Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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European Defense Community

Proposed multinational West European military force consisting of six members: France, Italy, the Benelux countries, and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany). The European Defense Community (EDC) originated amid the backdrop of growing Cold War tensions in the early 1950s. One of the thorniest military issues of the time was the rearming of West Germany to share the burden of West European defense. The Korean War (1950–1953) added new urgency to this difficult decision, for a divided Germany appeared to resemble a divided Korea. In late 1950 Washington suggested that the FRG be admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). France, however, was especially wary of an autonomous West German army and did not support the admittance of the FRG into NATO.

In 1952 the French government unveiled the Pleven Plan, which called for a multilateral European military force that would help protect Western Europe from attack. The military forces of all six members of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) would thus be integrated into a single-force structure under supranational control. The Pleven Plan was endorsed by NATO in May 1952, despite the grave reservations of the Pentagon. In addition, Great Britain distanced itself from the concept of a West European military force.

On 27 May 1952, the six ECSC members signed a treaty to create the EDC based on a plan that anticipated six divisions under NATO command. In 1953 the Council of Europe proposed the creation of a European parliament, whose members would be elected directly, that would supervise the ECSC, EDC, and the incipient European Economic Community (EEC). It was clear, however, especially to the Americans, that the EDC would only be duplicating NATO's military command structure. The FRG and the Benelux countries ratified the treaty almost immediately; however, France and Italy demurred. Italy refused to ratify the treaty before knowing what the French planned to do. In France itself, the EDC met stiff resistance. Many French politicians were wary about joining a military enterprise that did not include Great Britain or the United States, and many more were increasingly preoccupied by colonial insurgencies in French North Africa and, of course, in Indochina. The last thing the French wanted was to dilute their military forces when they were concerned with holding on to the last remnants of their empire.

French Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France finally—and reluctantly—presented the EDC Treaty to the French National Assembly in the summer of 1954 but without endorsing it. The Assembly unsurprisingly defeated it on 30 August 1954. After the defeat of the EDC, German rearmament was achieved through existing NATO structures via the European Union (EU), a by-product of the 1948 Brussels Treaty. The EU was an alliance consisting of France, Britain, and the Benelux countries to provide for the general defense of Western Europe, although it had been largely subsumed by NATO in 1949. Upon the recommendation of British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, Italy and the FRG were admitted to the EU. Its name was changed to the Western European Union (WEU), and it was incorporated into NATO. The WEU and NATO would supervise West German rearmament and would stipulate the size and strength of its forces. When the British agreed to keep troops in West Germany, French fears were allayed, allowing the FRG to be rearmed and admitted into NATO.

Alessandro Massignani and Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.


Further Reading
Ruane, Kevin. The Rise and Fall of the European Defense Community: Anglo-American Relations and the Crises of European Defense, 1950–55. New York: St. Martin's, 2000.
 

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