America, Europe, and German Rearmament,
August-September 1950: A Critique of a Myth
IN SEPTEMBER 1950 U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson met in New York with the British foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, and the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman. Acheson had an important announcement to make. The United States, he declared, was prepared to “take a step never before taken in history.” The American government was willing to send “substantial forces” to Europe. The American combat force would be part of a collective force with a unified command structure, a force that would ultimately be capable of defending western Europe on the ground. But the Americans were willing to take that step only if the European allies, for their part, were prepared to do what was necessary to “make this defense of Europe a success.” And his government, he said, had come to the conclusion that the whole effort could not succeed without a German military contribution. So if the NATO allies wanted the American troops, they would have to accept the idea of German rearmament—and they would have to accept it right away. The U.S. government, he insisted, needed to “have an answer now on the possible use of German forces” in the defense of western Europe.1
The position Acheson took at the New York Conference was of quite extraordinary historical importance. The American government was finally committing itself to building an effective defense of western Europe and to playing a central role in the military system that was to be set up. But the Americans were also trying to lay down the law to their
This article, co-authored with Christopher Gehrz, was originally written for a special issue of the Journal of European Integration History on U.S.-European relations, vol. 6, no. 2 (December 2000). A slightly revised version was published in Marc Trachtenberg, ed., Between Empire and Alliance: America and Europe during Üie Cold War (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). Copies of some important unpublished documents cited here are available online at http://www.polisci.ucla.edu/faculty/trachtenberg/1950.html; those documents are marked in the notes with an asterisk.
1 Minutes of foreign ministers’ meetings, September 12–13, 1950, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States 1950, vol. 3 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1977), pp. 1192,1208; henceforth references to this source will be cited in the following form: FRUS 1950,3:1192,1208.