Organizing ELDO. for Failure

The failure of F11 in November 1971 brought home to the member states — and this was indeed the only positive point it achieved — the necessity for a complete overhaul of the pro­gramme management methods.

— General Robert Aubiniere, 1974

World War II left Europe devastated and exhausted, while the United States emerged as the world’s most powerful nation, both militarily and economi­cally. Western Europeans feared the Soviet Union’s military power and totali­tarian government, but they worried almost as much about America’s im­mense economic strength. Some asserted that American dominance flowed from the large size of American domestic markets or the competitive nature of American capitalism, while others believed that technological expertise was the primary force creating ‘‘gaps’’ between the United States and Europe. By the late 1960s, the “technology gap’’ was a hot topic for politicians and econo­mists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Investigations showed that European technology and expertise did not radically differ from that of the United States. However, a number of studies showed that Americans managed and marketed technologies more efficiently and rapidly than Europeans. Significant differences between the United States and Western Europe existed in the availability of college-level management education and in the percentage of research and development expenditures. In each of these areas, Americans invested more, in both absolute and per capita terms. Some analysts believed the technology gap to be illusory but a management gap to be real.

To close the gaps, Europeans, actively aided by the United States, took a number of measures to increase the size of their markets, to develop ad­vanced science and technology, and to improve European management. The Common Market was the best-known example of market integration. Science and technology initiatives included the Conseil Europeen pour Recherche Nu – cleaire (CERN [European Committee for Nuclear Research]) for high-energy physics research, EURATOM for nuclear power technologies and resources, the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) to develop scientific satel­lites, and the European Space Vehicle Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) to create a European space launch vehicle.

Because of the military and economic significance of space launchers, the national governments of the ‘‘big four’’ Western European states — the United Kingdom, France, West Germany, and Italy—all supported the European launcher effort. Seeking contracts, the European aircraft industry also actively promoted the venture. Paradoxically, these strong national interests rendered ELDO ineffective. Each country and company sought its own economic ad­vantages through ELDO, while withholding as much information as possible. This attitude led to a weak organization that ultimately failed. When the Euro­peans decided to start again in the early 1970s, ELDO’s failure was the spur to do better, a prime example of how not to organize technology development.

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