America, Europe, and German Rearmament, August-September 1950




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The real difference thus had to do not with Germany but with how the NATO forces were to be treated. Byroade was not too explicit about this part of the proposal, but his plan called for virtually all the allied forces in Europe to be integrated into the proposed European defense force. There would be no distinct British, French or even American army on the continent, only an international army with a single commander served by an integrated international staff. The U.S. military authorities did not like this proposal at all, even though the whole force would have an American general as its commander. Byroade, it seemed to them, wanted to go too far in pushing the allies down to the German level; the Chiefs also felt that something that radical was not essential, and that instead of creating an entirely new institution, the "European Defense Force," it made more sense to build on the one basic institution that had already been created: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Both NATO and the Western Union military organization set up by the Brussels Treaty of 1948 were already in existence; to create a new international force would "tend to complicate an already confusing structure."35 And there was no point in doing so, because NATO itself could provide the necessary degree of integration; a German force integrated into the NATO system--especially a strengthened NATO system--would be incapable of independent action.

This logic was quite compelling. It did not matter if the international force was called EDF or NATO. The name was not important. What really mattered was whether you had an international structure within which the Germans could make their contribution, but which at the same time would prevent them from becoming too independent. And if an institution that had already been created--that is, NATO--could achieve that result, then so much the better.36

Even Byroade himself, who by his own account was quite conservative on these issues in comparison with other State Department officials, was quick to see the point. His original plan, in any event, had not really been put forward as a practical proposal; his aim there had been to sketch out a "theoretical solution from which one could work backwards" with an eye to working out a "compromise between the theoretical and what is already in existence." So when a top Army officer explained to him on August 10 how NATO could do the trick, he at least temporarily dropped his objections and basically accepted their approach: he agreed that "German divisions, organized as such, might well be integrated into the NATO forces as now planned, provided only an American commander for these forces were set up in the near future." The differences between the two departments were clearly narrowing. Indeed, it turned out that Byroade's earlier objection to the Army plan had "stemmed entirely from a misunderstanding of terms." Byroade had thought that when Army officers referred to "controlled rearmament," they had in mind only a "limitation on numbers and types of divisions." When he was told that the Army "also contemplated as part of the control a very definite limit as to the types and quantities of materiel and equipment which Germany should manufacture, Byroade said he was in complete accord."37

By the end of the month, it seemed that a full consensus had been reached. For Acheson, far more than for Byroade, only the core issue was really important. For him, it was not a problem that the Germans would have a national army in an administrative sense--that is, that they would recruit their own troops, pay them, provide them with uniforms, and so on. The only important thing was to make sure that things did not go too far--that the "old German power," as Acheson put it, was not resurrected.38 If an arrangement could guarantee that, he was prepared to be quite flexible on the secondary issues. Acheson was certainly not going to go to the wall to defend those parts of the Byroade concept that would tend to strip the NATO forces, including the American force in Europe, of their national character.

Acheson had an important meeting with JCS Chairman Bradley on August 30 to work things out, and he discussed that meeting with his principal advisors later that morning. He did not complain that the military wanted to go too far toward creating a German national army; his real complaint was that the JCS was "confused" and had somehow gotten the idea that the State Department position was more extreme than it really was. The Pentagon's own position, Acheson thought, was just not clear enough: "he did not know what was meant by 'national basis' and 'controlled status.'"39

But the military authorities were now willing to be more accommodating on this point and were prepared to state more explicitly what they meant by those terms. This represented a certain shift from the line they had taken at the beginning of the month. In early August, they had preferred not to outline formally the sorts of controls they had in mind.40 But by the end of the month, the Army leadership had concluded that it needed to be more forthcoming.

This was because President Truman had intervened in these discussions on August 26. On that day, he had asked the two departments to come up with a common policy on the whole complex of issues relating to European defense and West German rearmament. Given the president's action, a simple rejection of the Byroade plan was no longer a viable option. Leading military officers now felt that they needed to come up with a more "positive approach" to the problem. A "Plan for the Development of West German Security Forces" was quickly worked out and approved by the Army leadership at the beginning of September. That plan spelled out the controls the military had long favored: the NATO organization would be strengthened; Germany would not be allowed to have an air force or a navy; the largest German unit would be the division; there would be no German general staff; German industry would be permitted to provide only light weapons and equipment. The military authorities were thus not pressing for the creation of a German national force that would have the same status as the British army or the French army or the American army. Indeed, by the beginning of September, there was no fundamental difference between their position and that of Acheson on this issue.41
The Origins of the Package Plan

So the State Department and the Pentagon had clashed in August 1950 on the question of German rearmament. That conflict had focused on the question of the extent to which the German force would be organized on a "national" basis--or, to look at the issue from the other side, the degree of military integration needed to keep Germany from having a capability for independent action. But by the end of the month that conflict had essentially been resolved. Misunderstandings had been cleared up and differences had been ironed out. There would be a German military contribution, both departments agreed, but no German national army. The German force would be fully integrated into the NATO force; the German force would not be able to operate independently. This was all Acheson really required, and the JCS had never really asked for anything more by way of a German national force.

But even if the conflict had been sharper, even if the Pentagon had been intransigent on this issue, and even if the State Department had capitulated to the JCS on this question, all this would in itself tell us very little about the most important issue we are concerned with here: the question of the origins of the "package plan." This was essentially a separate issue. The American government, at the New York Conference in mid-September, demanded that the NATO allies agree, immediately and publicly, to the rearmament of West Germany; if they refused to accept that demand, the Americans would not send over the combat divisions and would not send over an American general as NATO commander. Everything was tied together into a single package, and it was presented to the allies on a "take it or leave it" basis. It was this policy, this tactic, that created the whole problem in September 1950.

How exactly did the issue of German rearmament get tied to the question of sending over American combat divisions and to appointing an American general as NATO commander? The standard view is that the JCS was responsible for the package plan. The military authorities, it is commonly argued, simply refused to accept the deployment of the American combat force unless the Europeans, for their part, agreed to the rearmament of West Germany. Acheson supposedly thought these tactics "murderous" and tried hard to get the Pentagon to change its mind. But the JCS was intransigent, this argument runs, and to get the troops sent, Acheson gave way in the end and reluctantly accepted the tactic the military leadership had insisted on.42 But does this basic interpretation hold up in the light of the archival evidence now available?

First of all, did the military push throughout August for the package approach? The military leaders certainly felt that a German military contribution was essential. The west European NATO allies, in their view, could not generate enough military force by themselves to provide for an effective defense; German troops were obviously necessary for that purpose; German rearmament was therefore seen as a "vital element" of an effective defense policy.43 The military authorities also supported the idea of beefing up the U.S. military presence in Europe and of sending over an American general as NATO commander.44 But the key point to note here is that these were treated as essentially separate issues. Military leaders did not say (at least not in any of the documents that we have seen) that U.S. troops should be sent only if the allies accepted German rearmament. They did not say that the way to press for German rearmament was to tell the allies that unless they went along with the American plan, the U.S. combat divisions would be kept at home.

Indeed, in the formal policy documents on the defense of Europe, the JCS did not make the German rearmament issue its top priority. The Chiefs instead tended to play it down. The basic JCS view in those documents was that NATO Europe--the "European signatories" of the North Atlantic Treaty--needed to "provide the balance of the forces required for the initial defense" over and above what the United States was prepared to supply.45 West Germany, which at this time, of course, was not a member of NATO, was not even mentioned in this context. What this suggests is that the military leadership was not pounding its fist on the table on the German rearmament question. The German issue was important, of course, but the choice of this kind of phrasing suggests that the Chiefs were prepared to deal with it in a relatively reasonable, gradual, businesslike way.

What about the State Department? How did it feel about the package approach? Did it agree to the inclusion of German rearmament in the package because this was the only way to get the Pentagon to go along with its plan to send additional troops to Europe? Some scholars suggest that this was the case, but the real picture is rather different.46

The outbreak of the Korean War was the key development here, and State Department officials understood from the start that if Europe was to be defended, a German force of some sort would be required. As McCloy wrote Acheson on August 3: "to defend Western Europe effectively will obviously require real contributions of German resources and men."47 This was simply the conventional wisdom at the time: neither McCloy nor anyone else in the State Department needed the JCS to remind them that an effective defense meant a German military contribution. But they were also dead set against the idea of allowing the Germans to build up an army of their own--a national army, able to operate independently and thus capable of supporting an independent foreign policy. It followed that some kind of international force would have to be created: the Germans could make their contribution, an effective force could be built up, but there would be no risk of a German national army. The whole concept of a multinational force--of military integration, of a unified command structure, of a single supreme commander supported by an international staff--was thus rooted in an attempt to deal with the question of German rearmament. It was not as though the thinking about the defense of western Europe and the shape of the NATO military system had developed on its own, and that it was only later that the German rearmament issue had been linked to it by the JCS for bargaining purposes.

The fundamental idea that the different elements in the equation--the U.S. divisions, the unified command structure, the forces provided by NATO Europe, and the German contribution--were all closely interrelated and needed to be dealt with as parts of a unified policy thus developed naturally and organically as the basic thinking about the defense of Europe took shape in mid-1950. This idea--in a sense, the basic idea behind the package concept--took hold quite early in August 1950, and it was the State Department that took the lead in pressing for this kind of approach. The Byroade plan, for example, explicitly tied all these different elements together: in this plan, which in mid-August became a kind of official State Department plan, German units could be created if and only if they were integrated into an allied force with an American commander.48

The State Department was thus the driving force behind this kind of approach. For the entire month of August, its officials pressed for a unified policy. But the military authorities, because of their dislike for the Byroade plan, tended to drag their feet in this area.49 The State Department, in frustration, and aware that a policy needed to be worked out before the NATO ministers met in mid-September, then got the president to intervene. On August 26 (as noted above), Truman asked the two departments, State and Defense, to come up with a common policy. He laid out a series of eight questions that the two departments were to answer by September 1, a deadline that was later extended to September 6.50 The "Eight Questions" document was actually drafted in the State Department by two of Acheson's closest advisors. The State Department goal, in getting Truman to sign it, was to prod the Pentagon into accepting a common plan.51

The tactic worked. Military leaders understood that the Eight Questions document was based on the State Department plan.52 Given the president's intervention (again, as noted above), they now felt they could no longer simply "disregard" that plan, but instead needed to take a more accommodating and "positive" line.53

The military authorities now drafted a document which, they felt, might serve as a basis for a joint reply to the president. That draft was given to the State Department on September 1; Acheson had been shown a preliminary version a couple of days earlier.54 Events now moved quickly. In a few days of intensive talks, a joint reply acceptable to both departments was worked out. The final document was approved by the president and circulated to top officials as NSC 82 on September 11, a day before the New York Conference was due to begin.55

This period from August 26 through September 8--from the Eight Questions letter to the joint reply--is thus the most important phase of this whole episode, and the evidence relating to this period needs to be examined with particular care. Does it support the view that the military insisted on the package approach and that the State Department opposed it, but gave in reluctantly at the end?

By far the most important document bearing on these issues is the record of a meeting Acheson had on August 30 with his three top advisors in this area, the three officials who, in fact, were conducting the negotiations with the Defense Department: Byroade, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Perkins, and Paul Nitze, head of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. Acheson (as noted in the previous section) had just met with JCS Chairman Bradley earlier that morning. He had also just seen the draft reply the JCS had prepared to the president's Eight Questions letter. At the meeting with his advisors, Acheson discussed the JCS draft section by section and found most of it acceptable. The few small problems he had with it did not involve any issue of principle. At no point did Acheson complain about, or even comment on, any insistence on the part of the military that all the elements in the program were to be tied together in a single package. The conclusion to be drawn from this is absolutely fundamental for the purposes of the analysis here: if the JCS had been insisting on the package concept and if Acheson and the State Department had been opposed to that concept, it is scarcely conceivable that the issue would not have come up at this meeting.

Nor is it very likely that a conflict over the package issue developed suddenly over the next few days. Nitze's recollection (in 1953) was that following the Acheson-Bradley meeting things moved very quickly.56 He says nothing about a dispute over the package question suddenly emerging at that point, and it is in fact highly unlikely that things could have moved so quickly if a serious dispute had developed. Indeed, Perkins and Nitze spoke in those 1953 discussions of the common policy document--the document that later became NSC 82--as though it essentially reflected their views, and which, through great efforts on their part, they had finally managed to get the military authorities to accept. "We had great difficulty," Perkins recalled, "in finally getting the Pentagon" to sign on to the common policy.57 Nitze agreed: he remembered going over to the Pentagon after Acheson had worked "this thing" out with General Bradley on August 30, and "we trotted out the specific piece of paper which spelled out the package proposal with the Pentagon people and got their agreement to this document."58 It was scarcely as though the State Department was going along with the package plan reluctantly or against its better judgment.

An analysis of the drafting history points to the same general conclusion. The passage in NSC 82 that served as the basis for the package policy--indeed, the only passage in the document that called for such a policy--was part of the answer to the sixth question: "We recommend that an American national be appointed now as Chief of Staff and eventually as a Supreme Commander for the European defense force but only upon the request of the European nations and upon their assurance that they will provide sufficient forces, including adequate German units, to constitute a command reasonably capable of fulfilling its responsibilities."59 That final document was based on the draft the JCS had turned over on September 1; the key phrase "including adequate German units" did not appear in the original JCS draft.60 It scarcely stands to reason that the military authorities, having decided to be cooperative, would harden their position in the course of their talks with State Department representatives, above all if State Department officials had argued strongly against an intransigent policy.

None of this means, of course, that the JCS was opposed to including a call for German rearmament in the package. This was in their view a goal that the U.S. government obviously had to pursue. But this does not mean that the Chiefs were going to try to dictate negotiating tactics to the State Department--that they were going to insist on a diplomatic strategy that Acheson and his top advisors rejected.

State Department officials, in fact, did not really blame the JCS for what had happened at the New York Conference. Nitze, for example, although he said in 1953 that the Chiefs would not agree to send additional forces until they got assurances from the British and the French about a German military contribution, did not actually hold them primarily responsible for the confrontation with the Europeans in mid-September.61 He pointed out at that time that the German rearmament issue could have been dealt with very differently. The issue, he said, could have been presented "to the British and French in a way which emphasized the supreme commander and the American commitment"; the "question of German participation" could have been "put in a lower category and kind of weaved in gradually."62 Nitze did not blame the JCS for vetoing that approach. In his view, the real responsibility lay elsewhere. "We were fouled up on this," he said, by press leaks primarily coming from McCloy, "who agreed entirely with the tactical importance of doing it the other way"--that is, of dealing with the German rearmament issue head on.63

But Acheson was not fundamentally opposed to the blunt approach, and (contrary to his later disclaimers) he himself, on balance, thought that the U.S. government had chosen the right course of action at the time. Would it have been better, he asked in that same discussion, to have opted for quiet talks with the British and the French, when a plan had just been worked out, when a NATO foreign ministers' meeting was about to be held, and when the issue was being "talked about everywhere"? "It seemed to me then," he said, "and it seems to me now, that we did the right thing."64

And indeed, in his reports to Truman from the New York Conference, Acheson gave no sign that he was pursuing the package plan strategy reluctantly or against his better judgment. He gave no sign that he was looking for a way to soften the general line and deal with the allies in a more conciliatory manner. He explained to the president on September 15 how he had laid out the American demands, how he had discussed the issue "with the gloves off," how he had "blown" some of the allies' objections to the American plan "out of the water," and how it might well be a question of "whose nerve lasts longer." He was clearly pleased with his own performance and was not at all unhappy about the line he had taken.65

As one of its top officials pointed out at the time, the State Department was conducting a "hard-hitting kind of operation" in this area--and was proud of it.66
Dean Acheson: The Man and the Statesman

There is one final set of considerations that needs to be taken into account in an assessment of U.S. policy in September 1950, and this has to do with what we know about Acheson in general--about the sort of person he was and the kind of policy he favored throughout his career. Was he the type of leader who believed in compromise, especially with America's most important allies, and was inclined to take a relatively moderate and cautious line? Or was he, as General Bradley later called him, an "uncompromising hawk," aggressive in terms both of his goals and his tactics?67

The great bulk of the evidence points in the latter direction.68 In 1950 in particular, he tended to take a very hard line. He was in favor of a rollback policy at that time. This was the real meaning of NSC 68, an important policy document with which Acheson was closely associated.69 American scholars generally tend to portray U.S. policy as essentially defensive and status quo-oriented, and NSC 68 is commonly interpreted as simply a "strategy of containment."70 But the aggressive thrust of this document is clear from its own text: NSC 68 called explicitly for a "policy of calculated and gradual coercion"; the aim of that policy was to "check and roll back the Kremlin's drive for world domination." The whole goal at that time, as Nitze recalled in 1954, was to "lay the basis," through massive rearmament, for a policy of "taking increased risks of general war" in order to achieve "a satisfactory solution" of America's problems with Russia while the Soviet nuclear stockpile "was still small."71

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