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  • From the Open Skies Proposal of 1955 to the Norstad Plan of 1960:A Plan Too Far
  • David Tal

On 16 May 1960 the West German newspaper Die Welt reported that General Lauris Norstad, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR) for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), had sent a draft plan to the government of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) for its consideration. Norstad was proposing the establishment of a military inspection zone in Central Europe. The disclosure of this plan in Die Welt killed any prospects for its adoption, and Norstad's proposal soon sank into oblivion. Recent studies of U.S. and Western security and foreign policies in the 1950s and 1960s make no mention of the Norstad Plan.1 This omission from the historical record is both unfortunate and unwarranted. Careful study of the relevant documents deposited at the U.S. National Archives and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library—some of them declassified only in the late 1990s—reveals that what came to be known as the Norstad Plan originated in President Eisenhower's Open Skies proposal of July 1955.Walt Rostow, who took part in the discussions leading up to Open Skies, summarized this episode as follows: "For our limited purpose, the simple fact is that Open Skies was rejected by [the Soviet Union]."2 [End Page 66]

Even as students of U.S. arms control policy continue to debate whether Eisenhower really intended Open Skies to be a serious disarmament plan or simply a propaganda measure, less known is the fact that the Soviet Union's rejection of the proposal was not the end of it.3 In Washington, DC, officials disagreed about a proper follow-up strategy. Because the Open Skies proposal had evoked a generally favorable response in the world, some officials believed that the United States should build on this apparent propaganda victory over the Soviet Union and proceed further with it, regardless of the chances of implementation. Others favored holding negotiations that would allow the proposal to be modified in a way acceptable to Moscow. At the heart of the debate lay the question of what exactly U.S. goals were in disarmament negotiations. On this issue, historians remain divided. Some scholars assume that the United States under Eisenhower was sincere in its pursuit of disarmament, whereas others claim that Eisenhower either had no intention of reaching a disarmament agreement or, if he had such an intention, was unable to overcome the objections of those within his administration who opposed it.4

An examination of the untold story of the process that led from Open Skies to the Norstad Plan sheds new light on the significance of the Open Skies proposal and its impact on the Eisenhower administration's approach to nuclear disarmament. The years 1955–1960 were a period of change, during which, in response to both external and internal factors, U.S. disarmament policy lost some of the rigid features that had hitherto impeded progress, allowing a more moderate and flexible stance to be adopted. Historians are aware of this process of change, but it still needs to be elucidated because of the customary division of the Eisenhower administration's disarmament policy into two unrelated periods: the first lasting from January 1953 to July 1955 and the second from July 1955 to the end of Eisenhower's presidency. The first period is portrayed as a preliminary stage leading up to the Open Skies proposal, and the years after July 1955 are seen as a time when the administration was preoccupied with the nuclear test ban negotiations.5 [End Page 67]

In reality, U.S. disarmament policy during the second half of the 1950s did not consist only of the test ban talks. The administration was also working intensively to move from the Open Skies proposal to the Norstad Plan. Scrutiny of that process shows that Eisenhower was more inclined to consider new approaches than has previously been assumed. Furthermore, the process involved little-known intra-administration struggles as well as later conflicts within NATO over the initiative to establish limited inspection zones in Central Europe and the Arctic Circle, an initiative that had significant influence...


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