Origins of the Alliance, 1948-1949
Fifty years ago the United States abandoned a tradition of political and military nonentanglement with Europe that stretched back to the termination of the entangling Franco-American alliance of 1778. While the United States had intimate ties with allies in World Wars I and II, the relationship was that of an "associate" in the former and as an informal collaborator in the latter. The Anglo-American connections under Roosevelt and Churchill held no formal obligations, unlike the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949. In this sense American membership in the Atlantic alliance in 1949 was indeed what historian Armin Rappaport has called "the American Revolution of 1949."
For him and other supporters of NATO the ending of isolationism marked America's acceptance of responsibility as a superpower, giving legitimacy to the massive economic aid to Western Europe under the Marshall Plan. In the effort to bring political stability to a continent threatened by Soviet expansion, the United States also committed itself to the political and military integration of the West. In another sense the creation of NATO, with the United States as a partner of Europe, may be considered an extension of Thomas Jefferson's conception of an "empire of liberty."
Marxist critics predictably labeled the alliance as an instrument of imperialist exploitation, if not the last stage of capitalism as Hobson or Lenin might have pronounced it. While there was no question that America's involvement with alliances, as in the Marshall Plan, was in the nation's self-interest to repel communism by reviving and reconstructing Europe, it also tapped a vein of altruism in American history that saw a national