September 2021 Handgrenade

John T Kuehn's picture

The Cold War, the United States, and NATO


John T. Kuehn


NATO, as in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its role in military history writ large, that is my target today (passive voice deliberate).  Or in active voice, I am targeting the myth of a generally good relationship between NATO and the United States prior to the end of the Cold War experience.  My suggestions in this incendiary come from a single CSPAN event while snowed in  in the Rocky Mountains on a ski trip almost 17 years ago (or more, alas memory).   As my sons played games on their devices after a great day skiing, I was glued to a TV set watching former American cabinet members from the Cold War.  There was also an academic historian, Walter Issacson (later Henry Kissinger’s biographer), who moderated the discussion.  The occasion were the issues and problems the United States was having with its NATO allies, especially over Iraq.  Two SECDEFs and one Secretary of State were there, Don Rumsfeld (SECDEF, 75-77), James Schlesinger (SECDEF, 73-75), and Henry Kissinger (SECSTATE, 73-77).   All three agreed that the issue of problems with NATO was certainly not a new one and that after Vietnam in the 1970s that NATO was less than pleased to have the United States refocusing, or pivoting as it were, from Vietnam to Europe.  In other words, and Kissinger perhaps made the case best, that a smooth working relationship with NATO was not the norm, but rather an anomaly.    Muffled explosion?

Reaching out to the Cold War crowd out here, hoping perhaps some H-DIPLO-mists will “slum a bit” and weight in with us lowly military historians (used broadly to include naval historians like myself).


The views are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

31 Aug. 2021

Quite a characterization Prof. Kuehn offers. Myth, when did it or does it become one ? Truth is course of NATO relations were probably never smooth or/and easy. Prof. K was correct but it was not necessarily common knowledge. Charles de Gaulle unless some have forgotten never was sold on NATO. He as far as back to WW II proved difficult for the coalition of Allies seeking the victory of WW II.

During Cold War, as is well known, de Gaulle did not wish to be dependent upon US nuclear guarantees to Europe for its defense against the Soviets. Thus, he developed the independent French nuclear 'force de frappe' designed to give hi and France a nuclear power and response apart from NATO and the US.

Britain also determined to have its nuclear capable forces.
And during Vietnam, during its start, the British PM argued for a US pullback almost from the very begin to US entanglement in Vietnam.

Am sure others have much more to point out, so will leave the subject here, for now.

President Nixon did indeed "pivot" from Asia toward Europe during his presidency. I learned a lot when I agreed to review a book the Journal of Military History, Richard Nixon and Europe: The Reshaping of the Postwar Atlantic World, by Luke Nestor. A principal feature of this pivot was economic: Nixon’s “new economic policy” that suspended convertibility of the US dollar into gold, introduced wage and price controls, and imposed short-term protectionist measures such as tariffs and import quotas. These initiatives sounded the death knell for the global economic framework established at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944, which had guided the free world’s economy for more than a quarter century. These measures were clearly not to Europe's liking, Nixon skillfully handled European discontent by using Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns and Treasury Secretary John Connally as "good cop, bad cop" in selling these reforms.

Sometimes I feel like an unpopular 'Lone Ranger' peddling the notion that Richard Nixon was a competent president, before Watergate brought everything crashing down.

Anniversary to 20th Century and Creation of the Modern World: Poland Invaded to start WWII:

This date, 1 Sept. 2021 remembers the Day WW II commenced with Invasion of Poland. It reminds 82 year have now passed since; brining about both NATO and US presence in Europe and around the globe thru postwar creation to rid the Earth of those forces opposed to both the US and Democracy; to Freedom.
Below is a poem written, 1940 and a view to that begin to WW II thru you tube online reference.

While Poland did not collapse but offered resistence to the enemy forces it faced, these events set in motion which has led down to this anniversary day and its results for both the US and Free peoples since.

1 Sep. 1939

W. H. Auden - 1907-1973


Thank you Ralph,

Have long since reached the same conclusion, and consider your conclusions completely accurate.

Posted, Nixon's 5yr. FDYP, a few days ago on H-War. It served as foundational to his plan, for a full generation of peace, 30 yrs. after withdrawal from the Vietnam War by US.
Vietnam was essentially a 'Holding Operation', by those who sacrificed so heavily; until changes were developed, in overall situation, allowing withdrawal. Have recently thought an analogy to Verdun may be appropriate for So. Vietnam

Even so, one of those changes was the '68 elections along with other developments. Collapse of the So. Vietnamese Govt., on its own, was certainly a possibility as well.

One last fact. No one 50 yrs. old or younger, was born before this 5yr. Plan was being developed. No one 60 yrs. old was more than 10 yrs. old, at that time, when we were preparing the US Navy part to this Plan, sent to Congress.


Prof. Kuehn's thoughts regarding the US-Europe via NATO relationship raises one additional observation this date. In military history and US military history from the Cold War brought about by the world-wide conflict with Communism, both in the Atlantic region of Europe over Russia [Soviet Union] and the Pacific region with China, US policies and practices despite any differences with Europeans within NATO was generally successful deterring major warfare as result from Containment.

So too, in the Pacific except for both Korea and Vietnam, limited wars, whose expansion did not reach the stage of general or all out warfare. Yet, within the last half of 20th Century History, the only attack capable of reaching Conus
came from the Middle East region, not from the Communist threat. Unexpected, Soviet Russia collapsed in the 1990s and moved away from Communism while leaving Communist China and some others as advocates for Communism in practices.

Rather, it is a non-Communist threat reaching Conus, coming from those Colonial regions of European Colonialism, those same areas Communism attempted to exploit as 'wars of national liberation', to avoid the threats from nuclear conflict with 'end runs' around, subverting free governments and the Western Nations. These results culminated this date, 20 yrs before now, when the twin towers, New York assault, 2001, happened; it led to attempted occupation in Afghanistan for these last 20 yrs. as well, ended just this last month.

Our Gulf War and Iraq War, presaged this 20 yrs. recent military history, resulting in deepening US involvement in that Middle East regions. But both these periods to military experiences with NATO and for America were not with Communism as the center of warfare and were beyond the 30 years of peace sought by the Nixon decade to US History.

Finally, they ushered into American History not further Cold War history but divisiveness threatening conflict and dissolutions from domestic threats and hostility; now realized as homefront domestic terrorism threats to peace, liberty and stability.

Control of Nuclear Weapons for NATO and European Defense

Another matter raised recently thru Sept. offered commentary by Prof. Kuehn was the status of US relations with NATO and Europe; if such, were normal or some departure from regualrity.

Part of an answer to this topic and substantive history can be found in October, 1964 copy of Foreign Affairs Quarterly, particular to the Article published there by Air Marshal Sir John Slessor and shown with this post, its opening paragraphs.

Nuclear Control was already and the major issue in Defense of Europe and NATO. Specific was serious matter of US finger on a nuclear trigger v role of NATO and European Govts. as potential or actual targets, decisionmakers and battlefield for a confrontation directly between Communist Soviet forces and the USA.

Without restatement of the views set down by Air Marshall Slessor here. The article is directly related to Prof. Kuehn's posting and offered.

Wyatt Reader MA

Correction to posted FAQ, Oct. 64. The article is found in Oct. 1963. Also there is an article by Gen. Paul Stehlin, former French Air Force Chief of Staff and NATO Representative. FAQ Vol. 42, No.1.

Also found there is another article fro Fritz Erler., former CoChair of Germany's Social Democrats.

Hit the 4 when should have hit the 3 in dating.