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Book Reviews

Book Reviews




The United States and NATO: The Formative Years. By Lawrence S. Kaplan.

(Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1984. xi + 276p.; notes, ap-

pendixes, bibliographic essays, index. $30.00 cloth; $12.00 paper.)



This volume by a distinguished historian of American diplomacy contains

elements of patchwork. Some of the chapters have been published before,

others have not; some are detailed analyses of events leading up to the crea-

tion of NATO and of the organization's early development, others are broad-

er efforts to assess the American relationship to Europe from the 18th century

to the present. Even among the monographic chapters, there is an obvious

disparity between the space devoted to the period 1947-1949 (115 pages) and

that devoted to the admittedly critical Korean War years (30 pages).

But no matter. If Lawrence Kaplan has failed to give us the magnum opus

we might have hoped for, he still has produced a well-researched, engaging-

ly written, and always thoughtful book that is simply must reading for any-

one who pretends to understand NATO in an historical context. Especially

important are three chapters, based on a wealth of published and archival

sources, which trace the domestic and international processes leading up to

the treaty of 1949 and the subsequent arms aid program.

Kaplan began his study of NATO in the early 1950s as a young historian in

the Office of the Secretary of Defense. With time out for research and writing

on early American diplomacy, he has pursued that study ever since. To

some, he may appear as a quasi-official historian, to others as "a traditional-

ist with footnotes" (the patronizing phrase used on the left to characterize

those who occasionally see an ounce of good deriving from U.S. involvement

abroad). Kaplan is both of these, but he is sufficiently keen as an analyst and

sufficiently conscientious as a scholar to address NATO's critics in a sophisti-

cated and constructive fashion. While defending NATO's basic purposes

and accomplishments and pointing to the brevity of the Pax Americana in

Europe, he concedes that the organization conflicted with the United Na-

tion's Charter, that it in some ways diminished prospects for European unity,

and that its militarization in the early 1950s "not only elevated the American

role but served to denigrate possibilities for detente which the death of

Stalin and subsequent changes in the Soviet Union after 1953 might have al-

lowed" (p. 11). Yet Kaplan's reconstruction of the issues between East and

West, between the United States and Europe, and especially within Europe

and the United States themselves, makes one wonder if American statesmen

could have done much better.

One of the most engaging chapters compares the Franco-American relation-

ship in the Treaty of Paris of 1778 with that in the Washington treaty of 1949.

In the 171 years between the agreements, France and the United States

switched roles in the international arena; whereas in the first case France was

a large power and the United States was a new nation experiencing "a diffi-

cult birth" (p. 17), in the second case the United States was a super-power

while France was a country of greatly diminished strength. In both cases,