WRITES CHARLES FENYVESI FROM PARIS. WITH THE FADING OUT OF THE COLD WAR, HE ASKS . . .
AS the war goes from bad to worse in Vietnam, a new "second front" is opening up in Europe for the U.S.: a solution has to be found for what seems to be the most serious crisis that NATO has encountered in its 17 years of existence.
The crisis is fundamental: the questions are whether NATO has grown obsolete and whether it stands in the way of an East-West detente.
The most immediate problem the U.S. faces and about which it plans to consult its allies in the Brussels NATO meeting is whether or not to continue stationing its troops in Europe, even though the danger of Soviet aggression is believed to have receded and soldiers are badly needed in Vietnam.
Behind this question, there is a more basic dilemma: with the fading out of the cold war on the Continent and with the growing power and opulence of Western Europe, is there still a need for the U.S. to maintain NATO as "The Shield of the Free World"?
On both sides of the Atlantic, criticisms of NATO are on the increase. Those who are most favourably disposed towards the Alliance say that NATO has accomplished its mission in dissuading Russia from aggression in Western Europe and now it is this very success that has put an end to the usefulness of the organisation.
Its dissolution would be, in the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Dcan Acheson, tantamount to "the collapse of a dream"—that of Western unity—which represents "the greatest chance for Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire".
Besides Acheson, numerous other staunch NATO supporters advanced proposals that NATO must be kept at all costs, and all it needs is "sonic reforms".
Another school of thought believes that the crux of the crisis lies in the fact that NATO no longer answers to the realities of the present situation: the U.S. share in both the responsibilities and the leadership of the Alliance is disproportionately large.
From the American side, complaints abound that the European member-States do not contribute as much in funds and manpower as they should.
Europeans on the other hand argue, with varying degrees of firmness, that the Alliance should be transformed into a "partnership", as was envisaged by the late President John Kennedy.
Former Chancellor Konrad Adenauer is believed to express the opinion prevailing in European political circles when he recently declared to the German weekly Welt am Sonntag that "the policies, the organisation and the equipment of NATO are completely out of date".
He asserted that General Charles de Gaulle's demands for reforms and his recent withdrawal from NATO were "positive", as they focused attention on the need for change in the Alliance.
"If he did it in his particular way is his own business," the Chancellor defended his friend, then fixed the blame for the present crisis on the U.S. which "failed in its duty as the leader and as the strongest power in NATO".
Still others---toward the left of the political spectrum— charge that NATO, whatever its merits may have been in Stalin's time, represents today a major obstacle in an EastWest rapprochement.
In their opinion, while Soviet aggression is no more a danger in Western Europe, no real disengagement is feasible as long as NATO stands.
For Moscow—as well as for Warsaw and Prague—NATO means today the maintenance and the further bolstering of an already formidable West German military establishment, which is regarded not only by the governments but by the population too as a threat to Eastern Europe.
The argument concludes that NATO's liquidation would result in a reduction of tensions between Eastern and Western Europe and would lead to the disappearance of the division between them. The Gaullist "Europe to the Urals" here finds its loftiest echo.
It is believed here that the U.S. is ready "to recast the image of NATO in more positive terms" and to redefine its purpose. The military aspect of the organisation is expected to be reduced and a new "peace role" to be set forth and emphasised.
The new U.S. policy is seen here as intending to preserve NATO solidarity and to use it as a lever in negotiations with Moscow.
There is a general agreement among the participating governments that despite the changes that have taken place since the founding of the Alliance in 1949, NATO is worth keeping. This is proved by the fact that France's withdrawal from the military structure was not followed by any of the other 14 memberStates.
Reform yes, withdrawal no —this seems to be the consensus in NATO. The question is what reforms?
The chief reason against the abandonment of the Alliance is that "solidarity pays" and that this solidarity may be used effectively in any negotiation with the Soviet bloc.
A "united front" of the West is believed to make for a much stronger voice in the rivalry with Moscow than 14 or 15 different nations, each singing a separate tune.
The most tangible sign of NATO's power is the presence of American soldiers in Europe —the figure has been averaging nearly 400,000 in the 1960s. This number is reduced almost daily, on account of the needs of the war effort in Vietnam.
In the U.S. Congress, lately there have been several demands for a major reduction of this garrison. "According to Senator Mike Mansfield, the U.S. should have in Europe no more than a token force and a recent survey found that some 44 senators would support a "thinning out" of the forces.
A few weeks ago, Defence Secretary Robert McNamara pointed out that America has more men under arms than all the free nations of Europe combined, although the latter have a much larger total population.
Then isn't it 'right that Europe is growing "fat and lazy" under the protective shield of American nuclear strength? And, apart from the needs of the war in Vietnam, shouldn't the U.S. withdraw its soldiers in order to encourage more European participation in the Alliance?
In France, whatever ideas they might have on reforming NATO, the great majority considers American presence on the Continent desirable for at least three weighty reasons.
The first argument is that U.S. garrisons in Europe prevent some small armed conflict from turning into something more serious. Along the Berlin Wall and on the sensitive check-points between West Berlin and East Germany, skirmishes are always possible.
Any incident, caused by a trigger-happy soldier or a simple misunderstanding, may escalate into a confrontation involving ground forces.