We’re heading toward the sixtieth anniversary of NATO. There’s to be a ceremony on April 3-4 in Strasbourg and Kehl, the latter being the German town facing Strasbourg on the east side of the Rhine. Sarkozy of France and Merkel of Germany will meet and embrace, in symbolic affirmation of Unity Restored, after divisive conflicts now buried in the mists of time. I’m not sure what theatrical events are being planned to symbolize this celebration of Gallo-Teutonic entente, perhaps some flotilla on the mighty Rhine, with Sarko as a latter-day Mark Antony and buxom Merkel as Cleopatra.
To give vibrancy to the event, Sarkozy has just formally brought France back into NATO’s “integrated command.” Charles de Gaulle, a leader who looks better with every passing decade, took France out in 1966 as a rebuke to American domination of the alliance. No doubt there’ll soon be an institutional shift back to Paris by NATO personnel, wearied of moules frites and waterzooi.
You can be sure there will be gale-force gusts of bombast about the NATO alliance’s historic role as Europe’s mighty shield and buckler, guarantor of its freedoms against “aggression,” thus perpetuating sixty years of humbug. There was never the slightest chance of the Soviet Union and its auxiliaries in the Warsaw Pact rolling west in the prospective onslaught luridly evoked by Winston Churchill in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in March 1949. Churchill raised the specter of the Mongol “hordes” that had menaced Europe 700 years before, heading home only when the Great Khan died. “They never returned,” rumbled the old faker, “till now.”
Having borne almost the entire burden of crushing Hitler’s armies on the Eastern Front and having suffered appalling casualties in so doing, the Soviet Union was in no condition to invade Western Europe. This didn’t impede mad Western scenarios of the sort that threat-inflators routinely issued down the decades until the very moment the Soviet Union collapsed.
Armored Cavalry Journal quavered in 1947 that “Russia could probably invade and occupy the whole of Western Europe against resistance from present American, British and French troops in a matter of 48 hours.” Driven by Truman’s 1948 arms scare, NATO lumbered into being in 1949, ratifying dominance of US arms procurement for the alliance, internal custodial sentry duty against any slide to the left by one or other of the European allies, establishment of West Germany as an independent state and US control of the nuclear forces deemed necessary to counter nonexistent Soviet conventional superiority. Year upon year nothing dented the endless flow of “threat assessments” powering new weapons systems, “theater nuclear” and “counterforce” doctrines that kept the arms factories running at full tilt and spawned a vast subculture of think tanks, expert panels and lobby shops.
Then, suddenly, it was all over. NATO’s formal purpose evaporated. The Soviet Union collapsed. Without delay NATO burgeoned into exactly what its left detractors had always said its essential function had been from the start, a US-dominated political and military alliance aimed at encircling Russia and acting as enforcer for larger US imperial strategy. NATO’s onslaughts on the former Yugoslavia duly followed.