The Western Alliance

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

Alfred Grosser has written a very interesting, if uneven, history of the Western Alliance from the uncertain days following World War II to 1977. The aftermath of great wars is always a time of instability since the balance of power has been altered in unpredictable ways. Sometimes the situation is clear enough and the actors astute enough that a firm peace can be established, as was the case in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. Other times, though, the variables are so confusing and the participants so swept along by currents of opinion which have their own momentum that solid relationships cannot be established. Such was the case with the Treaty of Versailles, which Marshal Foch described as “a twenty years truce.” Surely in 1945, very few would have anticipated the de facto settlement which emerged following Germany’s second bid at European hegemony. Yet, by virtue of the creation of the Western Alliance, one of the most enduring periods of peace and prosperity has occurred. No one can doubt that as long as the Western nations hold together in pursuit of common goals, security will be maintained. As Grosser makes abundantly plain, however, the Alliance is riven by rivalry, mistrust, and separate national interests.

The events leading up to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 are well known, and Grosser does not dwell on them. The interpretation of these events is still being debated, but Grosser basically believes that NATO was a necessary response to Soviet expansionism which was desired by the Europeans as much or more so than by the Americans. This admission is not easy for Grosser to make, for he is as influenced by French anti-Americanism, one of the major themes of his book, as those in charge of French policy, whom he criticizes from time to time. For a French anti-American to admit that the Alliance is necessary and in the interests of Western Europe is difficult for it takes the sting out of the contention that the Alliance is only a cover for America’s imperialistic ambitions in Europe.

The heart of Grosser’s book does not lie in the East-West confrontation, but in an examination of the relations among the partners in the Alliance. The emphasis on these various partners, as Grosser explains in his introduction, is not evenly distributed. The countries he knows best are France and Germany. England is a bit of an enigma to him; the United States is approached more as a myth than a reality; Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the others are only dealt with as they play an important role. Primarily, The Western Alliance is a description of French and West German relations with each other and with the, to them, strange country across the Atlantic to whom their destiny is tied. Here, too, a qualification should be made. Professor Grosser discusses the activity of the major politicians and opinion makers, along with an occasional public opinion poll, but makes little attempt to relate policy to underlying social structures or a thorough analysis of popular beliefs. While such information is obviously necessary, the author does have more than enough to do portraying the behavior of the important political actors of the Western countries during a period lasting more than thirty years.

From Grosser’s point of view, the dynamic of the Alliance has developed around three major themes: the French and German attitude toward the United States; the ongoing attempt to create a united European political unit; and interacting within this framework, the various events which have stimulated change—primarily economic developments and policy toward the Third World.

During the period from 1945 to 1950, England still enjoyed the prestige of its heroic struggle against Nazism and continued the special relationship it had formed with the United States during the war. Although lacking the means to implement American policy, English leaders were brought into American policymaking and in this role continued to play a major part in world events. Anglo-Saxon foreign policy during these years was directed toward strengthening Western Europe, and Grosser generally gives America high marks for its generous Marshall Plan aid. He also deemphasizes Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) involvement in European politics and believes rather that American attempts to encourage moderate democratic groups in France and Italy were carried out by legitimate, aboveboard means, using economic incentives and direct, high-level contacts.

The success of the Marshall Plan, however, produced a new dilemma, for by bringing Western Europe back to an economic par with the United States, a situation...

(The entire section is 1911 words.)