Decide or Drift

Assistant Editor of the London Economist, a Governor of the BBC, and a Governor also of the Old Vic, BARBARA WARDis one of the very ablest spokesmen for post-war Britain. Her new book, The West at Bay, has been widely read on both sides of the Atlantic. Notv looking beyond the year 1952, which has been set as the goal for the Marshall Plan, Miss Ward asks of the democracies a determination to enlarge their interests and to work out currency, production, and defense problems on a lasting rather than a temporary basis.


FOR over a year the Western powers have been engaged in the experiment of the Marshall Plan. Organs of economic coöperation have come into being in Paris and Washington. Five billion dollars’ worth of raw materials and equipment has been transferred from the United States to the sixteen participating nations. Subsidiary political organisms such as the Western Union Defense Pact have taken shape. In a troubled and divided world, this experiment represents the only field of diplomatic action in which the Western powers unequivocally possess the initiative. Elsewhere, their attitude is rather to find out what the Communists are doing, and endeavor to think up some countermeasure. In Western Europe, it is the Communists who have had to spend the year in a desperate and sometimes violent search for methods of effective opposition — the waves of French strikes, the Czech coup d’état, the blockade of Berlin.

But if people ask themselves the question: “ How will this Grand Alliance in the West look in 1955?” they will be astonished to find that nothing precise can be said, except perhaps a vague reference to “continuing coöperation within the framework of the United Nations,” an ostrich phrase which statesmen often use as a substitute for thought. The great experiment in which the West is engaged drops into the mist in a few years’ time. Economically, everything is to be tidy by 1952, all the gears of world trade are to be oiled and functioning smoothly.

Politically, the time limit is more vague. The proposed Atlantic Pact will last — how long? Until the end of Russian aggressiveness? But that is not an easy date to define. Until the peace treaty with Germany is concluded? The conclusion of such a treaty might indeed be the proof that Russia’s restlessness has come to an end, but since the restlessness is Messianic and springs from a crusading view of what world order ought to be, can the signing of a single settlement really be the signal of returning peace? So perhaps the Western powers need and are considering an indefinite alliance. If so, they are doing little to lay more lasting psychological foundations for it — in spite of the fact that alliances anchored in nothing more than “common funk” the Holy Alliance, for instance — have a way of disintegrating without any statesmen being perfectly clear why or how it has happened.

The diplomacy which consists in having no diplomacy can be practiced only in times of great stability and invulnerability. If the Marshall experiment is simply an ad hoc arrangement, it will fail, for the late forties of the twentieth century are neither invulnerable nor stable. To keep an initiative they have achieved — with considerable difficulty — in Western Europe, the Western powers will have to stop thinking of 1952 as the annus mirabilis in which normalcy at last returns.

Copyright 1949, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston 16, Mass. All rights reserved.

Should any proof be needed of the danger of committing the fortune of the Marshall Plan to a policy of drift, it lies in the strong evidences of underlying isolationism which have become apparent even in the first year of its life. They are not confined to any one country or to any particular political group. They crop up in the most unlikely places. It is almost as though deep in the recesses of every national mind, there were a desire to be left alone, untroubled by bothersome neighbors, and that this desire rose like a mood or a neurosis to color all kinds of policies which superficially have nothing to do with isolationism at all.


ISOLATIONISM in the obvious, open, avowed sense has hardly recovered from the discredit of 1940 and 1941. It is the various veiled forms it now assumes that are significant. Take first of all the support given by some groups in the United States to the conception of European federation. The desire that Marshall Aid should be used to “push, prod, and encourage” the participating nations into a close Western Union was in many cases a generous desire to see other nations adopt a political structure which had proved so perfectly adapted to the needs of the United States. But in other cases, the underlying motive could perhaps be summed up thus: “A strong Western Europe or even United Europe would be politically, militarily, and economically quite strong enough to deal with all transatlantic problems, particularly with the Russian and German problems. If such a union can be brought into being, America will be rid of the present tiresome role of world leadership and can return to cultivating its own particularly inviting back garden.”

A rather more straightforward type of isolationism has appeared in Britain. It takes the form not of hastening a Western Union or a federated Europe but of trying to keep Britain out of such a union at all costs. The feeling is particularly strong among those Conservatives to whom belief in the British Empire is practically the only conscious principle in international affairs. Day by day, readers of the Beaverbrook press can hear its owner’s lamentations over the sacrifice of the Empire to doubtful experiments in Europe.

If we turn to France, isolationism appears in a curious guise in the somber bosom of General de Gaulle. The General regards “the Anglo-Saxons” on the one hand and the Russians on the other as alien to Europe. He wants a united Europe — and a united Western Europe as a starting point — but he wants it under his own leadership. Therefore he must isolate the Continent from its neighboring giants and reconcile his country to alliance with Germany, upon which the new “Europe for the Europeans” will be based. It is this underlying isolationism that has led General de Gaulle into such statements as: “France has lived hundreds of years without the Marshall Plan and could do so now” or “Europe can only be defended from France. It is inconceivable to base the defense of Europe upon London"—a statement which in the shortness of its memory and the arrogance of its claim bodes ill for the coöperativeness of a Gaullist France.

Another form of isolationism is connected not so much with any particular nation as with particular political points of view. As such it can be found in both Europe and Britain. One school of supporters base their thinking on the need for neutrality. Europe, they argue, cannot survive an atomic war. It must therefore unite itself as a great neutral bloc between America and Russia.

This desire for a Europe cut free from the influence of either great neighbor is also to be found in moderate Left-wing opinion. This group has suffered a species of intellectual and ideological martyrdom in the last three years. Immediately after the war, Russia had the double halo of having the world’s first planned economy and of having won a tremendous military victory. The tendency of moderate Socialists was to look to Russia and regard America — an America in which all controls were swept away and the Republicans returned to office — as the citadel of unrepentant capitalism.

Since 1945, this ideological picture has been torn to pieces and with it the hearts of many honest men who have had to watch their Soviet idol sink to lower and lower levels of national and international behavior and the distrusted Americans rise to a height of disinterested generosity unique in the annals of history. Fact and ideology have struggled in their breasts and the only compromise they find emotionally satisfying is to join the great body of people who all over the world in every class and country have been trying to act as “bridges” — bridges between East and West, between capitalism and socialism, between planning and laissz fa-ire.

The “bridge” concept demands that a united Europe shall belong neither to the East nor to the West. Ii shall support neither Russia nor America but attempt to create a third bloc, a third alternative between (he rival powers. Its policies shall combine planning and freedom. In domestic polities it shall stand between the extremes of Right and Left. In international affairs it. shall seek, by dissociating itself from its present close ties with the United States and by making its independence of Russia clear, to act as an independent buffer state — or group of slates—between the two. The most persuasive and vocal spokesmen of this view are probably to be found among the British Members of Parliament who last year were grouped round Mr. Richard Crossman and published a pamphlet entitled “Keep Left,.” But the mood is also apparent among the Continental parties of the Left, especially those which, like the Socialists of France and Italy, feel themselves in danger of being ground away between the upper and nether millstones of domestic extremism.

These various trends are quoted not because they are important in themselves but because they show the way in which a policy of drift would be likely to lead the Western powers. It would disintegrate their alliance. It would encourage every centrifugal force, every affirmation of national selfishness and particularism. Europe would float loose from the Atlantic Pact. Britain would seek to pull away into a supposedly isolated Commonwealth. France and Germany would be abandoned to their old contest. Instead of a free world in reasonable control of its own destiny, there would be once again — as there was before the last war and as there threatened to be in 1945 and 1946 — a medley of nations, great and small, agreed on nothing and each canceling out the others’ best intentions and most careful plans.


THERE are three main reasons why the collapse of the present alliance between the Western powers — the United States, Britain and the British Commonwealth, and the participating countries in Western Europe — would spell ruin for the West. The first has become so obvious that it need not be described in any detail. It is that Russia has upset all the old calculations of power in the world, and Western isolationism, which belongs to a nostalgic past, is not equipped to deal with the new pattern of power. Whatever the dreamy of supporters of an international “Third Force" in the shape of an independent Europe, such a force cannot come into existence for the simple reason that it cannot become a force. The Russian weight lies so heavily on Europe—for the time being it has bulged to the Elbe — that there is only one way in which Europe standing alone could offer a reasonable counterweight, and that is by throwing all its resources and all its energy behind a militarily restored Germany. Such a solution is unthinkable.

The counterweight must therefore be provided bv America’s close association with Europe. To say so is not necessarily to convict Russia of further ambitions in Europe: it is merely to state the obvious— that powerful states with Messianic urges will always spill over into a political power-vacuum if such a one exists on their frontiers. War is avoided by seeing that such a vacuum does not exist; it is made certain by a retreat which simply creates others.

So much for Europe; but the problem of new patterns of power is not confined to Europe. All the Western powers have vital interests in the Far East and Southeast Asia, and here in the last six months a reversal of old relations has taken place which is as revolutionary as the absorption of Eastern Europe into the Soviet sphere and which may, in the long vistas of history, have even profounder repercussions. Communist control has swallowed a large part of China, and whatever allowances — wishful allowances -one may make for the development of Chinese “Titoisin,” the policy of the Chinese Communists, for the time being, will certainly be closer to Moscow’s than to any other power’s. This reversal of a whole strategic position has not so far elicited from the Western powers even the essential preliminary of joint consultation. In fact, they are behaving in the Far East in the separate, uncoördinated fashion they would still be using in Europe, had it not been for Mr. Marshall’s initiative. But the results only underline the need for a closer and more inclusive alliance.

The second reason w hy the alliance of the W est is a permanent need is economic. In ihe first place, Europe standing alone —and with all the more emphasis Western Europe cannot satisfy its own economic needs. The Sixteen Nations are on the whole exporters of manufactured goods and importers food and raw materials. Their prosperity turns on their ability to sell these goods and to secure primary products in return at reasonable prices. One great source of raw materials — the New World, and the United States in particular — will remain, on all present estimates, limited since it will be impossible for Western Europe to sell its manufactured exports there in sufficient quantities to buy all that it might wish in return. It is therefore vital to stimulate alternative sources of supply — to increase the acreage under lood in Australasia and Africa, to develop the mineral riches of Central Africa, to expand timber and grain production in Eastern Europe.

But both the scale ot trade with the United States and the amount of investment available for developing non-dollar resources depend in the first place upon American policy. The scale of American purchases and investment abroad is the first yardstick of an expanding world market. The Western powers are without exception debtor nations, hard hit by the war. The contribution they can make to the capital development of new areas — a cardinal factor in an expanding economy—must be judged in the light of the likely contribution to be made by the tremendous American economic machine. Like an ocean-going liner, the United States economy can draw along in its vast wake the smaller economies of its war-lorn allies. But the momentum must come in the first place from the United States. And since this is the ease, it is folly to imagine that the profound interrelationships between the American and European economies will come to an end in 1952. Rightly conceived, the Marshall Plan by 1952 will simply have restored Europe to a position in which it can throw the weight of its regained prosperity behind America’s in the fight to expand the prosperity and productivity of the whole world.

At this point we touch on the third reason why it would be disastrous for the West’s Grand Alliance to peter out in the restoration of parochial isolationism. It is quite simply that in the world ot ideas, the challenge presented by Communism stops at no frontiers, recognizes no Monroe Doctrines, is as challenging in Harlem as in Chinatown, in Sierra Leone as in Peru. The Communist ideology claims that peace can be secured ultimately only in a Communist world; the peaceful association of non-Conununist peoples and nations is thus an essential and permanent counter to the claim. It affirms that the only relationship between non-Communist states of differing power and development is either competition and enmity or exploitation and imperialist absorption; the evolution of a free federation of nations coöperating on a basis of equality thrusts the lie back and, incidentally, throws Russia’s inability to swallow up Yugoslavia into greater relief.

Communism’s claims to be the sole force able to overcome “irrational obstacles” of race and nationality can be disproved only by the development of equal rights and common citizenship among the democracies. Communism’s prophecy of the inevitable instability of all save Communist economies and the total inability of any save Communist planning to create an expanding world can be disproved only by long hard years during which, steadily and without the violent vacillation of boom and slump, the free world builds up the prosperity and expands the horizons of the free world.

In short, the Western powers are faced not only by a rival principle of political and economic organization but by a secular religion which offers a new prophetic vision of a peaceful, fraternal, and rational world. Unless the faith they pit against it has wider loyalties than their own state, wider interests than national prosperity, and higher hopes than local self-preservation, they will finally lose their battle because they will have failed to mobilize the deepest resources of man’s spirit. Communism may be a crooked and finally a destructive ideology but it is not afraid to demand faith and sacrifice. So far the Western world appears to have fixed 1952 as the closing day for both. There is no more certain way of writing “finis” to the West.


WHAT, then, should the Western powers do?

The first step is to be clear about their fundamental aims. They face a power whose ambition is to create a world order from which Western values, Western traditions, and Western institutions will have been very largely wiped out. The supreme achievement of classical and Christian civilization — the emergence of man as a free and responsible agent apart from the collective unit of tribe or city — will have given way to the new collectivism in which man once again sinks back to become a unit, an instrument, an industrious ant. The Western powers cannot therefore aim at less than a world order in which the Western experiment of freedom can continue to unfold. Theirs is a triple struggle— first, to hold the present frontiers with Communism; secondly, to destroy in their own society the evil or irrational forces which make a mockery of their claim to freedom; and thirdly, to penetrate and permeate the Communist world by example and propaganda until Moscow itself feels as menaced as do the nations of the West today.

In the Middle East, in the Indian Ocean, in the Pacific, the Western powers must be linked in common systems of regional defense, with joint chiefs of staff, standardized weapons, and small but highly mechanized and mobile police units ready for immediate action. Police work may well be all that these armies are called on to perform, for the Russians, unlike the Germans, have shown in the past a capacity to respect the fact of opposition, provided it is made sufficiently plain. It is the open doors all round the world that lead them on. Doors firmly closed and bolted will not be burst open.

But defense work is no more than the first foundation. The ideological floods which threaten the world will not be checked simply by building higher dams. The chief test of the effectiveness of the democracies lies in their capacity to canalize the rising waters of social change, to drain the swamps of economic frustration and destitution, to organize fully the energies which science and industrialism have liberated in mankind. Their enormous capacity for expansion and experiment, which was proved to the ultimate degree in the test of war, is challenged no less by the cold war of Communism.

The Second World War was won when the initiative was at last snatched from the Nazis’ hands. In the cold war of today, initiative is once more everything. Let the initiative therefore be framed on a scale fit for an age that flies faster than sound and has released the fundamental energy of the world in the atom. In the political field, the United States, the British Commonwealth, and the states of Western Europe — grouping between them the great part of the wealth, skill, and culture of the world — should enter into a solemn compact, an act of union which establishes common citizenship and minimum organs of common government.

The United States has already proposed international control of what will be the chief source of power and productivity in the future — atomic energy. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to ask that the experiment of internationalized atomic energy should begin at once with those nations that are prepared for it. The Russian veto need not become the last bulwark of national atomic control.

The chief economic functions could be confined to two. The first is to create the preconditions of a common currency by vigorous action to balance the various active areas in world trade. If by 1952, for instance, the sterling area had come to a working degree of convertibility with the currencies of Western Europe, a comparatively stable relationship could be established between dollar and sterling. At that point, it would not be beyond the wit of a central monetary authority to guarantee the convertibility of sterling in terms of dollars and, with sensible safeguards, to make the dollar the common currency of the free world.

The chief obstacle to such a policy is the fact that the monetary claims of the non-dollar nations still greatly exceed their capacity to produce wealth. Simply to guarantee convertibility of other currencies into dollars would place so great a strain on American production that the result would be the slipping of its economy into catastrophic inflation. The central authority would have therefore to establish conditions of eligibility for membership of the dollar currency union of which the first would be a balanced budget and internal financial stability. But once in the union, each nation would automatically extend the world’s free trade area and therefore the world’s capacity to produce and exchange wealth.

The other principal function of the central economic authorities would be to ensure stability in the currency union by safeguarding, stimulating, and controlling the flow of fresh capital investment. In setting up a World Bank and an International Monetary Fund, the powers have already admitted that economic stability and expansion must be pursued by international means but so far they have not made full use of these instruments. A World Bank working as the central authority for investment for the Western powers could be charged with expanding the production of foodstuffs and primary products, developing mineral resources in new areas, initiating land reclamation, drainage, and hydroelectric schemes from Ceylon to Puerto Rico, from Alaska to the Celebes. In this way, it would both secure the more developed economies freedom front the alternations of the trade cycle — which high and sustained capital investment alone can check —and it would restore a balance between the production of industrialized countries and the output of the primary producers.

These functions of a possible central authority are given in ihe merest outline. The fewer its functions the more likely its establishment, for — in spite of all talk of world government — the plunge from national sovereignty to international authority is the highest and the coldest the human race has had to make or rather the coldest which its politicians have had to make. The proposals made here for a central government are purposely reduced to the very minimum. For the rest, the best method of association is to free nations as tar as possible from the restrictions of national economic barriers and by freer investment, freer movements of people, and lreer trade to encourage them in the simple process which Mr. Churchill once described as “getting mixed up together.”

Yet however simple the proposals for a union of the free world, let us admit at once that, written down in cold blood, they ring with as Utopian a note as the latest draft for a world federal constitution. Can a move be made which demands such an upheaval in men’s normal political habits? Is it not darkening counsel to propose that such mountains should be moved and such crooked ways made straight? Why not adopt the more honest course and admit that the Western world will do very well if it does not completely fall apart after 1952 — that friendly but aloof national relationships are the best for which one can reasonably plan?

To this — the approach of the eminently sensible citizen — two things must be said. The first is that this is neither a reasonable nor a sensible age. It is an age of whirlwinds, of political cataclysms; an apocalyptic age in which towns disappear at the touch of a switch and clouds of lethal gas rise in clouds of fantastic beauty thirty thousand feel above the suddenly dead; an age in which six million human beings have been asphyxiated in special camps because of their race and millions more live and die in forced labor for their political beliefs.

It is a terrifying, insane, and infinitely dangerous age in which survival cannot be purchased cheaply or national existence guaranteed by lazy or indifferent or old-fashioned methods.

In fact, the first test of an effective policy in such a world should be: “ Does it take the breath away?” And incidentally, the only recent Western policy which qualifies under this test —the giving away in free gifts in one year of some five billion dollars by one nation to other nations — is also the only one that has had any real effect on the world balance of power.

The second point is that nothing could have looked more utterly outrageous and improbable than Lenin’s statement in 1917: “We will now proceed to build the Socialist State,” when it is put against the background of that plan — Russia in ruins, millions of ignorant soldiers and peasants streaming to their homes, all the world against Bolshevism, the deepest human instincts — the instinct of property, of patriotism, of family life— to be overcome. Yet that state was built, nonetheless. Today, Communist leaders think, even if they do not say, “We will now proceed to build the Communist world,”and it can be declared with the utmost certainty that unless they meet a faith and a vision greater than their own, they will in the end succeed. The world is made and remade perpetually by the force of ideas and by the beliefs in the minds of men. The Western world must either believe in its own principles and its own destiny or succumb to the greater faith.