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Are Europeans also at war?
David Heilbron Price © Bron 150901

The USA is at war. So declared President George W. Bush on Tuesday, 11 September 2001. In Washington DC and New York suicide bombers, piloting four, fuel-laden commercial airliners, attempted to tear out the commercial, military and political heart of the USA.

America asked for allied solidarity in conducting this war. For more than half a century, Europeans have committed themselves of a joint defence pact, NATO. Until now they have never activated the key Article 5 of NATO’s founding Treaty of Washington. External armed attack against any NATO state by another state (UN Charter, article 51) is considered an attack against all. Thus practically the entire western world could be on a war footing.

Are we now all at war? Against whom, a score of terrorists, a network or a state or states? War is defined as a conflict of states or nations. Article 5 confirms this. But a major, planetary danger remains. Can we expect not only US retaliation but a further onslaught of terrorist attacks, this time on European cities?

How was NATO’s Treaty of Washington created and why? Mutual defence of democracies was a critical choice for post-war Europe. Today it is the critical choice for all humanity: Will we live under the democratic rule of law and impartial justice or the rule of violence? Robert Schuman, foreign minister of France and twice her prime minister, was instrumental in defining this NATO treaty. His archives show he gave particular attention to the crucial fifth article. It provides a new vision about war and safeguarding peace.

The key aspect of Schuman's revolution was that peace, the end of war and the defeat of terrorism had to be based on the international rule of law. He was at the forefront of establishing that international rule of law. We are in the process of forgetting the power the rule of law has to solve the greatest of humanity's problems. We do so at our peril of turning the world again to anarchy.

In 1949 when it was signed, states across Europe, liberated from Nazi tanks and Gestapo brutality, were facing a new threat. As Winston Churchill had predicted already in 1946, the ‘ancient states of central and eastern Europe’ were falling behind ‘an Iron Curtain.’ States were succumbing to a co-ordinated communist assault: ‘from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic. .. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and populations’ became part of the Soviet sphere.

In the winter of 1947-8, France faced terror. Killings, invisible sabotage of power plant, train derailments and Communist-led insurrectional strikes was tearing the state apart. The French faced their greatest danger in the entire post-war period. ‘We risk losing France,’ US Secretary of State George Marshall wrote in a top-secret message to President Harry Truman. ‘We must prevent a communist coup d’état.’ The consequences were dire. The fall of France to international communism could entail the loss of the continent. 

As Schuman said at his inauguration: at risk was the very existence of French state. His task was to ‘save the Republic’. As Prime Minister in that critical hour, Schuman’s resolute refusal to yield to extra-legal terror and violence averted the loss of the democratic state. He made no concessions to the Left or the Right that could endanger democratic accountability and the rule of law. Insurrection failed. Terror is not created by machines. It is made first in human minds.

The North Atlantic Treaty, signed by Schuman for France and with its supreme headquarters in Paris, was the military answer to that Communist terror threat and its Right-wing reaction. What were the principles that motivated Schuman in insisting on Article 5 of the NATO treaty?

For a Lorrainer like Schuman, war and peace were the central issues of his entire political engagement. The principles of the Washington Treaty recall the historic model of a Rhineland pact, of long-lasting significance to historians of Alsace-Lorraine, the cockpit of nationalistic wars. The eternal principles that Schuman drew on were especially practical in the new time of ideological war of the twentieth century. The example dates far back into history, to the mid-thirteenth century. Its origin lies in the revulsion at the destruction after centuries of dynastic war and invasion.

During the so-called Great Interregnum, about a hundred towns and bishoprics joined in a confederation for mutual defence. It bound Basel and Zurich in what is now Switzerland to Metz, Strasbourg, Trier, Cologne, Mainz, Worms, to the Low Countries and Bremen on the German North Sea. Based on a ‘cult of peace and observation of justice above all wars and discords’, the pact embraced both secular and religious powers, wealthy and poor, provided all sought the cause of peace and democratic rights. The word ‘peace’ became synonymous with ‘community’, an association founded by a joint oath of peace. Switzerland, founded just decades later in non aggressive defence, remains a witness. These principles, go beyond nation, state, religious differences and geography. They were discussed among the close intellectual friends of Schuman and other Alsace-Lorrainers, after both world wars.

In defending the NATO treaty in a stormy Parliament, Schuman could correctly argue that the alliance was not directed against the Russian people. That was a crucial distinction. Nor for anyone sincerely seeking peace and justice was it in fact in contradiction even with the Franco-Soviet Friendship Pact signed after WW2. In spite of internal sabotage, terror and subversion by communists, the West did not go to war. The western adherence to the international rule of law was a major factor in the collapse of the Soviet system. The work of dissenters of conscience, political and religious, the contradictions of injustice in a 'worker's state', corruption and economic inefficiency in both its market and defence sectors brought about its inevitable end.

The European Community, born of the Schuman Declaration of 1950, was the extension of Schuman's principles of peace through law. The Community erected a zone of law protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. Its goal to ‘make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible’ through supranational law has provided the longest period of internal peace – not only since the last war, but over two thousand years. Its effectiveness, initially and for its long-term continuance, depends on single-minded dedication to peace and justice.

In the European Community, national states, by irrevocably pledging themselves to a new ‘cult of peace and respect of justice above all wars and discords,’ have provided the stability needed for their well being and growth.
Any global coalition created in response to the murderous attack on America must also be based on law and justice. There can be no question of violence based on revenge. That will only inseminate further violence. Action must be based on due process of national and international law.

In a war of the 21st century, fought by shadowy networks of terrorists and without conventional weapons, the strongest defence shield for our ever-more insecure world is increased global commitment to peace, law and justice.


David Heilbron Price has written several books about Robert Schuman and runs the Schuman Project, web site:

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