Report of the "Three Wise Men": 50 years on
The Three wise men: (from left to right) Halvard Lange, Gaetano Martino and Lester B. Pearson (© NATO)
Lawrence S. Kaplan analyses the significance of the "Report of the Committee of Three on Non-Military Cooperation in NATO" on the 50th anniversary of its publication.
Visitors to NATO Headquarters often spend the day in rooms bearing the names Lange, Martino and Pearson. These briefing rooms were named after Halvard Lange, Gaetano Martino and Lester B. Pearson, foreign ministers of Norway, Italy and Canada respectively, in recognition of their work in preparing in 1956 the Report of the Committee of Three on Non-Military Cooperation in NATO. Although the Report is generally presented as one of NATO's seminal documents and many of the ideas contained in it eventually became standard Alliance practice, it had little immediate impact.

The North Atlantic Council appointed a committee of the three statesmen in May 1956 to "advise the Council on ways and means to extend cooperation in non-military fields and to strengthen unity in the Atlantic Community". The three "Wise Men" delivered their 15-page Report in December, and the Council expressed its appreciation at the May 1957 meeting when it inaugurated new procedures based on the Committee's recommendations. The ministers concluded that "useful and concrete results had been achieved, and that the Alliance was acquiring both greater maturity and solidarity".

If the Council genuinely believed that consultation among members would be the pattern of the immediate future, they were either deceiving themselves or soothing the feelings of NATO's smaller nations. Even a hasty glance at the history of the Alliance after 1956 suggests that the major powers – France, the United Kingdom and the United States – continued to make decisions with little or no consultation with ministers from the countries that delivered the report. There was no consultation with them when President Charles de Gaulle proposed a triumvirate with the United Kingdom and United States in 1960 to manage the Alliance; or when the United States challenged the Soviet navy in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962; or when the United Kingdom withdrew its forces east of Suez in 1968. Moreover, little reference was made in the next few years to the Report that specifically recommended expanded cooperation and consultation "in the early stages of policy formation and before national positions became fixed".

It is perhaps ironic that the Suez crisis erupted at the very time that the Committee was putting together its Report. Just six weeks before France and the United Kingdom collaborated in the invasion of Egypt to secure the Suez Canal, the Committee had consulted with each member nation individually to clarify positions each government had taken "with respect to cooperation in the political, economic, cultural and information fields". At the time, Foreign Ministers Christian Pineau and Anthony Nutting of France and the United Kingdom, respectively, presumably provided the answers the Committee was seeking. The disconnect between the Anglo-French action in October, in which the United States as well as the Committee of Three had no advance notification, and the apparently fruitful conversations of September was striking.


The incentive for improving the conditions for consultation in the Alliance was long in the making. From its beginnings, the smaller Allies had felt that their voice was too seldom heard or heeded. Indeed, the Benelux countries had difficulty pressing France and the United Kingdom to make them more equal partners in the Brussels Pact of 1948. As negotiations for an Atlantic alliance proceeded in 1948, the United States' positions prevailed in almost all the issues – from overcoming European reluctance to admit such "stepping-stone" nations as Norway and Portugal as charter members to the establishment of a Standing Group composed of France, the United Kingdom and the United States, after the treaty was signed, to make the key decisions for the Military Committee. Not surprisingly, the signing of the treaty took place in Washington, not in Bermuda as the British had suggested, or in Paris where so many US treaties had been concluded in the past. The Truman administration intervened in Korea without consulting any of its NATO Allies. That the Supreme Allied Commanders appointed after the Korean War were American, not European, was a logical consequence of US dominance of the Alliance in the 1950s. Europe's dependence in those years on US economic support and its military ability to inhibit Soviet aggression accounted for the smaller Allies' reluctant acceptance of a lesser role vis-à-vis the United States. They were less patient with the presumptions of a superior status on the part of the two major European Allies.

Political consultation remains as important to the future of NATO in 2006 as it was in 1956
It was US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles who opened the way for the Committee of Three in April when he issued a number of statements indicating that the United States was anxious to expand NATO's functions in the non-military spheres. The Cold War was a major factor in his thinking. His proposed shift in NATO's emphases was motivated in large part by a need to meet the apparent change in Soviet strategy under Nikita Khrushchev away from military intimidation. Consultation on non-military areas could be an effective way of countering the growing Soviet economic and social offensives.

The result was the North Atlantic Council's appointment of a committee "to examine actively further measures which might be taken at this time to advance effectively their common interests".

A precedent for the Wise Men was the Committee of Three, also dubbed the "Three Wise Men", appointed in 1951 to recommend means of expanding the members' military production without damaging the reconstruction of their economies. It is worth noting that the individuals chosen for this delicate assignment were all representatives of the leading powers – W. Averell Harriman, US coordinator of the European Recovery Program, prominent British industrialist Sir Edwin Plowden, and Jean Monnet, France's most distinguished economist. For the first time, NATO's military needs, economic capabilities and political limitations were to be examined together to help devise appropriate strategies. The timing of the Committee's appointment was geared to the Truman administration's recognition that Europe's cooperation would have a beneficial effect on Congressional attitudes towards future foreign aid.

In 1956, the issue was the continuing exclusion of the smaller Allies from the decision-making process. Although NATO prided itself on decision-making by consensus, the "NATO method", consensus was too often reached either after unilateral action by the senior Ally or by restricting consultation to the major powers. The other members of NATO were left on the sidelines. To strengthen the Alliance by conciliating those nations the Council appointed statesmen equal in distinction to those who served on the 1951 Committee of Three, reaching out to three countries with grievances.


Halvard Lange, Gaetano Martino, the chairman, and Lester B. Pearson all had histories of strong affiliation with NATO. Lange had arguably been the most influential figure in Scandinavia arguing for Norway and Denmark to join NATO in 1949, rather than participating in a Nordic alliance with Sweden. Pearson had signed the North Atlantic Treaty for Canada and headed the Canadian delegation to the United Nations from 1948 to 1957. He proposed the UN Emergency Force to control the Suez crisis, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. Together with Professor Martino, a leading advocate of European unity (and father of Italy's current defence minister, Antonio Martino), they were impressive representatives of the smaller nations.

Each of the three nations had separate and compelling reasons to ask for greater appreciation of their roles in the Alliance. From a quantitative perspective, it defies logic to identify Italy as a "smaller" member of NATO. In the 1950s, its population was almost 50 million, larger than the United Kingdom's 46 million and France's 43 million. The only way it may be considered among the smaller nations was to apply the term "lesser", which would fit Italy's self-description at the time. Although Italy, like Canada and Norway, was a founding member of NATO, no country was the subject of more debate in the Washington exploratory talks in the summer and autumn of 1948. Objections to its membership stemmed in part from the questionable military contribution Italy, could make to the Alliance in light of restrictions imposed upon this former Axis country after the Second World War. That Italy was not on or near the Atlantic was another reason for exclusion. When Italy was finally accepted as an equal partner, it was through the efforts of France and of those State Department officials who wanted a hedge against a revived menace of Italian communism. Initially, France had opposed its admission but reversed its opposition when supporting Italy served its own case for including Algeria.

Italian officials for their part recognised the ambivalence if not hostility of the future NATO partners, and speculated about the possibility of a bilateral arrangement for US aid, combined with a security guarantee. They resented the attitude of their new Allies. Moreover, they resented exclusion from the Standing Group of the Military Committee, a preserve of French, UK and US military leaders.

Canada was in a more enviable position. The United States courted it as evidence that the Alliance was truly "Atlantic" and not just a euphemism for an expanded Western Union. With a population of 16 million, Canada was a middle-ranking power in size and certainly even more in resources. It had much to offer the Alliance, just as it had to the Allied cause during the Second World War. Canadian diplomats played an important role in drafting the Washington Treaty in 1948. Yet there was always ambivalence about its relationship to its larger neighbour. The Canadian delegation in 1948 held a position on the non-military aspects of a transatlantic alliance that was not shared by the United States. Whatever form the relationship ultimately took, Canadians felt that NATO should be more than just a military alliance. This was the basis for Canada's insistence on Article 2 of the Washington Treaty, pledging the signatories to developing peaceful and friendly international relations and eliminating economic conflict, to which US Secretary of State Dean Acheson had given grudging approval. Canadians were not at all assured that NATO under US leadership would emphasise the economic and cultural ties that were needed to bind the Atlantic community.

There was still another dimension to Canada's interest in NATO. Membership in a transatlantic entity would give it more breathing space in dealing with its sometimes intimidating southern neighbour. Canadian diplomats believed that the Atlantic Alliance could become a countervailing force against the United States. The farther the Atlantic community moved toward political and economic union the more the influence of France and the United Kingdom would restrain the power of the United States. At the same time, Canada was concerned that a United States that was too closely tied to Europe would be at the expense of the role it should play in the wider international arena. This schizophrenic view of the United States made Canada a fitting candidate for membership on the Committee of Wise Men, particularly when its stated purpose was to advance the goals that country has sought from the inception of NATO.

Of the three members represented on the committee, only Norway with its population of about 3 million was truly a small nation. Bordering the Soviet Union, Norway had turned to the United Kingdom and United States for protection, and embraced NATO with more enthusiasm than other Scandinavian countries. Yet its sense of vulnerability accounted for an insistence that no NATO troops or atomic weapons be deployed on its territory. While the United States did not welcome this "footnote", it accepted Norway's and Denmark's conditions in 1949. A US presence in the form of a military assistance advisory group larger than the entire Norwegian foreign office nonetheless inevitably raised questions about the extent of its influence on NATO's policies.

Norway, like Italy and Canada, wanted to ensure consultation as well as enlargement of NATO's mission. The Wise Men's recommendations reflected these concerns.


One concrete development resulting from the Report of the Committee of Three was the NATO Science Programme. Launched in 1957, it sought to promote collaborative projects to stimulate international exchange and maximise the return on national resources allocated for research. Another area in which the Committee of Three had an immediate impact was information with the creation of national information officers and targeted national information programmes in its wake. The focus of the Report was, however, political consultation and here the results were mixed.

The ministerial meetings of the North Atlantic Council paid at least lip service to the need for increased consultation on matters outside the military. A Committee of Political Advisers was set up in 1957 in accordance with a recommendation from the Wise Men. But how seriously did the larger powers take account of advice from the smaller members? None of the Wise Men came from a country with colonial possessions, and this may have been a factor in keeping the non-colonial nations out of discussions relating to territories beyond the scope of the treaty. Yet the "out-of-area" issues, from Korea to Cuba to Indochina, and to Vietnam in the 1960s impacted the Allies, small and large. When the Council approved the recommendations of the Three Wise Men it also recognised "the right and duty of member governments and of the Secretary General to bring to its attention matters which in their opinion may threaten the solidarity or effectiveness of the Alliance".

The message could not have been clearer. But it took a decade to be heard, and then not because there was sudden conversion on the part of the major powers. Rather, the changing environment of the Cold War in the 1960s helps to account for a different relationship among the Allies. Soviet failure to win its objectives in Berlin and Cuba in 1961 and 1962 induced many Europeans to believe that the Soviet Union had abandoned its provocative behaviour toward NATO and had adjusted to the role of a normal if adversarial neighbour. A new view of the Soviets permitted non-military issues to become more important in NATO circles and provided an opportunity for greater participation by the smaller nations in the decision-making process.

At the same time, the Vietnam War was not only draining US resources in Europe but also diminishing its stature among the Allies. Dutch and Scandinavian officials in 1965 were the leaders in the Council in criticising US involvement in Southeast Asia while their German and UK counterparts were relatively quiet. The smaller nations also pressed the larger Allies for more emphasis on détente and less on defence with a vigour and confidence they had not had ten years earlier.

At the initiative of Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel, the Allies resolved in 1966 to "study the future tasks which face the Alliance.in order to strengthen the Alliance as a factor for durable peace". While this study shared the spirit of the 1956 committee, it was broader in scope and more pointed in direction. Like the Report of the Wise Men, it asserted that: "The practice of frank and timely consultations needs to be deepened and improved." But emboldened by the rising economic strength of Western Europe and by the greater involvement of the smaller Allies in nuclear discussions, the Harmel Report encompassed military as well political issues. Its main message was to urge NATO to move toward détente as well as to maintain its defences against a still dangerous Warsaw Pact. The advice of the Wise Men can be found in the Harmel Report. Although not always followed over the years, political consultation remains as important to the future of NATO in 2006 as it was in 1956.

For the text of the Report of the Committee of Three on Non-Military Cooperation in NATO, see: www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/b561213a.htm

Recommendations of the Committee of Three on political cooperation in NATO

The Committee of Three recommended the following general guidelines concerning political cooperation: The Committee also drew up a number of more specific recommendations to strengthen the procedure, including the following: