W.J. Schuijt in de Tweede Kamer op 6 februari 1968
W.J. Schuijt in de Tweede Kamer op 6 februari 1968

The taboo surrounding the US security guarantee in NATO, January 1963

Wim Schuijt in the House of Representatives. NA/Anefo

On 4 April 2024, NATO will be 75 years old, presenting a good opening to delve into the history of NATO. The debate on the US security guarantee in NATO and the need for a European alternative - dominating the front pages these months - is not new. CPG guest researcher Jan Willem Brouwer discusses the taboo surrounding the US security guarantee in 1963.

In the early decades of the Cold War, the Netherlands was a staunch ally of the United States and a strong supporter of NATO unity. It made a generous contribution to joint defence (almost 5% of GDP in 1954, 3.5% in 1964), with the House of Representatives overwhelmingly supporting the policy.[1]

Disagreements arose within NATO in the early 1960s. The Soviet Union had long-range missiles capable of reaching US territory, and French President Charles de Gaulle, among others, openly doubted whether Washington would risk its own security for that of Europe. Therefore, France rapidly developed its own nuclear weapon, and Paris also made proposals for European cooperation in foreign policy and defence.

The De Quay Cabinet (1959-1963) - a coalition of KVP, ARP, CHU and VVD - believed there was no alternative to NATO. Without the US, Western European countries would not be able to defend themselves against the Soviet Union. There was no objection to the US nuclear monopoly, and doubts about the US nuclear guarantee were out of the question.

On 8 January 1963, KVP MP Wim Schuijt, the KVP's foreign affairs spokesman in the Lower House, decided to raise doubts during the Foreign Affairs budget discussion. "There is too much concern on this point than one should be allowed to remain silent on this," he believed. In his view, it was no longer a given that the US would use nuclear weapons if a European ally was attacked because then major US cities themselves would be threatened. Did this not threaten to make the European continent a nuclear-free region, given over to 'limited wars', of which the Korea War (1950-1953) had been an early example? Cautiously, he argued that 'in time', the US atomic monopoly should be 'shifted' to NATO control. In this, European influence should be strengthened as cooperation in Europe increased.[2]

SSchuijt was strongly criticised by Frans Goedhart, the Labour Party's foreign affairs spokesman: "How Mr Schuijt come to [...] express doubts about American intentions, I do not understand. [...] To me, it seems irresponsible to cast doubt on the solidarity of the NATO alliance in this way. It is the last thing we should expect from the KVP on this point." Goedhart believed that the Americans would never let Europe become a prey to Russian aggression: "It is extremely well understood in Washington that an annexation of the whole of Europe by the Soviet Union would put the United States in acute, deadly danger."[3]

The cabinet downplayed this issue. It was not the Foreign Minister, Joseph Luns (KVP), who acknowledged this but his Secretary of State, Hans van Houten (VVD). The latter stressed that the US commitments for the defence of the NATO treaty area were "in as strong and convincing a form as anyone could imagine or wish for". The cabinet, therefore, had no objection if the deployment and distribution of nuclear weapons remained 'in effect' a US monopoly.[4] 

In the second term, Schuijt made it clear that his reflections had been purely theoretical and that the KVP faction had 'an unshaken confidence in the solidity of the Atlantic alliance'. However, the cabinet's response had nevertheless not satisfied him, and he had gotten the impression that the ministers had merely remained silent.[5] Due to this, Van Houten once again repeated his concerns.

Schuijt would not return to the issue. Incidentally, his doubts were downplayed not only by the Chamber and the cabinet but also by the press. The daily newspapers paid only minimal attention to the discussion.[6] The taboo remained intact.

Literature reference

[1] Zie ook: ‘Lopende en onomstreden zaken’, in: Jan Willem Brouwer en Jan Ramakers (red.), Regeren zonder rood. Het kabinet-De Quay, 1959-1963 (Amsterdam 2007) p. 87-89.

[2] Handelingen II 1962/63, 8 januari 1963, p. 424-425.

[3] Handelingen II 1962/63, 8 januari 1963, p. 419 en 9 januari 1963, p. 481.

[4] Handelingen II 1962/63, 9 januari 1963, p. 467.

[5] Handelingen II 1962/63, 9 januari 1963, p. 483.

[6] Aanvankelijk 1963 had het ‘katholiek dagblad voor Nederland’, de Volkskrant, op 9 januari nog een grote kop op de voorpagina ‘KVP waarschuwt tegen atoomvrij Europa’. Ook De Tijd (eveneens katholiek) berichtte die dag over Schuijts interventie (weliswaar op de derde pagina, maar toch). Op 10 januari – na de reactie van Van Houten – verdween ook in deze kranten de aandacht.

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