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1 - The Birth of NATO


The Atlantic Alliance had a difficult birth. Even with the evidence of a visible common threat - the Soviet expansionism - it was not easy to overcome old attitudes between nations with different cultures, traditions, political inclinations, and who had been in some cases enemies during the recent world conflict. The task of creating an effective defensive alliance in which these nations were to maintain their full individual sovereignty was very demanding. It is said that the closest known precedent was dated some 24 centuries before, when the ancient Greeks formed the "amphiktionia," confederacies of towns governed by a council of delegates which had responsibility over a large spectrum of common decisions.

Probably there would have been no Atlantic Alliance without a previous European alliance. With the signature of the Brussels Treaty in 1948, France, Britain, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium gave birth to the Western Union and demonstrated the European willingness to unite for defence. This paved the way to the Vandenberg resolution and to the subsequent U.S. participation in European security. After a year of intense and dramatic diplomatic consultations, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed on 4 April 1949 by the nations of the Western Union, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Norway and Portugal.

It took nearly three years to give the Alliance a structure - the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. During the first ministerial meetings staffed committees were set up, including a Defence Committee, responsible for co-ordinating defence plans; and a subordinate Military Committee, whose executive agency was the Standing Group. The latter was to give strategic guidance to five Regional Planning Groups in charge of military planning for five specific areas: Northern Europe, Western Europe, Southern Europe-Western Mediterranean, Canada-United States, and the North Atlantic Ocean. The outbreak of the Korean War dramatically posed the problem of how to defend the NATO area against a similar aggression. The NATO Council decided, in September 1950, to adopt the concept of "forward defence," and to create an integrated military structure. This would have welded national forces into effective allied command and made up plans for emergencies while providing an efficient central organisation.

This body was also to contribute to combine NATO military plans to include defence policy, strategy, standardisation of arms and procedures, integration of training methods, pooling of transportation and other logistic resources. In 1948 the Brussels Pact nations had already assigned certain responsibilities to a military body, the Western Union Defence Organisation. Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein was the chairman of the Commanders-in-Chief Committee. The first concrete proposal for an integrated military structure had been for a European Army, as suggested by Rene' Pleven, French Premier, in October 1950. The Pleven Plan was for the creation of a unified army, with German participation.

It was the premise for a more ambitious project, announced in February 1951: the creation of a European Defence Community (EDC) consisting of France, Italy, the Benelux countries and West Germany, within the NATO treaty framework. Actually, it would have been a military organisation parallel to the embryonic European Coal and Steel Community, established in 1950 under the Schuman Plan. Negotiations for the EDC continued with the full support of the United States. Later, in 1954, it was a French decision not to ratify the EDC treaty to make the European project abort. Meanwhile, the consultative body of the Brussels Pact decided, on 20 December 1950, to incorporate the Western (European) Union military organisation into the NATO organisation.

While evaluating military strengths, naval forces appeared to be the strongest initial point in Western defence in the south. Even among these, however, there were serious shortages, particularly in anti-submarine vessels, minesweepers and fuel stocks. For instance, Italy lacked craft for shipping protection and needed modernisation throughout her naval defence. There were deficiencies in all the air forces, with most of the air bases having been destroyed in the war. The U.S. Mutual Defence Assistance Program gave dollars, equipment and training facilities, but even with this assistance, air forces remained the weakest factor for years. Even if the overall picture was not encouraging, particularly in the South, Gen. Eisenhower decided to try.

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