Strategic alliances and international treaties

Are all international treaties a form of strategic alliances?

The short answer is:  yes, they are.  Strategic alliances take many forms in politics, business agreements and in social relations.  One of these forms of strategic alliances which we all recognize from history are treaties between nations.

I recently attended one of the many local events celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty on Franco-German cooperation, signed January 22, 1963 by the French president Charles de Gaulle and the West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer.  General de Gaulle’s great niece and Chancellor Adenauer’s grand-daughter were present at the event and provided wonderful and charming personal stories of their childhood in the shadows of power while the portraits of the great men hung majestically behind them.

This treaty was curiously enough more about friendship than power, more about sharing than dividing, more about coming together than standing apart.  There had been for a decade economic links between the two great nations of Europe:  France and (West) Germany.  The European Coal and Steel Community, a precursor to the European Union, had been functioning seamlessly throughout the 1950s.

De Gaulle With AdenauerWhat was unique about this treaty was the exchanges – cultural, educational, social, economic, tourism, etc. which blossomed like a flower in spring.  Students were sent abroad almost like ambassadors into “enemy” lands to learn languages and living habits very different from their own.  Latin and Teutonic peoples lived in each others’ homes, culinary habits were observed and adapted, German and French spoken fluently by thier counterparts, etc.

The Élysée Treaty, also known literally as the Treaty of Friendship, established international summits, joint schools and the “twinning” of cities which is so commonplace today.  Younger and older people alike made the trip across the boarder, new forms of bilateral coordination and institutions have continually been created as a result of the strategic alliance between the French and Germans.  One significant development, for example, was a common Franco-German history coursebook, used by both countries.

For strategic alliance professionals and business consultants, this “single version of the truth” is a sacred grail to be admired and implemented whenever possible.  Common scorecards and reporting, shared service level agreements, tacit accord for what words mean and what they connote is essential to all alliances and treaties.

There are several lessons to learn from this wonderful example of of the Élysée Treaty on how to form and formalize a strategic alliance:

  • respect for institutions and meetings – nothing is easier for politicians or business executives than to be “too busy” to show up
  • small streams make large rivers – the spectacular big thing is often less effective than a thousand little things weaved together
  • culture and education and art and sport are universal values – these are the really important areas for lasting cooperation
  • leadership matters – the effort it takes to understand each other and the tolerance required to partner are paramount to success
  • time is a very important dimension in a lasting alliance agreement – looking back over the last three generations, very strong prejudices (and wounds) have largely been healed and today’s youth are in many ways more European than French or German

The treaty in this case was not a necessity born of the end of war to carve up the spoils for the victor like so many international treaties have been over the years, but a desire brought forth to formalize an implicit agreement that these two great nations would provide the engine to grow and harmonize and build together the European continent and its diverse peoples.

Robert Schuman, then French foreign minister and a curious blend of the two cultures himself said, “we want to make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”.  That mission has been accomplished.

So, now that the European Union has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts – and results – in stopping centuries of violent conflict, let us work towards a Nobel Economics Prize in Europe by designing and implementing best-in-class international strategic alliances in a more modular manner.

Saving the Euro and maintaining European unity in times of grave economic difficulties are challenging the strength and flexibility of the European Union  like never before since its inception.  Economic interests of unity are not enough, we need strategic alliances of friendships as well.


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