Joseph Luns

West European political leader Joseph Luns (born 1911) played an essential role among European foreign policy figures in creating and maintaining the alliance and community structures of the post-World War II era. His most visible position was as secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from 1971 until 1984.

Born on August 28, 1911, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Joseph Marie Antoine Hubert Luns grew up in a family with six children and a father who was a painter, teacher, author of art books, and finally a museum director. Luns moved to Amsterdam at a young age and was educated in a Roman Catholic high school, St. Ignatius College in Amsterdam, as well as in the Institut St. Louis in Brussels, Belgium. He read law at the University of Leyden and the University of Amsterdam, taking his degree at the latter school in 1937. He subsequently took courses at the London School of Economics (in political economy) and at the "Deutsche Institute fur Auslander" at the University of Berlin. The only interruption in his education came in a year's service with the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1931, when he was drafted into the military to be a signalman.

In 1938 Luns entered the Dutch foreign service. He rose through the customary grades, his last being that of counselor of embassy (1950). His early career was rudely interrupted by the German invasion and occupation of The Netherlands in 1940, at which time Luns joined the government-in-exile, based in Britain, and he spent the war years fulfilling assignments for that resistance effort. He was posted to Berne (1940-1941), Lisbon (1941-1943), and London, where he served out the remainder of the war and later at the reconstituted embassy until 1949. His final position with the foreign service was as a member of the Dutch delegation to the United Nations from 1949 until 1952.

Luns's remarkable career as leader of Dutch foreign policy blossomed in 1952, with the creation of a coalition government in the wake of elections that year. The sharing of power between the Labor Party and the Catholic People's Party (to which Luns belonged) not only created a broad-based cabinet, but also the sharing of certain posts among more than one person. In the case of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Luns shared the position with J. W. Beyen until 1956. Subsequently, Luns was appointed to the position in his own right after successive elections in 1959, 1963, 1967, and 1971. In each case, Luns stood for election to a parliamentary seat and, according to Dutch law specifying that a person may not be both a member of Parliament and a minister for more than three months, resigned his parliamentary seat within months of being elected. In the process Luns served under seven different prime ministers and lent a remarkable degree of continuity to Dutch foreign policy during the period of construction of the European Community and of transition through decolonization for European countries.

Having been a signatory of the Treaty of Rome, Luns was one of the initiators of the scheme to allow African countries that were not former colonies of member states to establish relations with the European Economic Community. His attention to the problems of Africa, Asia, and Latin America was only one theme he carried over from his Dutch responsibilities to his broader European and alliance responsibilities. Luns also argued strongly for expansion of the European Community to include Britain and other European countries. His efforts in this direction were constantly frustrated by the position of President Charles de Gaulle of France, especially in the consideration of expansion in the early 1960s. Luns left the foreign ministry when the European Community was expanded in 1973.

It was a natural transition for Luns to move to the work of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization when he was invited to take up the position of secretary-general by vote of the NATO foreign ministers on June 4, 1971. His view of the importance of Western unity made NATO a natural pulpit from which he could preach the necessity for joint planning and action. Luns had, of course, an extensive background in NATO affairs from his Dutch service: he had represented The Netherlands on the NATO Council for many years and, indeed, had presided over the celebration of the tenth anniversary of NATO in 1959 in Washington and Norfolk.

Luns's views as secretary-general were only occasionally controversial. He was solidly pro-American, even during the period of the Vietnam War, and entered into public disagreement with the United States only over issues of diplomatic style. He faced major internal problems in NATO during his tenure, including the sometimes violent disagreements between Greece and Turkey, the challenges of increasing defense spending levels, and the dissension caused by disarmament and arms control talks with the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. He supported modernization of NATO weapons and deployments to meet Soviet military growth, particularly in the debates over Pershing II missiles, enhanced radiation warheads, and cruise missiles. Over time his political conservatism cost him some popularity, but that did not deter him from saying what he considered right.

In October of 1983 Luns announced his retirement as secretary-general of NATO. One of his last accomplishments before turning over the reigns to Lord Peter Carrington of England was a general agreement to update technology for conventional weapons so NATO would be less reliant on nuclear arms.

For his work Luns received awards from countries all over Europe, among them the Charlemagne Prize of the City of Aix-la-Chapelle for his efforts to promote European unity and the Gustav Stresemann medal for 1968 for his promotion of the rule of international law. In his own country he was awarded a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lio and an Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau. Luns was also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and the London School of Economics and had honorary degrees from Harvard University, Oxford University, and other universities. He was married to Baroness Elisabeth van Heemstra and had one son and one daughter.

Further Reading on Joseph Luns

Luns has not been the subject of a biography, but his own views can be discerned in a great variety of speeches and policy-statement articles published over the years. Such articles include "NATO," in World Affairs (Fall 1983) and "NATO and Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces" in Millenium (Spring 1984); For articles about NATO and issues involving Luns, see journals such as the Atlantic Community Quarterly or The Washington Quarterly; Other information on Luns can be found in "NATO Urges Soviets to Join 'Dialogue' in a New Relationship," by John Vinocur, New York Times (October 12, 1983).

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