The Future of the Western Alliance
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Sep 1964, p. 26-34
Boothby, The Right Honourable Lord, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and how it has successfully fulfilled its two primary purposes. The disappearing basis on which NATO was founded. The main causes of this transformation of the world. Building a democratic world order through the creation of a United States of Western Europe, in close association with the British Commonwealth, and with the United States of America. A process of spiritual growth as well as of material progress. Blaming Britain for the failure in Europe. Blaming the United States for the Atlantic failure. What should have happened. Learning lessons from past failures. The task before the nations of the West now primarily political. Some alternatives. The speaker's choice of the creation of a United States of Western Europe. A review of some issues about which the speaker feels a United States of Western Europe could agree. Some concrete suggestions as to how to go about creating such a United States.
Date of Original
24 Sep 1964
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Full Text
The Future of the Western Alliance
CHAIRMAN, The President,
Lt. Col. Robert H. Hilborn


It has not been the practice of the Empire Club to anticipate its season by special meetings, but the presence of Lord Boothby in Canada and his will ingness to come to Toronto have unquestionably justified today's exception.

Our guest of honour today has devoted his life to worthy causes and to the education and enrichment of his fellow man. Born in Edinburgh, educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford, he was honoured by the University of St. Andrews, which he served as Rector, with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

On the international level he has been a tireless worker for European Unity and the Western Alliance. In the United Kingdom, before his elevation to the peerage in 1958, he had a record of over thirty years of distinguished service in the House of Commons, including periods as both Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Winston Churchill when the latter was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Food in 1940 and 1941. He served in the Royal Air Force during the last war and for his contribution to the cause of France he was made an Officer of the Legion of Honour.

He is perhaps most widely known here and abroad as a colourful and provocative television personality through his participation in such BBC programs as "Brains Trust" and "Twenty Questions".

Notwithstanding all these ringing accomplishments I know from my Scottish friends that nowhere is he more affectionately regarded or is his name held in greater esteem than by his own people, those constituents of Aberdeenshire whom he served so faithfully and so long and particularly those many of their number who go to sea in the fishing fleet. He reciprocated this regard by taking the title of Baron Boothby of Buchan and Rattray Head in the County of Aberdeen.

It is my great privilege to present, and our honour to receive the distinguished Scotsman and European, The Right Honourable Lord Boothby, K.B.E., LL.D.


In any consideration of the future of the Western Alliance we ought never to forget the fact that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has successfully fulfilled its two primary purposes-first, the containment of Soviet power; and, secondly, the reconstruction of Western Europe. It was brought into existence in a time of emergency, as a result of the direct Russian military threat which followed the seizure of Czechoslovakia and the blockade of West Berlin. In so far as that threat has diminished-and at the moment it has virtually disappeared-we have NATO to thank for it.

We are now living amidst the break-up of the established order of the post-war world, and we are finding that much of our thinking is no longer able to explain the facts. These words are not mine, but Walter Lippmann's. And they are true. NATO was founded on the basis of overwhelming American atomic and economic power, and of great European military and economic weakness. That basis has now disappeared. Ultimate power then resided in the White House. Today it resides in the White House and the Kremlin. Once again we have been overtaken by events. The world has been transformed during the past decade, and our statesmen are so overworked that they have hardly had time to notice it. In these circumstances it is hardly surprising. that they are psychologically committed to concepts which are no longer valid; and that their policies remain frozen in the vocabulary of a post-war world that has ceased to exist.

The main causes of this transformation are the achievement of a balance of world nuclear power between the United States and Russia, the use of which by either could destroy half the world; and the rise of an economically powerful and politically nationalistic Europe.

The passing of American omnipotence has not been easy, and is still not easy, for the United States to accept; but they are in the process of doing so. In one of the last speeches he ever made, the late President Kennedy said: "We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, that we cannot always impose our will on the other 94 per cent of mankind, that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity, and that therefore there cannot be an American solution for every world problem."

Similarly, the rise of an economically powerful and politically nationalistic Europe accompanied, as it has been, by a direct confrontation of tactical atomic weapons on that

continent, the use of which would almost certainly escalate into a full-scale nuclear holocaust, has transformed the relationship between Europe and the United States, and with it the character of the Western Alliance. As Mr. Ronald Steel has said in his able and disturbing book The End o f Alliance, "A Europe resistant to American direction is not a personal idiosyncracy of President de Gaulle, but rather the result of twenty years of European recovery."

All would have been different if, after the war, we had been able to bring into existence a united Western Europe; and gone on to develop NATO from a purely military alli ance into the kind of Atlantic Community which was envisaged, as an ultimate objective, when the NATO Treaty was signed.

T lay no claim to exceptional prophetic powers. But at least I did see this. In 1948-sixteen years ago-I said to the House of Commons: "It seems to me that the supreme object of our policy should surely be to build a democratic world order so strong that no State or combination of States will dare to challenge it. I realize that, for this, we shall have to make sacrifices. But adequate deterrent power is essential. As Admiral Mahan truly said: 'The function of force is to give time for moral ideas to take root.'

Such a democratic world order can only be built up by the creation of a United States of Western Europe, in some form or other, in close association with the British Common wealth, and with the United States of America, upon whose material strength the entire structure must in the first phase depend. The process must be one of spiritual growth, as well as of material progress; and the end must be a series of organic acts of union. I see no other way."

For the failure in Europe, Britain is primarily to blame. For ten years after the war we could have had the leadership of a United Western Europe on our own terms. We turned it down five times. And, when we finally tried to get on board, as seaman rather than the Captain, the smaller European ship comprising the Common Market countries was already at sea, with de Gaulle in aloof and solitary grandeur on the bridge.

For the Atlantic failure, the United States must bear the main responsibility. Long before nuclear power became a symbol of national sovereignty, we should have created a single nuclear deterrent force for the West to balance that which Russia had successfully established in the East: and devised, within NATO, the political machinery which would have given the member countries a real share in determining the policies which would govern the use of that force. President Kennedy's Grand Design was based on the conviction that there are no French, German, American or even European problems: only world problems, to be solved-in his own words-by "a system of co-operation, interdependence and harmony within the Atlantic Community". But that is, precisely, what we have not got. The West is conducting a global struggle against Communism without any central organs of political decision. As a result, we have no common strategy, and no common policies in Europe, Asia or Africa. The Kennedy Grand Design has foundered because the political machinery which alone could have given it reality has never been brought into existence.

However, I am not here to look back, except in so far as we may learn good lessons from past failures. I am here to look forward: and the first thing I want to do is to strike a note of warning. Do not underestimate the strength and the force of nationalism. It is now rampant throughout the world. De Gaulle himself believes that it is the only enduring political form. And it is an ironical fact that when the Atlantic Treaty Association was discussing the ways and means by which greater international integration could be achieved in the Parliament at Ottawa last week, they were tearing each other to pieces in the next building over the question of a national flag.

The task before the nations of the West is now primarily political. Broadly speaking, three alternatives confront us. First, to make no radical changes in our existing institutions, and content ourselves with seeking gradually to improve them. I reject this because it would involve not a partnership between Western Europe and the United States, but total American hegemony in the West. In any vague and unformulated political association between greater and lesser Powers, the strongest is bound to make the vital decisions imposed by the dynamic of events. We saw that, clearly enough, at the time of the Cuban crisis. It was superbly handled by the President of the United States. The fact remains that we were all brought to the brink of what might have been an all-out nuclear war without prior consultation; and the reluctance of the Western European nations to undergo a similar ordeal in the future is understandable.

The second is an attempt to create an Atlantic Federation now. I reject it because it is unattainable. The Countries of Western Europe are not yet ready to participate in, and submit themselves to, a Federal Parliament in Washington; and I doubt if they ever will be. They are not, after all, a number of agrarian provinces speaking the same language, and in rebellion against the same Sovereign, as the United States were at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Nor should we forget that federation was not finally achieved by the United States until after one of the bloodiest civil wars that has ever been fought.

The third alternative is to create, in a different form, a ', United States of Western Europe, as a prelude not to federation, but to a genuine partnership between Western Europe and the North American continent. This is my choice. And that is why I proposed, at the Ottawa Conference, a revival of the Anglo-French "entente". France holds the key because, without her, no kind of union either in Europe or amongst the Atlantic Powers can ever be achieved. At present the door between France and the United Kingdom is shut. I want to unlock it, and resume the blocked dialogue between London and Paris which has been the basis of British foreign policy since the beginning of this century.

The dilfhculties are great, but not, I think, insuperable. I am not suggesting that we should again seek to join the Common Market. If, as I hope, we become part of a United Europe, we shall undoubtedly bring a number of other countries with us, and it would not be desirable to disturb the close economic integration of The Six. The new Europe which I have in mind would resemble the "Europe des Patries" of which President de Gaulle has so often spoken, and would, in many respects, be more acceptable to British public opinion.

There are many things about which we might agree. In the final analysis, nuclear power is indivisible. But if we now accept power parity with France, and establish our own equilibrium, the way is open for close co-operation, at the technical level, not only in the field of nuclear weapons, but in the development of atomic power generally. The French have recently suggested that existing nuclear strike forces should be committed to a Multilateral Force which would become part of a European deterrent, or what they call "une force de dissuasion"; but that nuclear weapons now under development should be assigned rather than committed to NATO. I see no objection to this. Nor would I object to the command and control of the NATO deterrent being confided to a small executive group, within and wholly responsible to NATO as a whole, consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, which is the solution recommended by General Norstad. If nuclear war breaks out we shall all be in it, and few will survive. The purpose of the Western Deterrent is to prevent war, not to make it.

We can almost certainly agree about the policies which should be pursued in relation to China and South-East Asia. President de Gaulle's analysis of the problem posed by South Vietnam at his Press Conference last July was masterly; and everything he said has since come true.

So far as Europe is concerned, I do not propose to touch on the political problem of Germany, because German reunification cannot be imposed by the West. If it ever comes to pass it can only be in the context of a comprehensive settlement with the East, which includes military disengagement, and a Security Pact between the NATO and Warsaw Powers. Meanwhile, just as Britain is compelled by both geography and history to look to the sea as well as to the continent of Europe, so Germany is compelled to look to the East as well as to the West. No German government can afford to ignore the possibilities of trade with the East, and the present Federal German Government are certainly not doing so. I welcome this. We have nothing to gain and much to lose by making war on the standard of living on the other side of the Iron Curtain; and the greatest hope of an ultimate political "detente" lies in an expansion of trade and of cultural relations between the East and the West.

Again, there is much to be done by means of greater Franco-British co-operation in monetary affairs. As things are now going, it is almost certain that, within a few years time, the liquid reserves at the disposal of the International Monetary Fund will no longer be sufficient to sustain the volume of world production and trade; and the question will arise whether the Fund itself should not be remodelled into what might be called a Central Bank for central banks, equipped like them with powers of credit creation and contraction. On these matters both the British and the French speak with experience, knowledge and authority.

Last, but not least, a world of new countries is in the process of formation; and development has become the imperative of our time. If all the wealth is concentrated in, and held on to by, a dozen countries, and the rest of the world is left in abject poverty, an intolerable and dangerous situation will sooner or later arise. No one has recognized this more clearly than de Gaulle. And here again we can reach agreement for joint action.

To sum up, I advocate an immediate revival of the Anglo-French "entente", as an essential prelude to any wider European or Atlantic unity. The Western European Political Community I have in mind would be a confederation, not a federation, with the object of achieving common political, defence and economic policies within the framework of the Alliance. The method, at any rate in the first phase, would be what Professor Catlin has described as "organic consultation" between governments and parliaments. From this much could flow, including an interchange of plans and personnel at many departmental levels of government, and habits of co-operation which might well push political, strategic and economic integration beyond the point of no return. In this way we can get, not a surrender, but a merging or pooling of state sovereignty in the fields where it is vital to the future of mankind; for in the modern world the doctrine of the sovereign equality of nations, accompanied by insistence on absolute state sovereignty for all, is a mathematical formula for war. To the peoples of continental Europe it has brought neither security nor peace, only bloodshed and misery.

From here we can go on to the improvement of the political and command structures of the NATO Alliance, and thence to the evolution of a wider and looser Political Community of the Western world. What I have tried to outline is not, and is not intended to be, a utopian ideological blueprint. The possibilities of what I hesitate to call the "Boothby Plan" are exciting, but they are also practical. And the role that Britain can play, as I, see it, is very similar to that of Canada. Between us we can act as a link between the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean, with the object of achieving a friendly rather than a quarrelsome partnership between them. When we have done this we shall be well on the road to the kind of world order that must be established before the end of the present century, if the human race is to survive.


Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Lt. Col. E. A. Royce, First Vice-President of The Empire Club.

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The Future of the Western Alliance

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and how it has successfully fulfilled its two primary purposes. The disappearing basis on which NATO was founded. The main causes of this transformation of the world. Building a democratic world order through the creation of a United States of Western Europe, in close association with the British Commonwealth, and with the United States of America. A process of spiritual growth as well as of material progress. Blaming Britain for the failure in Europe. Blaming the United States for the Atlantic failure. What should have happened. Learning lessons from past failures. The task before the nations of the West now primarily political. Some alternatives. The speaker's choice of the creation of a United States of Western Europe. A review of some issues about which the speaker feels a United States of Western Europe could agree. Some concrete suggestions as to how to go about creating such a United States.