meets. When I first came, it met all the time, now never because there is no need for it to meet given that the French are in everything.

So from that point of view I don't think that the results would be particularly significant. It's really a domestic problem in France because so many French have been given the impression that NATO! We don't belong to that! We left that years ago! They haven't really been told just how integrated they in fact really are. So there is a little bit of a public relations issue in France explaining why this very small step, it looks to the French people as a very large step when it isn't.

The second thing though is that I think that the French realise that the future of NATO is of course very much being debated, with a new strategic concept, and they believe that if they're at the heart of the alliance, they will have more influence in guiding that future evolution the way they would like.

The final reason is because the French realise that United States is now much more in favour of the European Union's security and defence policies. So the French believe that if they reintegrate back into NATO, the Americans will be less suspicious of French policies to beef up the European Union and the CFSP, the Common Foreign Security Policy, and be more supportive because they will no longer see it as the French insisting that you're either a good European or you're a good Atlanticist, but you can't be both. France is in NATO. Nobody is going to suspect it for one minute of wanting to use European defence to weaken the Americans or break up the alliance. In other words, you can have your cake and eat it too, or as they say in Paris, 'vous pouvez avoir votre gateau et le manger aussi.'

Are there any more questions for today? If not, then I'll see you in a couple of weeks' time, and we will move 20 years into the future. Thank you.