A Reply to General Vandevanter's Critique of Proposed NATO Reorganization

A Reply to General Vandevanter's Critique of Proposed NATO Reorganization

The Institute for Strategic Studies

Submitted by
Albert Wohlstetter


August 16, 1962

Alastair Buchan, the Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies, when he was here read General Vandevanter's critique of his January, 1962 Foreign Affairs article on NATO. This critique was subsequently published as D-9869-PR. The following is Buchan's answer.

When I was at RAND last month I was shown a copy of your critique of my Foreign Affairs article on NATO, and was sorry that I did not have the opportunity to discuss it personally with you. Since we live too far apart for conversation I hope you will accept my comments in this form.

The reason why I find your criticism unacceptable - except for one or two excellent minor points - derives from your first paragraph where you misconstrue the analytical sections of my paper to the point of distortion. If I may draw your attention again to the first three sections of it (p. 165-172), you will see that I was not arguing any such simple proposition as you suggest, namely that because military planning in NATO has been a greater success than political integration a system of military-political planning was desirable. Instead I drew attention to five developments of recent years, three concerned with the external problems of the alliance, two with its internal balance, and suggested that if my analysis of these was correct (which it may not be, but you do not challenge it), then certain steps to strengthen the internal machinery of the alliance were desirable if it was not to become dangerously weakened throughout the 60s. (Incidentally, I notice that you label me as a "revisionist": the title which I proposed but which the Editors of Foreign Affairs altered for some reason, was "The Evolution of NATO." I think you would agree that in a period of such revolutionary change as we have been experiencing it would be unusual rather than normal if an international alliance as complex as NATO did not require some revision or alteration of its machinery thirteen years after it was founded. To assume that the concepts of 1949 fit the facts of 1962 in the political and institutional fields is surely as odd as to assume that the strategic concepts of 1949 fit the facts of today.)

Having made this general point, I would like to take up a few of your criticisms which show that you have genuinely misunderstood what I was driving at. First of all you dislike any attempt to alter the function of SHAPE. All that I was proposing was a realignment that would bring military practice within NATO into conformity with American or British practice, namely that a field commander should not be asked to bear the diplomatic and planning load that SACEUR has borne since Ridgway's departure. Greatly as I admire Norstad's performance, I am of the opinion that he would have been in a much stronger position and have avoided a great many difficulties which he has encountered, had he been called what in fact he is, namely the Chief of Staff of the Alliance. I have no desire to emasculate the vital military planning centre of the alliance, but merely to move it into a more logical and less friction producing relationship to political planning than it now occupies. Whether you agree or disagree I think you will concur that the present system can hardly survive the departure of Norstad at the end of this year and his replacement by an officer who does not have his wide personal influence in Europe and in Washington.

Second, you doubt whether any reform of the political machinery would overcome "the temporarily irremediable flaws of the alliance." In the first place, this is to deny American historical experience. The 13 colonies who revolted against British rule had very few objectives in common except a dislike of it: the task of your Founding Fathers was to devise political machinery that would enable their divergent aims to be reconciled, and to permit decisions to be taken through the emergence of a majority consensus. I am not going to try and draw a closer analogy than the federal system they created and an alliance. but to say that decisions or the evolution of a consensus must wait on the disappearance of divergent views between states or countries would have seemed patent nonsense to Jefferson or Franklin or Adams.

As to the question of whether the Council should be composed of bureaucrats or men of standing, I think you will agree that there is a very great difference in the speed with which a decision can be arrived at, depending on whether the question is referred from Paris to a President or Prime Minister by a man whose mind he knows and whose judgment he trusts, or by a professional whose despatch has to pass up to the top from rung to rung of a national bureaucracy.

On the question of a stronger secretariat, I think you would be impressed, as I have been, by the success that institutions of the European Community have achieved in enabling the countries concerned to take very hard and unpleasant decisions by means of having a strong planning commission below the ministerial Council. By this means it is possible to sort out the essence of a particular problem and to do the research that is needed so that when it comes to taking the decision Ministers know what they are taking a decision about. This requires a combination of drive, initiative and impartiality on the part of high quality staff which is not found in the deliberations of intergovernmental committees. As you will see if you read my paper closely, I think Americans should have the key posts in such a secretariat, by reason of America's overwhelming contribution to the Alliance, though of recent years the United States has not shown itself nearly as adaptable in devising this kind of machinery as the Europeans. As to your query on your page 8, I think I clearly have laid myself open to misinterpretation by speaking of "division of functions." It would have been clearer to have said "allotment of senior posts." Naturally I do not mean "division" in the same sense which you then describe it.

On your page 9 you speak of SACEUR's ability to make a definitive recommendation: this function, as exercised by the Chief of Staff, would not be denied by the military. (I think in candour you must often include the united States among the nations that are dissatisfied with his recommendations.) Nor would the staff be headless: the Secretary General should, in my view, be an even more powerful figure than he is today, and the Chief of Staff no less so within his province. But neither the Secretary General nor SACEUR have ever claimed to make policy, though I notice you make this claim for the latter.

In this connection I enclose the original paper of which the Foreign Affairs article was a shortened version. I think you will find that some of your doubts are answered in it. With it I am also enclosing a comment by Sir John Slessor on the position of the Chief of Staff, which is probably an improvement on my original proposal.

May I end with a personal comment which I hope you will accept in the wholly friendly spirit in which it is put forward. Implicit in the whole of your paper is a sense of irritation with the whole basis of the alliance whereby the United States has to carry her allies with her before she can take decisive action. In the field of central war or of strategic action, I have suggested that there is no way in which her allies can share emergency operational decisions with the United States, and that they must be content with "controle" since "control" cannot be divided: hence the importance of a more effective and confidence building system of joint planning. But in other fields and other contingencies, the kind of attitude you adopt, namely that the United States should be prepared to go it alone with whatever buddies she can collect at the time, fits the Europe of yesterday but not of tomorrow. Quite apart from the fact that it conforms to the standard Russian accusation that NATO is merely a cloak for unilateral American action rather than a system of collective security, it also feeds the fires of Gaullist separatism and the "third force" tendencies of a resurgent Europe which are not by any means to be ignored. If they were to grow stronger, as a result of either American or European attitudes, then we should have real cause for despair.

I hope you will let me know next time you are in London. If you would care to give this letter any circulation within RAND you are welcome to do so.

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