Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the Foreign Service Institute.

March 23, 1966

Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very pleased to address the Foreign Service Institute this morning and to come here to meet with so many Americans that are preparing to serve their country abroad. As one who believes that we cannot shorten our reach in the world, I am greatly encouraged by the number and the quality of those who are studying at this Institute. You have the gratitude of your countrymen and my own assurance of support.

We have come a long way from the day that someone observed that "some diplomat no doubt will launch a heedless word and lurking war leap out."

That was more than half a century ago when diplomacy was often war by another name. Today your task is different. Those of you about to go abroad represent a continuity of purpose in a generation of change. That purpose is to build from reason and moderation a world order in which the fires of conflict yield to the fulfillment of man's oldest yearnings for himself and his family.

Your job, wherever you serve, is peace. That is the task that faces all of us today.

The question, as always, is how? How do we, for example, maintain the security of the Atlantic community upon which so many of the world's hopes depend?

For the answer, we must begin with the gray dawn of the world of 1945, when Europe's cities lay in rubble, her farms devastated, her industries smashed, her people weary with war and death and defeat.

Now from that desolation has come abundance. From that weakness has come power. From those ashes of holocaust has come the rebirth of a strong and a vital community.

The Europe of today is a new Europe. In place of uncertainty there is confidence; in place of decay, progress; in place of isolation, partnership; in place of war, peace.

If there is no single explanation for the difference between Europe then and Europe now, there is a pattern. It is a luminous design that is woven through the history of the past 20 years. It is the design of common action, of interdependent institutions serving the good of the European nations as though they were all one. It is the design of collective security protecting the entire Atlantic community.

So I have come here this morning to speak to you of one important part of that design. I speak of a structure that some of you have helped to build: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Let me make clear in the beginning that we do not believe there is any righteousness in standing pat. If an organization is alive and vital, if it is to have meaning for all time as well as for any particular time, it must grow and respond and yield to change. Like our Constitution, which makes the law of the land, the North Atlantic Treaty is more than just a legal document. It is the foundation of a living institution. That institution is NATO, the organization created to give meaning and reality to the alliance commitments.

The crowded months which immediately preceded and followed the conclusion of the North Atlantic Treaty 17 years ago had produced an atmosphere of crisis. It was a crisis that was born of deep fear: fear for Europe's economic and .political vitality, fear of Communist aggression, fear of Communist subversion.

Some say that new circumstances in the world today call for the dismantling of this great organization. Of course NATO should adapt to the changing needs of the times, but we believe just as firmly that such change must be wrought by the member nations working with one another within the alliance. Consultation, not isolation, is the route to reform. We must not forget either in success or abundance the lessons that we have learned in danger and in isolation: that whatever the issue that we share, we have one common danger--division; and one common safety--unity.

What is our view of NATO today?

We see it not as an alliance to make war, but as an alliance to keep peace. Through an era as turbulent as man has ever known, and under the constant threat of ultimate destruction, NATO has insured the security of the North Atlantic community. It has reinforced stability elsewhere throughout the world.

While NATO rests on the reality that we must fight together if war should come to the Atlantic area, it rests also on the reality that war will not come if we act together during peace. It was the Foreign Minister of France who, in 1949, insisted that to be truly secure, Europe needed not only help in resisting attack, but help in preventing attack. "Liberation," he said, "is not enough."

The success of NATO has been measured by many yardsticks. The most significant, to me, is the most obvious: War has been deterred. Through the common organization, we have welded the military contributions of each of the 15 allies into a very effective instrument. So convincing was this instrument that potential aggressors took stock and counted as too high the price of satisfying their ambitions. It has been proved true that "one sword keeps another in the sheath."

War has been deterred not only because of our integrated military power, but because of the political unity of purpose to which that power has been directed and bent. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the bonds of culture, of political institutions, traditions, and values which form the bedrock of the Atlantic community. There is here a political integrity and an identity of interests that transcends personalities and issues of the moment.

If our collective effort should falter and our common determination be eroded, the foundation of the Atlantic's present stability would certainly be shaken. The mightiest arsenal in the world will deter no aggressor who knows that his victims are too divided to decide and too unready to respond. That was the lesson that we learned from two world wars. Yet a nation--not by the action of her friends, but by her own decision to prepare and plan alone--could still imperil her own security by creating a situation in which response would be too late and too diluted. Every advance in the technology of war makes more unacceptable the old and narrow concepts of sovereignty.

No one today can doubt the necessity of preventing war. It is our firm conviction that collective action through NATO is the best assurance that war will be deterred in the Atlantic world.

Look at the Atlantic community through the eyes of those who in years past have yearned for conquest. The sight is sobering. Integrated commands, common plans, forces in being in advance of an emergency for use in any emergency--all of these testify to a collective readiness and the integrity of collective purposes. To other eyes, NATO can only be a clear warning of the folly of aggression.

NATO today, therefore, must be shaped on the experience of the past. Reliance on independent action by separate forces--only loosely coordinated with joint forces and plans--twice led to world wars before 1945. But collective action has proved successful in deterring war since 1945--during 20 years of upheaval and grave danger.

We reject those experiences only at our own peril.

For our part, the United States of America is determined to join with 13 of her other allies to preserve and to strengthen the deterrent strength of NATO. We will urge that those principles of joint and common preparation be extended wherever they can be usefully applied in the Atlantic Alliance.

We are hopeful that no member of the treaty will long remain withdrawn from the mutual affairs and obligations of the Atlantic. A place of respect and responsibility will await any ally who decides to return to the common task.

For the world is still full of peril for those who prize and cherish liberty--peril and opportunity.

These bountiful lands that are washed by the Atlantic, this half-billion people that are unmatched in arms and industry, this cradle of common values and splendid visions, this measureless storehouse of wealth, can enrich the life of an entire planet.

It is this strength--of ideas as well as strength of arms, of peaceful purpose as well as power--that offers such hope for the reconciliation of Western Europe with the people of Eastern Europe. To surrender that strength now by isolation from one another would be to dim the promise of that day when the men and women of all Europe shall again move freely among each other.

It is not a question of wealth alone.

It is a question of heart and mind. It is a willingness to leave forever those national rivalries which so often led to the useless squandering of lives and treasure in war.

It is a question of the deeper spirit of unity of which NATO is but a symbol. That unity was never better expressed than when, at the conclusion of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, a great French leader declared that "nations are more and more convinced that their fates are closely bound together--that their salvation and their welfare must rest upon the progressive application of human solidarity."

And it is to the preservation of human solidarity that all of our efforts today should be directed. So let all of you of the Foreign Service Institute make it your task, as well as mine.

Thank you and good morning.

Note: The President spoke at 9:33 a.m. in the Department of State auditorium. In his opening words he referred to Dean Rusk, Secretary of State. The address was broadcast.

During the course of his remarks the President referred to Robert Schuman, Foreign Minister of France when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established.

On May 18 the White House made public the following Joint Declaration which was simultaneously released in the capitals of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. The text of the declaration follows:

"The North Atlantic Treaty and the organization established under it are both alike essential to the security of our countries.

"The Atlantic Alliance has ensured its efficacy as an instrument of defense and deterrence by the maintenance in peacetime of an integrated and interdependent military organization in which, as in no previous alliance in history, the efforts and resources of each are combined for the common security of all. We are convinced that this organization is essential and will continue. No system of bilateral arrangements can be a substitute.

"The North Atlantic Treaty and the organization are not merely instruments of the common defense. They meet a common political need and reflect the readiness and determination of the member countries of the North Atlantic community to consult and act together wherever possible in the safeguard of their freedom and security and in the furtherance of international peace, progress and prosperity."

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the Foreign Service Institute. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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