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The New International, Fall 1957

Sam Bottone

Notes of the Quarter

U.S. Foreign Policy in the Clouds


From The New International, Vol. XXIII No. 4, Fall 1957, pp. 245–251.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE KREMLIN AIMED AT MANY targets when its scientists sent two satellites racing toward their orbits. There was the obvious military objective of establishing Russian military supremacy in the field of rocketry. But nearly as apparent and hardly less important were the political objectives: to undercut American foreign policy and disorient Washington’s policy makers; to reduce further American prestige not only in the West and in the uncommitted areas but behind the Iron Curtain and within the troubled world Communist movement; to drive deeper the wedges in the already tenuous unity of the North Atlantic Treaty nations. That the Russians have established their military-scientific supremacy in rocketry, at least for the coming period, is now incontrovertible, and each day new evidence points up that in large measure they have succeeded in the political application of their technological achievement.

The simplistic and erroneous premise of American foreign policy for more than a decade has been a smug assumption that in dealing with Russia one is dealing with an industrially backward nation whose technological advances, never truthfully and fully acknowledged, were almost entirely due to captured German scientists and pilfered American scientific secrets. This assumed Russian weakness encouraged the military approach of American statesmen: the first and most important task was to build a superior military machine in the West. Once this military force was in readiness, the U.S. would be in a position to settle its differences with the Russians. The latter, compelled by the overwhelming might of Western arms, would make concessions – perhaps even submit – to American interests.

The Russian Sputniks have exploded both the premise and conclusions contained in this military approach to Stalinist imperialism!

WASHINGTON’S RESPONSE TO SPUTNIK was not altogether coherent or consistent. There was the element of demoralization bordering on panic when it was forced to concede that the Russians were ahead in the contest to conquer space and harness it to a military machine. It acknowledged, in effect, that the premises of its military oriented foreign policy were no longer valid. At the same time, Washington diplomats joined bluster and obtuseness to panic by refusing to adapt their foreign policy to the reality of a shifting relationship in the balance of world military and political forces. Before the December conference of NATO heads of government, both Eisenhower and Dulles reiterated their pre-Sputnik military emphasis: combat the Russian threat with more NATO divisions, establish missile bases in Western Europe as a deterrent to Russian aggression, and, above all, not to budge from a negative attitude toward the Kremlin’s effective, albeit hypocritical, request (i.e. challenge) for a new summit conference. For Washington, as the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

But while Dulles relied on NATO and America’s military supremacy to contain Communism, the Russian lead in intercontinental missiles caused Western Europe’s faith in America as a military protector to sink to a new low. For a European nation to comply with the American request for missile bases meant one thing for certain: its military and economic centers would be zeroed in from Russian missile bases – if that was not already the case. This was coupled with the fear that the Russians could pour down new and more terrible weapons of total destruction. Europe, now, not only feared but overtly resented the primarily military posture. The repeated threat of “massive retaliation” – a phrase worthy of Dulles’ genius – no longer held even the semblance of an intelligent policy to counter the Russians. Such threats repeated often enough by both sides might, almost accidentally, slip into the nightmare of actuality.

THE PROBLEMS POSED BY SPUTNIK were not the only ones threatening the Western alliance. From its inception NATO was an uneasy alliance of governments held together by American influence and fear of the Russians. But external pressure and anxiety cannot permanently or effectively cement nations. Where the Russian bloc has the immediate advantage of appearing as a solid, united phalanx in its dealings with the West, the Western alliance is based on a large number cd independent nations, each with its own distinctive interests coming to the fore and often in conflict with other NATO members. The Americans have one attitude toward German rearmament, the French have another; the French and English pursue one policy in the Middle East, the Americans another; the English tie up divisions in the colonial war against the Cypriots to the embarrassment of the Western world; France ties up the bulk of its military forces in a futile and bestial war in North Africa at the expense of NATO’s military effectiveness, much to the discomfort of other NATO nations which recognize the French adventure as a political liability.

A further dilemma for the Western alliance is the overall problem of basic NATO military strategy: are the military forces on the continent functioning as a “trip wire” which, upon attack, shall signal the unleashing of massive nuclear weapons, or are they part of a “shield” designed to prevent the occupation of Western Europe.

Even without Sputnik, then, the semi-annual meeting of NATO heads of governments held in Paris would have been beset by the above among many other – problems, all tending to pull the alliance apart at its seams. But the Russian satellites posed new problems and exacerbated old ones. For the State Department, with typical illogic, it meant that its policy of preparing for massive retaliation was not only correct but that it was now imperative to dot the European continent with missile bases; for most of the Europeans the strategy of massive retaliation and missile bases took on a new and frightening meaning with Russian satellites passing overhead every 103 minutes. This was one reason European representatives, now disenchanted with America’s capabilities, resisted the President at the conference.

The disaffection in Paris, in fact, was so widespread that the sole successful aftermath of the conference for the Americans was just in keeping NATO together – in body if not in soul. But the battered body of NATO managed to survive the conference, not through a resolution of internal disagreements and problems, but through compromise, ambiguities and evasion. The Americans were obliged to make certain formal concessions to a rising European sentiment that the Russian tactic of a summit conference cannot be answered with missile bases; and European statesmen who revealed grave misgivings over the fundamentally military orientation of NATO made verbal concessions to the American military approach.

THE ADVOCATES OF A LIMITED war strategy, as opposed to massive retaliation, tried to adjust the military character of NATO so as to save Europe from complete devastation in the event of war and to prevent any incident from erupting into a full-scale nuclear conflict. This does not mean that Adenauer and other European leaders are opposed to equiping NATO with atomic weapons; they have expressed neither moral nor military nor political reservations on this score. But they prefer to see NATO equipment limited to tactical atomic weapons – such as those used in Japan – as opposed to massive thermonuclear bombs. Presumably, if Europe is to be defended by armies equipped with tactical atomic weapons the Russians would be inhibited from hurling thermonuclear bombs on Europe capable of reducing the continent to ashes.

A fatal flaw in this approach is its assumption that between the United States and Russia there exists a tacit agreement to limit any possible conflict in Europe to weapons of limited destructiveness. The Kremlin, however, is not bound by any ties to NATO’s limited war strategists; on the contrary, Khrushchev has made it clear in a number of interviews and speeches before the latest NATO conference that there can be no assurance that a future war would be limited to tactical atomic weapons. Moreover, this strategy raises further problems precisely because it proposes to limit any war, if there is to be a war, to Europe. While it may appear to be perfectly reasonable for Americans to propose to fight a war with weapons of less than thermonuclear capabilities in Europe, from the European point of view, such a war can hardly be called limited. Atomic weapons of the destructiveness of those used at Hiroshima would create an atomic wasteland. This would be an all-out war. It is only limited in the sense that the Russian and American mainlands would be spared the effects of such a holocaust. Such an understanding to conduct limited war, would appear to be a Russian and American agreement to fight a future war only on European soil.

The entire debate on tactical atomic weapons versus thermonuclear preparations is as evasive as it is ghoulish: should Europe prepare for a thermonuclear war that could destroy millions of lives and literally melt giant cities, or should Europe prepare for a “limited” atomic war that might destroy fewer millions and which might leave standing a building here and a factory there? As a strategy to spare Europe from total destruction the proponents of limiting a future war to tactical atomic bombs have nothing to offer; a few “limited” atomic bombs can accomplish the work of a single thermonuclear weapon.

HOWEVER, THE IMPORTANCE OF THE debate between the limited war strategists and the massive retaliationists cannot be assessed solely on its face value. Beneath the objections of Adenauer and most European leaders toward the missile base program lies a deeper dissatisfaction with the sterile, negative political attitude of the State Department; above all, on the quesion of negotiating with the Russians. European statesmen can no longer delude themselves that by a show of military prowess the Russians can be stopped. And if Adenauer, even England’s Macmillan, are uneasy over the traditional military approach, they began openly to manifest their uneasiness because of the tremendously powerful tide of opposition among the European masses to the bankrupt military approach of Washington. The people demand peace, not missile bases. They know from experience that the political and military menace of Stalinism cannot be contained in the old way. An arms race is not the answer; massive retaliation is not a solution. And the continued refusal of the Americans to meet with the Russians in a summit conference only intensifies mass hostility toward a missile base answer to Communism. This mood of the people cannot be disregarded by those responsible for NATO policy. And German, French, English statesmen did not disregard it, but their acknowledgement of this mood took the form of rebuffing Eisenhower’s demand for missile bases without explicitly breaking with the military premises of NATO.

Did we say the people’s mood cannot be disregarded? That requires serious modification. It was totally disregarded by the State Department. To the politicians in Washington, there has been no effort to consider the sentiments of millions of Europeans. America’s contempt for the pacific mood of the people was so great that some form of a rebuff became inevitable. The missile base program, according to Walter Lippmann “was such a crude miscalculation of European interests and feelings that it is no wonder the conference has shown such spectacular lack of confidence in American leadership.”

The public rebuff of the U.S. by its allies at such a crucial juncture has been attributed to the uninvited guests who dominated the proceedings: Khrushchev and Bulganin who invaded the proceedings via a letter writing campaign. These letters emphasized three main points: that any war means all-out devastation; that any country which accepts U.S. missile bases runs the risk of nuclear destruction in case of war; and the door to negotiation is always open so that the outstanding difference can be discussed, if not settled, in a non-violent way.

Washington’s initial reaction was to reject the proposal for negotiation. The Eisenhower administration tried to dismiss it as a stale and limp rehash of old proposals previously rejected. It saw no reason why they should even be discussed at Paris. A few days before the conference began Life magazine carried an article by Dulles dismissing the idea, of negotiations as worthless. Columnist Roscoe Drummond writing in the near house-organ of the Eisenhower administration, the N.Y. Herald-Tribune, went even further:

Moscow must believe that it is frightfully clever in timing this new effort to brainwash the will of NATO countries to stand together in the common defense for the moment when its fifteen heads of government are gathering to strengthen that will. My own conviction is that NATO will not be intimidated and that on the eve of the Paris meeting is the occasion when intimidation is least likely to succeed ... This is the greatest boon the Paris conference would have. It needs it. Moscow has helped provide it.

This is really an amazing opinion, as it came after days of dispatches from European capitols reporting widespread popular sentiment behind the idea of negotiations. Incredible as it may seem now, Dulles and Eisenhower went to Paris with the belief that they could push through the missile base program against this popular mood. The remoteness of this proposal was soon demonstrated when Chancellor Adenauer refused to agree to missile bases for Germany, but, instead, threw the door open for a new round of negotiations. It was the only way he could avoid being completely isolated from popular support inside his own country. Not only were the Social Democrats calling for a new round of talks, but also the German Party which is part of Adenauer’s coalition as well as large sections of the Christian Democrats. Even Prime Minister Macmillan who, up to the very eve of the conference, was speaking out against new talks had to reverse himself. When the conference got under way, the U.S. was isolated. NATO was saved, however, from extinction by the compromise: European agreement, in principle, that missile bases should be established in Europe but without an concrete commitment on when to do so; American agreement to keep open the possibility of a summit conference with Russia by accepting the principle of a meeting of Foreign Ministers of all the world powers.

What moved public opinion in Western Europe was not the fear that the U.S. would not come to the aid of any of its allies in the event of war, but rather the fear of the consequences of such assistance. The impasse of NATO and U.S. foreign policy is that it cannot combat the apprehensions over Russian military and political power except in such a way as to give rise to an even greater fear of nuclear devastation. Caught on the horns of this dilemma, NATO is in a cul de sac. When a widespread concern develops that the political and military consequences of an alliance lead nowhere or worse, then that alliance is in serious danger of total collapse. Along with Macmillan and most other European heads of state, Adenauer recognized that to save NATO, it was necessary to take this step backward – negotiate – in order to prepare the groundwork for the military build-up tomorrow. Not one of them believes it possible to arrive at any sort of agreement with the Russians over anything of importance, but they need to placate this popular sentiment, to prove once again that negotiations are, if not impossible, then fruitless, and thus create the basis for a new build-up. Since the missiles which the U.S. is anxious for Western Europe to accept will not be ready for at least a year, this has become the essence of conservative wisdom. The Herald-Tribune summed up this conservative strategy and paid tribute to its leading protagonist in an editorial:

His [Adenauer’s] own shrewd canny game is now quite clear. Beset as he is at home by millions fearful of accepting rocket bases, he seeks to parley with the Soviets during the period while NATO military experts are preparing the logical case and plan for massing rockets. If by that time the Soviets have again proved enemies to peace and disarmament, as doubtless they will, the old Chancellor will be able to say: ‘Men cry peace but there is no peace. Can you imagine any people being so stupid as not to defend themselves by doing what the best generals in the world tell them is necessary?’ He will then have an airtight case for missiles.

In sum there are still more ways than one of skinning a cat.

Dulles’ arguments against any negotiations at this time must have been only semi-comprehensible to conservatives like Adenauer, and Macmillan. The initial reaction in Washington which labeled the sentiment to negotiate as “neutralist and defeatist” can only be ascribed to the essentially provincial character of American statesmanship even at the point where the U.S. is the leading power and spokesman of the capitalist world. This backwardness is a political factor which cannot be ignored in any analysis of the actions of U.S. policy makers. Although the dispute between the internationalist and isolationist wings of the bourgeoisie has long since been fought and decided, the statecraft which ought to accompany America’s position as a world power is missing as an element in its political character. On this occasion it is the failure to understand that at this juncture of the cold war, negotiations are the precondition for armament.

The demand for negotiations, however, has become irresistible. It comes from almost every quarter, and even John Foster Dulles has been swept along unwillingly by the tide. From opposition to summit meetings as being more harmful than meaningful, to a position (at the NATO meeting) in favor of discussions between the foreign ministers, Dulles now has been forced to agree to such a conference based on the barest of prior discussion, that is, without a meeting of foreign ministers. No one could indefinitely fight in the face of world wide pressures the seemingly simple proposition: the U.S. and Russia should sit down and negotiate. The history of the post-war decade, for all its evidence of irreconcilable differences between the rival imperialist blocs, cannot be counterposed to the fear of the consequences of doing nothing.

However, as long as the alternative is just to negotiate, the struggle will remain whether Washington or Moscow will best be able to manipulate public opinion to its own interest. The U.S. will tend to present maximalist proposals designed to make negotiations as difficult as possible. Given the built-in military bias of U.S. foreign policy anything seemingly as innocuous as a non-aggression treaty will tend to erode the sense of military urgency and political support for large scale arms budgets. Russia will tend to present minimal proposals with maximalist objectives designed to sap the political will of the enemy. The difference is not that the Kremlin has a built-in desire for peace and Washington a ravenous appetite for war. But each side has different means to pursue its imperialist objectives. Time after time, Moscow has managed to come out on top in the propaganda duels because it has made its military policy an adjunct of its political strategy while Washington has made its political policy an adjunct of its military strategy.

The problem is not one of for or against negotiations. To make any change in U.S. foreign policy conditional upon a possible agreement with the Kremlin is to play into the hands of those who see no other alternative thap the continuation of the arms race and the discredited policy of negotiations through strength. The initiative must come from the American people to put into effect a program of disengagement from Germany and withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Continent. The danger today is not only that Khrushchev and Bulganin will seduce all of Western Europe with their “peace” offensive. The danger also exists that Dulles and Eisenhower, abetted by Adenauer and Macmillan, will manipulate the sentiment for peace, as expressed by the demand for negotiation, into a justification for the same old military arms race once they can demonstrate that negotiations with the Russians can lead nowhere.

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