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
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
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.