Commentary Magazine

Europe & the United States

Goethe, if we can take his own word for it, wrote on the night of the battle of Valmy: “Von hier und heute fängt eine neue Epoche in der Weltgeschichte an” (“Here, today, a new epoch of world history begins”). It matters little whether the illustrious writer made this extraordinarily lucid observation at that time or fashioned in retrospect a remark that would redound to his glory. Goethe's remark is so often quoted and its authenticity so often discussed just because nothing is rarer than the immediate comprehension of events and their meaning. Many historians like to say there is no history of the present because the future alone can show us the exact import of the facts and changes with which we are contemporary.

It seems to me that this commonplace difficulty is increased in the case of the relations between the Old Continent and the New World. These relations are hard to understand both because of changes which have occurred only gradually over the last ten years and because of two events of the year 1963: the press conference of January 14, 1963, in which General de Gaulle vetoed Great Britain's entry into the Common Market; and the tripartite treaty of Moscow for the partial suspension of nuclear tests. These are but symbols, and equivocal ones at that, of a new juncture. They have not transformed the world, but they have shown that the world is no longer the same.

In 1945 Europe lay in ruins—I might even say, from the Atlantic to the Urals. The Red Army occupied East Europe to the middle of what had been the territory of the Reich. West of the line of demarcation, Great Britain lay exhausted from its victory and France from its catastrophe of 1940, as well as from the occupation, the liberation, and the internal fissures provoked by this series of dramatic reversals. No one could tell whether parliamentary democracy would be established in post-fascist Italy and post-Hitler Germany.

In 1963, fifteen years after the beginning of the Marshall Plan, the prosperity of Western Europe rivaled that of the United States. In the course of the 50's, the growth rate of the six countries of the Common Market was dramatically higher than that of the United States or Great Britain.1

Of course, the wealth of the United States, if by that one understands the gross national product (GNP) per inhabitant, remained greatly superior to that of France and Great Britain (about double).2 But American abundance no longer seemed out of the reach of Europeans. On the contrary, Europeans had dispelled the pessimistic clouds of the 30's; they had come to understand the nature of the modern economy as progressive and to aim at constant growth. Thus, French planners, figuring annual growth rates of the French GNP at 4% to 5% per year, estimate that the French GNP per inhabitant by 1985 will be superior to the present GNP per inhabitant of the United States. Will the American rate of growth remain henceforward below the European, and thus allow the economic difference between the two continents to shrink? Or, on the other hand, will the gap be maintained either because the American growth rates rise or the European tend to fall? Economists differ among themselves, and here there is no need to choose between these two hypotheses. The decisive fact is that, at the present time, the French, Italians, and Germans no longer believe that the economic achievement of the United States is bound up with the peculiar circumstances of the New World (immensity of space, priority of concern for productive activity, institutions of national culture). Continental Europeans to the west of the Iron Curtain are today convinced that they, no less than the Americans, can build an industrial society and distribute the benefits of an increased productivity of labor to all classes of society.

That, it seems to me, is the main and the new fact. Perhaps the awareness of it would not have been so clear, the restoration of European confidence so rapid, if there had not been at the same time a spectacular, though perhaps temporary, change: for the past four or five years it is American currency which has seemed vulnerable whereas European currencies (the West German mark, the French franc) have been solid. The gold reserve at Fort Knox has fallen from twenty-two billion dollars to fifteen, and the greater part of this gold has gone to increase the reserves of Federal Germany, France, Italy, and Holland. During the same period, foreign dollar balances have more than doubled, rising from ten to twenty-three billion dollars.

This reversal has struck many observers, but I see it as only of secondary significance. Monetary phenomena are essentially unstable and subject to rapid fluctuation. The French franc was soft in 1957, hard in 1959. It may perhaps become weak a year from now if internal inflation persists. The United States has long-term foreign investments which amount to more than the total deficit of its balance of payments. The dollar, after a more or less brief period, could again become a hard currency. But in any case, it is certain that Europe on the economic level has become an equal partner and competitor with the United States.

However, disparity remains on the military level. To the degree that, in this thermonuclear age, the notion of deterrence is substituted for that of defense—the point being to deter aggression and not to repulse or arrest it—Europe still relies for its security on the United States, in 1964 as much as in 1953, since only the United States possesses a strategic nuclear force worthy of being called a deterrent force. To be sure, Great Britain has thermonuclear bombs and V-bombers, and this on paper constitutes a national deterrent force. But the bombers are relatively vulnerable on the ground, and they may not be able to penetrate the Soviet line of defense made up of ground-to-air missiles. Moreover, the British organization is linked to the American detection and alert network. Thus the British force is independent in theory rather than in practice. As for the French force, it is scarcely born and until 1969-70 will include only supersonic bombers (Mach 2.2) of limited range (2500 km.) and carrying A-bombs.

The contrast between the economic strength and the military weakness of Western Europe is at the root of the political malaise and the type of crisis haunting relations between Europe and the United States. In the course of the past few years, economic considerations have interfered many times with military considerations and vice versa.


From 1950 to 1963, American diplomacy supported, without hesitation and without break in continuity, the European unification movement, launched in 1950 by Robert Schuman with the Coal-Steel Community and resulting in the Common Market of today. In this respect, there has been no difference between the Democratic and Republican administrations. Whether it was a question of the Coal-Steel Community, the European Defense Community, or the Treaty of Rome; whether the Secretary of State was Acheson, Dulles, or Herter—the support, discreet or impassioned, of the American representatives was given to the party called “European” of which Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet of France were the guiding spirits and to which Chancellor Adenauer adhered with enthusiasm.

In the negotiations concerning the free-trade area, American diplomacy did not officially opt for the French as over against the English position, although it seemed more favorable to the French position. The Common Market was animated by an ideal of integration or of federation; it presented perhaps certain inconveniences from a strictly commercial point of view (certain American exports ran the risk of being affected if the Six3 granted privileges to one another), but the inconveniences were insignificant by far compared with the political value of a coherent and solid Europe and of a France and Germany definitely reconciled in the midst of a unified continent allied with the United States.

The place of Great Britain in this global vision was never precise. The governments of Her Majesty, Labor and Conservative, had both refused to join either the Coal-Steel Community, the European Defense Community, or the Treaty of Rome. They raised two main objections to joining: on the one hand, they resisted supranational institutions and the transfer of sovereignty that these entailed; on the other hand, they placed the American alliance and solidarity with the Commonwealth above ties with continental Europe. The degree of application of the Treaty of Rome, the rapid growth of the economies of the Six, the relative stagnation of the British economy during the 50's, led opinion and the British governments to question the principles of traditional diplomacy. Their formula for the free-trade area (free exchange of products without external common tariff) would have been too favorable to Great Britain to be acceptable to the Six. Driven finally to a choice between participation or non-participation in the Common Market, the Macmillan government chose participation, or at least, candidacy.

At that moment, President Kennedy conceived what was called the Grand Design and, in place of a neutrality marked by sympathy with the position of the Six, American diplomacy became openly engaged in favor of British entry. The President saw as a first step an enlarged Europe; then, as a second step, an association between this great Europe and the United States. But simultaneously he insisted both on the uselessness, even harmfulness, of national deterrent forces and on the indispensable retention of a unified strategy. The conjunction of these two ideas—partnership between an enlarged Europe and the United States, and American or Anglo-American nuclear monopoly—made conflict with Gaullist France inevitable.

French opinion on the consequences of British entry into the Common Market was divided, more divided than the opinion of its partners in the Common Market. An important part of the industrial community feared the dilution of the Common Market into a vast free-trade zone, the lowering of the common external tariff (which on the whole is not very high), and the resulting competition with American industry (which enjoys substantial advantages from its size). Some supporters of European unification, precisely because of their federal ideal, feared British entry, since the British government had always been hostile to supranational formulas. Finally, General de Gaulle himself was doubtful about British participation for a number of economic, political, and military reasons. On the economic level, the General is inclined to favor a self-sufficient European community, insofar as that is possible, more than a community open to the outside. Politically, he wants the maximum of autonomy for Europe within the Atlantic alliance. Militarily, he believes that France and Europe must possess the means of their own defense—that is, they must have an instrument of deterrence; and cannot accept the present situation as definitive.

I do not think that the Nassau agreement between Great Britain and the United States, concluded some weeks prior to the press conference of January 14, was the cause of his veto. The President of the French Republic had probably made his decision, either before or after the meeting with Mr. Macmillan at Rambouillet. Yet it remains true that the nuclear agreement between the United States and Great Britain, added to American hostility to a French nuclear force, was the symbol of a policy that General de Gaulle detests. In his eyes, Great Britain, in seeking first of all to reach an agreement with the United States on atomic matters, had given proof that she was not European, or, at any rate, not truly European.

To be European, in the eyes of General de Gaulle, it is not necessary, whatever some may say, to be anti-American or anti-Atlantic; but one must put one's nation's ties with Europe before all others. Whether it is a question of the Common Market or of a deterrent force, the supporter of European unity, as conceived by the old chief of fighting France, ought to aim at enabling Europe to be as self-sufficient and as independent as possible of exterior powers. Once again, these formulas do not imply a break with the Atlantic alliance. There is no reason to reject the General's affirmation that the Atlantic alliance is, for the moment, indispensable to world stability and therefore to the security of France. But in his eyes the military presence of the United States on the Old Continent is provisional and will be contrary to the nature of things once the unity of the Old Continent is a permanent fact. In the light of such a philosophy, it becomes understandable that Great Britain, for whom the Atlantic alliance is the supreme imperative, does not appear authentically European, whatever her contribution to the culture of Europe. The Europe of which General de Gaulle dreams is first of all political and military, but, in these matters, Great Britain is first of all Atlantic.


The major question posed by the foregoing analysis can be briefly formulated: do Western Europeans, France's partners in the Common Market, share these Gaullist conceptions? Or again: does Europe wish to be European after the manner of General de Gaulle? To which without hesitation I reply: on the whole, no.

Let us be as precise as possible. The whole of Europe is conscious of its recovery, and because of it aspires to occupy once more a place on the global scene that is worthy of its past. In this limited sense, all Europeans are Gaullists. I would go even farther. There is hardly a European who is not Gaullist in some recess of his soul, who does not dream of a united Europe capable of providing its own security and of dealing on an equal basis with the Soviet Union and the United States. When they feel like Don Quixote, Europeans are Gaullists; but most of the time they are like Sancho Panza.

They compare the figures of national defense budgets: during the year 1962-63, the United States allocated fifty-five billion dollars to its defense; Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy together, seventeen billion. The French budget of 4.5 billion dollars represents less than a twelfth of the American and 6.3% of the GNP (the American percentage is around 9.9). In 1962-63, the United States spent more than fifteen billion dollars on its deterrent force alone: that is, nearly as much as the four principal states of Europe together spent on their armed forces. But the United States already has behind it the research necessary for constructing bombs and missiles. In other words, most observers on the Old Continent doubt that Europe could add much to the American deterrent force by its own efforts within the next ten years.

That is not all. Suppose, hypothetically, that Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy were united in a single state; such a state would have the resources necessary for constructing a deterrent force. But Great Britain is bound by agreements with the American Atomic Energy Commission and, therefore, could not co-operate with France without the consent of the White House. Germany is bound by the Treaty of Paris in which it pledged itself not to manufacture atomic bombs. The Bonn government could in no way take the risk of participating in the setting up of a European deterrent force against the wish of the American government; the Federal Republic is too strictly dependent on the United States for the freedom of two million Berliners and for its own existence. As for Italy, finally, she does not seem to have the least concern in the world for the autonomy of European defense. She is indifferent or hostile to the French policy on defense and in particular to national deterrent forces.

It is, therefore, absolutely false to suggest, as reputable commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have, that de Gaulle “speaks for Europe.” The claim is not true on the level of defense, and it is no more true on the level of economics. Among the Six, two, Holland and Germany, were favorable to Great Britain's entry into the Common Market and are today in favor of lowering the common exterior tariff at the end of the commercial negotiations baptized “the Kennedy Round.” The divergence of economic concepts, French on one side, German-Dutch on the other, is such that at the end of 1963 the future of the Common Market itself had become uncertain.

Is this to say that the current crisis is artificial and accidental, wholly imputable to the French government? Again, this interpretation would be false and excessive in the opposite direction. The diplomatic-military situation has changed since 1949, the year the North Atlantic Pact was signed. And these changes have raised two kinds of problems. The one arises from the British and French desire to possess their own deterrent forces. The other arises from the unrest felt by the Germans, especially as the two Super Powers draw together and conclude at least symbolic agreements to reduce as much as possible the risks of a war (the Moscow Treaty on partial suspension of nuclear tests, the hot line between the Kremlin and the White House).

Officially, in the House of Commons and in the French Assembly, English and French ministers speak exactly the same language. Both repeat that a nation of the first rank cannot entrust its fate entirely to an ally, no matter how close the alliance. They add that the United States would use its deterrent force when its vital interests were involved but that the vital interests of France or of Great Britain, viewed from Washington, would not always appear to be vital interests of the United States. Finally, some analysts estimate that the American response has less “credibility” now that American territory is itself vulnerable. Such are the three arguments—one involving national sovereignty; another, possible divergence of interests of allied states; the last, the efficacy of a deterrent exercised by a state on behalf of a state other than itself. Government spokesmen in London and Paris never tire of raising them to justify national deterrent forces.

The British ministers came to put such a value on the “independence” of the deterrent force that the Skybolt episode provoked a crisis of the first magnitude in relations between the United States and Great Britain, as if the security of the latter would really have been compromised should several years intervene between the time V-bombers became obsolete and another model of plane or missile were put into service. As a matter of fact, Mr. Macmillan never for a moment thought that the abandonment of Skybolt exposed Great Britain to added danger. He was as convinced as his American conferees that British security is based on America, the contribution of the English force being more or less marginal.


What was at issue, in the fall of 1962, was the fiction of the independence of the British force. It was a loss of face on the part of the British government that the abandonment of Skybolt threatened to bring about. That government, in the event that it had not extracted a replacement program from President Kennedy, would have had to recognize that after ten years of efforts, after more than two billion pounds' expenditure, it did not have, or had no longer, a deterrent force independent even on paper. For all that, Great Britain would not have been in peril, but the Conservative government would have been shaken and left without answers to the criticisms and sarcasms of the Opposition, which had denounced the gamble made on Skybolt and the vanity of pretensions to a national deterrent force.

The successive American administrations, moreover, had never adopted the attitude of hostility toward the British force that they adopted toward the French force. There are many reasons for this difference, and they are understandable historically if not theoretically. The construction of the atomic bomb was the result of a common Anglo-American project, and the British effort played an important part, although scientists of all European nationalities participated in it. Moreover, Great Britain was the first to fulfill the conditions, provided by law, where-by a foreign state was able to lay claim to aid from the American Atomic Energy Commission. Finally and most important, military cooperation between the two countries was intimate and trusting. SAC uses bases in Great Britain, American atomic submarines have bases in Scotland, the English force is the “client” of the American detection and alert network. Put differently, the British government tried verbally to impress public opinion and the ignorant by representing its deterrent force as independent, whereas in fact it strove to give assurance to the American government that it would never fail in its Atlantic commitment. By a kind of double play, perhaps more naïve than cynical, it wanted to retain both the prestige of an independent deterrent force and the special ties with the United States resulting from a never failing Atlantic loyalty.

Verbally, Gaullist France is as careful to stress its indifference to the Atlantic alliance as Great Britain is anxious to emphasize its integration with it. In fact France acts as if, once possessing a deterrent force, she alone would decide on her strategy. The Gaullists, finally, if not General de Gaulle himself, like to emphasize the “non-credibility” of the American deterrent and the necessity for France and Europe to possess a force of their own.

American hostility to the French force is not only due to the character of the suitor or to French diplomacy. The English force was, at least partially, an heir of Anglo-American cooperation in the last war. It was less the first step of an indefinite proliferation than the consequence of a past alliance. If one granted the same aid to France as to Great Britain, how refuse it tomorrow to Germany or Italy? Certainly from the French point of view, the American position was difficult to accept: under the pretext of the future risk of discrimination between Germany and France, a present discrimination between Great Britain and France was made. But the Kennedy team judged that this discrimination was less dangerous in the last analysis than acceptance of the principle of national deterrent forces—and giving aid to France would have been a symbol of this acceptance.

Germany, on its side, has never demanded sovereign possession of atomic or thermonuclear arms and the right to use them on its own decision. But Bonn ministers were disquieted by both the diplomacy and the strategy of the United States. The doctrine of flexible response, the refusal to instal IRBM's on the continent, raised objections and fears in Bonn. Was not the reinforcement of conventional arms going to weaken the efficacy of the deterrent by making the Soviets believe that military operations below the atomic threshold were possible without any real danger of escalation? Would not the McNamara doctrine, on the pretext of preventing the apocalypse, bring in its train the possibility of limited wars—limited as seen from Washington, but catastrophic for Europeans themselves?

These controversies, at once technical and political, on the relative merits of massive retaliation and graduated response, were renewed by the controversies over the tripartite Treaty of Moscow on partial suspension of nuclear tests. For the first time since Yalta, Russians, Americans, and English found themselves together to sign an agreement by which they wished to involve the rest of the world. The Yalta agreement had appeared', retrospectively and symbolically, as the origin and cause of the partition of Europe into a zone dominated by the Soviet Union and a zone protected by the United States. Was not the Moscow Treaty a sanction by the same three states of the violence done Europe nineteen years before?

So far as its signatories were concerned, the Moscow Treaty involved only an agreement not to continue nuclear tests in the atmosphere, cosmic space, and under water. And the agreement could be revoked by any of the signatories whenever it judged its highest interests were endangered, with each remaining the sole judge of its own interests. But this three-way agreement, as well as the setting up of the hot line between the Kremlin and the White House, illustrated a major fact that humanity dared neither condemn nor approve without reservation. Whatever enmities might exist between them on the level of ideology and power, the two giants had a common interest not to destroy one another. And, in certain respects, this common desire not to enter into a battle to the death takes precedence over other considerations. But if other states rejoiced in the promise of no war, if not of peace, they were still dubious about the Russo-American condominium over the planet. Were Europeans, and particularly the Germans, going to be political victims of a rapprochement between the giants? By an irony of history, they were in the position of fearing peace, as they had feared war, between the two. In case of war, they would be exterminated. In case of peace, they were given over to impotence and the support of an unnatural partition. Unquestionably they feared peace less than war. Yet they dared not rejoice in a peace which would definitely recognize the Sovietization of East Europe, above all of East Germany.


The preceding analysis, schematic though it be, will probably give the reader a sense of uncertainty and confusion. In effect, it justifies neither of the extreme interpretations coming from one quarter or another.

It is not true that the bi-polar conjunction to which we have become accustomed has radically changed. Europe, Germany, Berlin remain divided. But so long as this division lasts, the United States and the Soviet Union remain face to face in the middle of the Old Continent and, on the military plane, two blocs persist based on thermonuclear systems over which two men, in the Kremlin and the White House, have sovereign control.

These two men are in direct contact with one another, symbolized by the hot line, and in fact by their common resolution to prevent the total war in which their respective countries would be the first victims. What is more, the two great enemies have the same concern to prevent the dissemination of atomic arms and to maintain strategic authority over their allies. The Soviet Union does not want China to acquire atomic armament, and the United States wants it even less.

Within the Soviet camp, the Soviet Union, despite its atomic monopoly, is unable to impose its will either on China or even on the states of East Europe for the simple reason that enormous arms are an instrument of deterrence and not of persuasion. Khrushchev cannot dictate foreign policy to Rumania by brandishing ballistic missiles. Whether it is a matter of ideology, agrarian collectivization, or liberalization, each so-called socialist state possesses a certain amount of autonomy, just as each Communist party in the world chooses between diverse models or diverse tactics, from Yugoslav revisionism to Chinese dogmatism.

The polycentrism within the so-called socialist camp, as well as the diplomacy of deterrence adopted by the Kremlin, give westerners an increased sense of security bolstered by the awareness of an accomplished recovery and refound prosperity. The allies of the Atlantic Pact are now less concerned with maintaining a coalition than with defending their own particular interests. Nevertheless the view of a Europe so self-confident that it is willing to forgo American protection is pure myth. All Europeans, the French included, are convinced of the need, at least temporary, of the Atlantic alliance, since this alone is capable of balancing Soviet power.

As for assessments of the future, Europeans do not all see it in the same way. On one side, the Germans, by reason of their geopolitical situation, have understanding with the United States as their primary objective. They hope to influence the outlook of the Pentagon and participate in the setting up of a common strategy; they have no desire to possess their own deterrent force (since they are not unaware of the common opposition of the United States and the Soviet Union to such an eventuality); they do not even want a French or European deterrent force if this would risk weakening the American commitment to protect the Old Continent.

On the other hand, Great Britain and France assert their will not to depend wholly on the American deterrent force for their own security. Therefore, it would be wrong to oppose the European desire for military autonomy to the Atlantic Pact, an inheritance of the cold war. It is within Europe that two concepts of the destiny of Europe oppose one another. Likewise, in the economic order, it would not be correct to oppose the Old Continent and the New World. Within the Old Continent, even within the Common Market, two tendencies are coming to light. Both use the same words and lay claim to the same ideal: promoting the unity of Europe, maintaining the Atlantic Pact, lowering custom duties on a world scale. But Germany and the Netherlands, on one side, France and, in part, Italy, on the other, do not recognize the same hierarchy in their preoccupations. The first two countries look to the outside and export to the entire world. They fear that by reducing their imports of certain products (particularly foodstuffs) from third countries, they would reduce the outlets for their industrial products. France, for its part, does not envisage a common market limited to industrial products, but counts on exporting its agricultural surplus to its partners in the European community and hence fears too great or too rapid a lowering of the common external tariff.


What conclusions for the future can be drawn from these various phenomena, here and there contradictory in appearance, but in the end complementary? Here, by way of summary, are a few:

  1. As long as the Soviet Union will not modify its German policy and maintains an army in the center of Europe, the Old Continent will remain divided and, on the military plane, two blocs will continue to exist in the sense that equilibrium will be established between the two thermonuclear complexes, Soviet and American. For the next ten years, the British and French forces will be too weak to exercise any perceptible influence on the course of diplomacy.
  2. The two great powers will each be engaged in preserving their respective blocs and, together, in preventing total war. In particular, the central problem of American diplomacy consists in concluding no agreements with the Soviet Union which undermine the confidence that the Germans have in the United States. If Germany looks to the East for the reunification which the West is incapable of imposing on the Soviet Union, on that day the security and the existence of Europe and the West will be compromised. Politically the United States and the Soviet Union are enemies, though they recognize a common interest in avoiding mutual destruction by fighting one another.
  3. Unable to be reconciled and anxious not to make war, each of the two great powers assures the security of its satellites or allies against aggression from the other; but it will exercise less and less control over the camp of which it is the head. East of the Iron Curtain, the Communist parties cannot and do not wish to reform in a fundamental way the established regime, because their own power could not resist a complete liberalization; but they will adapt to national circumstances and, particularly because of commercial trade, will no longer be held prisoners of the bloc to which they belong. In the West, the partners of the Atlantic alliance have never been subject to the American will either in internal affairs or in diplomacy outside the zone covered by the pact.

What is new is less the emphasis on European autonomy than the complexity of the relations between the Six and Great Britain, between the Six and the United States, and among the Six themselves. None of the Six wants to break up the Common Market, but the desire to continue its construction is not as strong as it was. The United States has not become hostile to the Common Market, but it is not as favorable toward it as before. At the moment, it is no longer a question of an Atlantic alliance based on two pillars, a united Europe and the United States; many combinations seem possible, none of which imposes itself absolutely.

Where would a diplomatic revolution come from? Either from a change within the Soviet Union such that she would subscribe to the reunification of Germany according to conditions acceptable to the West, or from a change in Germany such that she would subscribe to reunification on conditions acceptable to the Soviet Union as it is at present; that is to say, on conditions which would assure to the Soviet Union the domination of the whole of Eastern Europe.

The first revolution would be a sign of a Western victory, the second a victory for the Soviet camp. Neither one is at the present time foreseeable.


1 The computation of rates of growth presents difficulties and equivocations. We give by way of example an evaluation ordered by the French Planning Commission (it indicates the relative growth in productivity per man-year between 1949 and 1959).

Germany Italy France United Kingdom U.S.A.
Agriculture 5.6 5.4 4.7 3.9 3.8
Industry 5.6 7.1 4.5 2.1 3.7

2 The French GNP per inhabitant, calculated by American prices, is 63% of the American GNP. Calculated by European prices, it is only 47%.

3 The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Western Germany, France, and Italy.

About the Author

Pin It on Pinterest