Updated: 12-Dec-2001 NATO Speeches

12 June 1952

Lord Ismay's talk
to French Diplomatic Correspondents

The following is the advance text of Lord Ismay's talk at a luncheon of the Association de la Presse Diplomatique at the Centre des Relations Intellectuelles:

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen. At the outset I must apologize for speaking in English, but my rudimentary knowledge of your language does not permit me to try to speak in French. I shall, therefore, with your permission be translated as I go along.

  1. I am grateful for the honour you have done me in inviting me to be your guest today. I, myself, would have preferred to postpone my visit until I had acquired a clearer insight into the almost unnumerable, novel and complex problems which confront me. But your President was kind enough to say that, it was your wish to meet me this month. In the circumstances, my observations must be brief, and of a general character.

  2. It is an ordeal for a soldier — and a cavalry soldier at that — to address an audience who are not only masters in the realm of diplomacy, but who are also experts at giving expression to their views. My father would never let me forget the hackneyed story of cavalry officer who was so stupid that his brother officers noticed it.

  3. Nevertheless, in spite of all my shortcomings, I claim to have one qualification for the appointment which I have just assumed. For over twenty years I worked at the centre of the government machine of my country and saw at first hand the interdependence of political, economic and military problems. And long before the last war started, I preached it far and wide, that modern war was not a matter for soldiers and sailors only, but a trial of strength between whole nations and even groups of nations. I insisted then, as I insist today, that the civil population has a vital part to play, not only in time of war (if that should ever happen again, which God forbid) but in these days of uncertain peace when the Soviet Government and their satellites are pursuing a policy of making mischief by all methods short of war, i.e. short of war involving the Soviet Union in open hostilities.

  4. Now it is clear that the civilian populations of the North Atlantic Community cannot play their part in these dangerous and difficult days unless they understand and believe in the constructive tasks to which they have set their hands.

  5. The first point therefore that the average man and woman must grasp is that NATO exists for peace by collective security — peace first, peace last, peace all the time. They may say "Oh yes, we have heard of all that before. There was a lot of talk about collective security after the first world war, but it achieved exactly nothing". That is perfectly true, but we have come a long way since the North Atlantic Treaty was signed. All fourteen nations have placed their forces under the command of a foreign Supreme Commander, even in time of peace. Plans to meet aggression are being made by an international staff. The armies, navies and airforces of the NATO countries engage in international maneouvres as a routine matter.

  6. But there is a still more significant proof of the radical change that has taken place in international relations. A man is disinclined to tell even his best friends the extent of his fortune or of his indebtedness: nor does he tell them how he spends his money. And yet today, we see fourteen proud sovereign states laying open their accounts and their manner of life to the scrutiny of the others. It is only in this way that the contribution made by any one nation can be related to its capacity to pay. And to those people who fear that their standard of life will be ruined by rearmament, I would say that no nation will be expected to make a greater contribution than their national economy can sustain.

  7. Secondly, the average man and woman must realise that, if the nations of the free world try to act alone and independently , there is nothing that they can do. If, however, they are united, there is nothing they cannot do. Their combined resources are immense indeed overwhelming and there can be no shadow of doubt that sufficient strength to act as a deterrent against aggression or to deal with that aggression (should it inhappily come) can be achieved by a joint effort.

  8. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go, and it would be very wrong to say anything which would lull people into a false sense of security. On the contrary, one and all should be inspired with a sense of urgency. The stakes are stupendous: PEACE and all that blessed word implies.

  9. Thirdly, the average man and woman must be convinced that no gun or ship or aeroplane that is provided for NATO will be used except in legitimate self defence. The forces that are contemplated are the bare munimum for that purpose. There is no margin for aggressive adventure. It never enters our thoughts. The Soviet Supreme Command know this perfectly well, so I am not giving away any secrets.

  10. Fourthly, the average man and woman must realise that it is worthwhile making some sacrifice and working hard now in order to secure for our children and our children's children, the peace that has been denied to us twice in the lifetime of many of us. It is my firm conviction that NATO is the best, if not the only, chance of attaining that peace.

  11. Finally, the average man and woman must be given hope that this process of rearmament is only a means to an end. It will not, we pray, continue for ever. The day may well come to an agreement with them. We shall than be able to devote our combined efforts to cooperation between all peoples in more fruitful fields of common endeavour. When that day comes, the spirit of mutual confidence, of mutual understanding, of tolerance and of friendship which have grown up in these testing days will be of inestimable service.

  12. On you, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, rests a tremendous responsibility — the responsibility of bringing the truth of the convictions that I have mentioned to public opinion in our own countries and in those which are now separated from us by an iron curtain. Since you are free journalists in a free country, your own consciences will supply the best arguments for joining us in our peace crusade. It is by your integrity, your devotion to your profession and to the cause of freedom itself, your powers of exposition; in fact, by those very qualities which have made you eminent for your calling, that you will be able to mould the ideas and beliefs of millions, and render immeasurable service to mankind.

  13. Now Ladies and Gentlemen, I am prepared to try to answer questions.

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