The United States seems to have inherited not only the mantle of British leadership in Western affairs, but also Britain's custom of being beastly to one's friends and sporting to one's enemies. If we were ever to behave toward those whose purpose is to bury us the way we behave toward the NATO allies, the peace movement would be up in anguish crying that the skybolt was falling.
The policy of submerging every substantive intra-NATO disagreement under the blanker title of Challenges to American Leadership has reached a new peak of boorishness this month. Thus, writing under a Times Syndicate by line in the local Herald, Mr. Rusk's press secretary, Mr. Reston, pronounced-ex cathedra, as it were- this threat:
De Gaulle is the Walter Mitty of Europe, fighting and winning in his dreams of glory the second battle of waterloo... Adenauer, therefore, must choose. He and De Gaulle are the lame ducks but not yet the dead ducks of European politics and they have the power to vote Britain's entrance into Europe..... But If they are asking us to defend a Europe which questions American good faith ... then they are asking and expecting things that have never bean and never will be. For the choice before Adenauer is ... In the end between France and the U.S.
In other words, if they don't stop saying that we might abandon them, then we shall abandon them.
There are a number of major ironies here. To begin with, Washington has just pronounced its grief at the tragic loss of Hugh Gaitskell, whom Kennedy called a great man. Gaitskell was a great man and his death was a tragic loss. But Gaitskell was fervently and honestly against British entry into Europe; whereas De Gaulle is only bluffing until he gets American help for the French independent deterrent.
Second, Reston's clumsy threat was directed at Adenauer after clear signs that Germany would oppose De Gaulle's veto on British entry. Why Adenauer should be so addressed is unclear, since it takes only France's vote to bar Britain from the Market now or ever. A German blackball would be not only unlikely but redundant. Evidently, when Washington says Germany they mean France, just as when Moscow says Albania they mean China.
And third, when De Gaulle demands parity with Britain in the sharing of nuclear secrets, what he really is saying is that it is dangerous for sovereign states to rely on the good will of other sovereign states for their existence; and Kennedy has just provided excellent proof of this in the case of Skybolt. But France is being told that doubts regarding American willingness to jeopardize Detroit for the sake of, say, West Berlin are tantamount to treason. And such doubts might, as Reston clearly meant to suggest, result in a repetition of the American withdrawals from Europe after the two World Wars. That would really prove De Gaulle's point.
Unfortunately for Washington's self-esteem, however, the problem is not procedural but real. The challenge is not to America's Leadership but to the McNamara doctrine of division of military labor, according to which the U.S. provides the missiles and Europe provides the infantry.
And it was wishful to believe, even before Skybolt, that the Six would be willing to rely on someone else's generals in every situation. Khrushchev is simply too adept at presenting limited threats over limited objectives; he has got us halfway out of West Berlin already. So long as he avoids more obvious encroachments, such as the Cuba stunt, he will always be able to make a given challenge "not worth" a major response. Thus we are asking the Europeans to believe that Soviet armored troop carriers in West Berlin mean as much to us as the missiles in Cuba. And this is clearly false.
Obviously, there is no question about whether we would react swiftly and massively to a nuclear strike or a major ground attack on Western Europe. But there is a question of whether we would always agree with the French about what constitutes a threat to France. We wouldn't and we shouldn't and we can't. Suppose we had been compelled to get NATO's agreement before imposing the quarantine on Cuba. This is the sort of thing that--in reverse--gives De Gaulle nightmares.
Stalin used to pretend that the interests of the Soviet Union and those of the Communist Parties of East Europe were identical; Khrushchev is now reaping the unhappy results of this untruth. How likely is it that we an impress a parallel idea on West Europe?
Of course, the State Department has been singing a requiem over De Gaulle since 1940, and there is every reason to think he has accustomed himself to the tune by now. Washington's impatience to turn out pall bearers for Adenauer is also a bit premature. Inspired name calling notwithstanding, the two are very much alive.
And since they are, something will have to be done to get Britain into the Common Market soon, if only to salvage some shred of Harold Macmillan's prestige. Macmillan has been badly damaged by the manifest failure of his two major foreign policies: the special relationship with the United States, which Kennedy killed in Nassau, and entry into the Common Market, which De Gaulle now threatens to kill in Brussels. If De Gaulle carries out his threat, Macmillan is done, and when Labour comes in after the next General Election, Britain and Europe will go their own ways.
Threats to De Gaulle will not work the trick, unless he undergoes a major psychological metamorphosis. Whatever he wants, whatever ranson he demands for the British hostage, he will have to get. And if the price is an independent deterrent, Washington--insults or no insults--will pay it.