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A European Union Is Still Our Best Hope

There is a positive side to the European Defense Community that goes beyond reducing the possibility of renewed “fratricidal strife” of Frenchman and German. European union, even the first modest steps implicit in the Schumann Plan and the EDC, will give rise to a new power center in the world. It will have a population exceeding that of the United States, with industrial capacity comparable to that of the Soviet empire in most strategic materials and vastly superior in consumer goods production, and with scientific and technical skills unsurpassed by the Soviet Union or even by the United States. If not paralyzed by continuing internal weakness, “Little” Europe will find itself a major power astride the high road of history, no longer a congeries of minor powers lost each in its peculiar dead end. With that realization should come renewed confidence and vigor. What the American and French revolutions, and more recently the Russian, meant for the world in terms of readjustments of power relationships may well be repeated—without the long delay that followed the first, nor, it is hoped, the violence that accompanied the others.

This is what the Americans who labored to help the EDC idea get under way had in the background of their minds. Where else but in the possibility—remote by all current estimates—of an internal Soviet collapse, is there any hope of relieving the present situation wherein two great powers face each other across the conference table and battlefield, neither powerful enough to face the other down, both capable of plunging the world into nuclear war. Given the chance, and the favorable omens, Europe alone can face the Soviet threat, can accumulate sufficient material resources and, what is more important, sufficient courage and morale to stand alone against the Bear. Surely such a Europe, allied with the US and Britain, would reduce the Soviet “threat.”

The vision of European union is what ought to be debated in Europe, the risk and requirements on our side is what ought to be debated here. They have let themselves be blinded by history, and by the limited interests of special groups from politicians to industrialists, into timidly refusing to take the risks inherent in the EDC. We on our part have been so blinded by our fear of Communism that we have not asked ourselves what the real meaning of EDC is. Many Americans have literally not looked beyond the “12 German divisions.” Others have advanced as far as the possibility that we may bring our troops home and thus ease our tax burdens, but no further.

Is there a practical alternative to EDC? British-American postwar continental policy has been built on France, despite what is said in some quarters about our building up Germany. But France has proved no tower of strength, particularly where union is concerned. Should we now abandon France and place our dependence on the Germans because Adenauer is a success and because the furnaces of the Ruhr are flaming?

Any alternative to EDC must satisfy several requirements. First, of course, it must be acceptable to the United States. This is undisputed in Europe inside the lunatic fringe. It means that the alternative must strengthen the Free World against Russia; it means also that the methods chosen must not offend very many Americans, particularly those who are members of Congress. This requirement galls many Europeans.

The second requirement is that the alternative must be acceptable to: France, that is, unless we are to change our policy of some years standing and write the French off as an almost total loss. The threat of France going Communist is no longer so terrifying as it was in the dark weeks of 1948, now that the German Federal Republic has come into being as an anti-Communist buffer to the East. But French contribution to the strength of Western Europe, while disappointing, is not negligible. Moreover supply lines to our token force in Germany pass through France. And France is in all things save politics a fortunate country. Her soil is rich, her climate friendly, her resources considerable, her industry diversified, her people energetic and ingenious. If writing the French off meant delivering her into the hands of those who might mobilize her resources for the opposing side it would be a sorry bargain for us indeed.

A third requirement for the alternative to EDC is that it must be acceptable to Germany. Being acceptable to Germany is not a simple requirement. EDC has been sold to the Germans by dint of much effort and determination, but also, given the times and the circumstances, they were able to grow up with it. Their most substantial objection td EDC, when the idea was broached, was that it required them to rearm. Now they are no longer so loath to take up arms, but what alternative is there that would offer them a substitute justification for rearming that did not reek of “lost” German glory? What alternative, in short, that would not reconcile the satellites to their Soviet slavemasters and strike terror in the hearts of other Europeans? German agreement to rearm within EDC is the soundest achievement of postwar diplomacy in Europe. It is also the rock on which European Union might be built.

There are other requirements for an acceptable alternative to EDC, but these three will suffice to exhibit the dimensions of the problem of finding one. It perhaps should be added that acceptability to Russia is not a requirement. French parliamentary timidity, and even sometimes the peculiar reactions of our British allies, may give the impression that Soviet response is a prime consideration. This is not the case; no conceivable alternative that would satisfy the Russians could possibly satisfy the United States or the German Federal Republic. And, because we do not know what the Russians will do does not mean that we should do nothing. Every important move we have made in Western Europe since 1948 has been an “affront” to Soviet Russia and any one of the more decisive ones might have precipitated war. But none of them were really decisive in that sense. Soviet reasons for not going to war may well lie quite outside the European arena. Moreover, it is doubtful if they themselves could say what would be the last straw. We do know that they are stimulated by weakness and deterred by strength, or even an appearance of strength. That is all we have to go on. We have taken the risk before. We must take the risk again.

ONLY three alternatives to EDC have been put forward seriously. The first, in various forms, is that the present occupation of Germany should be continued. This is decidedly acceptable to the French, who in their weaker moments would like nothing better. It is equally unacceptable to us and to the Germans. For us it would mean an indefinite commitment to maintain an army in Europe. But that is not the only reason, nor the most important one. For this alternative invites us to sacrifice all our accomplishments in Western Germany, to tear down the bulwark we have built there, discredit Adenauer, and deliberately undermine German democracy and Germany's alignment with the West. Adenauer's strength, and the vitality of the political system with which he is associated, rests upon success—success in relieving the hardships that resulted from the war, success in easing the burdens and restrictions of occupation, and success in restoring the Germans to a position of respectability and trust in the world. Thus a salient feature of Allied occupation has been progressive release. We could not now reverse that process, or disavow its continuance, and expect to see Adenauer retain the confidence of his people. More than this, it is not only Adenauer's political future that is at stake, it is also the fate of the new German Federal Republic. The same forces that would rise against the present government in Germany would rise against the German constitution itself. In how short a time Western Germany would be reduced to impotence, or, worse, converted from an asset to a liability in the East-West balance, may not be predictable, but it would probably occur before the Soviet Empire falls of its own weight. The risk is too great for us to contemplate. Likewise, and for the same reasons looked at from their point of view, it is too great a risk for the Germans to endure, quite aside from their simple distaste for continued occupation.

Any proposal that entails continued Russian presence on German soil shares these objections. Wrapping the alleged alternative in the mantle of the United Nations, for example, does not take the curse off it.

The second proposed alternative is German membership in NATO—a proposal that was raised first in 1950 and then subsided when the United States Government threw its support behind BDC. It is probably unacceptable to the French, only less so to the other continental countries. It would be acceptable to the Germans, and might be accomplished so that the ghost of Prussian militarism, which Adenauer so much fears, would be laid. It is the agonizing alternative to Which Secretary Dulles referred not so long ago. It would entail, at the minimum, a complete and painful reconstruction of US policy in Western Europe, because that policy could no longer be built around France. At the same time it would require extraordinary effort to keep France from being completely demoralized and perhaps lost to the West altogether. This might be done by developing the North Atlantic “community” implicit in NATO, but one can imagine what a storm any substantial proposals of that nature would raise on Capitol Hill. The same Senators who most hector the French for their intransigent reluctance to surrender a parcel of their sovereignty to EDC would reach for the Bricker amendment at the first suggestion that the US should do so to NATO.

One more alternative needs to be mentioned. In one form it was most recently proposed by Mr. Molotov at Berlin. Originally it was put forward, to his sorrow presumably, by Mr. Byrnes, then Secretary of State. This is the “forty-year treaty” to neutralize Germany. It is, again, decidedly acceptable to the French, who would accept anything that pledged the United States both to keep the Germans unarmed and to protect France from the Soviets. It is not acceptable to most hard-headed Europeans, including a minority of Frenchmen, who cannot conceive that an unarmed neutral Germany would long remain either unarmed or neutral. We have rejected it in recent years because it is an anachronism, left behind by the march of events (if indeed it ever was justified). It would surrender US assets in Central Europe even more surely than would a continuation of the occupation. Nor is there any real hope that the Russians would play ball. Any treaty to which they would agree would most certainly leave the Eastern territories in Polish hands and the Eastern Zone of Germany under Soviet domination. For these reasons alone the treaty would be unacceptable to Germans, who have already voted for the West and disunion against the seductive promise of reunification under Soviet aegis.

Other alternatives to EDC there may be. Certainly there is no closed season on speculation. But the times are pressing, and foreign offices cannot afford much imaginative play. The irreducible minima of the situation— those that drive every consideration to EDC or to NATO—are these: First, the United States, given its commanding position in the West and its sense of global insecurity, demands that German legions be added to the forces of freedom. Second, the Russians will not surrender anything they now have except in return for more. They will not give up their Zone of Germany accept in return for a good chance to acquire all of Germany in exchange. Third, the French, though their fears are genuine, can be maneuvered (while we and the Russians cannot). Any speculation that ignores the first two of these points can have only esthetic attraction, if that. And the third point must be the key to a solution, however uncomfortable.

WE RETURN, then, to NATO and the EDC. Of these the latter is by all odds the more attractive. It means a revolution, but not a convulsion, in Western Europe. At the worst it will give German vigor a safe arena in which to express itself, and enable the West to realize the military potential that lies in Germany without exposing German democracy to what it most fears, the revival of militarism. At best it could be a long step towards the creation of “Europe,” a new nation and a major power among nations.

NATO, the alternative, is more difficult, more risky, less promising. It would be otherwise if the United States, Britain and Canada were ready for limited federation. But nationalism, on the wane in Europe, is undiminished in other parts of the North Atlantic “community,” and particularly in the United States where it has recently attained new heights. (Nationalism is not to be confused with isolationism, nor is American “internationalism” the enemy of nationalism.) But, given the existing circumstances, an invitation to Germany to join NATO as a full partner, with no more safeguards than NATO currently affords, or that might be wrung from a reluctant US Senate, would certainly have to be accompanied by a complete new approach to France—a France disinherited, disgruntled, resentful, and possibly convulsed. But France must accept a rehabilitated—and rearmed—Germany, if not in the EDC, then in NATO. History cannot be denied; trying to stand still only means that all our postwar gains in Germany are jeopardized. The Germans are probably no more dangerous than other peoples, no more diabolic nor beset by evil genius. But their terrible energies will be used, if not in constructive channels, then in destruction. Even if their destruction turns inwards upon themselves, as may well be the case, Europe would be the loser.

Moreover—let us be candid—the United States is in no mood to risk the loss of Germany. The real issue is not whether Germany will be rearmed and restored to its position among the powers, but whether the opportunity for Europe's rebirth will pass.

James King served in Germany from 1947 to 1952 as Secretary General of the Office of Military Government (US), then as Executive Secretary to John McCloy, US High Commissioner in Germany. This article appeared in the April 19, 1954, issue of the magazine.