Updated: 11-Dec-2001 NATO Speeches

Comptes Rendus
des Travaux de
la Société
politique de
Mai 1954,
n°228, 14 p.
20 mai 1954

Five Years of N.A.T.O.

Conférence donnée par The Rt. Hon. Lord Ismay,
Secretary General of The North Atlantic Treaty Organization

M. CAMU a présenté Lord ISMAY dans les termes suivants :

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the name of the Société d'Economie Politique implies, we generally invite you to listen to the discourse of a distinguised economist. These learned professors come to us from every country in the free world, and the only condition which we impose on them is that they should speak one or other of our national languages — French, of Flemish, or else English. Never before has the Société d'Economie Politique had the honour of presenting to you a visitor who has no country — in fact, a supranational.

Lord Ismay may appear to you incredibly English. He is going to speak to you in English. Please make no mistake. Lord Ismay has stopped being English, in order to serve the fourteen countries which comprise the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. He represents none of them but speaks for all of them.

I warn you that Lord Ismay does not recognise the different nationalities present in this room today. To him we are just citizens of his own Atlantic world. He would probably go even further in this idea. He himself was born in India where his family had served for four generations. He completed the cycle by returning to India after the war as Principal Adviser to the last Vice-Roy, Lord Mountbatten. In his own person he thus embodies the Atlantic world, intimately and solidly linked with the world of Asia, with no need for further Asian Pacts.

Freedom must sometimes be defended with courage. As Churchill has said "Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because it is the quality which guarantees all others".

Lord Ismay displayed courage during the First World War when he fought in Somaliland in Africa against the Mad Mullah, and between the wars, when he was on the North West Frontier of India. Back at the War Office, he became in 1939 Deputy Secretary (Military) of the War Cabinet. Then in 1940, he was made Chief of Staff to Mr. Churchill in his capacity of Minister of Defence.

During the war he was given many other important assignments, but this appointment, which he held to the end, was the most vital.

One of the greatest difficulties in the First War was the failure to arrive at a satisfactory relationship between the politicians and the generals. In the last war this was brilliantly solved by Mr. Churchill being Minister of Defence as well as Prime Minister, and being represented by a General, Lord Ismay, in the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Again and again, Sir Winston Churchill has testified to the complete success of this arrangement, which depended entirely upon the character and personality of his representative. Churchill has said : "General Ismay knew exactly how my mind was working from day to day". General Eisenhower too has written that Lord Ismay's personal share in the victory is not surpassed by that of many other generals whose names are household words.

It seems to me that Lord Ismay has always been, as another American described him, "the man with the oil-can, who makes the weels turn." Lord Ismay has an international reputation for combining a brillant intellect with humanity, kindliness and infinite tact. There is also the unexpected. I wonder if any other Allied Officers telephoned their confidential reports in Hindustani from Paris to London during the last stages of the Battle of France!

Some of you may be wondering what the history of N.A.T.O., fascinating as it may be, has to do with the Socit d'Economie Politique. I will tell you.

The organisation of defence involves many things: the training of armies, air-forces and navies, their disposal and deployment, the choice of their weapons, their supply and transport and so on endlessly. All this involves economic problems.

Somehow the bill for defence has to be paid. Somehow armament production has to be squeezed into the economic frame without unduly curtailing the manufacture of consumer goods. Productivity has to be increased if a decent standard of living is to be ensured for the population, and defence requirements met as well. But as long as we live in a world torn in two parts, defence must remain paramount. Even today defence accounts for over two thirds of a much swollen United States budget. Britain has willingly shouldered a similar burden. Each N.A.T.O. decision is of major economic importance for every country. Each sphere of economic activity is affected, right down to the tax-payer. Since the Belgian tax-payer is always unwilling to pay up, N.A.T.O. policies become matters of personal controversy.

I therefore salute in Lord Ismay, not only the statesman, the soldier and the diplomat, but also the economist, who has to strike the delicate balance, in each N.A.T.O. country, between defence demands and the maintenance of a sufficient standard of living. Lord Ismay tries to temper the wind to the shorn lamb, and he has the reputation of making us all pay up almost without noticing. In this connexion, I wonder if you know what happened to a former Belgian Minister of Finance at a meeting of the Atlantic Council. Our Minister, who shall be nameless, appeared to be asleep. Lord Ismay, noticing this, passed a note to the Belgian Delegate, who is here today, which read: "Please wake him up!"

M. de Staercke replied by note : "If I wake him up, he'll say No!"

To which Lord Ismay, ever the statesman, answered on another scrap of paper "Let him sleeep".

I think it was very considerate of Lord Ismay to realise how painful defence always is to a Minister of Finance! In fact, the Minister has always been a past master at the art of playing possum. Knowing our Minister as we do, only increases our admiration for Lord Ismay, who was able to charm money out of his exchequer, whether he was awake or asleep.

LORD ISMAY. — Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very grateful to you for the nice things you have said. I recognise your allusions to the Finance Minister, but your remarks about myself were so flattering that I failed to recognise them.

Anyhow, I do apologise for speaking in English in Brussels; if I was a good Secretary General, I would be able to speak the languages of all the fourteen countries whose servant I am. But as you all know, there is a saying in English: "You can't teach an old dog to do new tricks"! And I was too old when I joined.

Seriously, I am delighted to have this chance to speak to this influential and distinguished audience because I believe with heart and soul that NATO provides the best, if not the only hope of peace and security and that freedom that we all hold more dearly than life itself. And therefore I like to get every opportunity of spreading what I call the Gospel of NATO. There is a great ignorance about NATO. When the American representative was coming from Washington, someone on the ship said to him: "Where are you going?" — "I am going as an Ambassador to NATO". And his friend replied: "What is the climate like there?"! I am quite sure that my audience is not in that same position of ignorance about NATO, but I hope that you will forgive me if I go back to the beginning of things, and tell you why NATO was necessary.

Immediately Germany surrendered, the Western democracies took away their forces from Europe as fast as they could. To give you an idea of the run down, on V.E. Day, in May 1945, there were over three million American troops in Europe; a year later there were 400,000. On that same day, there were 1,600,000 British troops; a year later there were half a million. On that same day there were 300,000 Canadia troops, all but one thousand; at the end of the year there were none.

Meanwhile the Soviets kept their armies and their armament industries going at full blast.

As you remember, the Western world did their utmost to reach an accommodation with their late Allies, Soviet Russia. But Conference after Conference broke down owing to Soviet intransigence. They made the proceedings of UNO a farce by the use of the veto. They started a campaign of slander and lies against the whole of the Western world, and worst of all, and most significant of all, they got under their control, one by one, the countries of Eastern Europe by a curious process of conquest without war. The communist coup in Prague, a country in 1948 where there was not a communist majority, showed that the sands were running out. The situation was critical : here was another non-communist country dragged behind the iron curtain.

Then, it became obvious that unless something was done to restore the balance of military and economic power, there was no reason why Western Europe should not also be dragged behind the iron curtain. The point was, how was this to be done? No single nation could do it alone. It could only be done by combining. And it was in that dark hour that the North Atlantic Treaty was conceived and signed. And here in Brussels, I would remind you that Mr. Spaak was always one of the protagonists of that treaty and he it was who signed on behalf of Belgium that historic document. May I run trough the list of the original signatories of the Treaty? In alphabetical order they are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. It was in 1952 that they were joined by Greece and Turkey .

I will just give you the two important clauses in the Treaty, because they are vital.

The first is that all these nations have guaranteed that an attack upon one shall be an attack on them all. You see what that means. That means that America has abandoned her historic isolationism from the affairs of Europe. That means that any future aggressor will not be able to devour his victims one by one, as Hitler did. But a promise to stand together would be little more than a brave gesture unless it was backed by armed forces.

The second clause pledges all these nations to build up their individual and collective capacity to resist attack. To resist attack. I emphasise the word resist because it underlines the defensive character of the Treaty. The forces at which we aim are a bare minimum for defence. No thought of aggression of any kind enters our minds, much less our calculations. If it were otherwise, is it likely that a powerful, peace-loving body like the International Coucil of the Free Trade Unions whose Hearquarters in this town I visited lately, would pass a resolution supporting us in every way? I would like to give you their exact words: "to support the efforts of the free Nations to strenghten their defences in order to resist aggression".

There is another implication of the word "resist". It means that any potential aggressor will be resisted wherever he attacks; that means that all NATO territory will be defended. That is the conception on which all plans are made.

You realise that modern weapons have an immense range: rockets, guided missiles, long-range artillery possibly with atomic heads. And therefore, if all NATO territory is to be defended, any aggressor must be held as far east as possible. That is why a German contribution is essential. That is why the North Atlantic Council has repeatedly emphasised the importance they attach to E.D.C. That is why it was such an enormous source of encouragement to all Belgium's AlIies when that Treaty was ratified by the Belgian Parliament by such a large majority.

Let us recall what the Nations have done. In the first place, they have made a great sacrifice in national pride. Each and all of them has agreed to put their precious Forces — and nations are as jealous of their Forces as mothers of their sons — under international command. This has never been done in history before in time of peace. This has meant that NATO's forces can be trained together in time of peace with the same staff methods, the same procedure, doctrines and, so far as possible, with the same equipment. Further, if there should be war (which God forbid), they would be able to operate under single direction and in accordance with a unified and predetermined plan. How different from the last time!

The second sacrifice that Nations have made is a material one. Each one of them in their effort to make the biggest contribution they can to the common cause has spent progressively more each year on defence. But, let me emphasise this very clearly, no nation is expected to spend more on defence than its national economy can afford. It would be foolish to do so because that is the way to create poverty, hardships, discontentment, in fact those very conditions in which communism thrives. Therefore, the guiding motto is: spend as much as you can afford but not a franc more.

Last month, NATO celebrated its fifth birthday. Five years. It isn't a very long time in the span of lives of men or nations, but there has been a remarkable transformation. NATO is no longer a vision, it is a reality.

The highest civil authority of NATO is the North Altantic Council. Since its business is continuous, it is necssary for the Council to be able to meet frequently and at short notice. It is for that reason that each country has a Permanent Representative resident in Paris, and I am so glad that my trusted colleague and good friend, Mr. Andr de Staercke, the Belgian Representative, is here to support me today. Indeed his support of me is never failing and his wise counsel and helpfulness have been a source of immense comfort and strength to me ever since I have held my present appointment.

The Council meets once, or twice, or three times a week. The business is going on all the time. We can meet at half an hour's notice if there is an urgent call. And, very often, we meet entirely alone, without staff, without commitments, without records. Everyone can say exactly what he wants. Thus all the members know what their colleagues in the Council feel about any particular problem and can report to their Governments.

On the military side, there is a network of commands covering the North Atlantic Ocean and stretching from the North Cape to North Africa, and from the English Channel to the Caucasian mountains. The forces that have been put up are quite substantial. They are not yet strong enough to resist an all-out attack by Russia, but that very great soldier, General Gruenther, has recently assured us "that the shield is sufficiently strong not to be overcome by anything that the Soviet have got outside Russia proper". That means that in order to launch an attack, if they were so wicked and foolish as to do so, they would have to bring troops up from Russia which would give us warning and therefore give us time to take some counter-measures.

There is another point which I would like to stress. Modern armies and air-forces require a lot of fixed installations, by which I mean airfields, jet fuel supply systems, communications of all kinds, war headquarters and so forth. They go under NATO's jargon as infrastucture. That is a generic term that describes these things. We get a sort of fifteenth language in NATO! All these installations are for common use and are very expensive. Most of them have got to be built in Western Europe. It would be impossible for any one country to pay for all those installations merely because they happen to be within its borders. Therefore, this is done on a cost-sharing basis, each country paying the proportion that they themselves think fair. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem, they have already promised 750,000,000 sterling for those jobs. That has been subscribed by the fourteen members. When I say "subscribed", that is what they have guaranteed. A good deal of it has been spent already and, as an example, there are now one hundred and twenty usable airfields in Europe, whereas when General Eisenhower came here, there were fifteen.

I have stressed what I might call the material advance of NATO, but I believe sincerely that the greatest accomplishment, the greatest achievement of NATO is something intangible and invisible. That is its unity.

You see it if you go to the NATO Defence College. You see a group of officers, ten or twelve, all of different nationalities, working in the same syndicate, lunching afterwards together, making friendships that will endure a lifetime. You see it at SHAPE, the supreme headquarters in Paris. General Gruenther said : "I have served in many headquarters in my thirty-five years of service: I have never been in a happier one than this". You see it on international manoeuvres: troops of different nationalities working together as if they had always served under the same flag. You see it in the International Staff at the Palais de Chaillot, where there is a big and efficient Belgian contingent. In point of fact all fourteen nations are represented on this staff, but none of us regards himself as a national of his own country. We regard ourselves as members of an international team dedicated to the cause of the Alliance as a whole.

And finally, you see it in the Council. I have only been there two years, but I do know this: that controversial questions are settled now more quickly than they used to be; and the reason, of course, is that the members of the Council have got to know each other better, and they have a clear understanding of each other's point of view, and with that understanding, mutual tolerance, mutual trust and enduring friendships have grown.

Well, so far, so good. I have given you the good side first! There is some bad coming! The very fact that this satisfactory progress has been made in the cohesion of the Alliance, and its added strength, is a danger in that it may lead people to think that the menace is past and that we can all relax. I wish we could! But that is not the position at all. The hard fact is that the balance of military power still lies with the Soviets. They have got no more divisions than they had five years ago, but there has been a great improvement in quality.

Similarly, as regards aircraft : they had about 20,000 about five years ago, and they still have about that number. But the quality has improved out of all recognition. Three years ago about 20 % of their fighters were modern jets: now there is 100 %. In addition, the satellite forces have increased both in quantity and quality.

And so, as much as we would like to stop spending money on armaments which could be spend on much better things for the happiness and prosperity of the people, we have got to go on doing it up to the limit of our ability because the Soviet power for mischief is still a menace and none of us can prefigure the intentions of those men in the Kremlin.

Up to now I have spoken mainly about defence and naturally NATO has concentrated on defense because, unless you have security, you have no hope of anything. Therefore, that has been our first charge. But there is another charge that we have : NATO is not just a military alliance of the old-fashioned sort. It was, I think, Mr. Churchill who said that NATO was intended not only for-immediate defence but for enduring progress. And our aim is that there should be a real family of nations always thinking together, always acting together and always helping each other to the best of their ability. That is distinctly laid down in Article 2 of the Treaty which pledges all the nations to do their utmost to foster economic cooperation, social cooperation and political cooperation.

We have thought of it a lot, but we have got very little to show for it so far, for the principal reason that many other international organisations are engaged on these very problems. For example, if you take economic cooperation, you have the OEEC who do that, and that thing only. If you take emigration, you have got various bodies — the ILO and others, — I can never remember all these strings of initials — on that very job.

We have concentrated on political and social cooperation. Political cooperation is not a thing you can publicise and it isn't very spectacular for that reason. But, I believe that we have increased appreciably our political consultations in the last two years. The Council discusses matters which affect NATO not only directly, but also indirectly. For example: the recent Soviet note which they adressed to the three of our member nations who are the occupying powers of Germany in which they suggested that they might join NATO was quite a compliment, but I am not sure that we want them terribly badly! That note was immediately discussed in the Council so that the other eleven members could express their views and enable the three who were going to send the reply to take those views into account. That is what they did. So far as social cooperation is concerned, I feel the foundation is knowledge and understanding; and what we want is that the fourteen nations should all get to understand each other's point of view at all levels. That is a job for Governments themselves.

At the same time obviously the Council and the international staff must do all that they can to further this object. And we certainly do our best within the limits of the small funds that are allowed us. For example, we arrange tours of journalists of all the member countries to visit the other member countries, having first assembled them in Paris and explained NATO to them. Then again Parliamentarians, Military Colleges and others frequently corne to Paris in order to receive these same explanations.

I would conclude with a profession of my faith.

As regards the past, I believe it is very probable that if it hadn't been for NATO, we might well have already been in a third world war.

As regards the present, I feel very keenly that we must not be complacent; we can be satisfied but not complacent. And we must not relax; to do so would be to make a mockery of all the sacrifices and exertions which have been made these last five years.

And, as regards the future, I myself, and I am not an optimist by nature, am completely confident that our fate is in our hands; we have to be steadfast, vigilant and united; above all united, in order to preserve security and peace.


Lord Ismay,

Je vous remercie de cette conférence d'une profonde et émouvante simplicité sur un sujet qui nous touche tant parce qu'il tient aux racines mmes de nos libertés. Vous apportez cette uvre atlantique considerable les qualités qui furent les vtres pendant les hostilités la direction des Comités de guerre : réalisme, simplicité, humanité, celles qui font avancer les problmes dans l' action immédiate, et dans un idéal courageux.

Vous parliez tout l'heure des clameurs qui s'levaient de l'autre ct de l'Atlantique. Cela m'a rappel la guerre. Vous tiez Prsident d'un comit dans lequel sigeaient des gnraux. Ce comit se runissait quotidiennement. Un jour, Churchill, vous-mme et quelques autres aviez d vous retirer dans une pice voisine. Au bout de trs peu de temps, un tel bruit de voix et de discussions se fit entendre que Churchill envoya quelqu'un pour demander ces Messieurs de faire silence. Le planton vint se pencher vers vous et vous dit: "Je dois aller imposer silence des amiraux et des gnraux; comment pourrais-je le faire?" Et vous avez rpondu: "Comme je vous comprends, je ne pourrais pas le faire non plus!" Pourtant votre ralisme nous inspire la plus grande confiance. Et nous savons que vous saurez imposer le silence aux voix discordantes de mfiance pour sauvegarder la paix dans la libert.

Lord Ismay, au nom de la Socit d'Economie Politique de Belgique, au nom de tous vos auditeurs et de tous vos amis, je vous remercie.

La sance est leve 18 h. 30.

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