12 September 1986 - 14 September 1986

The Defence of the West: The Future of NATO in an Era of Emerging Technologies and Diverging Interests

Chair: Sir Oliver Wright GCMG GCVO DSC

The Ditchley Foundation and The Southern Center for International Studies, Atlanta, Georgia Joint Conference at Dithcley Park

The new conference year started after the summer break with a new venture. The Southern Center for International Studies of Atlanta, Georgia, brought a group to Ditchley from the southern states of the U.S.A, for a joint conference which was planned as the first of two in an exchange of conferences between Ditchley and Atlanta. The exchange will be completed next April when a group from Ditchley will go to Atlanta for a joint conference there. The idea on Ditchley’s side has been to find a new way of reaching beyond the familiar eastern seaboard of north America. At the end of the conference year, next June, a similar conference exchange will be launched with the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Possible partners for future conference exchanges are currently being sought in California and Texas.

The subject of the conference with the Southern Center on the weekend 12-14 September was "The defence of the West; the future of NATO in an era of emerging technologies and diverging interests". This was Atlanta's choice, on the grounds that NATO's affairs do not normally receive priority attention in the American south and that a visit to this side of the Atlantic was an appropriate occasion to examine them. Sir Oliver Wright took the chair, only a few weeks after relinquishing his appointment as Ambassador at Washington, in which capacity he had been a luncheon guest and speaker at the Southern Center in May. There were sixteen American participants at the conference, one Canadian and twenty British. There were no participants from European partner countries as the purpose of the conference was contact with the American south rather than dissection of NATO; but the Atlanta team included the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (General Bernard Rogers, who had held the U.S. Army command at Fort McPherson, Georgia in the mid-70's), the President of the Atlantic Council of the U.S., and a former director-general of the Atlantic Institute at Paris; and the British team included the outgoing and incoming British Ambassadors to NATO and appropriate senior officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. There was no lack of top-level NATO expertise.

Given the nature and composition of the conference it differed a little from the usual run of Ditchley events. Usually, a Ditchley conference focusses on a situation or problem and tries to assess how policy is or should be made in relation to it. On this occasion the focus was more on attitudes on both sides of the Atlantic, the influence which they have on policy-making in the defence field and the extent to which they are justified. The discussion looked at NATO's policies and activities “in area”, i.e. in Europe, the way in which “out-of-area” cooperation was and could be handled among the allies, and the degree to which NATO strategy (flexible response) was likely to be affected by new military technologies and by shifts in defence burdens brought about by the globalisation of the east/west confrontation and the preoccupation of the two superpowers with the exigencies of their own power relationship. On these topics there was very thorough and constructive discussion in three working groups. In all three, divergencies of assessment and attitude were diagnosed between the U.S. and the European allies; but whether these could be held to amount to a real divergence of interests seemed to depend on the nature of each individual participant's sentiments.

The threads of the discussion were pulled together in the closing plenary debate on the Sunday afternoon, when the question of anti-Americanism in Europe was tackled head-on. Normally it is approached in a gingerly, oblique fashion at Ditchley in order not to offend susceptibilities. On this occasion the earlier debates had laid the foundations for broaching it directly. The British participants contributed most to the final phase of the conference - it was after all their auto-critique. What seemed to emerge was that anti-Americanism in Europe is a symptom of a malaise and not the malaise itself. The United States has great power and the capacity to apply it round the world ("the imperial psychology") while the European states have largely lost them: this alone causes European opinion to assess situations and what can be done about them differently. Defence has become a highly technical and esoteric subject, hedged around with secrecy, security barriers and checks, foreign presences and other turn-offs. Confidence in deterrence has been undermined by the absence of detente or even detente language and postures. Crises arising anywhere in the world rapidly evolve into wrestling between the super-powers which European governments appear to have little chance of affecting. East-west relations have largely been reduced to manoeuvring around the issue of nuclear arms control, with the European governments reduced to a subordinate chorus role. All of these things have tended to cause some substantial sections of European public opinion to become luke-warm or hostile towards policies which are seen in the U.S. as being in the interests of the alliance but which are seen outside the U.S. as being distinctively United States policies. The difficulty is with public opinion rather than between governments, except insofar as governments, or even more opposition governments-in-waiting, make more allowance for popular unease than for the hard facts of defence capabilities. Possible remedies begin with the need for convincing efforts at arms control. They also include on-going efforts to keep a dialogue going with Moscow in periods of tension as well as in periods of relaxation (with the understanding that dialogue need not imply weakness), a reduction in the higher flights of anti-Soviet rhetoric, more skilful presentation of defence measures as being a national interest rather than some sort of internationally- or U.S.-imposed burden, less emphasis on anti-Soviet aspects of policies in the third world, more flexible and more effective collaboration between European partners in defence matters and less nervous U.S. reactions when the Europeans do sometimes seem to be making progress in getting an act together.

In spite of these fairly far-reaching considerations and a sobering reminder from the American side that the U.S. nowadays had a good many things to think about besides Europe, the general reaction seemed to be that NATO was not facing graver difficulties than usual and that transatlantic differences of view were no less bridgeable than in previous periods. Nevertheless one or two Cassandras still insisted on having the last word. Those on the British side could be largely discounted because of their party political motivations, prophesying doom for NATO if they did not win the next election; but the uneasiness which appeared to remain in some American minds was more disturbing. Anti-Americanism is not cured by being explained away, nor are adjustments of language and posture on the U.S. side all that will be required to overcome it. There are things which need to be done on the European side; but the visitors from Atlanta were too polite and perhaps too little familiar with European politics to say what these should be, and the home team, preoccupied with the transatlantic problem, was a bit light on prescriptions for Europe. 

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: Sir Oliver Wright GCMG GCVO DSC
Retired from the Diplomatic Service as British Ambassador to the United States (1982-86)


HE Mr Michael Alexander CMG

Ambassador-designate to NATO
The Rt Hon the Lord Beloff Kt FBA FRHistS FRSA
Life Peer (Conservative); Professor Emeritus of Government and Public Administration, Oxford University, and Emeritus Fellow, Ail Souls College, Oxford
Mr David Buchan
Defence Correspondent, Financial Times
Mr Michael Charlton
Broadcaster; Current Affairs Presenter, BBC Radio
Dr Christopher Coker
Lecturer in International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science; Editor, Atlantic Quarterly
Mr T L A Daunt CMG
Ambassador-designate to Turkey: currently Assistant Under-Secretary of State, for Defence, Arms Control and Nuclear Questions, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Maj-Gen F W E Fursdon CB MBE
Defence Consultant, Independent Defence Correspondent and author
The Rt Hon Dr John Gilbert MP
(Labour), Dudley East; Member, House of Commons Select Committee on Defence; Vice-Chairman, Labour Finance and Industry Group
Sir John Graham Bt GCMG
Retired from the Diplomatic Service as British Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to NATO, Brussels (1982-86)
Mr John Hakes
Marketing Director, Plessey Electronic Systems Ltd
Dr Keith Hampson MP
(Conservative), Leeds North-West; Chairman, British Atlantic Group of Young Politicians.
Mr Godfrey Hodgson
Journalist and writer on political and international affairs
Maj-Gen G D Johnson OBE MC
Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (NATO/UK), Ministry of Defence
Mr Bryan Magee
Writer and Radio and TV Broadcaster; Hon Senior Research Fellow in History of Ideas, King’s College, London; Governor and Member of Council, the Ditchley Foundation
Mr Kevin McNamara MP
(Labour), Hull North; Deputy Opposition Spokesman on Defence; Member, House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs; Member, Parliamentary Assembly, NATO.
Mr Derek Marsh
Director of Procurement Policy, Procurement Executive, Ministry of Defence
Mr David Watt
Writer, and Columnist, The Times; Joint Editor, Political Quarterly; a Governor and Member of the Programmes Committee of the Ditchley Foundation
Mr Charles Wheeler
Journalist and Broadcaster; Chief Correspondent, BBC TV Newsnight
Mr Alan Lee Williams OBE
Director-General, English Speaking Union; Vice President, European-Atlantic Group; Chairman, Peace Through NATO; Member: European Working Group, International Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, Washington, DC
Mr Phil Williams
Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Southampton

Mr Anthony Malone

Deputy Permanent Representative, North Atlantic Council, Brussels

Mr H Brandt Ayers

Editor and Publisher, Anniston Star, Vice President, Daily Home; co-owner, Jacksonville News, Oxford Midweek, Piedmont Journal Independent; a founding Trustee, The Southern Center for International Studies
Dr Thomas Bartlett
Chancellor, University of Alabama System; a Trustee, The Southern Center for International Studies
Mr Don Cook
Chief of Paris Bureau, Los Angeles Times
Mr Jonathan Golden
Managing Partner, Arnall, Golden & Gregory, Atlanta
The Hon Martin J Hillenbrand
Dean Rusk Professor of International Relations and Director, US Global Policy Studies Program, University of Georgia
Mr Stuart Irby Jr
Chairman of the Board, Irby Construction Company, and Stuart C Irby Company, Jackson, Mississippi
Dr Robert Lager
Director, Center for International Trade and Commerce and Executive Director, Alabama Foreign Trade Relations Commission; Member, Board of Trustees, The Southern Center for International Studies, Board of Directors, Alabama World Trade Association
Mr Mort S Neblett
Senior Vice President and Director, Robinson-Humphrey Company, Atlanta
Dr Daniel S Papp
Director and Professor of International Affairs, School of Social Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology
General Bernard Rogers
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, NATO
General George Seignious II
President, Atlantic Council of the United States, Washington, DC
Dr Donald Stewart
President, Spelman College, Atlanta; a Trustee, The Southern Center for International Studies, Martin Luther King, Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change; Member, Council on Foreign Relations
Dr Cedric Suzman
Vice President and Educational Program Director, The Southern Center for International Studies, Atlanta
Mr Edward L White Jr
President, Cecil B Day Foundation and Senior Vice President, Cecil B Day Investment Company
Mr Peter C White
President and a Trustee, The Southern Center for International Studies
Governor William Winter
Managing Partner, Watkins, Pyle, Ludlam, Winter and Stennis (Attorneys), Jackson, Mississippi