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Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "The Time to Save NATO"

October 13, 1968

Ever since our birth as a nation, close ties of history and kinship have bound America to Europe. But since World War II, we have also been bound by new ties of vital national interest. The Atlantic Alliance—formalized in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—has been the cornerstone of our own network of defensive alliances, and the world's strongest bulwark of peace.

But the structure born of necessity in the bitter aftermath of World War II has fallen on days of neglect. The United States has been preoccupied in Asia. Many of our European partners have been caught up in their own concerns, or grown dissatisfied with the functioning of the alliance, or changed their estimates of the Soviet challenge.

As a result, as it approaches its 20th anniversary, NATO is in trouble about the Atlantic Alliance, what it represents, and how we can preserve it.

Let me begin by sharing with you a report I received just a few days ago.

Last month I asked former Governor Scranton of Pennsylvania to make a fact-finding tour of Western Europe on my behalf. He visited France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Britain. In each country he talked at length with the leaders of government and with private citizens about many of the problems confronting Europe today. This past week he returned, and on Thursday he gave me his report.

The first of his findings explains many of our other difficulties. America's voice in Europe, once so strong and so respected, is, in his words, "Now muffled in confusion — if it is listened to at all."

Why is this?

There are many reasons, he learned. Vietnam is one. But even more, the Europeans were appalled at what they daily saw happening in America: at the violence, the lawlessness, the prejudice, the hate, the disenchantment of our youth, the decline of our dollar, the loss of credibility by our national leadership. These, he said, leave our friends in Europe bewildered and disappointed. They expect the leader of the free world to do better.

They expect us to set standards. When we fail their expectations, we lose their attention and their respect.

The meaning is clear.

If we are to restore the effectiveness of our leadership, we have to restore the credibility of our leadership. If we are to be trusted to maintain peace abroad, we have to show that we can maintain peace at home. If our example is to be followed rather than spumed, it has to be an example of what other nations seek to be, not what they seek to avoid.

That was one lesson.

Another concerns NATO itself.

One high official summed up the mood of many when he told Governor Scranton: "Czechoslovakia breathes new life into the old girl, but I wonder how long it will last."

What the official was referring to is this: NATO's troubles have left it weakened, its future uncertain. France has withdrawn its forces; other members have let theirs lag well below the prescribed levels: coordination has sometimes been lax; faith in the firmness of the American commitment has been eroded. Many have questioned whether the alliance would long survive at all, or whether it would soon be left to die.

But when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, shock waves swept suddenly across Europe.

NATO members felt a new anxiety about their defenses.

The Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia helped pass the Marshall Plan in 1948; 20 years later, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia has helped— for a time, at least—to revive the spirit of NATO.

The result is that if NATO is to be saved, now is the time to save it.

If the Czech crisis demonstrated the continuing need for NATO, it also pointed up some of the problems that have to be overcome.

For example: despite meetings galore at NATO Headquarters, the only collective response by NATO to the Czech invasion has been to advance a December ministerial meeting to November.

More ominously, the NATO posture is based on a political assessment of Soviet intentions. As it turned out, the judgment that the Soviets did not plan to attack a NATO member proved correct. But on the other hand, virtually no NATO political leader had predicted the invasion of Czechoslovakia. In short, NATO did miscalculate Soviet intentions; it did underestimate the risks the Soviets were willing to take.

If this miscalculation could be made, might the next miscalculation be greater? And is NATO strong enough to allow a margin for miscalculation?

These are questions NATO must address.

They are heightened by another lesson of the Czech episode: there appear to be major elements of instability in the Soviet leadership, with a hard-line faction having increasing influence. These instabilities make it even more difficult to predict how far the Soviets might go in the future. How much would they risk? What would be their assessment of Western intentions?

Among the other questions facing NATO in the wake of the Czech invasion is the changed balance of conventional power in Europe. The Soviets already had dramatically enlarged their naval presence in the Mediterranean; now they have brought half again as many troops into Eastern Europe as they had there before, and placed them farther forward than ever. At the same time, the Czech operation was carried out with a crack efficiency and speed that many thought the Soviets not capable of.

In the face of this, U.S. troops in Germany are poorly equipped; other NATO partners have let their contributions fall below the prescribed force levels. The increased Soviet strength would seem to suggest that as a minimum response, those forces should be brought up to the strength prescribed before Czechoslovakia.

In a larger sense, revitalizing NATO involves much more than troop levels.

It requires a new attitude on the part of the United States.

Increasingly, the Atlantic Alliance has suffered from American neglect. It was symptomatic of this that Europe was not even mentioned in this year's State of the Union Message. There has not been a NATO summit since President Eisenhower went to Paris in 1958. Actions have been taken by the United States which vitally affected the security of our European partners, without even the courtesy of prior consultation. In its preoccupation with bilateral detente with the Soviet Union, the Administration has too often pursued it in ways that seemed to our European allies to jeopardize their interests, without having those interests represented.

It's time we began paying Europe more attention. And if our ideals of Atlantic interdependence are to mean anything in practice, it's time we began lecturing our European partners less and listening to them more. What we need is not more proclamations and declarations, but a greater attention to what our allies think.

One of the chief values in having allies is the access it gives to their ideas. Too often, America's world view has been narrowed to the view from a Washington window. What we need from our NATO partners is not only their strength, but their experience and their judgment.

If the Free World is to meet its challenges, it's going to take the best brainpower that all of us together can contribute.

One of the most encouraging things I have found in my own travels abroad is that all around the world there are outstanding leaders, many of them in small countries, who have a keen perception of the forces moving the world—of both the threats to peace and the paths to peace. Their insights are not limited to their own areas.

In NATO, for example, there is an enormous fund of wisdom not only about Europe, but also about Asia and Africa and the Middle East. Ten years ago, five years ago, many of these Europeans were not accepted in former colonial areas. But this is changing.

NATO thus has a role to play beyond Europe—not with its arms, but with its insight, and by helping build those bridges that are so urgently needed between the rich and the poor nations of the world. On the foundation of cooperation that has been built with NATO, we can build for the tasks beyond.

This is one of the reasons why I hope to establish a greater openness, more communication, within NATO — not only on a protocol basis, and not simply about whether we should establish a base here or conclude an agreement there, but free and far-ranging discussion of all the problems that confront the free world.

I would hope this could include quite specifically, new conversations with President De Gaulle.

Nearly a quarter-century has passed since the end of World War II, and nearly 20 years since the creation of NATO. This has been a period of extraordinary change and development. Only, if it keeps abreast of change can the Alliance retain its vitality.

The world has changed.

As we look at the world, we find for the first time ever a genuinely global community, however wracked it may be with turmoil and quarrels. Asia is no longer an appendage of Europe; neither are the nations of Asia what they once were, as remote from the West as if they had been on a separate planet. Africa, in a ferment of new nationhood; Latin America, still developing economically but rich in culture: the Soviet Union, tough, expansionist, but making giant strides in industry and technology — it's a world of new nations, new people, new ideas, all part of a great, global village.

The Soviet Union has changed.

Many have interpreted that change as allowing the West to relax its guard. But in its relations with the rest of the world, the Soviet Union has had a change of the head, not the heart. The change was gradually brought about as Western strength and Western unity persuaded the men in the Kremlin that expansion by crude force had reached its limits. If the process of change is to continue, the maintenance of Western strength and unity is essential.

Any sign of Western weakness or Western irresolution would only tempt the Soviets to new adventures and strengthen the hand of the hardline faction within the Kremlin. Far from accelerating the hopeful change, it would reverse it.

Despite the recent setbacks, the years just ahead can bring a breakthrough for peace. They must be a time of careful probing, of intensive negotiations, of a determined search for those areas of accommodation between East and West on which a climate of mutual trust can eventually be built. But this can only succeed if Western strength is sufficient to back up our diplomacy. As one of Europe's leading statesmen has phrased it: "Genuine detente presupposes security; it does not replace it."

The world has changed; the Soviet Union has changed; Western Europe, too, has dramatically changed.

Since World War II, Western Europe has seen its empires dismantled and its pre-eminence in power taken by others. Yet at the same time, its economies have been rebuilt, its societies restructured, a new set of political relationships pioneered.

After centuries of intense nationalism, new international organs have sprung into being in Europe on a scale unmatched in the world, and unmatched in history: the Western European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community, the Common Market, the European Free Trade Association, Euratom, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and many more — not least of them NATO itself.

The result is that Western Europe today is self-assured, strong, and growing stronger. If a greater measure of European union can be achieved, its potentials for development are almost limitless. It has the resources, the skills, and the educated people to make it another superpower.

Some argue that we should not encourage further European unity, precisely because Europe does have so great a power potential. But a strong, independent Europe within the Atlantic Alliance could make for a healthier Atlantic Community at the same time providing a strong negotiation hand with the Soviet Union.

Whatever our own feelings in the matter, however, we should recognize that the shape of Europe's future is essentially the business of the Europeans. If greater European unity is to be achieved, it will have to be through European initiatives and on European terms; it is not our place to meddle, to prescribe, or to sponsor schemes to bring it about.

We can, however, cooperate with initiatives the Europeans take — for example, with the stirrings within NATO of an informal European caucus to deal with the United States on matters of defense.

A revitalized NATO, a strengthened European Community, a new spirit of cooperation between the U.S. and Europe — all these together can contribute to a stronger defense, to the concerting of new initiatives for peace and not least to the coordination of effort needed for crisis prevention.

The surest way to invite a crisis is to be unprepared for it. The present Administration has lived from crisis to crisis, improvising here and temporizing there — a practice that makes for a lively drama, but poor diplomacy. In these times of uneasy peace, we need a shift of emphasis from crisis management to crisis prevention; to anticipating trouble, rather than merely responding to it. And in today's global village, crisis prevention requires allies who consult.

We live in a condition, as it once was described, of "neither war nor peace". But in its halting, often disappointing way, the progress of civilization has been toward a world at peace.

The best example is Western Europe.

For centuries, the continent was wracked by wars, as armies surged back and forth in pursuit of conquest. But finally, out of the terrible catharsis of World War II, the spirit of peace finally rose triumphant. A new era began, there in the very place where Western civilization developed: an era in which, for the first time, war ceased to be an instrument of national ambition.

Whatever the needs of defense, the war of conquest has been abandoned by the nations of Western Europe.

It's easy to forget how recent a change this it, and how monumental a development.

It's this great change that NATO represents, this great ideal that NATO embodies. The task of the years ahead — a task we share with our European partners — is to coordinate our strength in the service of peace, and to make this ideal the governing doctrine of man.

APP NOTE: From section six of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "Quest for Peace".

Richard Nixon, Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "The Time to Save NATO" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/326787

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