Next week, in the drafty, shabby-modern building in Paris that is NATO headquarters, the leaders of 15 nations will gather at the call of President Dwight Eisenhower and Britain's Prime Minister Macmillan to examine their alliance and to consider its posture in the face of the gravest threat it has ever confronted. Not since Versailles will so many heads of Western governments have gathered in such portentous conclave.
The military threat posed by Sputnik is immense, immediate and sobering. But in the larger range of history, the graver threat is that the Soviet Union has shown itself capable of briefly surpassing the West at its strongest pointthe ability of a free society to outthink and outdo Communism's driven men. This was a challenge to the very basis of the West's civilization itself, and its hope of organizing a peaceful world on the principles it held to be self-evident.
At Paris the leaders will meet amidst a noise of bickering, of suspicion that others are not doing their full share. But the dominant note will be simple and wholesome fearfear of the enormous, suddenly dramatized power of Soviet Russia, which the Sputniks blazoned across the world's skies. Last week there was growing concern that the U.S., to whom they had looked for comfort and new leadership to meet the Sputniks' challenge, was failing their hopes. Doubts deepened when, with a thunderous rumble, the Vanguard rocket burned on its launching pad at Cape Canaveral and tossed the tiny U.S. satellite, bleating electronically, on the ground. All over Europe the U.S.'s critics snickered, and its friends quailed.
The prime task of next week's summit conference is to overcome this unhappy blend of fear, cynicism and narrow self-interest and to give new vitality and strength to the NATO alliance. No one could plot this new course except statesmen and diplomats. But the man who knows most about the terrain ahead and who must lead NATO along the course the summiteers lay down is a lean, greying figure in U.S. Air Force blue. More than any statesman. General Lauris Norstad, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, knows and deals with the awkward big realities and the small difficulties of the NATO alliancethe insistence on selfish national objectives, the tendency to "let George do it." More than any diplomat, he influences the day-by-day progress of NATOthe integration of armed forces, the creation of a coherent system of logistics and supply, all the niggling but vital details of forging an effective military coalition.
"This meeting is an event of the first order of magnitude," says Norstad. "It may be compared only with the establishment of NATO and the outbreak of the Korean war. It's all very well to make statements of principle, but now we must make a statement of the things we are doing, tangible things."