The Multilateralization of Détente:
NATO and the Harmel Exercise, 1966-68,
by Andreas Wenger
NATO in December 1967: Strategy, Force Levels, and Nuclear Sharing for the Fourteen
The successful conclusion of the trilateral negotiations saved NATO as a military structure—at least in the short term. In the Agreed Minute on Strategy and Forces of 9 November 1966 Washington, London, and Bonn agreed on basic guidance for NATO’s flexible response strategy. In their April 1967 agreement, however, they defined force levels that matched available financial resources. These agreements would achieve their purpose only if they were properly integrated in NATO’s strategy and defense planning mechanism. The three countries therefore took pains to inform and consult the other NATO members about the progress of the negotiations. The establishment of new force-planning and nuclear-consultation machinery at the December 1967 NATO meeting went a long way toward deflating the “ghost of a tripartite directorate” that had marked McCloy’s first informal briefing of the fourteen permanent representatives the preceding October.  By the end of the year, Ambassador Cleveland could report back to Washington that “nobody objected to the trilateral talks.” 
The most urgent task of the NPG in 1967 was “to begin to fill in [the] great void which surrounds [the] question of the role of [the] 7,000 nuclear warheads in Europe and their proper relation to external and conventional forces.”  In the process, the West European allies were informed about how difficult it was to imagine circumstances in which NATO would find it feasible to initiate the use of tactical nuclear weapons.  It was therefore all the more important to redress the imbalances of NATO’s conventional forces that were oriented toward “massive attacks mounted with minimum warning” rather than toward “less extreme and far more likely nonnuclear contingencies.”  The rotation and dual-basing of some U.S. forces in Europe allowed McNamara to initiate some modest force restructuring and modernization, despite the opposition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In May 1967 NATO’s DPC approved a new strategy that stressed flexibility and the idea of escalation, and by September the Military Committee had endorsed MC 14/3. 
After the DPC met again in December 1967, Rusk reported back to Washington that “the Fourteen now have in being a set of institutional arrangements enabling them realistically to tie together nuclear and conventional strategy, force planning and available resources.”  On 12 December the DPC formally adopted MC 14/3 and the new doctrine of “flexible response” and agreed on force commitments for 1968 and a five-year force plan. If de Gaulle’s withdrawal from NATO’s integrated commands had unblocked the debate on strategy in NATO, the trilateral talks subsequently forced a compromise between the remaining big three. In the end the reshaped institutional structures of NATO proved instrumental in forging a convergence of West European and U.S. views on the military importance of NATO in a time of détente. 
Yet NATO’s consensus on force levels and burden sharing was bound to be only a temporary achievement. Expectations of détente in early 1968 stimulated public debate in West Germany and other countries about possible defense reductions, which, if carried out, could lead to a steady decline of national commitments. When Johnson met with NATO Secretary General Manlio Brosio in February 1967, they jointly announced that “[t]hey considered the maintenance of NATO’s strength, including the U.S. commitment, as necessary to continuing stability and security in the North Atlantic area.”  Further problems were posed by the arrangements to offset the balance of payments for U.S. and British troops in NATO. Secretary Fowler warned Johnson that a sound financial basis for the alliance was still missing.  In view of rising sentiment in the U.S. Congress in favor of substantial troop reductions in Europe, McNamara’s successor as Defense Secretary, Clark Clifford, told his NATO colleagues in mid-1968 that he did not believe it was “realistic to assume that the United States will maintain the same level of ready forces deployed in Europe indefinitely into the future.” 
At the Reykjavik ministerial session in June 1968, NATO called on the Soviet Union to prepare for discussions about the possibility of mutual force reductions in Europe. No member government expected Moscow to be receptive to the idea at an early date, but the allies hoped that their emphasis on reciprocity would demonstrate that NATO was seriously pursuing arms control —a perception that, as it gained hold, would ease pressures to cut defense budgets and would forestall unilateral cuts.  Nevertheless, Rusk was not sure that this would help much.  Not until the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces would the allies seriously consider increasing NATO’s military strength.
The Harmel Report: NATO’s Political Role in a Time of Détente
The withdrawal of France from NATO’s integrated military structure and de Gaulle’s trip to Moscow had led to increased public questioning of the relevancy of NATO. The alliance, Rusk told his colleagues in June 1966, had to expand its political functions and increase its role in enhancing East-West contacts. Later that year, Belgian Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel approached Washington with the idea of a major study on the future of the alliance in light of international developments since 1949. Rostow and Harmel agreed that the aim of such a study would be to underscore the continued relevance of NATO beyond 1969. Rusk was delighted that the initiative had come from a small European partner, because this would support the view that NATO was moving toward less hegemonic and hierarchical structures. 
At the December 1966 ministerial meeting, Harmel, recalling ideas put forward by Canada two years before, proposed to his colleagues that the NATO Council “analyze the political events which have occurred since the Treaty was signed” and “study the future tasks which face the alliance, and its procedures for fulfilling them, in order to strengthen the Alliance as a factor for durable peace.”  Two key questions were at the heart of the study, one related to substance, the other to NATO machinery: First, what political roles could and should the alliance take on in the interest of détente? Second, should the alliance improve its political consultation machinery, and if so, how should it do this? The report evolved in two phases. A special group of representatives was established under the secretary general, and four subgroups, chaired by rapporteurs, were each assigned a broad subject of interest to the alliance. The work of the sub-groups started in April 1967 with a focus on substantive issues. The written reports went through several stages and were finalized in late September. The political phase of the study began in October, after the last meeting of the rapporteurs at Ditchley Park. While the secretary general consulted key alliance members, the International Staff Secretariat drew on the sub-groups’ reports in drafting a summary document that was presented to foreign ministers in December 1967. 
Convergence on Substance
The first task of the main special group was to define broad fields of work for the sub-groups. By 20 March 1967 the special group had come up with a subjects for each sub-group: 1) East-West relations; 2) inter-allied relations; 3) general defense; and 4) developments in regions outside the NATO area. 
At the same time, the special group had to decide on the rapporteurs and the composition of the group. Brosio’s original idea was to choose the rapporteurs from the smaller member-states. However, most of these countries signaled that they did not want to take the lead and preferred to await the results of the trilateral talks.  The United States, Britain, and the FRG filled the void by presenting a list of high-ranking officials, with special emphasis on working groups 1 and 3.  Eventually, the following rapporteurs were chosen: J. H. A. Watson from the British Foreign Ministry and Karl Schutz from the West German Foreign Ministry for sub-group 1; Minister of State Paul-Henri Spaak from Belgium for sub-group 2; U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of State Foy D. Kohler for sub-group 3; and C. L. Patijn, a professor of international relations at the University of Utrecht, for sub-group 4.
The U.S., British, and West German roles in the Harmel exercise became even more important in the summer of 1967. Once it had become clear during the trilateral talks that the West German government was willing to pursue environment improvement over reunification, the key question was how Bonn would move ahead with Ostpolitik. Would it be in consultation with NATO, unilaterally, or at the side of France? The Harmel exercise had to demonstrate whether and to what degree the East-West dialogue on European security could be anchored in NATO’s multilateral structures. The permanent representatives were quite critical about the progress of the exercise when they met Brosio in a private meeting on 12 July 1966, describing the procedure as “somewhat chaotic.” In addition, “[t]wo of the four Rapporteurs had been acting in a highly personal manner,” while the other rapporteurs “were more governmental.” Sub-group 2, dominated by Spaak, was addressing the issues in a “rather theoretical way” and causing tensions with the French. The rapporteur of sub-group 4 had put forward a number of concrete proposals that did not adequately take into account “political realities.” 
The work of subgroups 1 and 3 under the leadership of their U.S., British, and German rapporteurs also posed important challenges. The main task for sub-group 1, on East-West relations, was to balance Britain’s optimistic outlook on détente with the FRG’s views on the German question. The debate focused on three related questions that accentuated differing viewpoints. Watson’s first paper immediately raised a central question: What was the nature of détente and, in particular, what did the Soviet Union hope to gain by seeking détente? Watson claimed that “Soviet policy aims to maintain the status quo in Europe” and added that “Soviet aggression . . . has become unlikely.” Various needs and pressures, he argued, had driven the Soviet authorities “not only to limit their objectives in Europe and in the rest of the world, but even to make certain concessions.” 
Conversely, West German representatives stated that “détente was a fact only to a limited extent; to a large extent it was simply an illusion.”  The West Germans also believed that Moscow was “trying to isolate the German problem.”  Kohler in his paper agreed and warned that the Soviet Union hoped, “by relaxing tensions selectively, to weaken the cohesion of the Alliance, divide the states of Western Europe, and in particular, to isolate the Federal Republic and open up differences between Western Europe and the US.” In the end the more skeptical position won out. Relaxation of tension was “not the final goal but a step on the way toward a European settlement”; it was “a fluctuating process” that would “have to be comprehensive and must include everybody” to be effective. 
The West German delegation’s first paper broached the related issue of what a lasting European settlement should look like. The paper outlined a series of fundamental principles for relations among European countries, an idea that later would be taken up in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.  At the time, however, the idea could be interpreted as working into the hands of the Warsaw Pact Declaration of July 1966, which called for a continental European security arrangement. Brosio warned that the aims of this initiative were “crystal clear: a multilateral European conference leading to a multilateral European security pact ending the Atlantic alliance and possibly weakening, if not ending, the Western European communities.” Such a general system of security, he added, “would lead to the eventual supremacy in Europe of the strongest continental power, which is the Soviet Union.”  Both Kiesinger and Brandt had at times raised the possibility of dissolving NATO and the Warsaw Pact as an alternative model for achieving German and European unity, a prospect that stirred considerable anxiety in Washington, London, and elsewhere.
The sub-group agreed with Brosio’s comments and drafted a report arguing that NATO and a policy of détente were not contradictory. The report stressed that the U.S. presence in Europe was vital to a peaceful order and that any European settlement, once achieved, would require the continuing support of the United States. At the same time, the sub-group recognized that the Soviet Union could effectively block a European settlement. The aim of NATO should therefore be “not to set Eastern Europe against the Soviet Union but rather to involve both Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in more constructive forms of cooperation.” 
The third and most disputed question was NATO’s position on the German problem. The attempt “to extract from the Federal Republic a statement of policy on the German problem drew a blank.” The West German representative merely repeated the official position of the coalition government that “détente should not be pursued in any way which would prejudice reunification.” Until a final settlement was reached, the legal position of the FRG’s claim to be the sole legitimate representative of Germany had to be maintained. Although Brandt seemed more flexible in his statements, “Bonn had only recently begun to experiment with a new policy based on détente.”  The key problem was that the new West German government could not agree on a more concrete statement of policy. Faced with this obstacle, the United States and Britain sought at least a statement regarding the principles that the FRG thought should guide relations between NATO and the Soviet bloc.
On 18 and 19 September 1967 the sub-group convened to discuss the draft FRG paper, which adhered to the traditional position on the German question, emphasizing the right to self-determination, the responsibility of the four powers, and non-recognition of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Consequently, it was up to the West Germans to make life more bearable for the East Germans by establishing contacts and facilitating the participation of the East German population in international life. The allies could assist these efforts to relax the tension between the two parts of Germany by making clear that the GDR was not legitimate. NATO should be instrumental in harmonizing and coordinating the policies of the FRG and the other allies.  There was considerable disappointment among the other sub-group members regarding the language of the draft. Delegates from Canada, the Netherlands, and Belgium said the paper represented a step backward from the public statements of Brandt and Kiesinger and suggested that something more positive, dynamic, and concrete be included. The Netherlands, in particular, expressed disappointment with the West German government’s apparent desire to maintain “a sort of exclusivity for FRG in contacts with East Germany” that did not tally with the “facts of life.”  The sub-group acknowledged the report as a personal statement of the two rapporteurs but called upon them to revise the text, particularly the part on the German problem.
The sub-group also spent considerable time discussing whether preference should be given to bilateral or multilateral steps. The only point of agreement, however, was that both bilateral and multilateral contacts were needed. Although bilateral steps, in isolation, posed the risk of a selective détente—an outcome favored by the Soviet Union—multilateral approaches stirred concerns in West Germany that they would perpetuate the division of Europe. The members of the sub-group all agreed that NATO “offers an excellent forum for establishing . . . harmonization on our side, and for maintaining a necessary degree of coordination in our bilateral and multilateral dealings with the East,” but they did not agree on whether the allies should adopted a “concerted” position in multilateral East-West negotiations, as suggested by the FRG, or merely a “fully discussed” position, as favored by the British.  The paragraph was eventually dropped from the report.
Sub-group 3, under the original heading of “general defense,” achieved a remarkable degree of consensus. Its final report was the most substantive of the four and was met with widespread approval. The report contributed to the Harmel exercise in three ways: First, it introduced the term “security policy” to indicate an expanded definition of security, covering not only defense issues but also arms control and disarmament. This widening of the concept of security was suggested by West Germany on 18 May 1967.  It reflected the experience of the trilateral talks and was summarized aptly by Kohler in his memorandum for the rapporteurs of 18 July 1967: “While our principal objective remains the security of the North Atlantic area, this now involves, to a greater extent, questions of political tactics and actions as well as military issues.” 
Second, it established NATO’s future two-pillar security strategy, a phrase that was first mentioned in Kohler’s memorandum and then expanded to read in the final report:
Security for the members of NATO rests on two pillars. First, the maintenance of adequate military strength and political solidarity to deter aggression and other forms of pressure and to defend the territory of the NATO countries if aggression should occur. Second, realistic measures to reduce tensions and the risk of conflict including arms control and disarmament measures. 
On 1 September 1967, Kohler submitted a paper to the subgroup that drew praise as a balanced statement of the continued need for an integrated defense effort.  Starting from the premise that détente was limited and that the Soviet leadership still hoped to derive political influence in Europe from its military power, the paper stressed the importance of having military capabilities that covered the full spectrum of potential conflict. Military strength, according to the report, would deter aggression and counter the political influence of Soviet military power, paving the way for détente. Simultaneously, NATO should explore the possibility of achieving lower force levels and lower costs through arms control agreements that would limit Soviet forces as well. The report called on NATO to strengthen and expand the existing machinery to deal with arms control. 
Third, the paper integrated into the Harmel exercise the consensus on strategy, force levels, nuclear planning, and crisis consultation that had been reached in the DPC and the NDAC/NPG. The United States initially had believed that the Harmel exercise “should not attempt to deal with force requirements or the strategic concept for NATO Defense which are currently being reviewed in other bodies of the alliance.”  U.S. officials were worried about possibly slowing down the work of the fourteen. But after the DPC and NDAP/NPG talks led to the reaffirmation of NATO’s military structures in December 1967, the inclusion of additional language on defense in the Harmel report provided a welcome opportunity to gain support for the alliance’s new military strategy.
Compromises on Political Consultation
When the rapporteurs convened for their final meeting in Ditchley Park on 11 October 1967, the secretary general declared that “the Rapporteur phase of the Harmel study was now closed” and that “[t]he political phase was about to begin.”  The work of the sub-groups had generated widespread agreement that the role of the alliance in pursuit of détente should be affirmed in the final report, but it was not yet clear how far the French would be willing to go in linking NATO and détente. The “difficulty started when we turned to the question of machinery,” as Wilhelm Grewe, the West German ambassador to NATO, noted in a talk with Brosio and Brandt. 
The United States had indicated during the sub-group phase that it regarded the improvement of consultation procedures as a key aim of the exercise. Kohler told the other rapporteurs that in an environment of limited and selective détente, “maintenance of the NATO organization as a locus for consultation is more important than it has ever been.”  The existing institutions of NATO, which had already been adapted and strengthened by the fourteen, provided a point of departure for a comparable strengthening of NATO’s political machinery. Accordingly, sub-group 3 proposed a “permanent Arms Control and Disarmament Committee of NATO and a unit of the International Staff to support this Committee.”  Earlier, during the work of subgroup 1, Brzezinski had introduced the idea of a “continuing and permanent” body that would “study East-West relations.”  Building on the precedent of the Kohler proposal, Britain and the FRG made the suggestion “to create a permanent body to deal with the question of European security and Germany.” Rostow and Cleveland, in a talk with Brosio, reacted enthusiastically: “This may turn out to be a major result justifying the whole exercise.” They discussed whether such a body should take the shape of a four-power (or three-power) group like the NPG or a seven-power group with rotating members. In addition, they proposed “some kind of a body for permanent study of a common political strategy” for the Mediterranean and Middle East—a proposal that was prompted by the Mideast War in June 1967. 
At the start of the political phase of the exercise, the United States indicated that it would prefer to “stand firm and to go ahead, on the basis of the open endedness and of the empty chair, leaving to France the responsibility of drawing the ultimate formal consequences.”  Rusk told Harmel that “we should not let ourselves be blackmailed.”  Robert Bowie, a senior State Department official, commented at Ditchley Park that “the French were already effectively out of the Alliance,” adding that as far as the U.S. government was concerned, “the Alliance would in no way be weakened if the French were totally out.”  Nonetheless, the other members of the fourteen were reluctant to risk a final break with France over the Harmel exercise. The British “did not want to see a report that was unacceptable to the French.”  Instead, they preferred to work for a paper “that was neither too difficult for the French to swallow nor so weak that it would undermine the Alliance.” 
The West Germans faced a particularly complex dilemma on the question of machinery. In a talk with Brandt, Brosio said that French Foreign Minister Couve de Murville had warned that “any antagonistic attitude under the Harmel Study, and which would tend to isolate France, would force the French to react.” Brosio was therefore inclined to arrive “at a minimum agreement on détente with the French,” leaving “the machinery to a later date.” Brandt agreed that “it would not be wise to have a clash with the French in connection with the Harmel Study,” but he added that “Germany also had a particular problem: it would be of greatest importance, not for the German man in the street but for informed public opinion, that the East/West discussions should go on within the framework of the alliance.”  Brandt, however, soon realized, from subsequent talks with Couve de Murville, that the French would not accept an expansion of four-power responsibilities within NATO. 
Despite these obstacles, a compromise started to take shape when the special group met in November. The fourteen, led by Denmark, Norway, Canada, and the FRG, with support from Britain and the United States, showed unity and resolve in arguing that the exercise should culminate in a report of the Council in December. This left the French with little choice but to accept the proposal favored by the other members instructing the secretary general to draft a report to the NATO ministers. The French did not want to sacrifice their position as a member of the fifteen and therefore reached a compromise with the United States on the question of machinery. France accepted the “general concept of political consultation” and the “necessity for Alliance consultation in three areas in particular: European security including the German question, disarmament, and the Mediterranean area.” In effect, Paris accepted the substantive work program on détente as outlined in the reports of sub-groups 1 and 3. The United States, for its part, “stressed its desire to increase political consultation in NATO, but [was] seeking no new commitments by any ally and [did] not contemplate an ‘integrated political command structure’ in the Alliance.” 
The Final Report
On 14 December 1967 the NATO Council approved the Harmel Report, formally titled “The Future Tasks of the Alliance.” This highly visible public statement—a statement that would endure over time—enabled the alliance to strike a new balance between its military and political functions. NATO’s future security policy was to rest on two pillars: military security and a policy of détente.  Harmel, speaking to his colleagues in a ministerial session, said the study had “highlighted that the Alliance had developed stabilising effects vis-à-vis the outside world and amongst its own members.” Rusk declared that the exercise itself had reaffirmed the validity of NATO’s political role: “[T]he most important thing had been the process of the Study itself involving intense consultations among governments.” 
The Harmel Report codified the results of the trilateral talks on NATO’s military structures and anchored them in a multilateral political dialogue on the future of East-West relations and the German question. The alliance had weathered the French accusation that in a time of détente NATO had become an anachronism in Europe. As long as France resisted British membership in the European Community (EC) and opposed the transformation of the EC into a political union, its position as a leading European power lacked legitimacy. Moreover, because Paris could not offer a military counterweight to the Warsaw Pact and was not prepared to share control of the force de frappe with the FRG, its drive for hegemony also lacked credibility.
The Harmel study reflected Johnson’s conception of a less hierarchical and more political NATO and was understandably well received in Washington. Rusk cabled from Brussels that the “full agreement reached on [the] text of the report, embracing both a set of agreed principles and [a] work program for political consultations, is highly satisfactory to us.” Yet he was realistic enough to add that “the big problem now is to begin carrying out the Alliance’s political work program.”  On 17 January 1968 the NATO governments decided to follow up on the Harmel exercise by upgrading the NAC’s Committee of Political Advisers to work on European security, the German question, and disarmament.  Political consultations within NATO in the month leading up to the Reykjavik meeting of late June 1968 went better than expected, particularly with regard to arms control and disarmament.
NATO consultations on the proposed mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR) proved instrumental in containing public pressure for sharp cuts in defense budgets, bolstering the December 1967 consensus on strategy and force levels.  These efforts gave Moscow greater incentive to begin talks on MBFR rather than simply waiting for NATO countries to reduce their forces unilaterally.  The NATO consultations also proved instrumental in forging a consensus on the NPT, a consensus that was supported on the military side by the NPG meeting in April 1968.  The NPG endorsed political “guidelines” for the tactical use of nuclear weapons and defined topical leadership among the group’s four permanent members. These deliberations effectively answered complaints about national participation in nuclear-weapons planning. In addition, the U.S. defense secretary used the opportunity to reassure the allies that the NPT “would not interfere with NPG.”  Last but not least, the NPG agreed “to the general principle that in nuclear consultations special weight should be given to the views of those countries ‘most directly affected.’”  This was in recognition of West German concerns that “the selective release of nuclear weapons employed from or on German soil” would be “subject to confirmation by the FRG Government.” Rusk and Clifford had told President Johnson that they considered this a “relatively modest request for sovereign rights in the nuclear field” that would ease Bonn’s anxiety about the NPT. 
Although progress was somewhat slower on East-West relations and the German question, NATO institutions played a key role in monitoring the debate within the FRG on the progress of Ostpolitik. Brosio, in a talk with Cleveland, “put great emphasis on [the] central importance of Germany in NATO consultations,” not least because of the “crossfire between CDU and SPD as they jockey for positions before [the] 1969 elections.”  In Washington, as well, considerable uneasiness about West German unilateralist tendencies and an eventual deal with the Soviet Union persisted.  Although new approaches to East-West relations and the German question were more likely to develop within individual governments or smaller groups of governments than within NATO as a whole, intra-alliance consultations on these matters were of significant value, as a U.S. State Department memorandum accurately predicted in December 1966:
[Consultation] enables NATO members to be confident that initiatives they may wish to take toward Eastern Europe are consistent with the activities of the other Allies. The existence of a “habit of consultation” means that member governments are less likely to ignore the interests of their Allies than they would be if the habit did not exist. The smaller countries can have some confidence that a larger country is not negotiating away its interests behind its back. The larger powers, in turn, can monitor the activities of smaller countries and dissuade them from unrealistic or inappropriate initiatives. The effects of this “habit of consultation,” as they accumulate over time, can be seen in the mutual confidence, intimacy and sense of community of interest that are often a part of NATO deliberations. 
Conclusion: The Preservation of the Alliance
By the summer of 1968 the alliance was no longer in danger “of developing into a sort of ‘shell with no real spirit left in it,’” as Kiesinger had warned in March 1967.  The successes of the trilateral talks and of the Harmel exercise had effectively reversed the slow process of disintegration that had beset NATO since the late 1950s and that came to the fore with de Gaulle’s challenge to the raison d’être of the alliance. Shortly before the NATO ministers convened for a final time during the Johnson administration, Rusk was able to write to Johnson that the meeting would “represent a watershed in the recent history of the alliance. The past two years have seen major improvements in NATO’s defense and consultation arrangements.”  In the wake of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, even the French were willing to display greater cohesion on key political issues. 
Indeed, the outcome of the Czechoslovak crisis provided a sobering contrast to NATO’s reconfiguration. At the very time that the Soviet Union was bringing its Warsaw Pact allies more firmly under its control, U.S. alliance management was increasingly based on consultation and leadership by persuasion. Faced with de Gaulle’s challenge, Johnson was willing to put in the effort to achieve a consensus within the alliance and to avert further fragmentation. NATO, unlike the Warsaw Pact, resolved its internal crisis by promoting common norms, institutions, and procedures and by transforming itself into a more political and participatory alliance.
The military component of NATO remained crucial, however. Although France was gone, the military structures gained new life from the successful outcome of the trilateral talks and the consensus that was forged by the fourteen member-states at their December 1967 meeting. During the trilateral negotiations, the desire to preserve NATO in the face of the Gaullist challenge helped the three sides to cope with domestic political interests and to balance their defense and economic priorities. 
The Gaullist challenge also ended up consolidating the political role of NATO. The Harmel Report strengthened the alliance’s political-consultation machinery and laid out a program for East-West relations, including the German question and arms control. The essence of NATO’s transformation in 1966–1968 was essentially political. Starting from the constructed yet limited peace of the early 1960s, U.S. and West European views gradually converged on a new European order, based on agreement and a stable balance of power between Western and Eastern Europe—including the Soviet Union— anchored in the West’s multilateral structures, and guaranteed and supported by the United States and Canada.
NATO’s crisis and its ensuing transformation were instrumental in the shift from the bilateral superpower détente of 1963 to the multilateral European détente of the 1970s. The relaxation of tension was accompanied by risks and opportunities for both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. From the West’s perspective, the emerging polycentrism in Eastern Europe threatened to undermine the unity of NATO. The Soviet Union, it was feared, would relax tensions selectively in order to isolate Germany and minimize U.S. influence in Europe, thereby weakening the two most important political functions of the alliance. On the more positive side, détente offered new opportunities to support the evolution of Eastern Europe in a way that would be acceptable to the Soviet Union. The difficulty with bridge-building was that Soviet leaders tended to perceive it as a European means of sowing fissures within the Warsaw Pact—a concern that, in Moscow’s view, was borne out by events in Czechoslovakia.
The key to NATO’s transformation was the member-states’ success in balancing these new opportunities with the well-known risks. The Johnson administration’s approach proved highly successful in this regard. Rather than sticking with the bilateral superpower détente based on the territorial and nuclear status quo in Europe, the United States sought to strengthen multilateral (military and political) cooperation and consultation within NATO and simultaneously to engage the Soviet Union and the East European states in talks that would lead to a wider European détente and promote gradual change in the Eastern bloc.
No country could achieve this alone, however. The United States, as the military hegemon in the West, could take the lead and could try to shape the process through bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral initiatives. But success ultimately depended on a number of factors that required the participation of all NATO countries: the political and coordinative functions of allied institutions, the flexibility and adaptability of those institutions, and the willingness of key European allies to take the initiative.
On matters of substance, NATO had to resolve three major dilemmas. The first dilemma was how to square nuclear sharing with the goal of nonproliferation. The NPT shifted control of West Germany’s nuclear policy from an intra-NATO setting to an international context, reducing Soviet and East European fears of an independent West German nuclear capability. This outcome was accompanied by a strengthening of the NPG, a step that not only increased West Germany’s role in allied nuclear planning but also reduced U.S. hegemony within the alliance.
The second dilemma—the need to ensure military security without endangering economic prosperity—was exacerbated by the financial problems confronting the United States and Britain. In consultation with the West European allies, the United States proposed to hold talks with the Warsaw Pact states on mutual force reductions that could lead over time to lower defense costs. Moreover, the United States worked with Britain and West Germany to forge a wider understanding of security that would facilitate a consensus among the fourteen on strategy, force levels, and burden-sharing.
The third dilemma was whether to focus on German reunification or on improvement of the European environment. Ultimately, NATO came down in favor of the latter, though without explicitly abandoning the former. The United States worked closely with its European allies to engage the Soviet Union and the East European countries in bilateral and multilateral exchanges, seeking over the long term to facilitate the reunification of Europe and of Germany. NATO’s decision to emphasize environment improvement over reunification had to be balanced by a strengthening of the political role of NATO and by the recognition that Germany would determine the pace of Ostpolitik itself.
The transformation of NATO, based on the resolution of these three dilemmas, led to the multilateralization of détente in Europe in the 1970s. NATO was able to provide for the nuclear defense of the FRG in a way that was acceptable to Bonn, its allies, and the Soviet Union. At the same time, the enhancement of NATO’s political role enabled the West Germans to take the initiative in consolidating the Central European status quo without alienating the United States or other NATO allies. Brandt’s Ostpolitik paved the way for a mutually acceptable framework of values and principles in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, but it did not weaken the structures of NATO on which those values and principles were based. Hence, the United States (and Canada) welcomed the emergence of a new European order—an order symbolized not only by the multilateralization of détente but also by the continued integration of the EC.
In pursuing détente, the Western powers decided to encourage the evolution, rather than the fragmentation, of the Communist bloc. No European settlement, it was thought, could be stable if it failed to accommodate Moscow’s legitimate security interests. The NPT met this criterion by alleviating Soviet anxiety about the sensitive question of West German nuclear control. When the United States and the Soviet Union signed the NPT on 1 July 1968, they announced that they would soon begin discussing limitations on strategic nuclear weapons and antiballistic missile systems. Although the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia prevented an early start to the talks, movement toward strategic arms control was revived shortly before Johnson left office. Within Europe as well, the reorientation of NATO gave rise to new forms of cooperation and dialogue. The inception of MBFR permitted the allies to cope with domestic economic and political pressures without detracting from their collective military security. The Helsinki process, including its provisions for human rights, became possible after Brandt’s Ostpolitik led to a formal recognition of the post–World War II borders in Central Europe.
By accepting the Harmel Report, the alliance overcame the most severe crisis in its history, a crisis that had broken out at a time of a fledgling East-West détente in Europe. The differences of opinion in NATO revolved around two issues that seem equally relevant in the post–Cold War era. Should NATO continue to exist? If so, what functions should NATO play in a European environment marked by increasing cooperation and integration? It is not surprising that the Harmel Report attracted considerable attention in 1989–1991, when the Cold War ended. A close look at the debate of the 1960s helps explain why NATO did not suddenly collapse after 1989–1991 and why the alliance continued to develop from an integrated defense pact into an organization that can deal with the broader management of security.
ANDREAS WENGER is Professor for Swiss and International Security Studies at ETH Zurich. He is the director of the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich and managing director of the International Security and Relations Network (ISN).
[Excerpt from: Andreas Wenger. ‘Crisis and Opportunity: NATO’s Transformation and the Multilateralization of Détente, 1966-1968’. Journal of Cold War Studies. 6, 1 (2004): 22-74. Excerpt: pp. 57-74)]
 Telegram from the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Regional Organizations to the Department of State, n.d., FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 485.
 Telegram from the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Regional Organizations to the Department of State, 10 December 1966, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 509.
 Ibid., p. 510.
 Research Memorandum No. REU-35, 11 June 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 711.
 Office of the Secretary of Defense, “NATO Strategy and Force Structure,” Draft Memorandum for the President, 21 September 1966, p. 2. (Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.)
 Gregory Pedlow, “The Evolution of NATO Strategy, 1949–1969,” in Gregory Pedlow, ed., NATO Strategy Documents, 1949–1969 (Brussels: Historical Office, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), xi–xxv.
 Telegram from Secretary of State (Rusk) to the Department of State, 14 December 1967, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 651.
 For a detailed account, see Haftendorn, NATO and the Nuclear Revolution.
 Talking Paper Prepared in the Department of Defense, n.d., FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 728.
 Memorandum for the Record, 19 June 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 718.
 Talking Paper Prepared in the Department of Defense, n.d., FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 729.
 Intelligence Note No. 512, Telegram from the Department of State to Secretary of State Rusk, at Reykjavik, 28 June 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 723.
 Memorandum of Record, National Security Council Meeting on NATO, 19 June 1986, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 719.
 Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in Belgium, 26 November 1966, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 501; and Telegram from Secretary of State (Rusk) to the Department of State, 14 December 1966, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 515.
 Council in Ministerial Session, Harmel, 15 December 1966, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/1, C-R(66)68&69. For Canada’s proposals, see Anna Locher and Christian Nuenlist, “Reinventing NATO: Canada and the Multilateralization of Détente, 1962–66,” International Journal, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Spring 2003), pp. 283–302.
 For an excellent study of the Harmel report, see Helga Haftendorn, “Entstehung und Bedeutung des Harmel-Berichts der NATO von 1967,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Vol. 40, No. 2 (April 1992), pp. 169–220; and Helga Haftendorn, “The Adaptation of the NATO Alliance to a Period of Détente: The 1967 Harmel Report,” in Wilfried Loth, ed., Crises and Compromises: The European Project,1963–1969 (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2001), pp. 285–322. For further assessments, see Pierre Harmel, “Forty Years of East-West Relations: Hopes, Fears, and Challenges,” The Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Fall 1987), pp. 259–269; Eugene V. Rostow, “Ein praktisches Friedensprogramm: Der 20. Jahrestag des Harmel-Berichtes,” NATO Brief, Vol. 4 (July/August 1987), pp. 11–17; and Joachim Brockpähler, “Die Harmel-Philosophie: Ausdruck einer kreativen Friedensstrategie der NATO,” NATO Brief, Vol. 6 (November/December 1990), pp. 20–24.
 Working Paper (2nd revision), “Future Tasks of the Alliance,” 20 March 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/2, Item 31.
 Haftendorn, “The Adaptation of the NATO Alliance,” pp. 288–295.
 Special Group on the Future Tasks of the Alliance, Composition of the Four Sub-groups, 17 April 1966, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/2, Item 45, AC/261-N/4.
 Private Meeting of Permanent Representatives, Harmel Exercise, 12 July 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/5, Item 29.
 Preliminary Paper by the Rapporteur of Subgroup 1, “The Soviet Union Background,” 14 April 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 1.
 Private Meeting of Permanent Representatives, Harmel Exercise, 12 July 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/5, Item 29.
 Meeting of Rapporteurs of Subgroups of Special Group on Future Tasks of the Alliance, 21 July 1966, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/5, Item 35, 5.
 Sub-Group I Draft Report, “Subject of Discussion on 18–19 September 1967,” in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 27; and Final Harmel Report, “East-West Relations Détente and a European Settlement,” par. 2, available from: http://www.nato.int/archives/harmel/harmel01.htm.
 Proposal of an Outline, “Political Aims of the Alliance with Regard to European Security, The German Problem and the Nature of a European Settlement,” 14 April 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 1.
 Comments on Outline by German Delegation, 6 May 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 12.
 Final Harmel Report, “East-West Relations Détente and a European Settlement,” par. 10, available from: http://www.nato.int/archives/harmel/harmel01.htm; Sub-Group I Draft Report, “Subject of Discussion on 18–19 September,” in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 27.
 Meeting of Sub-Group I on 27–28 June 1966, Newton to Secretary General, 3 July 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 22, RS(67)85, p. 2.
 Sub-Group I Draft Report, “Subject of Discussion on 18–19 September 1967,” in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 27.
 Sub-Group Meeting, 18–19 September 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 30; and German Delegation to NATO, 28 September 1967,NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 33, 20–02–5/3382/67 VSV.
 Sub-Group I Draft Report, “Subject of Discussion on 18–19 September 1967,” in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 27, p. 13.
 Aufzeichnung des Ministerialdirektors Ruete, “Betr.: Stand der Harmel-Studie,” 26 May 1967, AAPD, 1967 [II], No. 184, p. 785.
 Memorandum for Rapporteurs, “Future of the Alliance Study,” 18 July 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/5, Item 33, p. 6.
 Final Harmel Report, “The Future Security Policy of the Alliance: Report of the Rapporteur Sub-Group 3, Mr. Foy D. Kohler, USA,” Introduction, available from: http://www.nato.int/ archives/harmel/harmel03.htm.
 Future Tasks of the Alliance—Meeting of Sub-Group 3, 26 September 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/3, Item 22.
 Report of Sub-Group 3, The Future Security Policy of the Alliance, 1 September 1967, NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/3, Item 20.
 Future Tasks of the Alliance Sub-Group 3, “Rapporteur’s Preliminary Outline,” 17 April 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/2, Item 45, AC/261-N/4.
 Meeting of Rapporteurs of Sub-Groups for Study on Future Tasks of the Alliance, 11 October 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/6, Item 4, p. 8.
 Record of Meeting between the Secretary General and the German Foreign Minister at the Foreign Office, Bonn, 9 October 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/6, Item 3, p. 6.
 Memorandum for Rapporteurs, Future of the Alliance Study, 18 July 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/5, Item 29, p. 6.
 The Future Security Policy of the Alliance, “Report of the Rapporteur of Sub-Group 3,” 1 September 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/3, Item 20.
 Meeting of Sub-Group 1 on 27–28 June 1967, Newton to Secretary General, 3 July 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/1, Item 22, RS(67)85; and Meeting on 19 September, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/4/2, Item 25.
 Secretary General, Rostow, Cleveland, 10 September 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/5, Item 44.
 Memorandum of Conversation, 27 September 1967, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 618.
 Meeting of Rapporteurs of Sub-Groups for Study on Future Tasks of the Alliance, 11 October 1976, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/6, Item 4, p. 5.
 Memorandum of Conversation, 25 September 1967, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 616.
 Meeting of Rapporteurs of Sub-Groups for Study on Future Tasks of the Alliance, 11 October 1976, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/6, Item 4, p. 5.
 Record of Meeting between the Secretary General and the German Foreign Minister at the Foreign Office, Bonn, 9 October 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/6, Item 03, p. 6.
 Brandt to Brosio, 23 October 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/6, Item 14, 20–02– 5/3623/67 geh.
 Circular Telegram from the Department of State to the Posts in the NATO Capitals, 16 November 1967, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, pp. 640–641; and Intelligence Note No. 904, 9 November 1967, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, pp. 637–639.
 “Future Tasks of the Alliance: Report of the Council from 14 December 1967,” 18 December 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/6, Item 71, C-M(67)74 (2nd revision), p. 2.
 Council Ministerial Session, Future Task of the Alliance, 13 December 1967, in NATO Archives, NISCA 4/10/6, Item 67, C-R(67) 51, p. 15; and Secretary’s Statement in the North Atlantic Council, 6 December 1966, in LBJL, NSF, Lot Files, Conference Files, Box 432.
 . Telegram from Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State, 14 December 1967, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, pp. 651–652.
 Telegram from the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the Department of State, 17 January 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 660; and Telegram from the Department of State to the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 22 February 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 670.
 Memorandum of Conversation, 23 June 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 719.
 Intelligence Note No. 512, 28 June 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 722; and Memorandum of Conversation, 18 December 1976, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 653.
 Paper Prepared in the Department of State, n.d., FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 714.
 Telegram from the Embassy in the Netherlands to the Department of State, 19 April 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 690.
 Research Memorandum No. REU-35, n.d., FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 711.
 Memorandum from Secretary of State Rusk and Secretary of Defense Clifford to President Johnson, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 679.
 Telegram from the Department of State to the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 22 February 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 670; and Telegram from the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the Department of State, 28 March 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 684.
 Department of State Policy Planning Council, “Where Can the Germans Go?” 19 December 1967, in LBJL, NSF, Country Files: Germany, Box 188.
 “The Possibilities and Limitations of NATO’s Role in East-West Relations, Framework for NATO Consultations on East-West Relations,” 2 December 1966, in LBJL, NSF, Country Files, p. 10; and Telegram from the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the Department of State, 28 March 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 685.
 Telegram from the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to President Johnson, 6 March 1967, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 543.
 NATO Ministerial Meeting, 14–16 November 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 784.
 Telegram from Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State, 16 November 1968, FRUS, 1964–1968, Vol. XIII, p. 791.
 On the importance of transnational coalitions for alliance politics, see Risse-Kappen, Cooperation among Democracies.