18 October 1963

Ditchley Foundation Annual Lecture II

The Dimensions of the Atlantic Alliance

Delivered by:

General Lauris Norstad, USAF.  Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and Commander-in-Chief, United States European Command.


The honour of appearing before you affects me more deeply than I can say. This occasion stimulates a strong emotion in one whose active interests have spanned the Atlantic for more than twenty years.  I am grateful to the Ditchley Foundation for making it possible for me to be here today.

All of the good things—the great things—that come to Americans as gifts from British life, culture, tradition and history are part of my inheritance.  But I have been even more richly endowed by my association in peace and in war with the forces, the government, and the people of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the Anglo-American interests, and the problems, which come into sharpest focus in my mind are those which we share, and share fully, with our other friends and allies within NATO.   It is primarily for this reason that I shall speak today in terms of the fifteen, rather than in terms of the two countries here represented.

When your invitation was accepted, it was my plan to analyse briefly the course of the Alliance since 1948 and, against that back ground, to discuss its dimensions, which are growing larger in scope and increasing in number.  But events of the last several months seem to have pushed interest in yesterday even further into the past, while increasing our appetite for consideration of today’s issues.   Thus my concept of this discussion has been changed to enable me to develop more fully some of my own views on problems which concerned me as Supreme Commander and which, as an unofficial citizen, I find no less interesting.  These problems are not new.  They must, however, be solved.  The solutions I suggest are not the only ones nor, except in the broadest sense, are they mine alone.  They are the result of the influence of many people of many nations even more than of my own experience.  May I emphasize at the outset that it is more important to solve the problems than to adopt any particular solution.

First, I shall present one way in which collective authority might be exercised over NATO nuclear forces and weapons.  The second point is suggested by a renewed interest in inspection inspired by the fall-out from the Test-Ban Treaty considerations.  I shall discuss, therefore, a system of control and inspection, one to be considered for its intrinsic security value rather than merely as a qualifying condition of some disarmament measure.


The concern—perhaps the fear—generated by the loss of Czechoslovakia in 1948 and the Soviet initiation of the blockade of Berlin compelled a sense of community which rapidly evolved into an alliance extending from Canada and the United States across the Atlantic well into Europe and beyond to Turkey—an alliance whose combined resources, military, economic, and intellectual, represent a potential for peace, stability, and growth perhaps never before matched in history.

Yet now—only fourteen years later—a popular word for NATO is disarray.  That strong impulse toward unity which Prime Minister Macmillan and President Eisenhower recognized when they first used the word ‘interdependence’ in its prevailing political sense seems to have lost some of its force.  We have a right, indeed a duty, to ask what is wrong.

Although some in Britain may feel they have particular cause to believe that the prime trouble is of French origin, anyone here who feels that way can find his match on the other side of the Atlantic.  It is certainly true that France, particularly since the beginning of this year, has brought sharply into focus a number of the more difficult problems which face the Alliance.  But to look at France as a lone mischief-maker, as a solitary destroyer, is to miss something of importance.  In dealing with some issues, although certainly not all, what France has done is to speak for many Europeans who seek consideration of the political and military assumptions of the Alliance on the basis of a strong, dynamic, prosperous, and resolute Europe wishing to play a complete, if not central, role in the Atlantic Community.

This was inevitable.  The largest, perhaps the dominating, influence upon the Alliance during its critical and formative years came from America, due to the reserves of capital, the military power, and the unique nuclear resources of the United States.  As soon as the European nations recovered their capacity for effective action on their own behalf, some reconsideration had to follow, a point repeatedly made by the statesmen and political commentators in many countries, in addition to France, for a considerable period of time.

My own views are probably well enough known to make it un necessary for me to protest that it is not my purpose to minimize in any way the very serious pressures which the disrupting effect of the French actions have placed on the machinery of the Alliance.  Nor do I support certain specific French actions—the setting-up of another separate nuclear force, for example.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that there is no cause for offence in raising the question of how the new Europe should most fairly and effectively participate in the management of common affairs from this point on.  We are, it seems to me, searching for a vehicle in which to move forward.

All of us are concerned with clarifying the relationships of the allied nations; the Europeans one to another, and the Europeans with respect to the United States.

Certainly some of the issues now current have been before the Alliance for years.  They have gone too long without solution.  It is fair to say that none of us has really faced up to the problem.  In many cases, we have had the most persuasive reasons for hoping that overpoweringly difficult questions would not be asked or, if asked, would answer themselves or quietly go away.  But the issues which are corollary to the new European proposition—the crucial considerations bearing on Europe’s evolving role in the Alliance— must somehow be faced.


It is certainly an over-simplification to take one subject and suggest that it alone represents the problem.  But perhaps the most noted and notable cause of difficulty has sprung from the assumption by many in the United States—and in Britain, too—that the nations of Europe would remain satisfied to leave the nuclear elements of the common defence forces largely to the development and production, control and direction of one or two members of the Alliance.  But even so honourable and honoured a nation as my own cannot expect to be taken wholly on trust in matters involving the very existence of so many friendly and allied countries.  We have to face the hard, political fact that nuclear power, in its military applications, has become for many throughout the world, not Frenchmen alone, a symbol of sovereignty, the strongest evidence of independence.

Actually, the question of nuclear weapons, although serious and important, is only one of the many unresolved problems relating to the control of the central resources of strategy.  In spite of that, political discussion within the Alliance has come to be dominated by the nuclear idiom.  An eavesdropper at a NATO Conference, for instance, might conclude that the nuclear question alone provides the framework in which most other issues between and within the United States and Europe, some of them of far greater long- range significance, shall or shall not be composed.

From my own knowledge, Europe—a serious and concerned Europe—has raised two questions.  First, since Europeans depend upon NATO for their defence, and since the NATO military forces in Europe themselves depend to such an extent on nuclear weapons, Europe asks if there should not be an absolute guarantee that some agreed minimum stock of these weapons will be available in the event that the United States might be inclined to limit its own involvement in a European emergency.  Second, they ask why the Europeans should not be in a position, as equal partners in the Alliance, to exercise some measure of influence and control over weapons that are just as essential to their security as to anyone else’s.  It is difficult to consider these questions any less reasonable and logical now than when first asked.  The difference is that the answers have become more urgently needed.

As these questions have been argued on both sides of the Atlantic, one fundamental fact remains obvious.  Whether the NATO forces should or should not have a nuclear capacity is not the issue.  NATO forces have had such a capability, of increasing numbers and types of weapons, for more than a decade.  In fact, the first nuclear delivery units directly available to the Alliance were moved into Europe when Britain was under a Labour Government, when Mr.  Truman was President of the United States, and some three as years before the German Federal Republic entered the Alliance.  Between that time and today, the nuclear means have provided an essential part of the foundation on which we have based the NATO in strategy for the defence of Europe—and it could not have been the otherwise.  In turn, that strategy has rested on the understanding, a clear understanding, that these means would be available for use in the common interest at whatever time and place, in whatever types and numbers the defence of the NATO area might require. 

The NATO Heads of Government Meeting in December 1957, formally recorded this understanding.  There a decision was taken to establish nuclear stockpiles in Europe and to equip the allied forces with means to deliver nuclear weapons.  This agreement left the nuclear components themselves in the actual physical custody of the country of their source; a provision that has continued up to this time without, in my opinion, any degradation of military effectiveness.  As SACEUR, I did not advocate releasing weapons from immediate United States control except in the presence of the emergency itself, and then under terms that were clearly understood and accepted.  The problem from the military standpoint, as I viewed it, was to see that the military means, including those in me the nuclear category, were sufficient for the defence of Europe and the were suitably deployed for that purpose.  I was satisfied that this could be done under the accepted rules.  It is an interesting fact that, in all my time in SHAPE, none of the NATO allies except France, and then only indirectly, ever asked for exclusive possession or control of warheads.

The 1957 decision to establish the North Atlantic Treaty Organization stockpile, as opposed to those belonging strictly to the United States, involved a commitment of the greatest importance.  It clearly implied that NATO could depend on having timely and effective resort to the means upon which all of us, Europeans and North Americans alike, were forced to place so much reliance as an essential ingredient of the deterrent, as a necessary factor in our defence.

The crux of the problem—the central question, now more political than military—is how, by whom, and in what manner shall control be exercised over the means for common defence?

This question has produced an almost infinite number of proposals, but only two solutions have up to this time demonstrated any durability.

One, recognizing that the concept of collective responsibility supplies the guiding principle of NATO, is to leave the great decisions as to the when, the how, and the if to the collective judgement and responsibility of the fifteen countries.  Without question, the management of NATO forces and their major weapons must accord with this principle; the NATO Council must decide the form and the rules for exercising nuclear authority.  It is a fact, however, that a very practical question arises in this connexion.  Can the representatives of fifteen nations assembled in conference in the midst of great emergency be expected to function as an operating agency with the strength and speed necessary to meet such critical and urgent conditions? Almost everyone who has considered this question seems convinced that this solution, ‘fifteen fingers on the trigger’, just would not work.  As many of you know, I have for a long time held out against such a conclusion.  Reluctantly, I now accept this view.

The other solution is to place all responsibility for decision and action with a single national authority acting as an agent for the Alliance.  Almost two years ago there was a suggestion that the President of the United States might be given this responsibility.  The American attitude toward this idea has never been established, but some European countries found it attractive.  Later it was, as you know, so sharply challenged by others that now it is no longer actively considered.

Since these options taken from the opposite ends of the spectrum of executive action have not been accepted, it is reasonable that the ground in between be searched for a solution.  What is needed, of course, is an instrumentality through which the Alliance as a whole, with full consideration of both political and military factors, shall be able to develop, deploy, and use its nuclear resources in ways which would be consistent with the spirit of collective responsibility yet which also would recognize the needs of individual member nations.

I cannot offer you the solution.  One man’s experience can make him sensitive to only a limited number of the forces, the factors and the influences that must be weighed and, in any event, the reasonable answer is frequently not the right one.  But it seems to me, after long and rather troubled thought, that command and control in this field of critical interest might be confined to a small executive group, within and wholly responsible to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Such a group, in its simplest form, would consist of three members—one from each of the countries which would contribute to a NATO nuclear stockpile—France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  Further, to ensure that the views of all countries are known and considered, to be certain that the principle of collective authority and responsibility within the Alliance is fully respected, the Secretary-General, who serves all countries equally, could well act as the co-ordinator of such an executive body.

From earlier discussions of this idea, it has been quite clearly established that there is a certain lack of enthusiasm among the nations who would not participate directly in the executive group.  Although the presence of the Secretary-General should allay their concern, nevertheless these nations must be given direct access to the executive body, specifically when one or another of them feels particularly threatened.  In this connexion, the geographical position of the German Federal Republic, that country’s contribution to the strength of the Alliance and the fact that Germany would become involved in any incident or emergency whatever its porportions, all suggest that the government of that country might have some special and continuing relationship with the executive agency.

Whatever its membership, a small committee would be no more effective than a committee of fifteen, unless there were a means for reaching timely decision.  To this end, the executive committee should be able to close discussion in good time.  Further, it should be composed of officials who would have sufficient authority and stature to act for their own countries as well as in the interest of others.

To close debate, the principle of majority rule deserves consideration.  While the difficulties of applying this procedure to the process of making a mixed political and military decision are obvious and serious, it is difficult to see an effective alternative.  It can be argued that it is unreasonable for a country, by a majority vote of others, to permit itself to be committed to nuclear war.  There is no effective counter-argument to this.  However, the established practice of the Alliance permits its members to withdraw, or withhold their forces should they feel it be in their own national interest to do so.  Although a majority decision would thus, in principle, commit only the majority members, a commitment in fact might well extend to others.  This may seem like a loose arrangement, but is it possible to have stronger authority without first passing to the NATO Council some part, a most significant part, of the sovereign authority and responsibility of the individual member states? You will not disagree with my own view that such a transfer is not imminent!

Decisions involving the survival of nations are the business, the first business, of a nation’s highest political level.  Thus, the NATO executive committee of the type we have just discussed should probably be composed of the heads of governments themselves.  The machinery of decision should be kept well oiled by agents, and routine affairs could no doubt be managed by others, but if any arrangement of this kind is to work, and if there is to be real understanding between all members of the Alliance of the nuclear element in NATO politics and strategy, if there is to be any effective political control, then the highest authorities would, it seems to me, have to get together from time to time in their special allied capacity.  This imposes yet another hardship on already over burdened statesmen, it is true.  But, one might ask, what is more important? What is the alternative?


To discuss in the same short period how to go to war and how to prevent or delay going to war at all may involve an apparent contradiction.  To those who may feel that this results from my own transfer from the military to the civilian world, let me say that the latter subject was one with which I was particularly occupied during my last years at SHAPE.  The seeming paradox was prob ably in the mind of a great American, Mr.  Henry L.  Stimson, American Secretary of War during World War II, when, shortly after the war, he said:

I have lived with the reality of war, and I have praised soldiers; but the hope of honourable, faithful peace is a greater thing, and I have lived with that, too.  That a man must live with both together is inherent in the nature of our present stormy stage of human progress, but it has also many times been the nature of progress in the past, and it is no reason for despair.

The record of the West since the war, the continuous search for peace, is clear enough to everyone.  From the Baruch proposals in 1946, designed to limit the military use of nuclear power, to the Test-Ban Agreement now being consummated, the effort has been unending.  The record is not only one of continuous effort, but the Allied positions and proposals on disarmament, the future status of Germany, and related security questions have been, from the first, the morally acceptable and practically sound.  They should, therefore, be maintained and supported.

From both sides of the Iron Curtain, over the same years, there have been many suggestions for reducing military strength and for, limiting the deployment and use of military weapons.  Some of these have sprung from an honest and urgent desire to lessen real tensions.  Whatever their stated purpose, others, if accepted, would reduce our defensive capability without providing other effective safeguards.

Such steps as may be taken must safeguard our security, must guarantee our freedom, must lift from us the burden of fear.  These requirements impose one condition common to all serious proposals for the limitation or reduction of armaments—that is, a system of control and inspection for enforcing the terms of the agreement.  In the aftermath of the Test-Ban Agreement inspection arrangements, observation posts are being considered.  It is timely, therefore, to consider this subject here.

The feasibility of establishing, as an effective guarantee of security, a system of control and inspection in the European area has been under consideration since 1957—indeed, even before.  As in the case of the command and control of nuclear weapons, many proposals have been made.  Again, more than modesty prevents me  from claiming to present the solution, but I would like to take a few minutes to review with you some ideas that have grown from my experience and responsibilities in past years.

I lean rather strongly to beginning the business of arms inspection and control with a modest step, one that could be developed independently of the larger, more controversial plans and un encumbered by the more difficult political problems.  Above all, I believe that any action must permit us to maintain the defensive strength we have created until it is proved that changes can safely be made.

Specifically, I believe a plan for control and inspection should meet certain criteria:

A.  It should be recognized by public opinion everywhere as a readily understood first step toward the easing of cold-war tension.  Acceptability by the Soviets should be only one consideration.

B.  The plan should provide a basis on which broader matters may be considered, but at the same time it should be capable of standing on its own merits.  It should have a certain intrinsic value in abating tensions.

C.  The plan should not be designed to change, by itself, the basic power balance between the West and the USSR at this stage.  To be negotiable, it should not cause either East or West to feel that it is unilaterally sacrificing essential elements of security.

D.  It should not prejudice our position on German reunification, nor should it inhibit our working toward acceptance of broader disarmament proposals.

E.  It should be developed so that, if it proves workable in practice over a period of time, it would establish a foundation, both practically and psychologically, for greater understanding and for further action in the disarmament field.

An effective system of control and inspection to meet these criteria would, as I see it, consist of two major components.  They are mobile ground inspection and aerial inspection—visual, photo graphic, and electronic.  As the missile takes over, radar surveillance loses some of its interest, but it may still be an important, even if subsidiary, component.

The geographic area in which the plan would function must be deep enough to permit warning and defence; it must be small enough initially to be of manageable proportions; it must permit precise definition in terms of fixed geographic characteristics or established political boundaries.  An area of practicable limits might extend in Europe from the Ural Mountains to the Bay of Biscay—from mid-Russia to the Atlantic.  In addition, some area of the United States could be involved if it were  matched by a Soviet area of relatively equal size and importance.  A smaller region could be considered for practical political reasons if necessary but, in any event, it must have a depth of several hundred miles to be militarily useful.  It must also involve the territories of several countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain in order to be politically feasible.

Should such a system be agreed upon, the initial step would be an exchange of ‘blue prints’ showing all military installations and the deployment of forces within the defined areas.  In the first instance, the purpose of the inspection would be to verify the facts provided in the blue prints.  Thereafter, the purpose would be to keep both sides informed of changes in the military characteristics of the area, thus warning of any preparations for armed attack.  I will not go into further detail, but I wish to point out that the ground inspection teams may be supervised but they must have complete freedom of movement within the inspection zone.  They must be able to determine the size, the nature, and the deployment of the forces in the area.  They must have their own independent, secure means of communication.

Air inspection is designed to provide, by photographic and electronic means, intelligence on the disposition of forces, the location of supply depots, and information on other significant military activity.  By air, a large area can be covered in a short space of time, and very accurate and detailed information on activities on the ground can thus be provided.  Any military change in the area would be almost immediately apparent.  Air inspection could, by itself play a large role in reducing the danger of a surprise attack on the ground or in the air.  But its greatest importance would be in its relationship to the surface system when it would become the eyes of mobile ground inspection and control.  The information obtained from air surveillance would point out to the ground inspector the location of new military developments to must be examined.

In applying such a system to Europe, the close relationship between these two components would suggest that the area covered by air should in no case be less than that covered by the ground units.  There would, on the other hand, be definite advantages in establishing an air-inspection area which would be appreciably greater than that which might be accepted for ground coverage.  In determining these areas, consideration must be given to the con tents of the area, not merely to its dimensions.

An interesting component of this proposal, though one not essential to control and inspection, is the idea of surveillance by over lapping radar.  As early as NATO military headquarters suggested that a line of early warning radar might be established near the boundaries of the area set aside for ground inspection and control.  To illustrate, a NATO-manned radar chain might be established near the eastern Polish border, on a line running generally north and south, and peering into the air space for 150 to 300 miles eastward.  In exchange for such a radar outpost, the West might grant the Soviets equal privileges.  Again, purely for purposes of illustration, we might consider a line on or near the western border of the Federal Republic of Germany, but also involving the territory of other NATO countries, and looking into the west.

The great threat to our security in Western Europe, and thus a threat to all the Alliance, is from a surprise air or ground attack.  A unified system of control and inspection based on effective ground, air, and radar components could lessen the danger of such an attack.  Even as a single, separate step, it would add consider ably to our safety.  It would establish a secure foundation on which to consider other essential steps toward control and reduction of armaments, toward translating the idea of a lasting peace from a hope to a reality.

A word of caution.  This proposal in itself involves no reduction in forces, no withdrawals, no disengagements, no limitations on weapons.  It is essentially a fact-finding arrangement.  We must not look on it as a panacea but, operating in an area of great sensitivity, it could by itself help to lessen tensions.  Because no loss of security is involved, it would create no new fears, no new suspicions.  It could contribute to providing a foundation for more far-reaching agreements.

The dimensions of the Alliance? They grow with each year, and, within the year, with each crisis faced, with each problem seized.  But at this moment, nothing would add as much to the stature of NATO as one good step toward an answer to the question: How can the Alliance assert its collective authority over its collective military resources? Nothing would contribute as much to the hope and confidence of free men everywhere as a step—even a small step—toward guarantees of security which are safe and sure but which do not place sole reliance on military might.

Threats, crises, disarray—these mark this time of our responsibility.  But, in conclusion, may I recall a comment on an England of well over a century ago:

"Those who compare the age on which their lot has fallen with a golden age which exists only in their imagination may talk of degeneracy and decay: but no man who is correctly informed as to the past will be disposed to take a morose or desponding view of the present."  MACAULAY

© The Ditchley Foundation, 1963.  All rights reserved.  Queries concerning permission to translate or reprint should be addressed to the Communications Officer, The Ditchley Foundation, Ditchley Park, Enstone, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 4ER, England.