1. Intelligence Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

OCI No. 0549/69

Current Problems in NATO


The Czechoslovak crisis2 generated a new impulse toward united action in NATO—symbolized by expanded consultation and the postponement of troop reductions. It has not, however, altered the European NATO members’ basic view that the danger of an all-out Soviet assault remains low. The allies therefore find themselves in a state of heightened activity and momentum that will be difficult to sustain so long as no new long-range goal or purpose is found. The chances for a meaningful NATO role in the continuing search for détente have been blighted by Moscow’s determination to maintain its grip in Eastern Europe. Thus the coming months are likely to see a growing paradox, in which the alliance actually works better while dissatisfaction about it increases. Meanwhile, the growing rivalries among the European members—for influence in Europe and in Washington—make it difficult for them to organize effectively for the larger collective role they believe they should play in the alliance.

Czechoslovakia and After

1. Most of the NATO allies believe that, despite the initial shock, the Czechoslovak crisis has done little more than introduce a new ele [Page 2] ment of uncertainty into East-West relations. The crisis has led few of the allies to disavow the goal of “peaceful engagement” with the Soviet bloc. Only the Greeks and the Turks still argue for prolonging the “period of mourning” over the Soviet action. Although the British, Germans, and Dutch view the new “Brezhnev doctrine” of discretionary intervention3 as a new and permanent danger, they have joined Canada and the Scandinavian members in opposing a resumption of cold-war politics. Even the Soviet buildup in the Mediterranean is seen more as a problem of political rivalry than as a direct military threat to NATO’s southern flank.

2. This restored confidence is reflected in the allies’ continuing efforts to develop bridgeheads to the Eastern bloc. Even after the invasion few of the allies were ready to cut down trade or cultural ties with the invading “five.”4 After some bickering, several member governments last September endorsed a list of short-term commercial sanctions, such as withholding credits and reducing participation in Eastern European trade fairs. These early intentions, however, were soon forgotten. In late September, for instance, only Greece and the US abided by an agreement not to take part in the Plovdiv trade fair in Bulgaria; most of the other NATO allies were officially represented. By late October, NATO’s economic advisers admitted that there had been no significant change in allied economic policies toward Eastern Europe. The allies will probably renew all low-level commercial contacts with the East during 1969.

3. Most of the European allies also have resumed cultural exchanges with Eastern Europe, though generally on a restricted basis. Visits by top-ranking dignitaries are moving forward after a brief hiatus.


4. The allies have accepted two conditions in their continued search for détente. First, by pledging to uphold current force levels, they have acknowledged—as they did in the Harmel Exercise5—that [Page 3] strong defense is the prerequisite for safe pursuit of détente. Second, they have asserted that bridge-building must not jeopardize their newly reaffirmed political solidarity.

5. Thus the central question is not whether to seek to resume détente, but how to achieve it in light of the still-uncertain implications of Czechoslovakia. Previously it was assumed that East-West contacts could so improve the atmosphere that agreements, even on troop reductions, the German question, and European security, might become possible. Now the allies, including the Germans, define détente more as an interim accommodation to the existing order.

6. The earlier concept of détente allowed greater leeway for an active alliance role. For example, when the allies called on the Soviets last June to discuss mutual force reductions,6 they were aiming in part at heading off unilateral troop cuts by several allies, but they were also trying to confirm a role for the alliance in the détente process.

7. The Czechoslovak crisis has led to a narrowing of this role, at least temporarily. Mutual force reductions are no longer a priority item on NATO’s agenda, and a scheduled review of the subject last September was postponed. Several West German officials have stressed their support for strictly bilateral approaches to the East, while the Danes and the Dutch continue to emphasize the dangers of too deep an involvement of NATO in the détente process. The French, quite predictably, insist on doing business with the Communists as they see fit.

8. Even so, the allies have been able to agree on the need for continued collaboration on détente matters. The British have been particularly insistent on prior consultation and were much offended, along with a number of other allies, by the failure of the US to brief them on a recent proposal to the Soviets for enlarging the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Conference.7 Most of the member governments are reconciled to the fact that the US, by virtue of its power alone, must frequently deal directly with Moscow, but even those who accept this necessity are determined to keep a close check on US initiatives through expanded interallied consultation.

9. Other potentially important functions of NATO in “détente management” may be emerging. NATO’s political committee has studied the peaceful and military uses of the sea floor as a guide for allied [Page 4] positions in UN discussions. Belgium has proposed that NATO develop a common policy on arms sales in the Middle East, although Britain and other “supplier” nations may continue to oppose this. The Council has already agreed in principle that it should establish a disarmament section in the allied secretariat to coordinate NATO’s activity in this field.

10. Whatever comes of these projected extensions of NATO’s role in policy coordination, some basic problems will still remain. For the US, the requirements imposed by its position as a prime architect of détente may on occasion compete with its responsibilities as an alliance member. In responding to European demands for improved relations with the Soviets, the US risks setting itself apart from its allies. Despite the extensive consultations on the nonproliferation treaty, many Europeans remain suspicious that the treaty is an attempt to formalize the hegemonic position of the US and the USSR. A few of the member governments, notably West Germany, view the projected US-Soviet talks on strategic arms limitation as a potential threat to the US nuclear guarantee. These fears will be calmed only if the allies can be convinced that the superpowers themselves intend to make real sacrifices in the name of disarmament.

Consultation and Cohesion

11. Since the report of the “Three Wisemen” in 19568 laid down new guidelines, consultation has evolved into a continuous and vital alliance function, with the channels of communications among the members constantly proliferating and improving. NATO’s more recent efforts to equip itself for “crisis management” have created still further possibilities for informational exchange and discussion. Techniques developed in NATO’s situation center have been upgraded to meet the needs of the North Atlantic Council and the Military Committee in peacetime and periods of tension. High-level exercises, most recently Hilex and Fallex, have tested the Council’s capacity to consult and make decisions under pressure. A major civil-military logistics exercise next May will reveal whether civilian support agencies in the allied capitals can be coordinated in a crisis.

12. Technological innovations are likewise improving consultation in NATO. A new NATO-wide communications system connecting each of the allied capitals and the major command headquarters became operational last May and will be expanded. Nine NATO coun [Page 5] tries are now taking part in the experimental phase of a NATO Satellite Communications Program (SATCOM). NATO also is scheduled to receive two satellites to be operational in late 1970.

13. Two recent crises have led the allies to supplement the regular consultative mechanisms with several less formal ones. During the Greek-Turkish dispute over Cyprus in 1967, the secretary general was given a “watching brief,” permitting him to mediate. The Czechoslovak crisis brought still other innovations, including the use of the Situation Center for the dissemination of “political” as well as military advisories. The political committee chairman’s report was also developed into a source of continuous instruction to NATO commanders.

Nuclear Planning Group

14. On balance, these numerous commitments to consult have had favorable results. Through the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), for example, the allies have arrived at a better understanding of the role of the host country in the storage and release of tactical nuclear weapons, the impracticability of an ABM force for Europe, and the limited usefulness of atomic demolition devices. The US has allayed to some extent European concern that the decision to build a “light” ABM system might point toward a “fortress America” strategy. Of the active members of the NPG, only the Germans continue to belabor the strategy of flexible response, and even they seem concerned less with replacing the strategy than with turning it into a new argument against the NPT.

15. Most important, the NPG has enabled the nonnuclear allies to participate actively in NATO’s nuclear affairs. [7 lines not declassified] Not all of these efforts have been successful, but it is clear that the NPG has reduced earlier pressures for more direct access to the US nuclear trigger.


16. The gains from consultation should not obscure its limitations. The allies tend to consult formally only after guidelines have been established nationally and only when a consensus is expected. Unlimited consultation will not resolve basic conflicts of interest. Lisbon’s cajoling has not induced the NATO allies to rally behind Portuguese policies in Africa. Nor has the US found that consultation necessarily yields support for undertakings outside NATO’s traditional purview.

17. After 20 years, NATO’s consultative process on political and economic affairs still cannot match the cooperation that exists in the military sphere. Anything like an Atlantic community remains distant, and is probably impracticable. The Atlantic Policy Group, which was supposed to find new areas for common Atlantic action, has created no momentum in that direction. In short, allied consultation is likely to re [Page 6] main a constructive and unifying factor only if its objectives are not set too high.

Burden-sharing and European Responsibility

18. The question of whether the European members are bearing their fair share of the burden of the alliance will remain a perennial issue. In a defense system that depends ultimately on the deterrent power supplied by one member, it is difficult for the others to calculate the relevance of their particular contributions or to defend them before their parliaments. The US objects that its allies are purchasing their security at bargain rates; the Europeans respond that the defense of Western Europe is an acknowledged US interest which has involved huge expenditures but has paid huge dividends—political as well as economic.

19. Statistics on relative contributions do not resolve the issue. Since the early 1950s, the European NATO countries have steadily increased their financial support of the allied infrastructure program—from less than 50 percent of the total in 1951–1956 to over 65 percent currently. But the precise return from these projects to the economies of the host countries—all European—can hardly be measured. Although from 1963 through 1967, defense expenditures of the European members gradually increased, these outlays were a declining percentage of GNP, and there was a sharp downturn in the expenditures for 1968. In the same six-year period (1963–68), European manpower levels (minus France) also increased, but the gains were mostly among the southern flank countries, and all the central region countries reduced their forces.

20. In the wake of the Czechoslovak crisis, the European allies seem to have realized that, regardless of their past performances, they may have to do better in the future if they are to assure continued US support. In the November ministerial meeting,9 11 of them pledged to maintain and/or upgrade current force commitments, while three—West Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands—offered to increase projected expenditures. These improvements were promised without request for US reciprocity; indeed, in the communiqué, the Europeans recognized formally a vague but unmistakable responsibility to help the US with its balance-of-payments problem.

21. In separate negotiations over troop-offset costs, the Germans have shown a bit more flexibility. While resisting any additional military functions or troop support costs, they have decided to “freeze” existing deposits in the US treasury, and have offered to pay for military [Page 7] purchases directly without drawing on these funds, in order to benefit the US balance of payments. The Germans have promised that their expenditures for US military goods and services will be maintained at about $350 million annually in fiscal year 1970 and 1971—a level somewhat less than what the US would have liked.

New Roles for NATO and Europe

22. None of these developments foreshadows a massive shift of responsibility in the alliance, but the European allies are looking for ways to expand their NATO role. The British have been particularly eager to do so—as much perhaps to demonstrate their new commitment to Europe as to assure continued US protection. During the November ministerial meeting. British Defense Secretary Healey and Foreign Secretary Stewart discussed with their continental colleagues a possible “European identity” that might help the allies head off pressures for US disengagement. The talks were inconclusive, but the fact they were held at all reflected the interest of the allies in a stronger European voice in allied affairs.

23. It remains doubtful that promising new formulas will soon be found for redressing unequal burden-sharing within the alliance. Although the French have hinted that they might consider coordinating their strike force with Britain’s in exchange for a resumption of US nuclear assistance to France, the prospects for such cooperation remain poor in view of the massive emphasis De Gaulle places on national sovereignty. Moreover, while the Germans reiterate interest in some kind of multilateral nuclear force—the “European option”—British officials rule it out except in the context of a fully federated Europe. For their part, the Germans will most likely continue to balk at any arrangement that would threaten to subordinate them to a formal British-French directorate.

24. In any case, a truly European nuclear force poses formidable problems apart from the political ones. To illustrate, the Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS) in London calculates that such a force would have to be two and one half times the size of the British and French deterrents combined, if it is to provide credible “assured-destruction” capabilities. To build, deploy, and protect no more than 500 missiles or supersonic bombers, according to the ISS, would cost $20 to $40 billion, entailing an increase in European defense expenditures of between an eighth and a quarter. Only within a “fully federated Europe” with a central tax-levying authority could such outlays become feasible.

25. Other less ambitious schemes might be more immediately relevant. A European technological community, for example, with authority over military as well as civil research and development, might meet the problem of adjusting responsibilities between the US and [Page 8] Europe. Harold Wilson, eager to underline Britain’s European aspirations, has frequently endorsed the idea. The Germans have proposed as an alternative an increase in selective cooperation among European countries, along the lines of the UK–German–Dutch–Italian joint enterprise to produce a multirole combat aircraft (MRCA).

26. Obviously, great problems confront the organization of a European research and development program. Most technological cooperation among the European members of NATO—outside the European community—has been either bilateral or based on American design, as in the construction of the F-104G interceptor-bomber and the Hawk missile. The problems of European Launch Development Organization (ELDO) have tended to dispute the practicability of purely intergovernmental cooperation in technological fields. Even the highly touted MRCA project remains in doubt [2 lines not declassified]

27. Many Europeans also fear that greater European self-sufficiency in matériel might in the end drive the US out of Europe by depriving it of the arms markets needed to offset its NATO-related expenditures overseas.

European Caucus

28. Belgian Foreign Minister Harmel has advanced another scheme for organizing a European identity in the alliance. In his report a year ago on the future tasks of the alliance, Harmel urged that a “European caucus” be created to serve as a single mouthpiece for the European allies. The French predictably objected to this on the grounds that their sovereignty would be violated and the idea was ultimately stricken from the working paper based on Harmel’s recommendations. Nevertheless, after the Soviet invasion in August, Harmel sought to resurrect the proposal in the seven-nation Western European Union (WEU), which he now regarded as the logical nucleus for any expanded cooperation between Britain and the friendly European “five.” His new plan, closely resembling one advanced last January by the Benelux countries, called for the coordination of British and European activities in such non-EEC fields as foreign and defense policy and monetary, technological, and youth affairs.

29. Those sympathetic to the Harmel approach have yet to find a way to overcome basic French hostility to Britain and to any real integration of Europe. In an effort to circumvent a French veto of the creation of study groups needed to put the plan in motion, the Italians last November called several of their European colleagues together and asked them to draw up working guidelines to be submitted as an Italian initiative at the next WEU ministerial meeting in February. The issue will remain on dead center, however, so long as a crucial party to the exercise, West Germany, refuses to offend the French and fears that a European grouping would divide rather than unite the alliance.

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30. Thus the idea of a European caucus—whether within NATO, WEU, or independent of any existing structure—is unlikely to produce significant early results, mostly because the individual countries continue to find it easier to deal with the US than with each other.

Traditional Liabilities

31. The varying interests of the 15 allies and the rivalries that lie just beneath the surface of daily relations seem certain to make it hard to solve the immediately visible issues. The tendency to pluralism and fragmentation is obviously aggravated within the alliance whenever tensions in East-West relations subside. With the Soviet threat presumably reduced to manageable proportions, the differences among the allies could mushroom into sources of potential division. Size itself has tended to become a political boundary separating ally from ally. Unlike the larger partners, the small NATO countries much prefer multilateral channels in dealing with the US, and consequently remain the leading exponents of expanded consultations within the alliance.

32. Military and geographic factors have created still other problems. The military withdrawal of France10 has heightened the importance of the Benelux members well beyond their force contributions. [3 lines not declassified] Two of the three Mediterranean powers, Greece and Turkey, continue to be concerned as much with their bilateral tensions (Cyprus) as with the Soviet threat. Nine other members in or around the Central European theater represent a separate community of interest based on the proximity of the Soviet threat and the immediacy of the German problem. Geopolitical considerations have tended to isolate both Iceland and Canada from the concerns of their European allies, while Canada has been further set apart by its special relation to the senior partner. Distaste for political systems of some members—e.g., the new military regime in Greece11 added obstacles to interallied cooperation.

33. For the foreseeable future this pluralistic trend threatens the cohesion, but not the continuation, of the alliance. A further erosion of membership down to those ten allies—including the US—whose fate is most intimately linked to the continued division of Europe is conceivable. Prime Minister Trudeau has often emphasized that Canada has not ruled out complete withdrawal. Portugal has likewise threatened to withdraw in an attempt to gain NATO support for the Portuguese policies in Africa. The alliance would undoubtedly be shaken, but hardly doomed, should either country leave. NATO’s viability depends less [Page 10] on the scope of its membership than on its capacity to come to grips with the problems most affecting the pivotal ten members.

34. The tendency to fragmentation impresses upon the alliance the need for expanding consultation and pragmatic cooperation. The infrastructure program, one of the few NATO military efforts in which France still participates, will be more important in the future as an instrument of allied solidarity. Such multinational undertakings as the allied mobile force (important to the protection of NATO’s flanks), the newly established on-call force for the Atlantic, and the projected one for the Mediterranean will also help reconcile differences and keep the alliance together.

French Obstruction and Feelers

35. Alliance cohesion will not be helped, however, by the obstructions of President de Gaulle, which continue although on a more subtle level. To be sure, his decision to pull French forces out of NATO’s integrated command has not proved so destructive as originally feared. It has not severely tempted any other ally to follow suit, but it has forced awkward adjustments in allied relationships that have hampered consultation and complicated the exigencies of NATO defense. The elimination of France as a base of allied operations has required that supply lines to US forces in Bavaria be strung out parallel rather than perpendicular to the assumed line of engagement, thus making them more vulnerable. France’s ambiguous position remains an obstacle to almost every new integrated undertaking. It often necessitates time-consuming and potentially costly examination of the question of what France’s relation to such-and-such a project should be.

36. The French again seem to be pushing for a special relationship with the US that could drive a wedge between the senior partner and the rest of the alliance. What they have in mind specifically remains unclear. Since October 1968, they have put out feelers to the US which suggest that they would like the US to grant France equality with the UK in acquiring nuclear equipment and knowledge. The possibility of French-British nuclear cooperation as the basis of greater European responsibility for its own defense has also been the subject of renewed speculation.

37. In support of these feelers, French officials have held out the prospect in word and—to some limited extent—in deed that France might in return increase its cooperation with the alliance. French military men have quietly expanded their contacts with US officers assigned directly to NATO, especially the regularly scheduled talks with General Lemnitzer. Defense Minister Messmer has stated that Paris is willing to undertake appropriate planning for French-NATO coordination of conventional forces in wartime, and a high Defense Ministry of [Page 11] ficial has said that some coordination of nuclear forces, including targeting, might be possible.

38. Nevertheless, there is no reason to believe that Paris is willing to concede very much in return for nuclear help from the US. Messmer has made it clear that such an arrangement would be outside the formal structure of NATO, and he has stated unequivocally that France would not rejoin NATO’s integrated command, despite increasing pressure from the French military to do so. Budgetary strictures resulting from the recent monetary crisis are expected to complicate the planned coordination of French and NATO military exercises during 1969.

39. In any case, a US-French nuclear deal would prove highly divisive. The West German Government has leaked a steady stream of stories on the possibility in order to demonstrate its concern. The smaller allies would surely react negatively to any attempt to erect a new edifice of nuclear defense outside the alliance.

German Problems

40. The division of Germany and the problem of isolated West Berlin will also continue to impinge on alliance cohesion. Despite a subtle shift in Western outlook in 1966, which effectively placed détente ahead of German reunification, the allies continue to endorse the German desire for national unity. The November ministerial communiqué echoed a familiar litany when it proclaimed, with the support of the French, that the allies “reject all claims that would tend to perpetuate the division of Germany against the will of the German people.”

41. Beneath the facade of unanimity on the German question, however, the depth of Western differences often emerges. The French have occasionally denied that their forces would be automatically available for the defense of Germany. They have also done their best to maintain a distinction between NATO and the problem of Berlin, which they have steadfastly argued is the exclusive concern of the three wartime allies. The rest of the alliance members have generally accepted this view, although they have insisted that any joint statements on Berlin be at least shown to them before publication.

42. Germany’s resentment of allied indifference to its principal national aspiration can complicate allied relations in numerous ways. For example, London’s recent decision—after speeding up British withdrawal from east of Suez—to re-emphasize its continental defense commitments requires German support. In the latest NPG meeting the Germans agreed to join with London in drawing up guidelines on the use of tactical nuclear weapons by the alliance—a move that serves to reinforce Britain’s identification with a clearly European concern. They have also been reasonably generous in meeting Britain’s offset require [Page 12] ments and have tolerated London’s initiative toward a European caucus despite their own reservations.

43. A frustrated Germany could be expected, however, to be far less cooperative than at present. Bonn’s unwillingness to challenge De Gaulle directly might well be reinforced if the other Western allies should seem slow in responding to West German interests. Though it is hardly likely that the Germans would let their grievances jeopardize the alliance that has so long assured their survival, their support for British aspirations on the continent could well diminish.

The British Contribution

44. As for Britain, the pullback from east of Suez does not necessarily have as a corollary an expanded military input into the alliance. Despite an expected realignment of forces in the Mediterranean, the army’s strength in Europe will not increase, and the Royal Air Force of the 1970s will be hard-pressed to assume a much larger role than at present. By 1970, when London intends to have demobilized more than 75,000 men, its armed forces will quite possibly rank fifth in size in Western Europe.

45. These slashes will discount Britain’s credit as an ally and advocate of a stronger Europe. Several political factors could, however, offset these consequences. Well aware of its tenuous standing as a “European power,” Britain has sponsored various proposals for developing a European identity and has sought to exploit bilateral contacts with continental governments to improve its image as a “good European.” Whether or not these efforts get Britain into the Common Market any time soon, they serve tangentially to further NATO solidarity, which in turn strengthens the affinity between Britain and Europe. In the long term, Britain’s fresh concentration on strictly European defense matters may serve to promote not only its own stake in Europe’s future, but also the development of the alliance into a more viable organization, combining a continued US guarantee with a much enhanced European role.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 254, Agency Files, NATO. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. Prepared in the Office of Current Intelligence and coordinated with the Office of Strategic Research, the Office of National Estimates, and the Office of Economic Research. Distributed to Bergsten, Sonnenfeldt, and Haig.
  2. The Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia on August 20, 1968.
  3. Reference is to Soviet claims to a right to intervene in the internal affairs of Bloc states. The Brezhnev Doctrine was originally set out by Soviet Communist Party spokesman Sergei Kovalev in a September 26, 1968, Pravda article, “Sovereignty and Internationalist Obligations of Socialist Countries.” A translation is printed in Current Digest of the Soviet Press, volume XX, number 39 (October 16, 1968), pp. 10–12.
  4. The invading “five” refers to the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Romania did not participate in the Warsaw Pact invasion.
  5. At the December 1966 NATO Ministerial meeting, the NAC adopted a resolution proposed by Pierre Harmel, the Belgian Foreign Minister, to analyze international developments since the creation of NATO in 1949 and determine ways to strengthen the alliance. This study, known as the Harmel Exercise, culminated in the Harmel Report, which the NAC adopted at the December 1967 Ministerial meeting.
  6. At the June 1968 NATO Ministerial meeting in Reykjavik, the Allies issued a declaration, the “Reykjavik Signal,” that invited the Eastern bloc to explore mutual troop reductions. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIII, Western Europe Region, Documents 312316.
  7. The United States and the Soviet Union, permanent co-chairmen of the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee, agreed in 1968 to a limited enlargement of the Committee’s membership.
  8. At the May 1956 Ministerial meeting, the NAC appointed a committee of three Foreign Ministers—Gaetano Martino of Italy, Halvard Lange of Norway, and Lester Pearson of Canada—to recommend improved methods for consultation among the Allies in an effort to reach a final European settlement. The NAC adopted the committee’s report at its next meeting in December.
  9. The November 1968 Ministerial meeting was held in Brussels. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIII, Western Europe Region, Documents 335338.
  10. In March 1966, the French Government withdrew from NATO’s integrated military command.
  11. A military coup in April 1967 established a dictatorship in Greece.