01 April 2019

If NATO had not existed, it should have been invented – the Cold War period (at the 70 years anniversary since the foundation of the North-Atlantic Alliance- Documentary for Defence and Security Monitor)

Ştefan Oprea

Image source: Mediafax

Created in a turbulent period after the World War II, when Europe was overwhelmed by its destructions and aversions, and the threats against the half democratic part of the continent were still active, the North-Atlantic Alliance proved to be security’s guarantee against the Soviet chaos, distrust and threat. Coincidentally or not, today, after 70 years of existence and evolutions, NATO is facing, in a modern way, the same threats. During its troubled history, NATO showed its capacity to accomplish the objective it was created for, has faced the disputes regarding the need for the existence of such Alliances and had a fundamental role in solving the global security issues. Today, the only thing that needs to be proved is that the 21 century Alliance can be as effective as the previous one during the Cold War.

With a remarkable history, NATO, the most important and durable military action in the world, remains today as relevant as it was in its early days.

A series of events, between 1947 and 1948, have determined the West Europe nations to deal more with their physical and political security, and the US to get more involved in the European businesses.

The civil war in Greece, the tensions from Turkey, a coup d’état with Soviet support in Czechoslovakia, culminating with West Berlin’s blockade as response to West Germany’s unification, as well as the alarming ascension of the communist party from Italy, were imposing a collective security solution for the countries in West Europe.  In these circumstances, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg have signed the Brussels Treaty, in March 1948, a treaty to offer collective defence and which was foreseeing that if one of these nations would be attacked, the others were forced to help and defend it.

Concurrently, the same concerns, intensified by the crisis in Berlin, which brought the US and URSS on the threshold of the conflict, were felt on the other side of the ocean as well, where the American officials were thinking that a strong western Europe will be vital to prevent the communist expansion on the entire continent. With the European Recovery Program working (the Marshall Plan), the Truman Administration considers a military alliance with Europe. Given these circumstances, on 4th of April 1949, based on the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in Washington by ten countries in West Europe and two from North America (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Island, Italy, Luxemburg, Great Britain, Norway, Portugal, Netherlands, US) it is founded the North Atlantic Organization (NATO).

NATO’s essence is collective defence, which offers mutual assistance, including military help, in case of an attack against the signatory part or parts of the treaty.

The Cold War era was becoming concrete

The succession of the events to have a major impact over the European security and not only, the nuclear Soviet test from 1959 and the war in Korea, a year later, have determined the member states to reinforce Alliance’s operational capacities and to establish an integrative command structure.

That was when it was founded and had actually started to work the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe – SHAPE, with the headquarter in Rocquencourt, at the periphery of Paris and whose first commander was (US) General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After three years, allies have founded the permanent NATO secretary position, in Paris, and have assigned the first NATO General Secretary, Lord Hastings Lionel Ismay (UK).

Even if NATO’s foundation was not exclusively determined by the possible military threat, but also by ideological, economic and geopolitical interests, the Alliance had a decisive role in protecting the West in the economic reconstruction and modernization process of Western Europe.

In 1952, NATO, across the enlargement process, includes Greece and Turkey, and three years later, the Federal Republic of Germany.

From this point of view, 9th of May 1955, once with GDR entry in NATO, is the benchmark moment seen as the beginning of the Cold War. Five years later, 14th of May 1955, the Soviet Union and its satellite countries have signed the Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance Treaty- the Warsaw Pact.

The tense relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, started during the war, even if they fought together, have continued after its end also, the complaints being transformed into an overwhelming mutual distrust and hostility feeling. The post-war Soviet expansion in East Europe has increased the concerns for many Americans in regard of a new Russian plan to control the world.

The propaganda in the first years after the war and, especially during the Korean war (1950-1953) have created a fear and even hysteria environment against communism, which actually gave a great impulse to US’s defence industry and, implicitly, the economy.

In a mutual hostile atmosphere, URSS, as a response to the aggressive rhetoric of the American official, has entered an arms race and adopted an interventionist approach within the international relations.

As consequence, the stakes of the cold war were dangerous. The atomic era, space’s interference in this arms race, communism’s eradication in the US and outside of it, together with Moscow and its allies’ ideological and military answer pushed the world under an ideological, political and economic threats of communism and the revolutionary movements from the third world or under the pressure of an increasing and internationalized capitalism.

Coping with these challenges, NATO, through its highest decisional office, the North-Atlantic Council, has adopted, in 1956, a resolution for the approval of a report made by experts, with recommendations for political, economic and cultural cooperation. The resolution suggested the extension of treaty’s implementation area on the entire world, thinking that its members influence and interests would be in danger outside NATO’s borders. Hence, NATO has officially received an economic responsibility, to support the free market.

1957 is seen as the benchmark year in NATO’s history. URSS’s launch of the first satellite in space is generating the “Sputnik” crisis as well as the debut of the so-called “Space race”.

All of these have asked for the necessity to consolidate the political and scientific cooperation across NATO. Therefore, the Alliance has decided to intensify the political consultations and to create the Scientific NATO Program, admitting the great importance of science and technology for the North-Atlantic community.

In the same year, NATO has adopted the “Massive Retaliation Doctrine”, as deterrence strategy. Through this strategy, the Alliance has assumed a nuclear strike against the Warsaw Pact in case of a military attack, as well as a preemptive nuclear attack in case of a threat against NATO’s countries. Therefore, the US nuclear potential became the foundation of all NATO member states security.

The climax of these “races” was reached in 1960, when URSS has developed the intercontinental missiles program, by which it is improving the effectiveness of the previous strategy, and NATO has adopted the Flexible response strategy. This strategy involved the conventional war option and the use of the nuclear potential as last solution.

An enhancement of the tense relations between these two blocs happens in 1967, when the “Harmel Report” is suggesting that a balance element will improve the relations between the North Atlantic Alliance and the Eastern Bloc. Hence NATO adopted the policy of member states defense and tensions’ ease with the communist countries.

The effects of this conciliatory policy are emerging after 1970, when the US and URSS have reduced their armament and anti-missile defence systems (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty-SALT I), and, through signing the Helsinki Agreement, have reiterated their commitment on not interfering in the domestic businesses, to peacefully solve the international disputes and respect human’s rights. The use of diplomacy instead of military actions was a new approach for the international relations.

Unfortunately, the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (1979), as well as the US intervention to support the anti-communist fight from Central America and to support the Mujahidin from Afghanistan in their fight against the pro-Russian government, which was demanding military assistance from the Soviet Union, has ended the international relations détente. To all of these, it was added also Moscow’s threat against Europe with the dislocation of missile systems along its western border.

After these evolutions, NATO has deployed American missile systems in the entire Europe, able to carry nuclear armament.

The huge efforts and the loses Afghanistan suffered from, the more and more serious economic problems, as well as the domestic political concerns, were somehow foreseeing URSS’s collapse. 

In 1982, Spain was the first state, after 1955, to join the North-Atlantic Alliance.

The fact that Mikhail Gorbachev took the power (1985) and introduced the two policies, openness (glasnost) and economic reforms (perestroika), have improved the relations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Four years later, the US and URSS got to an agreement on the ballistic and cruise missile systems and have started the elimination of their arsenals (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces – INF).

The historical summit between the American president, George Bush and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, from Malta, 3rd of December 1989, made the Cold War era become history. Events are alternating quickly and soon it started the Eastern Bloc and URSS’s fall. Opening the passing through points between both parts of Germany, the revolutions from Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s Unification (October 1990) were foreseeing change’s irreversibility. Together with the other events, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact (midst of 1991) and the Soviet Union (end of 1991) were imposing the end of the Cold War. By losing its main rival, the official purposes of NATO’s existence were gone. But…

Before being dissolved, the Warsaw Pact launched the proposal of a new “European security system”, to include both former rival alliances.

Evolutions were getting complicated again…