The Birth of NATO
After the devastation of World War II and the ensuing Cold War with the Soviet Union, nations across the globe sought out alliances to protect themselves and to avoid a possible World War III. The United Nations was created, as were various regional alliances, such as the Rio Treaty for the Western Hemisphere. Europe’s growing concern about Soviet aggression led to the March 1948 signing of the Treaty of Brussels, which united the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg), France, and the United Kingdom, but not the United States.
Theodore Achilles and a handful of other American diplomats rightfully predicted the USSR’s expansionist policy and saw the glaring need for a military alliance which included the U.S.; however, such a treaty would encounter strong opposition in a Congress wary of further entanglements abroad. After months of writing, negotiating and meeting, twelve nations signed the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949; it came into effect in August 1949. Today, NATO has 28 members and relationships with several non-member nations.
Theodore Achilles was the First Secretary in Embassy London right after WWII, where he witnessed the creation and signing of the Brussels Treaty. When he returned to the U.S., he worked as the Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs. Achilles eventually became the Ambassador to Peru. Here he discusses working with key people in Congress to get support for the idea for such a treaty amid widespread skepticism; the secret negotiations; the desire for Europe to “first show us what you are prepared to do for yourselves” before the U.S. committed itself; the thinking behind each paragraph of the Treaty; and the fight for ratification. He was interviewed beginning in November 1972 by Richard D. McKinzie. The entire text of the NATO Treaty can be found at the end of the article.
See also accounts on negotiations at the 1946 Paris Peace Conference and when President Charles de Gaulle unilaterally withdrew France from NATO. Read about Poland’s path to NATO membership. Go here to read about the Marshall Plan. You can also read Achilles’ humorous run-in with Secretary of State Byrnes. For a comparison on sensitive negotiations with Congress, check out the account on ratifying the Panama Canal Treaty.
“There is no chance the Soviet Union will deal with the West on any reasonable terms in the foreseeable future”
ACHILLES: After a year in London and a year in Brussels I returned to Washington as Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs, and it became my duty with Jack Hickerson, to concentrate for the next year and a half on negotiating the North Atlantic Treaty and getting it ratified….
On that New Year’s Eve [December 31, 1947] I was sitting at my desk, slightly drowsy in the middle of the afternoon, when my immediate chief, Jack Hickerson, Director of the Bureau of European Affairs, came into my office, well mellowed by Fish House punch [made with rum, cognac and peach brandy] and said, “I don’t care whether entangling alliances have been considered worse than original sin ever since George Washington’s time. We’ve got to negotiate a military alliance with Western Europe in peacetime and we’ve got to do it quickly.”
I said, “Fine, when do we start?”
He said, “I’ve already started it. Now it’s your baby. Get going.”
He sat down and elaborated. He had been with General [George C.] Marshall, who succeeded Jimmy Byrnes as Secretary of State, at the last meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London in December . That meeting had broken up with no progress on negotiating the treaties which they had been trying to negotiate for the last two years.
The night it broke up the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, invited General Marshall to dinner alone in his apartment. That night, after dinner, he made a statement to General Marshall, which was almost word for word the same one he made in the House of Commons two or three weeks later. He said, and I quote, “There is no chance that the Soviet Union will deal with the West on any reasonable terms in the foreseeable future. The salvation of the West depends upon the formation of some form of union, formal or informal in character, in Western Europe, backed by the United States and the dominions, such a mobilization of moral and material force will inspire confidence and energy within and respect elsewhere.”
At that point Western Europe was devastated, prostrate and demoralized and it badly needed confidence and energy within. With the Soviet armies halfway across Europe and still at their full wartime strength and the Communist parties the largest single political elements in France and Italy, something to inspire Soviet respect was equally essential.
The only moral and material force adequate to deter further Soviet expansion was a combination of that of the United States and Western Europe together. Some form of union was definitely essential, but there was a great question as to what form and between whom.
The next morning Secretary Marshall told Dulles and Hickerson of Bevin’s words. He was impressed, but he thought that the union should be purely European, with the United States supplying material assistance. He had made his famous Marshall plan speech at Harvard only six months before and was still trying to get Congressional authorization for it. He did not want to complicate that task any more than was absolutely necessary.
Secretary Marshall flew home. Dulles and Hickerson came by sea. Jack Hickerson was convinced that a European union backed by U.S. material assistance would not be enough, that only a moral commitment by the United States to do whatever was necessary, including to fight if necessary, to restore and maintain a free and solvent Europe could create that “confidence and energy within and respect elsewhere.”
By the time they reached Washington, Foster Dulles had substantially accepted that line of reasoning. Dulles undertook to convince [Republican Senator from Michigan Arthur H.] Vandenberg, then Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Hickerson undertook to convince Marshall….
“First show us what you are prepared to do for yourselves”
Early in January Bevin (at right) made his historic speech in the Commons saying substantially what he had said to Marshall, and he inquired in a private message to Secretary Marshall what the U.S. might be prepared to do about it.
Jack Hickerson drafted a reply, but Marshall balked. Jack’s draft reply would have given Bevin very substantial encouragement. The reply Marshall finally signed insisted that the nations of Western Europe first show what they were prepared to do for themselves and each other, after which we would consider sympathetically what we might do to help. That was to be our theme song for the next few months: “Show what you’re prepared to do for yourselves and each other, and then we’ll think about what we might do.”
Bevin’s message also stated that he hoped to realize a network of bilateral alliances between Britain, France and the Benelux [Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg] countries, each ostensibly aimed at any new threat from Germany, but actually and equally valid against any Soviet aggression.
We had recently concluded, and the Senate had ratified, the Rio Treaty by which the nations of the Western Hemisphere constituted themselves a collective defense arrangement under the U.S. Charter to respond individually and collectively to any armed aggression.
Jack’s draft reply to Bevin contained, and Marshall accepted, the suggestion that a similar collective defense arrangement between Britain and France and the Benelux countries would be far preferable to a network of bilateral alliances. Bevin bought the idea. Senators Vandenberg and [Thomas] Connally, who had been on the delegation that negotiated the Rio Treaty, and to safeguard its provisions had fought at San Francisco for authorization for collective defense arrangements under the U.N. Charter, heartily approved.
It would be a long time before anyone would admit publicly that we were even considering a treaty. But Jack and I knew clearly from the beginning what we were working for….
As far as we were concerned, Jack, right from the beginning, laid down two important ground rules. One was that the Senate, through the Foreign Relations Committee, was to be involved from the start. Its “advice” was to be sought constantly all the way through, rather than merely its “consent” to a signed and sealed treaty.
The other was that the process be kept thoroughly bipartisan — essential in an election year with a Democratic administration, a Republican Congress, and the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee a potential candidate for the Presidency.
During January and February of 1948, Bevin, having accepted our suggestion of a collective defense arrangement, pushed on with negotiations with the French and Benelux governments which resulted in the Brussels Treaty, signed on March 17th. Our official position was still, and continued to be, “First show us what you are prepared to do for yourselves and each other, and then we will see what we can do.”
Secret negotiations and Soviet aggression
Yet, we had been pushing quietly ahead on two fronts. One was ultra-secret political and military talks with the British and Canadians about a treaty. The talks were held in the Joint Chiefs of Staff War Room in the bowels of the Pentagon, and the very existence of the talks was so secret that the Joint Chiefs sent staff cars to pick up the various participants and deliver them directly to a secret entrance in the basement. It was so secret that one Pentagon chauffeur got lost trying to find it.…
The talks — even their existence — were ultra, ultra secret, and to this day I don’t believe anything has been written or said publicly about them. Yet it was only two or three years later that [British diplomat and, along with Kim Philby, a member of the infamous Cambridge Five spy ring] Donald MacLean defected to Moscow. The Russians must have been getting a daily play-by-play account.
The talks lasted about two weeks and by the time they finished, it had been secretly agreed that there would be a treaty, and I had a draft of one in the bottom drawer of my safe. It was never shown to anyone except Jack. I wish I had kept it, but when I left the Department in 1950, I dutifully left it in the safe and I have never been able to trace it in the archives.
It drew heavily on the Rio Treaty, and a bit of the Brussels Treaty, which had not yet been signed, but of which we were being kept heavily supplied with drafts. The eventual North Atlantic Treaty had the general form, and a good bit of the language of my first draft but with a number of important differences.
The other front was the Senatorial one. The Europeans were, with reason, becoming increasingly frightened of Soviet expansion, and their pleas for U.S. action were becoming increasingly insistent. Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland had been taken over by the Communists by the fall of 1947. The Czech coup came in February, 1945 and the murder of Masaryk (at left) in March.
After the signature of the Brussels Treaty on March 17th, Bevin and [Georges] Bidault then French Foreign Minister, said in effect, “Now we’ve shown what we expect to do for ourselves and each other, what are you going to do? For God’s sake, do something quick.”
We were all deeply disturbed by the Soviet westward pressure, but to the Europeans we still kept saying, “You made a start, but it’s still a small start. Put some military bones on that Treaty, preferably some collective ones.” We were sufficiently disturbed, however, to contemplate a declaration by President Truman that he was prepared to negotiate a military alliance with the Parties to the Brussels Treaty and that, should there be Soviet aggression against any Parties to the Treaty pending its negotiation and entry into effect, the United States would consider it an unfriendly act.
[Under Secretary of State] Lovett tried that out on Vandenberg, and got a resounding “No!”
“Why,” asked Vandenberg, “should Truman get all the credit?” It was not an unnatural reaction on his part, for it was an election year and Vandenberg was interested in being the Republican candidate. But he was a statesman as well as a politician and his counterproposal was excellent. “Why not,” he asked, “get the Senate to request the President to negotiate such an alliance. Wouldn’t that give you a long start toward eventual bipartisan Senate approval?” How right he was.
The Outline of a Treaty
We accepted his approach with enthusiasm and he and Lovett set out to draft a “Sense of the Senate” resolution with Jack’s and my assistance. Vandenberg (at right) had played a substantial role in San Francisco during the negotiation of the U.N. Charter and in the Senate for its ratification.
In 1948 there was much public and Congressional discussion of the need to strengthen the U.S. and several Congressional resolutions on the subject were pending. Vandenberg wished to capitalize on these.
Accordingly, the preamble of the Vandenberg resolution called upon the President particularly to pursue the following objectives within the U.S. Charter. Its paragraphs 1, 5 and 6 referred to strengthening the U.N. itself. Paragraphs 2, 3 and 4, were, with the exception of one phrase, my language. They read:
2. Progressive development of regional and other collective arrangements for individual and collective self-defense in accordance with the purposes, principles, and provisions of the Charter.
3. Association of the United States, by constitutional process, with such regional and other collective arrangements as are based on continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, and as affect its national security.
4. Contributing to the maintenance of peace by making clear its determination to exercise the right of individual or collective self-defense under Article 51, should any armed attack occur affecting its national security.
The words “by constitutional process” were Vandenberg’s, and they proved very useful in the Resolution and in the Treaty itself…He also did his best to keep things bipartisan by insisting that the resolution be referred to as a “Resolution of the Foreign Relations Committee” rather than as the “Vandenberg resolution.” However, he could not have been displeased when the press and everyone else preferred the latter.
Paragraph 4 with its recommendation that the U.S. react to any armed aggression affecting its national security went far to contemplate the warning that we thought that the President should give. We were on the way, and the British and French were heartened, but still gravely worried and impatient. We did not dare move until the resolution passed the Senate and we pressed the Europeans to get them going on developing some collective military strength.
At the end of April, the Benelux military authorities began discussions, but only in September was the Western Union Defense Organization created with Field Marshal Montgomery as Chairman of the Commanders-in-Chief Committee at Fontainebleau. Montgomery did not mince words and the British showed us one of his early secret telegrams from Fontainebleau. “My present instructions are to hold the line at the Rhine,” said Montgomery. “Presently available allied forces might enable me to hold the tip of the Brittany Peninsula for three days. Please instruct further.”
On April 28th Prime Minister [Louis S.] St. Laurent of Canada made first overt proposals for a treaty. Speaking in the House of Commons, he proposed a collective mutual defense system, including Canada, the United States and the Brussels Treaty parties. [British Foreign Secretary; Ernest] Bevin promptly welcomed it. Francis [also known as Fran] Wilcox, who was then Chief of Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bill Galloway, whom I had gotten out of uniform and into the Western European Division and who was then working with me, and I worked all day for two or three weeks drafting the Committee’s report on the resolution. Fran was an exacting taskmaster and a stickler for detail, but able as hell and knew his Committee thoroughly.
They adopted the report unanimously and the Senate approved it by the highly satisfactory vote of, I believe, 84 to 6, on June 11. Now we could move.
On July 6, talks began between Acting Secretary Lovett and the Ambassadors of Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Holland, and the Luxembourg Minister, ostensibly, on problems connected with the defense of the Atlantic area, including the possibility of a treaty of alliance.
It would still be several months before we would admit out loud that we were negotiating a treaty. The Acting Secretary and the Ambassadors met once in a while, but the treaty was actually negotiated “despite them” in Jack’s words, by a “Working Group,” whose members became life-long friends in the process.
We met every working day from the beginning of July to the beginning of September. Most of us were already on a first name basis and we all were by the third day. The NATO spirit was born in that Working Group. Derick Hoyer-Millar, the British Minister, started it. One day he made a proposal which was obviously nonsense. Several of us told him so in no uncertain terms, and a much better formulation emerged from the discussion. Derick said, and I quote, “Those are my instructions. All right, I’ll tell the Foreign Office I made my pitch, was shot down and try to get them changed.”
He did. From then on we all followed the same system. If our instructions were sound, and agreement could be reached, fine. If not, we worked out something we all, or most of us, considered sound, and whoever had the instructions undertook to get them changed. It always worked, although sometimes it took time.
“The French Government was wetting its collective pants for fear the U.S. wouldn’t ratify if it did”
Two years later we began in London to put the “O” on the NAT by creating the organization. Some of the members of the delegations had been members of the Working Group, some had not. I was our representative on one committee; the French representative had not been. He made some unacceptable proposal and I told him it was unacceptable.
“Those are my instructions,” he said flatly.
From force of habit, I said bluntly, “I know, but they’re no good, get them changed to something like this.” He was sorely offended. A little later in the meeting I made a proposal under instructions I knew to be wrong. He and several others objected. I said, “I know, those are my instructions. I’ll try to get them changed.”
I have never seen a more puzzled looking Frenchman. “What,” I could see him thinking, “is this crazy American up to? Is he stupid, or Machiavellian, or what?” But he got the idea in due course. He was Ethienne Burin De Roziers (in photo), for several years my colleague as Minister in NATO and later, after some years in the wilderness, General de Gaulle’s Chef de Cabinet for many years. I was always confident that he kept the NATO spirit, but there wasn’t much he could do about it at the Elysée [Palace, the official residence of the President of France].
The French, of course, were difficult. They always are in a working group; they boggled at everything. For weeks they insisted on a treaty having a duration of 50 years. We did not think the Senate would take a duration of more than 10 years and told Bernard, the French Minister, so repeatedly. He said France would not sign unless it ran for 50 years.
We told him bluntly that we didn’t give a damn whether or not France signed, and that we couldn’t go beyond 10, and everybody else would sign, and that he knew damn well the French Government was wetting its collective pants at least once a day for fear the U.S. wouldn’t sign or ratify if it did.
The French were not the only ones to be difficult. We had some on our own side. Chip Bohlen and George Kennan were strongly adverse to the idea of any treaty. Chip was then Counselor in the Department, which at that time meant being in charge of Congressional relations, and George, head of the Policy Planning Staff. In the Departmental hierarchy they both ranked above Jack [Hickerson], and naturally above me.
Any telegrams for the Secretary’s signature or memoranda to him which we originated were supposed to have their initials before it went to the Secretary. They usually didn’t have their initials. Sometimes we got by with it, sometimes we didn’t.
One time, Pat Carter, General Marshall’s Executive Assistant, bawled me out for it: “There is too much half-assed staff work around here.” I couldn’t tell him why, but every time we eventually did get the Secretary’s or Acting Secretary’s approval.
Chip’s opposition was due to his belief, pretty much a conviction that the Senate would never consent to ratification of a military alliance. His recommendation was that we get Congress to approve a massive military assistance program and let it go at that.
His fallback position was the “dumbbell” one, that there be a bilateral agreement of some sort between the U.S. and Canada on one side and the parties to the Brussels Treaty on the other…
It was obvious that someone who did not believe in the Treaty or that the Senate would ever approve it was not the man to get it through the Senate for us. Jack convinced [Under Secretary of State] Bob Lovett of the situation and Chip was transferred to Paris. We cooked up a new job for him, that of Regional Supervisor for the Military Assistance Program — which didn’t yet exist, but which we were confident Congress would approve.
Somewhere along the line George Kennan dropped his opposition and did make one positive contribution…He pointed out that it might be far more effective to hit the enemy somewhere else, rather than where the attack occurred. The language was, therefore, changed to “take such action as may be necessary to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” In other words, to beat the hell out of the aggressor wherever and however seemed best.
Aside from that positive contribution…George had nothing whatever to do with the negotiations. In his memoirs he makes the amazing statement that he was the Department’s representative on the working group. Jack Hickerson was, assisted by Bill Galloway and myself. George was never on it and I do not think he ever attended a meeting.
Article 5 — Giving the Treaty Some Teeth
More than any human being Jack was responsible for the nature, content, and form of the Treaty and for its acceptance by the Senate. He was the one who insisted that it be a collective defense arrangement as authorized by the U.N. Charter. He was determined, although in deference to the Senate he was very careful about saying so, that it be a binding military alliance with real teeth.
He was convinced, and succeeded in convincing many others, that World War III could best be avoided by convincing the Russians, in advance, that any armed attack on any country in Western Europe would bring in the might of the United States “including the industrial might of Pittsburgh and Detroit,” as he said, “immediately.”
And he insisted that the whole Treaty be short, simple, and flexible… early on he read a newspaper correspondent’s comment that treaties should be drafted in language that the Omaha milkman could understand. Whenever anyone proposed any complicated language Jack would remind him of that Omaha milkman… It was a one-man Hickerson (at right) treaty.
Article 5 was the guts of the Treaty, the “go to war” article and naturally it was the most intensively scrutinized and argued over, both in the Working Group and within the Foreign Relations Committee. It began with Article 3 of the Rio Treaty as a model….
We were working primarily with Arthur Vandenberg, then Chairman, and Fran Wilcox, Chief of Staff of the Committee, although we met informally a number of times with the other members. Certainly Vandenberg and Wilcox did not object to a strong treaty, but they constantly had in mind the need to get the approval of two-thirds of the Senate.
It was Vandenberg who suggested replacing the words “such action as may be necessary,” by “such action as it deems necessary.” This would not only give the U.S. full freedom of action, but enable Congress to decide whether or not war was necessary.
The Committee was happy, the Europeans were not. To them this took the heart out of the binding commitment to go to war which they so badly wanted from us. We argued for days, that it still provided that we must regard an attack on any of them an attack on us, and act accordingly, and that we could be counted on to be reasonable as to what action we deemed necessary. They were not convinced…
We had to admit that their fears had considerable justification. On the other hand, as we reiterated constantly, there would be no U.S. commitment of any kind unless the Senate accepted the treaty. Eventually we agreed to insert the word “forthwith,” making the sentence read, “by taking forthwith such action as it deems necessary.” Also inserting “including the use of armed force.”
This was acceptable to the Committee and to the Europeans although they were not overly enthusiastic. With agreement on this the critical point reached, the final language therefore read:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America should be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Chapter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Thus the treaty would be activated by any armed attack “in Europe or North America,” but that required somewhat more precision. How about ships, aircraft, island possessions, occupation forces in West Germany or Berlin?
Article 6 spelled this out….The article covers islands, ships and aircraft in the North Atlantic area, rather than the North Atlantic Ocean, thus covering the Western Mediterranean and Malta. I picked the Tropic of Cancer running between Florida and Cuba as a convenient southern boundary to avoid complication with “the good neighborhood.”
During the negotiations the question of a northern boundary never arose. After signature, and during the Senate hearings, someone asked Dean Acheson what the northern boundary was. He thought fast and said, “The North Pole.” That has never been questioned.
There was no problem in agreeing on the language of Article 4. It was understood that territorial integrity and security covered anyone’s possessions anywhere, and that “in the opinion of any of them,” guaranteed consultation whenever anyone invoked the article. No one ever has; yet continuing political consultation on all major international problems involving NATO countries has become one of the most important developments under the Treaty.
This government’s insistence, pronounced constantly by Vandenberg and Lovett, that the Europeans show what they can do for themselves and each other was reflected in Article 3. It also added to the deterrent with a commitment to back up the will to fight with the ability to do so effectively. Everybody liked this article.
The Canadians realized more clearly than anyone else that a truly military alliance, as important as it undoubtedly was and is, was not enough. What was really needed was a progressive development of a true Atlantic Community, with a capital “C”… Prime Minister [Louis S.] St. Laurent had implied this publicly and the Canadians pushed hard for some provision to provide a basis for it. Jack and I fully agreed. No one else was prepared to go very far…
That Saturday afternoon Jack called in Mike Pearson and Tommy Stone the Canadian Ambassador and Minister, and the four of us concocted the present Article 2:
The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them.
Everyone bought it, although it was short of what the Canadians, and Jack and I would have liked. The words “strengthening their free institutions and by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions were founded” were, of course, intended to encourage efforts to oppose domestic communism, which then was a real threat in France. “Conditions of stability and well-being” were also anti-Communist and came as close to “general welfare” as Connally and Vandenberg would buy.
Despite numerous efforts over the years by both the U.S. and Canadian Governments, Article 2 has never gotten off the ground. In the early days the French made fun of it and sabotaged our efforts to promote cooperation. All they wanted was the U.S. guarantee to fight if France was attacked….It was not until April 4, 1969, the 20th anniversary of the signing of the treaty, that Article 2 was actually invoked….
Articles 1, 7 and 8, which merely show due deference to the United Nations, presented no problems. There was general agreement to Jack’s thesis that the Treaty must not be merely a piece of paper containing a specific obligation, but rather must provide flexibility of implementation and the possibility of progressive evolution.
The Europeans were also interested in speeding U.S. action in emergencies. There was no difficulty in getting agreement on Article 9. Since they could only “consider” matters of implementation, this raised no Senatorial questions. Being so organized as to be able to meet promptly at any time satisfied the Europeans, in fact it led to the establishment of the Permanent Representatives, originally considered to be Deputy Foreign Ministers, but actually only Ambassadors, who constitute the Council in Permanent Session. It was always understood that the Council be composed of Foreign Ministers. The Europeans were anxious to have a defense committee quickly and it was established early on.
Article 11 started out to be a simple statement that the Treaty shall be ratified in accordance with the constitutional processes of each signatory.
Articles 12 and 13, about the duration of the treaty, caused a great deal of argument. The French and the other parties argued strongly for 50 years; the Senators were reluctant to go beyond 10. Eventually we hammered out Articles 12 and 13, providing that the Treaty would be of indefinite duration but that it could be reviewed at the request of any Party after it had been in force for 10 years and that any Party could withdraw on a year’s notice after it had been in force for 20 years.
It has now been in force for 23 years, and despite all de Gaulle’s unpleasant noises, neither France nor anyone else has ever shown a desire to have the Treaty reviewed. Indeed, de Gaulle always emphasized that he had no objection to the Treaty, i.e. the U.S. guarantee, but only to the idea of an integrated organization under it, which he considered a form of U.S. domination of France.
Expanding NATO’s Membership
By September 1948 the draft treaty was practically complete. With masterly understatement, the other governments and we bravely announced that a satisfactory basis had been found upon which to negotiate a North Atlantic Treaty. The Working Group had become a real bond of brothers and most of us have continued lifelong friends.
During the fall the main discussion related to membership. The French wanted Italy included…Of considerable importance was the question of the “stepping stones,” the Atlantic islands. In those days the range of planes was considerably less than it is today and those islands were considered of great importance should it become necessary to get U.S. forces to Europe in a hurry. The islands concerned were Greenland, which meant including Denmark, Iceland, and the Azores, which meant including Portugal.
During this summer, Denmark, Norway and Sweden had been negotiating a Nordic defense agreement, which the Swedish envisaged as a neutralist defense arrangement as between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The neutralistic Danes were tempted, but the stalwart Norwegians saw clearly that the combined strength of the three Nordic countries would be powerless against Soviet aggression or blackmail and that only a U.S. guarantee could provide real security…The Swedes vigorously advocating a neutral Nordic arrangement and the Norwegians, naturally with our encouragement, advocating participation in an Atlantic arrangement.
The Swedes inquired privately whether they would still be eligible for military assistance if they didn’t join the treaty. Hugh Cumming and I told them that they would of course be eligible, if there was anything left after everyone else’s needs had been taken care of. The Norwegians prevailed, and the Danes and Icelanders came with them. They participated in the last few meetings.
The Portuguese presented a different problem. They were deeply suspicious of the larger continental countries, especially France and Britain, despite the latter being Portugal’s oldest ally.
The Portuguese wanted no part in European unity, which they felt would be used both to take over the colonies and undermine her basic sovereignty. Having had this fully explained to me by the Portuguese Ambassador, my good friend Pedro Teotonio Pereira, I drafted a personal message from Truman to Salazar in which I still take a certain satisfaction. It states that we understood and shared Portugal’s reluctance to get involved in European integration or internal continental squabbles, as our whole history showed. Like Portugal, we were oceanic, seafaring, Atlantic power, with a great interest in maintaining the security of the Atlantic area and not just the Continent of Europe. It worked, and the Portuguese joined the negotiations in the last days.
We did invite Ireland as an important stepping stone in anti-submarine warfare. We doubted that they would accept. They replied that they would be delighted to join provided we could get the British to give back the six Northern counties. We simply replied, in effect, that “it’s been nice knowing you,” and that was that.
The British and U.S. Combined Chiefs of Staff had ceased to exist after the war, but the British kept a large military mission in Washington with offices in the Pentagon. Nothing could convince the French that the Combined Chiefs setup was not still secretly in existence, and that the British and we together were discussing worldwide strategy. The French insisted that the proposed Military Committee, on which all the Parties could be represented, be supplemented, and in fact, dominated by an Anglo-French-American Standing Group, at Chiefs of Staff level. Nobody else liked the idea, least of all the smaller European nations, but the French made such a row over it that the rest of us eventually agreed.
At the last minute the Italians threatened for a few days that they would not sign the Treaty unless included in the Standing Group. We laughed at them and they came around.
Moving toward ratification
Tradition provides that the terms of a treaty must be kept secret, at least until signature, if not until it is actually sent to the Senate for approval. Jack and I felt that this would not do in the case of something as radical a departure from Washington’s warning against entangling alliances. We had the Foreign Relations Committee with us, but it would help them and us a lot if we also had a good deal of public support. We therefore took it upon ourselves to prepare public opinion. John Hightower covered the Department for the Associated Press and Frank Shackford for the United Press.
Long before the Treaty was signed, a good idea of its character and provisions had been given to the public. Jack and I thought it best not to seek approval for this course, either from higher authority or from the Committee, but we had the tacit approval of them both. In fact, in November, the Department decided to publish a brochure discussing the need for such a treaty and what it should contain. I was assigned to write it, did so, and turned it over to the Bureau of Public Affairs for them to obtain the necessary clearances and handle actual publication…It was printed and released to the public early in January.
In January 1949, the Democrats took over the Congress and Dean Acheson succeeded the ailing George Marshall as Secretary of State. Incidentally, I was told not long after that by Bill Hillman…a close friend of President Truman, that the appointment of Acheson came about from a slightly indirect way. According to Bill Hillman, the President sent for Jim Webb, the former Director of the Budget, and said, “Jim, I’d like you to be Under Secretary of State”
He said, “Yes, Mr. President, I’d be glad to.”
The President then sent for Dean Acheson and said, “I’ve asked Jim Webb to be Under Secretary of State. I’d like to have you be Secretary if you don’t mind having Jim be Under Secretary.”
He said, “Yes, Mr. President, I’d be delighted.”
Our first job was to indoctrinate Dean Acheson on the whys, wherefores, and provisions of the Treaty. He learned fast. Our second job was to butter up [Democratic Senator from Texas] Tom Connally, who had succeeded Vandenberg as Chairman of the Committee, and whose nose was slightly out of joint because we had worked so closely with Vandenberg on it. Dean, Jack, and I had a number of meetings with him and the Committee.
By the time the Treaty was finally signed on April 4, 1949, the Committee felt, as a whole, almost as if it were their treaty. Jack’s strategy had certainly worked, so had Vandenberg’s.
The ceremony would be held in the imposing, prosaically titled “Interdepartmental Auditorium” on Constitution Avenue. The President and Dean Acheson would sign for the United States, the Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors for the others. The ceremony went off without obvious hitches.
On April 4, 1949, when the ceremony was over, Jack and I and a little Air Force sergeant who had been working with us on security, headed for the nearest bar, which was in the basement of the old Hotel Willard. After fifteen months of effort, worry, and tension, the Treaty was a fact. We could relax, grin at each other, and really enjoy a couple of bourbons.
Now we had to think about ratification. Everything seemed as propitious as months of work and cooperation with the Committee could make it, but memories of what the Senate had done to the League [of Nations] Covenant haunted us.
First came the hearings. Dean Acheson did a superb job. In order to lean over backwards the Committee had invited the two most vocal Senatorial opponents of the Treaty, Senators [Forrest C.] Donnell and [Arthur Vivian] Watkins, both long forgotten, to attend with the same right to question as if they were members of the Committee. They bored in on whether Article 5 constituted an ironclad obligation for the U.S. to go to war if war broke out in Europe. Without equivocating in any way, Dean reiterated and reiterated and insisted that the United States, acting “by constitutional process” would take “such action as it deemed necessary.” The two opponents got no satisfaction. Vandenberg’s and Connally’s insistence on those two phrases paid off handsomely.
General Bradley’s testimony sticks in my mind as the perfect way to handle classified information. On the assumption that the General would not be able to answer many of the questions by Committee members in public session, a public session was arranged for the morning and the executive session for the afternoon. Without revealing anything that should not have been revealed, he answered every question put to him in a public session to the complete satisfaction of the questioners, including Donnell and Watkins, and the executive session was called off.
Then came the task of writing the Committee’s report. For several weeks Fran Wilcox, Bill Galloway and I spent all day every day in the Committee’s back office and lived on those awful ulcer lunches.
I was allowed to sit in when the Committee considered the draft report and witnessed Senator Vandenberg’s surprising feat of getting the Committee to vote unanimously against a resolution affirming faith in Almighty God.
What happened was this: Through oversight on our part in arranging the signing ceremony, there had been no prayers at the ceremony and several religious souls had commented adversely in letters to Senators, the Department, and to the press…this treaty was going to be approved “clean as a hound’s tooth.” “There will be no reservations or understandings of any kind whatsoever tied to its tail.” The preamble of the Treaty spoke of the common heritage and civilization of their peoples. Certainly faith in Almighty God was a cardinal point in our common heritage. Let the committee’s report say so emphatically, but let there be no reservations to the Treaty. Then he put Senator Smith’s resolution to the vote and everyone, including Smith, voted against it. The Committee’s report was unanimously favorable.
Then came the floor debate and the needed two-thirds of the Senate to concur. Nose counts indicated that we were safe, but a fair number of Senators were coy about it, and we dared not uncross our fingers…
On the afternoon of the vote I was there with a tally sheet. The minute the aye’s passed the two-thirds mark I took off for the Department without waiting to hear the final outcome, which I believe was 82 to 12. I headed straight for the Secretary’s office. Dean [Acheson, at left] already had a bottle of bourbon out of his desk drawer. And he, Barbara Evans, his longtime secretary, and Ernie Gross, the legal adviser, were celebrating. I joined in.
The Treaty entered into effect in August 1949 and we began to think about the first meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, and about what kind of permanent organization would be desirable…Phil Jessup, who was then a special legal Consultant to the Secretary of State, and later the U.S. Judge on that International Court of Justice, instituted a new method of preparing for conferences. It was called “Position Papers” on every subject that might conceivably come up. They had, as I recall, four headings, “U.S. Objectives,” “Other countries’ Objectives,” “Discussion,” and “Recommendations.”
The idea was good, but the damn things had to be cleared with everybody and his brother in the Department, and then with other Departments. Phil instituted the method and then went off somewhere, and I was left to inaugurate it for that first meeting.
At that point I was so tired I could read a page and never remember even having seen it, let alone what it said. I thought I really was cracking and asked for a checkup at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda. They sent me instead to the Navy Dispensary down on Constitution Avenue for an examination.
The examination was simple. You took your clothes off, were given a long form and took it from room to room, A, B, C, etc., where various doctors tested you and filled out parts of the form. In about Room H, there was a patient ahead of me so I sat down beside the doctor’s desk.
Under the glass top of his desk I saw a cartoon of a Navy doctor examining a sailor and saying: “That’s the saddest story I ever heard. As soon as I get through drying my eyes, I’ll give you a ticket entitling you to five minutes of the Chaplain’s time to cry on his shoulder. Now get the hell out of here.”
Since then I have believed in miracle cures, for my own was instantaneous. The realization that my trouble was simply being so goddamn sorry for myself did the trick. I’ve never come near a breakdown since, but once in a while I have occasion to remember that cartoon and chuckle.
We prepared for that meeting altogether too well. Jack and I negotiated everything out in advance with the Embassies in Washington so completely that the Ministerial Meeting took exactly 25 minutes. There was a bit of Ministerial grumbling at traveling across the Atlantic for a 25-minute meeting, but it was a good one. It would help if more meetings were that well prepared.
Text of the NATO Treaty
The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments.
They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area.
They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security. They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty :
The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.
The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them.
In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.
The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security .
Article 6 (1)
For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:
on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France (2), on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;
on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.
This Treaty does not affect, and shall not be interpreted as affecting in any way the rights and obligations under the Charter of the Parties which are members of the United Nations, or the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.
Each Party declares that none of the international engagements now in force between it and any other of the Parties or any third State is in conflict with the provisions of this Treaty, and undertakes not to enter into any international engagement in conflict with this 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 organised 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 committee which shall recommend measures for the implementation of Articles 3 and 5.
The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty. Any State so invited may become a Party to the Treaty by depositing its instrument of accession with the Government of the United States of America. The Government of the United States of America will inform each of the Parties of the deposit of each such instrument of accession.
This Treaty shall be ratified and its provisions carried out by the Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional processes. The instruments of ratification shall be deposited as soon as possible with the Government of the United States of America, which will notify all the other signatories of each deposit. The Treaty shall enter into force between the States which have ratified it as soon as the ratifications of the majority of the signatories, including the ratifications of Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, have been deposited and shall come into effect with respect to other States on the date of the deposit of their ratifications. (3)
After the Treaty has been in force for ten years, or at any time thereafter, the Parties shall, if any of them so requests, consult together for the purpose of reviewing the Treaty, having regard for the factors then affecting peace and security in the North Atlantic area, including the development of universal as well as regional arrangements under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security.
After the Treaty has been in force for twenty years, any Party may cease to be a Party one year after its notice of denunciation has been given to the Government of the United States of America, which will inform the Governments of the other Parties of the deposit of each notice of denunciation.
This Treaty, of which the English and French texts are equally authentic, shall be deposited in the archives of the Government of the United States of America. Duly certified copies will be transmitted by that Government to the Governments of other signatories.
The definition of the territories to which Article 5 applies was revised by Article 2 of the Protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty on the accession of Greece and Turkey signed on 22 October 1951.
On January 16, 1963, the North Atlantic Council noted that insofar as the former Algerian Departments of France were concerned, the relevant clauses of this Treaty had become inapplicable as from July 3, 1962.
The Treaty came into force on 24 August 1949, after the deposition of the ratifications of all signatory states.