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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 142-144

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Book Review

Cold War NATO Supreme Commander:
Airman, Strategist, Diplomat

Robert S. Jordan. Norstad: Cold War NATO Supreme Commander: Airman, Strategist, Diplomat. New York: St Martin's Press, 2000. 329 pp. $45.00.

General Lauris Norstad's professional career coincided with the rise of the United States to superpower status and the evolution of military aviation from its infancy to the indispensable role it came to play in national power. This is not only an outstanding biography of an important military leader, but also a fascinating analysis of the Cold War years and the political-military landscape that Norstad helped to shape. Robert S. Jordan has drawn extensively on Norstad's personal papers, as well as relevant documentation from the U.S. National Archives and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

During much of World War II Norstad worked closely with Dwight D. Eisenhower, forging a professional relationship that was to last until the end of Eisenhower's presidency. Norstad was a key figure in planning for operations in North Africa and later for the Pacific. But it was the Cold War that was to take Norstad to the pinnacle of his career. His crucial role in the creation of the air force as a separate military service is discussed in great detail. The book contains an informative account of the debates leading to the National Security Act of 1947, as well as Norstad's part in shaping the respective roles and missions of each of the military services and the unified commands— [End Page 142] the basis for the national security framework that, with some modifications (as in the Goldwater-Nichols Act that restructured the Joint Chiefs of Staff) endures to this day.

When Eisenhower became NATO's first Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR), in 1951, Norstad was given responsibility for coordinating the mission of the Strategic Air Command with SACEUR's plans—an enormously important task because of the U.S. transatlantic nuclear guarantee. When Norstad was SACEUR, the question of nuclear weapons for deterrence and defense came to the forefront of NATO's agenda. The alliance faced the enduring Cold War dilemma of how to deter the outbreak of war in Europe despite the persistent imbalance of conventional forces in favor of the Warsaw Pact. In this regard, Norstad came up against French president Charles de Gaulle, who insisted that any intermediate range ballistic missiles and other nuclear weapons deployed in France be placed under French control. Norstad's various meetings with de Gaulle on this issue make for fascinating reading. At one such meeting in 1959 Norstad rebuffed de Gaulle's request for detailed information about the targets assigned to U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in France. After asking their respective staffs to leave the room, Norstad told de Gaulle that he could not provide such information. De Gaulle replied that this was "the last time, and make yourself understand it, that a responsible French leader will allow such an answer to be made" (p. 122). The widening gap between France and its NATO allies led eventually to de Gaulle's decision to withdraw from the integrated command structure, but this came in 1966, four years after Norstad stepped down as SACEUR. In Jordan's outstanding discussion of Norstad and de Gaulle there is only one minor error or misprint, in which de Gaulle is referred to as the "grandiose President of the Third Republic" (p. 219) rather than the Fifth Republic.

The final years of Norstad's term as SACEUR were taken up with the second Berlin crisis. He had to coordinate NATO plans and policies for a crisis in which the Americans, British, and French exercised jurisdiction in Berlin under the postwar occupation, while the other members of NATO had no direct responsibility for the status of the divided city. Here again Jordan provides an excellent account of Norstad's dual-hatted role as SACEUR and Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Forces, Europe. In this capacity Norstad worked...