A Brief Overview
In the 1930s, the New York Times correspondent at the League of Nations, Clarence K. Streit, observed the rise of the Hitler-Mussolini-Hirohito totalitarian forces and the failure of Western democracies to agree on measures to halt their aggression and enable the League to work. In alarm he wrote a book, published in 1939, entitled Union Now: A Proposal for a Federal Union of the Leading Democracies. In the book, Streit proposed a federal union of democratic nations, which he hoped would prevent a second world war. The union would have a common foreign policy and defense force, and it would so clearly be able to defeat any combination of the dictatorships of the time that it would deter them from aggression. The Union would become, ideally, the nucleus of an expanding area of democratic government as people in Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia would seek to join it rather than fight it.
It is perhaps significant that, while the Union that Streit sought is still only half-formed at best in its structures, his vision about the spread of democratic government has in fact emerged, as the peoples of Germany, Italy, Japan, Eastern Europe and Russia have all successively sought to join the European and Atlantic institutions that were built in the spirit of Streit's proposal - or in the case of Japan, the extended Atlantic-Pacific institutions such as OECD and G8.
After his book was published, Streit resigned his position with the Times and embarked on nationwide speaking tours to inspire the country, with war threatening, to his blueprint for peace and security. His proposal generated a great deal of discussion and a large following. Many newspapers editorially endorsed his proposal. Streit was featured on the cover of Time magazine, and he became a frequent figure on "Town Meeting of the Air" and other top radio programs. He addressed an enthusiastic rally in Madison Square Garden and met with presidents and prime ministers. President Roosevelt invited him to the White House to discuss the idea, and Churchill made a last minute offer to France to join in a federal union with Britain, though France was already falling to the Nazis.
The Euro-Atlantic construction after World War II was, in certain respects, a delayed outcome of the activity of the movement for international federation. In 1940-41 the American people, determined to keep out of the war, watched as the fascists overran Europe, North Africa and China. In 1940 and throughout the war, membership and leadership in Federal Union - the original name of the organization formed by supporters of Streit's proposal - and other internationalist and interventionist organizations often overlapped. Federal Union informed the set of expectations shared by many interventionist figures for postwar planning (see the articles of incorporation for Federal Union Incorporated).
Federal Union members and supporters were among the leaders of organizations that, in close cooperation with the Roosevelt Administration, helped bring the United States from neutrality to intervention in World War II. Among the other prominent interventionist organizations was Fight for Freedom - led by Francis Pickens Miller, who was active also in the Council on Foreign Relations - Foreign Policy Association, and Century Club. The latter had among their members many who, like Miller, continued in the postwar period to work toward Streit's goal; among these were Herbert Agar, William L. Clayton, Henry R. Luce, Whitney Shepardson, and Grenville Clark, the man behind the Selective Service Act. Leaders in this network, with the active cooperation of British Ambassador Lord Lothian, were key architects of the "destroyers for bases" agreement and provided the foundation for the Lend-Lease Act.
After Pearl Harbor, the Streit proposal became one aimed at winning the war and the peace. It helped pave the way for the formation of a more carefully structured international organization, the United Nations, in 1945. In 1949, Federal Union members founded the Atlantic Union Committee (AUC), a political action group that played a significant role in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). AUC's officers included US Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts, Secretary of War Robert Patterson, Under Secretary of State Will Clayton, and Elmo Roper of Roper Polls. Prime Minister of Canada Lester Pearson was a strong supporter, as were many leaders in Europe.
In the 1950s, Federal Union and AUC pursued initiatives that led to the formation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. In 1959, they held the Atlantic Congress in London, which 600 leaders of the NATO nations attended. They also called the Atlantic Convention, held in Paris in 1962, to work out a plan for a true Atlantic Community, which resulted in the Declaration of Paris. During this time, Federalists also appeared before Congress to promote a transatlantic vision. In 1978, Board members of Federal Union formed the Committee (recently renamed Council) for a Community of Democracies, which developed plans for an organization of all the world's democracies. These plans were subsequently championed by Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, leading to the "Community of Democracies" that has met several times globally. In 1985, Federal Union was renamed the Association to Unite the Democracies (AUD). In the late 1980s, it was the first Western organization to foresee expansion of the EU and NATO in the event of an end of Communism and to propose preparations for such an eventuality. In 2002, AUD held a conference in Moscow to explore the future of US-Russian relations; participants included Strobe Talbot, the recent Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Hunter, the recent Ambassador to NATO, and their Russian counterparts.
Over six decades, Streit's organization has sought to keep before world leaders the principles of federalism and their application to international integration. Today we continue to conduct a program of education to find international solutions through the principles of freedom and union.
The goals of the Streit Council are freedom and union, democracy, and effective government, nationally and internationally. These principles have proved successful guides and their importance has only grown over the years. The democracies of the North Atlantic have organized together in institutions for economic and security cooperation since 1947, building on the earlier half-century of emergency wartime collaboration. With the success in deterring a third world war and the peaceful demise of their Communist adversaries, their core role in the global system is clearer than ever, although it was anticipated by Streit in the 1930s and by such figures as Alfred Thayer Mahan and John Fiske as early as the 1880s. Their interdependence is deep, the commonalities that enable them to work together are considerable, and their obligations are significant due to their inescapable global role. These nations, along with experienced democracies in other parts of the world, must continue to move closer together, and the new democracies that are emerging onto the world stage must follow. This is, broadly, the trend among the nations of the world today: to become more democratic and to work together more closely. Understanding this trend enables people of goodwill to help it continue.