History of the Streit Council

From Book to Movement

In the 1930s, Clarence K. Streit – the New York Times correspondent at the League of Nations – observed the rise of Hitler-Mussolini-Hirohito totalitarian forces, and the failure of Western democracies to agree on measures to enable the League to work. Alarmed, he published the book Union Now: A Proposal for a Federal Union of the Leading Democracies in 1939. In it, Streit proposed a federal union of democratic nations, which he hoped would prevent a second world war. The envisioned union would have a common foreign policy, defense force and economy, enabling it to deter, and if necessary defeat, any combination of dictatorships of the time. It would also become the nucleus of an expanding area of democratic government as people in Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia would seek to join rather than fight it.

After his book was published and as war loomed, Streit resigned from the Times and

embarked on nationwide speaking tours to inspire the country to support his plan. His proposal generated a significant discussion in U.S. foreign policy circles and gained a large public following. Many newspapers endorsed his proposal. Streit was featured on the cover of Time magazine, became a frequent figure on "Town Meeting of the Air" and other top radio programs of the time, 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 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a last minute offer to France to form a federal union with Britain as France neared defeat to Nazi Germany.

"There is a world of difference between the motives behind Union and those behind...the present policy in each democracy of arming for itself or the proposals for alliance among the democracies." - Clarence K. Streit, Union Now (1939)

From 1940-41, the American public remained determined to keep out of the war as fascists overran Europe, North Africa and China. In 1940 and throughout the war, the membership and leadership of 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.[1] 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. After Pearl Harbor, Streit’s proposal became one aimed at winning the war and the peace. In 1945, it helped pave the way for the formation of a more carefully structured international organization: the United Nations.

 

Post-World War II Euro-Atlantic structures were, in certain respects, a delayed outcome of the movement for international federation. 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 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 also 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.[2] In 1959, they held the Atlantic Congress in London, which 600 leaders from NATO nations attended. They also called the Atlantic Convention, held in Paris in 1962 to work out a plan for a true Atlantic Community, and this resulted in the Declaration of Paris.[3] During this time, federalists also appeared before Congress to promote a transatlantic vision.[4] In 1978, Board members of Federal Union formed the Committee (later renamed Council) for a Community of Democracies, which developed plans for an organization of the world's democracies. These plans were subsequently championed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, leading to the "Community of Democracies" coalition that has met several times.

 

In 1985, Federal Union was renamed the Association to Unite the Democracies (AUD), and in the late 1980s it was the first Western organization to foresee the expansion of the EU and NATO in the event of Communism’s retreat. It proposed that the opportunity be used to deepen Western integration along democratic lines while opening the door to the East. In 2002, AUD held a conference in Moscow to explore the future of U.S.-Russian relations, with a focus on reconciling the security concerns of both sides as a path toward permanent East-West structures of democratic integration.[5] Participants included Strobe Talbott, a former Deputy Secretary of State; Robert Hunter, a former ambassador to NATO; and their Russian counterparts.

 

While the union that Streit sought is still only half-formed at best in its structures, his vision of the spread of democratic government has materialized as the people of Germany, Italy, Japan, Eastern Europe and Russia successively sought to join European and Atlantic institutions that were built in the spirit of Streit's proposal - or in the case of Japan, extended Atlantic-Pacific institutions such as the OECD and G7.

Since 1939, Streit's organization has sought to keep the principles of federalism and their application to international integration before world leaders and the public. Today, the Streit Council carries this legacy forward by working to unite democracies as the basis for greater individual freedom, international solidarity, and global peace. 

 

The Streit Council's original mission statement can be found here.

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[1] See the articles of incorporation: Federal Union Inc., “Certificate of Amendment of the Certificate of Incorporation of Federal Union, Inc.,” March 1984.

[2] “Proceedings and Debates of the 99th Congress, Second Session: History of the North Atlantic Assembly,” Congressional Record (1986).

[3] “Declaration of Paris,” reprinted in Freedom & Union, February-March 1962.

[4] “Statement of D. Bruce Shine” in “Hearings Before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Eighty-Ninth Congress, Second Session on Pending Resolutions to Establish an Atlantic Union Delegation,” August 30-31 and September 1, 8 and 20, 1966. 

[5] “Euro-Atlantic Integration and Russia After September 11,” conference, May 30-31, 2002.

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