The Atlantic Alliance: Tasks for Tomorrow
Delivered by The Hon Cyrus R Vance, formerly Secretary of the Army, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State of the United States of America.
I am honored to have been asked to deliver this year’s Ditchley Lecture. For more than two decades, Ditchley has been widely known on both sides of the Atlantic as the place where concerned people gather to discuss the most vital issues in Anglo-American relations and the Atlantic alliance as a whole. Ditchley has set the standard; others have followed but never quite equalled it. I wish to say a special word of thanks to Sir David Wills for all he has done to nurture and inspire this splendid institution. I can think of no more fitting setting in which to discuss with you the present state of the Atlantic alliance and the tasks of the alliance that lie ahead.
I will not use that familiar word “crisis,” as l am mindful of the observation that the alliance has regularly been said to be in crisis since the moment the ink was dry on the North Atlantic Treaty nearly three and a half decades ago.
I will use the word “transition.” Much is happening in the world and in the alliance that must be understood and accounted for if our children are to look back three decades hence and marvel — as we often do — that for so long the Atlantic nations have preserved their association and deterred another catastrophic war. Change has been inevitable. In itself, it is not to be feared. Over the years we have prospered by welcoming change and working with it, not by resisting it.
Today, in three broad areas — East-West relations, developments beyond the compass of the formal Atlantic Treaty, and economics — we are being called to account as were the men and women who created the Atlantic partnership. In 1948, the late Barbara Ward Jackson wrote about “The West at Bay.” Because of her work and that of others, the West is not at bay, today. Nor will it be, tomorrow — provided we act wisely.
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First, East-West relations. Sixty-six years after the October Revolution, the Soviet Union has established itself the second most powerful nation on earth, with military might roughly equal to that of the United States. Despite severe economic difficulties, it has created the world’s second largest gross national product. And despite the dwindling appeal of its ideological message almost everywhere, the Soviet Union’s commitment to communist revolution cannot be dismissed.
In the years ahead, significant changes will take place in the Soviet Union. The makeup of its population is changing; it is to keep up economically in the computer age; and there is an increasing possibility of continuing challenges to Soviet authority — not only in Eastern Europe, but also perhaps within some of the non-Russian Soviet republics. Yet the facts of Soviet power will continue to preoccupy us; its challenge will remain.
We in the West must endeavor to understand far better than we do what guides and motivates Soviet foreign policy. But even if we do not fully succeed in penetrating the veil of secrecy that surrounds the making of that policy, we must still reckon with Soviet power in all of its dimensions. And. we must be prepared to do so, not just for today, but in the future as well.
In approaching the future of East-West relations, we confront more than classical questions of preserving the balance of power. Throughout the post-World War II years, we have faced the dilemma of how to live on the same planet with a major power that shares the secret of weapons that could annihilate mankind, but that fundamentally rejects many of the values central to our societies — values of universal significance.
For most of the post-War years, it has been clear that neither East nor West can permit division and discord to deteriorate into the risk — much less the reality — of nuclear war. Monstrous weapons of mass destruction, so much a part of our daily lives, have transformed the international political system — possibly for all time. The basic lesson of the nuclear age bears repeating: The two superpowers — and all other countries — are in the same boat and will survive or founder together. In recent years, we have come to understand that the security of the West cannot be pursued independently of due regard for Soviet security, as well. In this age of nuclear weapons, to be real and sustainable, security must be common or mutual. Neither side can seek a nuclear superiority without the risk of provoking an attack in which both would be destroyed.
In short, we in the West now require a set of long- range strategies for dealing with the Soviet Union. These strategies must be guided by our own self-interest and tempered by an awareness of the mutual need for common security. They must be sustainable, not just over a few months, but over years and even decades.
Repeated fluctuations in Western policy toward the Soviet Union do not serve our interests. This is especially true in the United States. The world can no longer afford major shifts in US policy with each change in administration. Only a long-range strategy can engage the support of Western public opinion, preserve understanding within our alliance, and signal to Soviet leaders both the possibilities and the limits of East-West relations. In the United States, that approach must now become bipartisan to an extent not seen since the less complex days of the Cold War.
In addition, while the United States still leads the alliance in the conduct of East-West relations, changes in the facts of both military and economic power demand, increasingly, that this leadership be shared with America’s key allies. Joint policies must gain the backing of the alliance as a whole.
It is no secret that, for several years, there has been less than comity in allied discussions about East-West relations. Nor has this just been a product of the policies adopted by one or another government on either side of the Atlantic. There has been a slow and continuing shift in the perception of the long-term future of East-West relations, and an accretion of misunderstandings within the alliance that require us to re-examine what has been happening.
Most evident has been the shift in the East-West balance of military power. Gone are the days when the United States was decidedly superior to the Soviet Union in nuclear arms. Parity is the rule, today. Some would say Soviet superiority, but I reject that view. And I am confident that the facts bear me out.
There is danger, however, that perceptions of the balance of nuclear power can be wrongly interpreted as conferring political advantages on the Soviet Union, and as weakening the ties between the United States and its European partners. I do not believe that is so. As one who has been involved in the shaping of United States foreign policy — and who knows our current leaders — I can attest that the US commitment to the security of Western Europe is as strong as ever. The foundations of that commitment have not shifted — they are not built on the sands of expediency, but on the solid rock of our common interests and values.
Yet the requirements for demonstrating our common resolve have changed. For example, we have been engaged for nearly four years in bringing to fulfilment a major decision taken by the North Atlantic Council in December 1979. We took that decision in response to Soviet deployments of new SS-20 missiles that clearly go far beyond any Soviet need for security and suggest an attempt to divide the Western alliance. We decided to seek negotiated limits on intermediate-range nuclear forces, but, if need be, to deploy medium-range missiles of our own. That decision gained broad support in Europe, and it secured bipartisan support in the United States.
There will be anxious moments between now and December of this year, as we watch to see what is possible in the Geneva talks on Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces, and as collectively we prepare to start deployment if the arms control talks do not succeed by then. There will be troubled questioning about NATO’s deployments. There will be opposition. There will be demonstrations.
The governments of Western Europe have shown great courage in holding fast to the so-called “two-track” decision. In my judgment, they will continue to do so, provided the United States shows a firm commitment to conducting serious negotiations in a manner consistent with the interests of the West as a whole. The wisdom of the Harmel Report of 1967 remains valid. NATO must provide for its sure defense; but it must also continue to explore the possibilities for reducing tensions and the risks of war.
Anxiety over intermediate-range nuclear forces also underlines another basic evolution in the way the alliance has viewed East-West relations during the past 34 years. For all these years, we have remained steadfast in our determination to maintain the arms, both conventional and nuclear, that we need for our security. Progressively, we have also rightly accorded critical importance to arms control. It is important both to reduce the risks of conflict and to demonstrate to our peoples, on both sides of the Atlantic, that our governments are committed to the search for a better way of ordering human conduct. Whatever happens with Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces, the requirement to contain the nuclear arms competition will continue.
The anti-nuclear movement in Western Europe, the freeze movement in my own country — both reflect a cry of the human soul for a way out of the nuclear dilemma. Those concerns, reflected also in the pastoral letter of the US Catholic bishops, cannot be ignored or dismissed as simply Soviet manipulation. Whether or not we agree with the specific demands of those who oppose further nuclear deployments, we must recognize the sincerity of their views. Leaders must respond with their own ideas and actions to the same moral ends.
A way must and can be found — with patience, perseverance, and courage — to bring the arms competition to a halt, and then to send it spiralling downward. We must remain strong militarily, politically, and economically, but we must also understand that national strength and security can both be enhanced at the bargaining table as well as in the arsenal. It is not a sign of weakness, as some contend, to negotiate fair and verifiable arms agreements. The Soviet Union may not respond, at least at first. But that does not lessen our responsibility to negotiate seriously. We and the Soviets must continue to talk — about arms and other issues, especially in times of tension.
The shift in the East-West balance of military power also applies to conventional forces. Indeed, any “window of vulnerability” lies more in the conventional than in the nuclear. This is truly “alliance” business. Adequate conventional forces are so expensive that only together can we realistically foot the bill. Thus our alliance as a whole faces an acute need to improve its conventional defenses — all the more so since credible conventional deterrence will ease the passage to realistic nuclear arms control.
In these difficult economic times, few allied governments have reached the agreed goal of 3% real growth in defense spending. But alliance military strength has been increasing, with the bulk of NATO manpower, aircraft, ships, and reserves provided by Western Europe — a fact not always appreciated in the United States. New technologies offer promise of greatly increased NATO capabilities without severe increases in costs. More rational sharing of burdens offers similar promise. As our conventional strength improves, it is indeed possible that NATO can begin to move toward a policy of no early first use of nuclear weapons.
If I may put on my hat as a former Pentagon official, I wish to say a special word on one point. Throughout NATO’s history, we have relied upon national military establishments, each organized according to national design. In a time of economic stringency and rising costs of both weapons and personnel, this is no longer adequate. If NATO is to make the best use of scarce resources, we must now move toward a true coalition defense — what Dean Acheson and his. European colleagues used to call a “balanced collective”. No allied nation — including the United States — can go it alone in its defense planning, policies, and procurement. Each must emphasize what it does best; the two-way street in procurement must become reality; the forces of all must be welded together into an effective allied military structure.
We must also not forget the possibilities for conventional arms control. In both East and West, however, the Vienna talks on mutual and balanced force reductions have been permitted to languish. Both sides are thus missing a chance to gain greater stability in Europe at lower levels of forces. That makes no sense for either side. Instead, we should be pressing the Warsaw Pact to revitalize those talks. We should be searching for new confidence-building measures, in particular to emphasize defensive rather than offensive weapons.
In recent years, we have seen differences of view across the Atlantic on economic relations with the Eastern bloc. Last year, as these differences came out into the open, the alliance went through an extremely painful period of transatlantic disagreement. The immediate issue of the gas pipeline from Siberia was resolved; but the underlying difference of view was not.
We must not permit such differences to divide us. In my judgment, there is a basis for allied agreement. It is not in our interest to provide the Soviet Union with preferred terms of credit, or to become overly-dependent on it for critical supplies. But equally, it is not in our interest to attempt to shut off all trade with the Soviet Union, to foreclose the possibility that continued economic relations could work for the benefit of the West and toward an eventual lessening of some aspects of East-West tensions.
We now also face a future in which we cannot ignore the potential for significant change in Eastern Europe.
Four times in thirty years, challenge to Soviet authority in Eastern Europe has presented NATO with complex dilemmas. Four times NATO has reacted without adequate preparation. Who can tell what will transpire in the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe? Who can tell whether in the next few years there will be further Solidarities, more “Polands”, with their human as well as political dimensions? We must be prepared for them. We must develop a means in the alliance for taking collective decisions, both when crisis is upon us and today as we face the question of whether to support East European economies.
There is more. It is not too soon for us to begin thinking in the alliance about the possibilities of an eventual move beyond sterile confrontation on the continent. Pope John Paul II has talked about a Poland between East and West. His statement contains the glimmer of an idea: that we should cast our minds forward to the possibility of peaceful change in Europe that does not threaten the structure of security. That day is still a long way off. But changing reality must begin with aspiration. It must lead to a serious review of the practical requirements for change — most important of which would be a basic change in Soviet attitudes toward internal developments in Eastern Europe. In tire, this could become a proper focus for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In sum, we have a long way to go in the alliance in recreating a consensus on East-West issues. We must develop a means for agreeing on critical distinctions in our assessments of Soviet challenge — understanding where it must be contained, as in Western Europe, and where our interests lie in give-and- take with the East, as in arms control. We must seek allied agreement on distinctions between Soviet ventures abroad that are of genuine concern to us all, as in Afghanistan, and those of lesser importance, as in Angola.
It is past time that we agreed on a long-range allied strategy toward the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that is clear, consistent, and sustainable — a strategy that convinces the new Soviet leadership that we will defend our vital interests, but that we also seek to lessen tensions and the risks of conflict It is not beyond our grasp. If we do devise a sensible and sustainable strategy, then the Soviets may come to understand that it is profitless to try to separate the United States from its European allies.
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Second, developments vital to the future of the alliance are taking place beyond the compass of the North Atlantic Treaty.
The scope of our concern with international security has been broadened in recent years, in part because of the stress and turmoil of modernization and development in the Third World, and in part because of the growth of Soviet power. Meanwhile, changes in relative strength within the Western alliance have led the United States to look for allied support in circumstances where before America could have assumed responsibility alone. This is particularly true in the Middle East and in what is now often referred to as southwest Asia.
Since the collapse of the Pahievi government in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we have all been increasingly concerned with the security of the Persian Gulf. There have been differences of view among us: about the sources of potential threat to Western interests in that region, about the nature of the threats, and about the nature of, andresponsibility for, our responses. There is also concern that NATO as an institution should not venture beyond the geographical boundaries originally set.
In recent months, the alliance has begun to hold effective discussions on these problems, But we have a long way to go in forging a common strategy for this region.
Differences of view continue to be debated, and there could be circumstances in which the diversion of US forces for contingencies in the Persian Gulf would require a compensating increase in European military effort cr the NATO central front.
We cannot be certain that adverse developments in the Gulf could always be isolated from events in Europe, itself. This does not mean linkage: holding arms control hostage to Soviet good behavior elsewhere. Indeed, arms control agreements are either in our interest and should be pursued, or they are not and should not. It does mean that the challenge to the alliance to take collective decisions — or to accept decisions the United States may have to take to protect our common interests — could become crucial in the event of conflict in that region. We also need to bear in mind that the protection of our shared interests in the Persian Gulf requires a “division of labor” within the alliance.
At the same time, for the West to be effective in the Middle East, we must bridge differences of view over the conduct of Arab-Israeli negotiations and the search for a
durable peace. The United States has had key Western responsibility for that diplomacy. But as part of European integration European Political Cooperation has also been deeply engaged in proposing solutions. We in the United States may not always agree with European suggestions, but we have an obligation to take them seriously, as part of building an agreed allied strategy for the Middle East.
At the moment, developments in Central America are of special significance for allied comity and risk polarizing the alliance. In that region, the United States has not sought direct allied support; it has sought understanding of the course on which it has embarked. But to gain understanding, we in the United States must clearly define our interests in Central America, the nature of threats posed to those interests, and responses that make sense not only to our own people but also to concerned governments in Latin America, in Western Europe, and elsewhere. That has not yet happened; debate in America has only just begun. The United States has still to define a set of policies that are coherent and sustainable.
To do so, we must first properly diagnose the problem. We must recognize that the issues rending countries such as El Salvador are local in nature. We must recognize that they are economic, political, and social, and have their roots in local history. And, finally, we must recognize that they are complex and intertwined and must be dealt with in their own terms. All of us acknowledge that the Soviet Union and Cuba will fish in such troubled waters, but we will be prone to profound error if we view these issues through an East-West prism. These problems demand a political solution that is appropriate to the nature of the individual countries involved and to the region as a whole. Nor can a solution be dictated by the United States. To achieve a solution, the United States must work with other nations in the region, such as the Contedora group — Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela. Working with them, I believe that in time a political solution may be possible. But we must be realistic enough to recognize that this cannot be brought about overnight. It will take time, patience, and perseverance.
What is happening in Central America illustrates the duality of developments in much of the Third World — its endemic, internal problems, and Soviet bloc exploitation of them.
Inescapably, strife and discontent in Africa, Latin America, and much of Asia derive from the same combination of social, political, and economic factors that are troubling Central America. Inescapably, if we are to help secure our own interests, we must increase massively our commitment of resources to economic development. Throughout the alliance — particularly in those countries that are lagging behind — we must not se the World Bank, the International Development Association, and the regional development banks as poor stepchildren to be given short shrift at a time of global recession.
Justice demands a more enlightened view. So does self-interest; we require economic progress in Third World nations as a spur to our own recovery. So, too, we face responsibility for helping to rescue faltering economies from mounting burdens of debt, incurred in part during a decade of staggering oil prices. Interdependence has been a slogan for more than a decade. It must now be accepted as a fact of daily life if our dealings with developing nations if we are not to feel the bite of their economic difficulties.
Another problem for us, in the developing world, is the Soviet Union’s continued proclivity, both directly and through countries like Cuba and East Germany, to exploit Third World discontents in order to promote its interests. But we are not without remedy. We can lessen the chances that such efforts will succeed by helping these countries to cope successfully with their problems of development and social change. Where Soviet bloc involvement does occur and where it is significant — as in Nicaragua today — there can be popular and alliance support for efforts to reduce this involvement. But that can be achieved only if we first demonstrate that we can make the kind of judicious distinctions in the role of Soviet power that I discussed earlier.
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Third, the Western alliance is facing an economic test that has no parallel since the Second World War. In the OECD countries, about 30 million people are out of work, with intense personal suffering and economic loss to our collective prosperity. Pressure for trade protectionism is now greater than at any time since the l930s. The temptation to shift economic burdens to other countries — however futile — could become irresistible. And at some point, economic strife in the alliance could even affect our broader political understandings.
Responsibility for managing recovery without rekindling runaway inflation is widely shared. Initial leadership must come from the United States. Yet as never before in the economic history of the alliance, that leadership can only be sustained with the strong support of other nations.
The fragile recovery that has begun in the United States imposes new demands. In each of our countries, whole sectors of industry are becoming outmoded. New skills are required. Painful economic readjustment will be a fact of life for years to come, if we are to rebuild economies that can sustain long-term prosperity.
I believe the American people can be called upon to bear their share of the burden of readjustment. I believe the same is true in Western Europe and in Japan. But all must have confidence that the burden is being shared fairly, that all industrialized democracies are moving in directions that can restore mutual benefits instead of further stimulating corrosive competition.
It is never easy during a recession to counsel statesmanship. Domestic demands on our leaders are severe. But as we begin recovery, we need a collective “leap of faith,” a collective return to economic statesmanship even before the pull of domestic preoccupation has lessened. We need this statesmanship in particular to put political brakes on protectionism even before the economic way is clear. We need it to inculcate in our people the demands of balanced growth and shared burdens of readjustment.
I am pleased to say that the institutions for Western economic cooperation remain sound, despite the buffeting that our economies have undergone. I submit that we do not need new institutions, but rather to make those we have work better. An earlier generation built wisely in creating institutions such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The founders did not view these institutions as sunny-day expediencies, but rather as bulwarks against conditions that once before helped plunge the world into cataclysmic war. They were designed to change with the times and the shifting nature of economic power. Our wisdom today must be to recognize anew their importance, and ensure that they grow and prosper as part of our broader economic growth and prosperity.
The annual economic summits have also proved their worth. But, in my judgment, they are far from their full potential. We are still too tentative about their use. We have too often used them as occasions to avoid political pitfalls instead of opportunities to develop broad strategies for Western economic advance. The principle remains sound: that each leader can be encouraged to take difficult decisions when it is clear that all the others are doing likewise. It is time that summitry became a means for coordinating domestic economic policies and strategies, so that we can export prosperity, not problems.
I am gratified that the recent Williamsburg Summit did include an agreed statement on Western security. Economic issues cannot be separated from security issues, and neither can be separated from the broader compass of national and alliance politics.
Indeed, if there is one unifying theme running through the three subjects I have discussed today, it is this: none of these subjects can be discussed in isolation, and none of the problems posed can be resolved independently.
For many years, the underlying strength of the Western economies, the effectiveness of the Bretton Woods institutions, and the clear economic and military pre-eminence of the United States permitted us to deal piecemeal with many alliance issues. That is no longer true. If we are to act effectively in any area — East-West relations, Western strength, arms control, global security, economic health and development — we must see all of them as interconnected. If we are to develop a sustainable, overall strategy for the West, we must ground it in full consideration of political, economic, and military factors at one and the same time. Economies cannot prosper when security is in question. Military strength cannot be nourished when economies are in disrepair. Neither prosperity nor security can be achieved unless needed policies can garner popular support and be sustained in our parliaments.
There is one final challenge, one ultimate lesson, for preserving the Western alliance for the next generation. What we stand for, both as individual nations and as an alliance, must become a part of the lifeblood of the younger generation on both sides of the Atlantic.
For too long, we have erroneously assumed that the basic purposes of Western association would pass automatically to a new generation that did not experience the Great Depression, the Second World War, or the Soviet challenges of the 1940s and 1950s. We wrongly assumed that younger Europeans and North Americans would automatically share common values and ideals, and that no special effort was required to ensure their capacity to judge for themselves the worth of our collective effort. The effort to pass this knowledge, this understanding to a younger generation must now be given top priority.
Knowledge and understanding alone, however, are not enough. The Atlantic alliance must keep pace with the times, growing and adapting to new forces and factors. Its basic purposes remain sound. If we express them in ways that make sense for the l980s rather than for the past, if we are wise in our policies and properly relate our purposes to our politics, then the Atlantic alliance can continue its indispensable work. It will then prove to be as critical and effective for our shared future, as relevant to the deeper aspirations of our people, as it has been for three and a half decades.
July 15, 1983
© The Ditchley Foundation, 1983. 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.