A Reminder of NATO's Resilience

Will NATO survive?  It should comfort us to realize that fifty years ago, we were asking the same question.  President Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of the NATO military organization on June 30, 1966.  France, which had a modern army and navy and also an independent nuclear force, now would determine when and how to honor its NATO treaty obligations and, while the treaty obligation remained, the decisions now to honor that obligation now rested with France. 

Charles de Gaulle, the symbol of French resistance in the Second World War; the French colonel who had developed the Blitzkrieg system, which the German Army studied before that war began; the general who ended the Fourth Republic and created the Fifth Republic, the French governmental system that has lasted longer than any other, could be infuriating and exasperating, but no one doubted his intelligence, courage, or patriotism.

If America and other nations in NATO needed other reasons to worry, the French Communist Party routinely gained about a quarter of the vote in French national elections.  Unlike the other major NATO ally with a large communist party, Italy, the French Communist Party was Stalinist through and through.  If we could not count on France, then the future of NATO looked pretty grim.

In retrospect, what de Gaulle did fifty years ago did not hurt the security of the West at all.  France worked out informal understandings about its role if the Warsaw Pact invaded West Germany through the Fulda Gap.  French military spending did not drop, nor did French military resolve melt.  Indeed, if anything, what happened may have stiffened French support for NATO.

Whatever the Kremlin may have thought initially, over time, the reality that France was prepared to defend itself with land, air, naval, and nuclear weapons and that its actions would be determined by the French government and not a NATO bureaucracy complicated any Soviet military plans.  Moreover, the action by de Gaulle removed from the French Communist Party the argument that France had become an American puppet.

NATO survived, and, indeed, NATO ended up winning the Cold War when the Berlin Wall fell, the Warsaw Pact nations threw off communist rule, and finally when the Soviet Empire itself collapsed and then dissolved into constituent nationalities.  France has remained over the last half-century a formal NATO ally, although it was not until April 4, 2009 that President Sarkozy formally rejoined the command structure of NATO.

NATO survived and remained the most importance alliance in human history because it remained in the national interest of all the signatories to the treaty to preserve the alliance and to present a common front against any potential aggressor.  France stayed committed to that treaty because it was in France’s interest to do so. 

Today, the real worry is not that France may withdraw again from the NATO structure out of a sense of nationalism, but rather that France will not resolutely assert French nationalism and French cultural and moral identity.  The problem with NATO is not that its members may leave, but rather that its members may stop standing for anything beyond a nebulous idea of alliance.

The Western world, which is the only hope this world has, emerged from the miracle of a bloodless victory in a global war against Soviet imperialism not confident of the rightness of its values, but rather as a menagerie of states that has been mashed into the bland, agnostic mush of politically correct haplessness.  We need, of course, another Reagan and another Churchill, but even more than that, we need another de Gaulle – a leader who can defend the character of his people, the greatness of his culture, and the nobility of his nation’s values. 

If the war we are in today were a question of military power, we would win in a few weeks.  The war, instead, is within us.  Do we believe that our civilization stands for something great and that this civilization is worth defending and dying to protect?  No one ever wondered whether Charles de Gaulle could answer those questions.  If NATO survives, it will not be in spite of men like de Gaulle, but because of them.

Will NATO survive?  It should comfort us to realize that fifty years ago, we were asking the same question.  President Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of the NATO military organization on June 30, 1966.  France, which had a modern army and navy and also an independent nuclear force, now would determine when and how to honor its NATO treaty obligations and, while the treaty obligation remained, the decisions now to honor that obligation now rested with France. 

Charles de Gaulle, the symbol of French resistance in the Second World War; the French colonel who had developed the Blitzkrieg system, which the German Army studied before that war began; the general who ended the Fourth Republic and created the Fifth Republic, the French governmental system that has lasted longer than any other, could be infuriating and exasperating, but no one doubted his intelligence, courage, or patriotism.

If America and other nations in NATO needed other reasons to worry, the French Communist Party routinely gained about a quarter of the vote in French national elections.  Unlike the other major NATO ally with a large communist party, Italy, the French Communist Party was Stalinist through and through.  If we could not count on France, then the future of NATO looked pretty grim.

In retrospect, what de Gaulle did fifty years ago did not hurt the security of the West at all.  France worked out informal understandings about its role if the Warsaw Pact invaded West Germany through the Fulda Gap.  French military spending did not drop, nor did French military resolve melt.  Indeed, if anything, what happened may have stiffened French support for NATO.

Whatever the Kremlin may have thought initially, over time, the reality that France was prepared to defend itself with land, air, naval, and nuclear weapons and that its actions would be determined by the French government and not a NATO bureaucracy complicated any Soviet military plans.  Moreover, the action by de Gaulle removed from the French Communist Party the argument that France had become an American puppet.

NATO survived, and, indeed, NATO ended up winning the Cold War when the Berlin Wall fell, the Warsaw Pact nations threw off communist rule, and finally when the Soviet Empire itself collapsed and then dissolved into constituent nationalities.  France has remained over the last half-century a formal NATO ally, although it was not until April 4, 2009 that President Sarkozy formally rejoined the command structure of NATO.

NATO survived and remained the most importance alliance in human history because it remained in the national interest of all the signatories to the treaty to preserve the alliance and to present a common front against any potential aggressor.  France stayed committed to that treaty because it was in France’s interest to do so. 

Today, the real worry is not that France may withdraw again from the NATO structure out of a sense of nationalism, but rather that France will not resolutely assert French nationalism and French cultural and moral identity.  The problem with NATO is not that its members may leave, but rather that its members may stop standing for anything beyond a nebulous idea of alliance.

The Western world, which is the only hope this world has, emerged from the miracle of a bloodless victory in a global war against Soviet imperialism not confident of the rightness of its values, but rather as a menagerie of states that has been mashed into the bland, agnostic mush of politically correct haplessness.  We need, of course, another Reagan and another Churchill, but even more than that, we need another de Gaulle – a leader who can defend the character of his people, the greatness of his culture, and the nobility of his nation’s values. 

If the war we are in today were a question of military power, we would win in a few weeks.  The war, instead, is within us.  Do we believe that our civilization stands for something great and that this civilization is worth defending and dying to protect?  No one ever wondered whether Charles de Gaulle could answer those questions.  If NATO survives, it will not be in spite of men like de Gaulle, but because of them.