Speech delivered by General Secretary M. Paul-Henri Spaak to the delegates of the Atlantic Treaty Association in Boston

  • 02 Sep. 1958
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  • Last updated: 03 Nov. 2008 16:01

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO lacks many things for it to be a perfect organization.

What is chiefly lacking is the confident backing of public opinion which, aware of the importance of its role, is determined to give NATO its active support.It is because the main purpose of your Associations is to fill this gap that they are so important. That is why I have made a point of being with you today and why I am happy to be able to share with you my cares and hopes.

I intend to be quite frank with you, to explain things as I see them and to set out before you what I believe to be the sum of nearly ten years of existence and accomplishment.

However, as time is short, I shall have to cut out the details and confine myself to the basic outline, to the main features of what we have done.

In the first place, in order to get the picture into perspective, we must try to recapture the atmosphere of 1949, the year of the signing of the Washington Treaty, the year which saw the birth of the Atlantic Alliance.

The situation of the free world, and especially of Europe, was far from brilliant at the time.

We had by no means recovered, financially and economically, from the effects of the war. True, the Marshall plan, which saved Western Europe from poverty and Communism - although this is now too often forgotten by so many ungrateful people - had become a reality and, since the Spring of 1948 had even begun to operate, but its results were necessarily patchy, and many of the ruins still had to be rebuilt.

The political event of the moment was the Prague "coup d'etat", the consummation of Soviet policy. This policy, a combination of internal subversion and external pressures, had enabled the USSR to add several thousands of square miles to its territory in the space of a few years, to bring under its jurisdiction and against the will of those concerned, several millions of human beings and to set up, in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, minority governments completely subservient to its wishes.

The Communist "coup d'etat" in Czechoslovakia marked a turning-point in the postwar foreign policy of the Western World.

Until then, many well-meaning people in Europe, and probably in the United States as well, had hoped for a reasonable compromise between the Communist world and the free world which would preserve the alliance that had made the victory over the Nazis and Fascists possible.

So as to be able to follow this course - no doubt a wise one seen in the light of the prevailing circumstances in those days the West had made many concessions and proved its evident goodwill. The historian of the future will perhaps add "and displayed too much weakness".

Be that as it may, the Western World reacted at last and did so in time to prevent the worst.

One year after the Prague "coup d'etat", the Washington Treaty was signed. Its main purpose was to put a stop to the expansion of Soviet imperialism and to achieve this purpose without having to resort to war.

Although I have said this so many times before, I wish to repeat, if possible with added emphasis, that this purpose has been achieved one hundred per cent.

No one can believe that if Communism, after its many spectacular successes between 1919 and 1948, has made no further progress for now ten years, precisely since the day when the Western powers joined forces, it is a mere coincidence.

No, the credit for this must be given to NATO. That is why, whatever its defects and shortcomings - and as we shall see, they exist - all free men should be deeply grateful to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for having served the cause of freedom so well and for having so successfully defended the independence of the democratic countries of Europe.

"In that case" you may say, "why continue your talk, why attempt to add anything to such a satisfactory balance sheet? Are you not well satisfied to be the Secretary General of an Organization that has fully achieved its main purpose? What more can you want?"

I must now take the plunge and speak of my worries and anxieties,This is the moment to ask a vital question: "Is NATO, with its present composition, spirit and machinery, still the right answer to the threat which Communism represents for the free world?"

Let me explain. In 1949, as I have already said, the Communist threat was essentially European and military.

In 1958, I see it as more particularly Asian and African, and as more economic and social than military.

I can put the idea differently: "Is it sufficient, at the present time, to construct a solid military barrier along the Elbe, on the eastern frontier of the free world, if the free world is to be outflanked politically, militarily and economically in the Middle East and Africa?"

In other words: "Has the time not come for a reappraisal of NATO to adapt it to what is obviously the new plan of campaign of the Communist offensive?" To my mind when certain dates are lined up, their special significance becomes apparent.

4th April, 1949Signing of the Washington Treaty re-establishing the Atlantic Alliance.12th May, 1949End of the Berlin Blockade.October, 1949End of the civil war in Greece, marking the end of the Communist offensive in Europe.25th June, 1950Invasion of South Korea. This major event marks the preliminary stage of the period in which we are still living today. There is a displacement of the centre of international difficulties. It is no longer in Europe. The Far East and the Middle East take firstplace in our worries, soon to be followed by Africa.

Can we still afford, nowadays, to maintain attitudes, however-excellent, which are beginning to be out-dated? We adopted them ten years ago, and this is a fast-moving world.

Very fortunately, the Washington Treaty and the Organization which issued from it have one outstanding equality: a degree of flexibility that provides for the possibility of almost endless adaptations.

Look at what the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is today: not only the most powerful military alliance known to history, but also an international political council the like of which has never before been seen. Secretary General, a Commander-in-Chief, two routine ministerial meetings every year, a council of fifteen ambassadors in permanent session in Paris, a Military Standing Group in Washington, a military command for Europe with its numerous sub-divisions, a naval command for the Atlantic, another for the Channel. This entire formidable organization has come into being as the result of the following five rather loosely worded lines of Article 9 of the Treaty. ''The Parties hereby establish a Council on which each of them shall be represented, to consider matters concerning the implementation of this Treaty. The Council shall be so organized as to be able to meet promptly at any time. The Council shall set up such subsidiary bodies as may be necessary; in particular, it shall establish immediately a defence committee11. This, I think, justifies my claim that the North Atlantic Treaty is sufficiently flexible to adapt itself to all conceivable contingencies and shows that those who have to interpret or implement it have sufficient imagination to find in its text all they need in order to cope with even the most recent eventualities.

I believe it to be essential, before we define our new positions, to make sure that we thoroughly understand the problem we have to solve, by which I mean that we must correctly assess the nature and magnitude of the Communist challenge sent out to the free world and to its civilisation.

I am astounded to see that in Europe at all events, there are still so many people who do not understand the first thing about Communism, its reality, its hopes and its ambitions.

To a lot of people, the Communists are no more than political extremists. What frightens and shocks a great many of them are the economic changes and social reforms accomplished in the USSR and the satellite countries. To my mind, this is quite the wrong attitude to adopt. Personally, 1 do not shrink from any social reform. On the contrary, I am convinced that one of the peremptory requirements of our times is the emergence of a form of society in which the weak will be protected and will find acceptable living conditions; in which all will have equal opportunities and the "elite" will really consist of the most intelligent, the most industrious and the most talented.

As for economic doctrines - the virtues of free enterprise compared with those of a planned economy - I must confess that although I find the controversy extremely interesting and useful sometimes, I cannot bring myself to believe that this is an issue worthy of violent passions, and that the world should divide, quarrel and, worst of all, go to war to ensure the triumph of one or other of these theories.

This, however, is not all. There is something far more important, something far more fundamental.

Communism aspires to be a new form of civilisation. What it wants to do is to bring the world - or rather, to impose on it - a new conception of man, of his rights and duties, of his relationship to other men to society and to the state. This conception marks a very evident backward movement away from what it has taken such long and patient efforts to build up over centuries of struggle and sacrifice.

While we, for our part, are doing our best - though possibly not always with complete success - to infuse a moral character into our private lives and into our institutions as well as to follow principles calculated to make a reality of "respect of the individual", the core of Western civilisation, while we, for our part are doing our best to safeguard human freedom and to shape society with that end in view, Communism proposes a formula the outstanding features of which are the most extreme form of intolerance, blind obedience, political dictatorship.

There lies the true cause of the opposition between the free world and Communism. This is the measure of the magnitude of the struggle and of its vital significance for the future of Mankind.

Communism, moreover, views its role as universal in scope.

On the basis of a somewhat elementary theory of historical fatalism and a depressing materialism, it reasons that its victory is inevitable, that, to quote the proud if rather childish boast of the Communists: "it is borne forward by the current of History'', that its triumph is certain.

From these assertions, which I believe to be as sincere as they are false, there are several conclusions to be drawn.

In the first place, there is little likelihood that those who profess such doctrines will take the risk of starting a world war which, whatever its final outcome, would leave in its wake such an accumulation of ruins as to retard for several dozens of years the achievement of their hopes. We must therefore not be unduly alarmed by their threats. Our policy must of course, never be aggressive or unjust, but neither must it reflect any weakness, which "would be regarded as an expression of fear.

Recent history has shown only too clearly that the systematic appeasement of dictators leads to the most harrowing experiences. Such a lesson must not be lost. We must therefore pursue our military effort, for although it imposes a heavy, costly burden on us, it is essential not as a means of intimidation, but as a guarantee against threats and blackmail. But, above all, before we decide what action to take, we must assess the magnitude of the challenge thrown out to us.

It must be clearly understood that the challenge is not that of the USSR to the United States. It is the challenge of the whole Communist world to the whole free world and the countries of rhe free world must accept the challenge collectively, in all fields and everywhere. That is their only chance of winning. The concept of a military Atlantic Alliance restricted to a specific geographical area, adequate in 1949, is therefore no longer so in 1958.

A common policy, probably of world-wide scope, must be added to it. And this must be done at once.

Another thing which should be dene as quickly as possible is the organization of scientific co-operation, and even economic and social action should be be harmonised.

In a word, the Atlantic Alliance should become the Atlantic Community. Where do we stand today? What is teh position as regards these important projects?

Let us face it. We still have a long way to go. What has been achieved with respect to economic co-operation within NATO is definitely not enough. It is true, of course, that in Europe; great strides have been made, with the assent and effective help of the United States and Canada and thanks to OEEC, the European Payments Union, the European Coal and Steel Community, the Common Market and Euratom and soon, perhaps the Free Exchange Area.

Although these great strides have been made, I still do not consider that they fully meet the requirements though they augur well for the future. However; within NATO, in the wider Atlantic framework, Article 2 of the Treaty; in spite of ail the declarations to which it has given rise, is still practically a dead letter.

I see yet another glimmer of hope. The start made with scientific co-operation and some encouraging progress in the production in common of the modern weapons.

The need and urgency of scientific co-operation were the subject of a stirring announcement made by President Elsenhower and Mr. Macmillan at the end of last year.

Their bold appeal was not made in vain, NATO now has a Scientific Adviser and the Science Committee, composed of very eminent men, has held several sessions.

A number of modest schemes have been launched: Summer seminars, scholarships and fellowships. That is all to the good and it is a promising start, out is frankly inadequate.

Carry your minds back to the humiliating astonishment with which the West was struck when the first sputnik soared into outer space. DO you remember the despondency and even the fear -in reality, very unjustified - that gripped certain people at that time?

Neither the United States sputnik nor the exploits of the Nautilus must lead to the abandonment of the pooling of our efforts which only a few months ago was declared by our most responsible thinkers to be a vital necessity.

Give us your support to prevent the initial impetus from tailing off in the political field, I am pleased to say that far better results have been obtained.

The Three Wise Men had told us: "For your foreign policy, consult together".

I can give you an assurance that we have taken this advice, that we have put it into practice and that consultation-is now very comprehensive and very thorough.

The general public has no conception of the progress NATO has made in this respect during the last twelve months. Take the preparation of the proposed Summit Conference for instance.

I can tell you today without disclosing any official secrets, that throughout the past year, the United States Government did not send the Soviet Government a single note on the proposed Summit Conference without first submitting it to the NATO Permanent Council.

The Government of the United States deserves special mention in this connection - and it. is a point I wish to underline - because of all the countries in our Alliance it is the one which has most consistently and most widely applied the principle of prior consultation. It has not been content with giving a fairly general indication of its intention, but has accepted to submit the actual text of its notes to its Allies for study and, if considered necessary, for criticism.

You will, I am sure, realise that this is an innovation, even a revolution in diplomatic practice. If is really extremely significant that the most powerful nation in the world should accept this form of consultation and adopt the new practice of inviting even the smallest of its allies to discuss with it on a footing of complete equality, matters of mutual interest, and that in the vast majority of cases it should take account of the suggestions It receives. This is of cardinal importance if the -Alliance is to live and develop. If successful this practice may well be the beginning of something very important and very new. This is a gratifying prospect, but would perhaps not be an unmixed blessing. Why is this? Because the practice of consultations as we know it has revealed to us its limitations.

When the Three Wise Men told up to "consult together..." what they certainly meant was: "Consult together so as to reach agreement".

It must be acknowledged that although we have followed the method advocated, we have not always achieved the desired end. Putting this experiment into practice has been an exciting experience for me. It has convinced me that the idea for which I have striven to gain acceptance over the last ten years is sound and workable. It is this; "International organisations will not be really successful and produce all the results which can legitimately be expected of them until all their member countries, large and small, accept some measure of supra-national control.

It is not right that because one nation is head-stong, thin skinned or obstinate, the combined wisdom of the others should be set at nought.

True, I am well aware that this idea is probably still in advance of the times. It does not fit in with what governments and possibly their peoples are prepared to accept. However, I do not despair of its ultimate triumph and of its lasting benefit to the security of the Western Community. You have only to measure the progress already achieved in the fields of co-operation and mutual understanding, you have only to think of the many things inconceivable only a few years ago and which have now become realities, to realise that there are no grounds for discouragement or scepticism. Quite the contrary.

Ladies and Gentlemen, have I succeeded in showing you the number and magnitude of the guestions which face the Atlantic Alliance? 1 nope so. I fully sympathise with those of you who, while recognising the importance of our Organization, see it as a strictly military one and tahe a greater interest in the efforts made elsewhere.

NATO, however, must remain a powerful military machine and it is our duty, and not always an easy one, to explain why the effort needed for this must be made.

But even today, NATO is a great deal more than this. It is the very centre of the most significant diplomatic innovation ever at tempted, and is not only creating new methods, but even a new spirit, where the relations of nations to each other are concerned.

If the experiment in progress is crowned with success the West will present a very different appearance, for the individualism; the national selfishness perhaps wholly admirable in the past but whicn are out of harmony with our own times will make way for new concepts: agreement, mutual aid, co-operations, the common good.

If we can successfully accomplish this revolution by and for ourselves, we can without fear or hesitation accept the great challenge which, under the name of "peaceful co-existence" is in fact a struggle between two civilisations.

First, to safeguard, reaffirm and consolidate- and then make affective down to the last details and the ultimate issues- the ethical principles of Christianity and the political principles of the great Western revolutions which, on both continents, have permitted the rise of democracy: there is the task History has entrusted to the men of today.

It is a might and magnificent task.

The Atlantic Alliance is the most useful and powerful instrument for its accomplishment.