Dr. Edward J. Marolda
Head, Contemporary History Branch
Naval Historical Center
The title of today's colloquium is "Inter-Allied Naval Relations and the Birth of NATO." Why should we be concerned with the influence of navies and naval leaders on an event that occurred almost half a century ago? As we all know, we need to understand our past in order to illuminate the future. More to the point, we need to know how the U.S., British, and Canadian navies contributed to the development of the North Atlantic alliance for the light that may shed on the current search for order in post-Cold War Europe.
In the years from 1945 to 1949, the region was in turmoil. Hundreds of thousands of Germans, Poles, Hungarians, and other peoples, displaced from their homes by the war and many near starvation, roamed bombed-out cities. Death camp survivors struggled to overcome the horrors they had witnessed. Compared to the pre-war years, economic activity was anemic.
Another threat to European wellbeing emerged during these years. Joseph Stalin's Red Army tightened its occupation of the enervated states of Eastern Europe, his operatives installed pro-Soviet governments in these countries, and Communist parties adopted a militant stance throughout Western Europe. The Soviet potential for political, if not military domination of all Europe was real. The nations of Western Europe, whether on the winning or losing side in World War II, were drained by that experience and thus ill prepared to cope with this new, postwar menace.
To help redress the imbalance, the United States provided Western European nations with badly needed economic and some military assistance. Most of us have heard of the highly successful Marshall Plan. Washington assuaged the security concerns of some Western Europeans by basing medium bombers of the Air Force's Strategic Air Command in England. But, as we know from historian David Rosenberg, the American deterrent force was a hollow one. Moreover, skeletal U.S. defense budgets during these years precluded the deployment of sizeable American ground forces across the Atlantic. Unilateral U.S. military power would not provide the answer to Europe's defense needs.
The political agreement between the nations of the North Atlantic community to forge a common defensive front, however, proved the strongest deterrent to Soviet encroachment. We will explore this morning how the cooperative efforts of the U.S., British, and Canadian navies lent critical support to this political dimension. Naval force provided an essential ingredient to a military alliance that spanned a broad ocean and connected two continents.
An analysis of the naval involvement in this contentious period of modern history is particularly relevant to current European security concerns. After a half-century of relative calm, Europe is once again in transition. New nations have been born and old nations have died; borders are being adjusted, sometimes by force; new threats to European stability are surfacing. Ethnic and religious conflicts that threaten the NATO nations are underway in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. Once again, naval forces are involved in demonstrations of allied solidarity and collective will.
Hence, this morning's discussion of naval interaction to establish order in Europe during the tumultuous postwar years should be timely and instructive.