Phantom Peril in the Arctic
Russia Doesn’t Threaten the United States in the Far North—But Climate Change Does
THE North Atlantic Treaty Organization is in a state of transition. The direction of its development has changed, simultaneously with a change in Europe's attitude toward all the organizations born of the cold war. The change of attitude is less pronounced in the case of NATO, however, than in regard to the European Defense Community. The reason for this is, of course, that NATO remains vital to Europe as the one international organization that specifically commits the New World to the defense of the Old. It is the West's basic physical answer to the military challenge of the Soviet Union.
The changes came into the open at the meeting of the NATO Council in Paris in December. This meeting completed in public the retreat from the ambitious goals set at the Lisbon Conference which had begun in the privacy of chancelleries months before. The new attitude has generally been described as a "slow down," a "cut back" and a "levelling off." More accurately it is a change in direction. After feverishly seeking divisions, air squadrons and destroyer flotillas for three years, NATO turned, for various reasons, to perfecting the weapons it had on hand and expanding the logistical basis on which troops, planes and ships must operate.
Several of the reasons for the shift in emphasis and direction are obvious. Some governments which had promised their people a return to normal conditions at home found that the promise could not be kept unless the rearmament schedules set at Lisbon were reduced. And the economies of some just could not stand increased diversion of civilian production to arms. But what happened in Paris was also an expression of what is happening throughout Western Europe--a change in the entire attitude toward the exigency of rearmament. This is a salient fact that must be grasped if President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles are to give new life to European defense. Europe today is not the same as it was in the summer of 1950 after the outbreak of the Korean war. It is not the troubled, uncertain Europe into which General Eisenhower infused hope and confidence early in 1951. It is not even the Europe which in May 1952 welcomed the signature of the European Defense Community Treaty.
What the United States faces in Europe is an alarming reduction in the degree of realism in the thinking about Russia. As the sense of urgency fades, the philosophy of make-do, of muddling through, makes headway. There is a tendency to revive old quarrels. The short-term rewards of economic booms appear more important than the sacrifices necessary for united defense. Neither this changed attitude nor the reasons for it can be taken lightly by Americans. First among the reasons is the economic strain of rearmament. Britain, which has contributed more to European defense than most of the continental Powers, sent a delegation to the Paris Conference which was convinced that their country could not increase exports and thereby regain economic stability while maintaining rearmament at the rate called for by the schedules drawn up at Lisbon. Smaller nations feel the bite in different ways. In Copenhagen recently, Thorkil Christensen, Minister of Finance, pointed out that his countrymen found it difficult to reconcile American urgings for a greater defense effort with an American decision to bar Denmark's blue cheese, a dollar-earning export, from markets in the United States. Europeans repeatedly point out that although the United States has been the most generous contributor to the NATO pot, the contributions by poorer nations often represent more in terms of individual self-sacrifice. "You in America may be giving up the chance of buying a new car next year because of rearmament," a Dutch businessman said. "Our people are giving up the chance of buying a car."
Supplies of food and consumer goods are still restricted in some of the NATO nations. Until the last six months the majority of the people accepted the argument that such restrictions, many of which were first enforced during World War II, were necessary in the rearmament drive. But as the emotional climate has changed, dislike of such restrictions mounts and further sacrifice is unpopular. The attitude of Germany, which has not yet begun to rearm, is indicative. The Bundestag has passed a resolution approving rearmament only on condition that no lowering of the standard of living is involved. And, in spite of the fact that membership in the European Army is in the offing, the German budget for the next fiscal year reduces income and corporation taxes.
Europeans who attribute the change in attitude toward NATO to the economic consequences of rearmament believe that there is a real opportunity for the Eisenhower Administration to undertake constructive measures in this field. In their opinion, an American policy of "trade not aid" would expand the economies of the continental nations and enable them to contribute more to rearmament.
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to some of the other causes of the change in attitude toward NATO. Of these the most important has been the relative quiet of the Soviet Union in Europe. From the summer of 1951 the Russians have been playing a canny game. Of course they are not friendly to any NATO Power or, indeed, to any non-Stalinist Power, but it is difficult for the average European to grasp the implacability of Russian enmity toward the West when the Soviets do not supply daily proofs which affect him personally, as they did a few years ago. To the farmer in Bavaria or Provençe, the factory hand in Leeds or Milan, wars in Korea, Malaya and Indo-China are a long way off. And even though the Russians have not been inactive in Europe, the fact remains that the purges and rearming in East Germany and the steady military expansion of the satellite states do not directly affect the mass of West Europeans.
This is in striking contrast to the situation which brought NATO into existence. In 1949 and 1950 there was an awareness of present danger. The Communists had seized power in Prague, the Soviet Union had blockaded free Berlin, and the North Korean invasion of South Korea suggested ominously the possibility of a Russian eruption westwards from East Germany. People like the Danes, for example, to whom alliances have been synonymous with war and disaster, or the Norwegians, traditionally pacific and isolationist, were ready to submerge inherited prejudices in a movement for united defense. Today, hostile overt acts by the Soviet Union against the immediate national interest of these countries have decreased. As a result, there is a tendency to reëxamine armament programs in the light of domestic needs, as they are popularly understood, and to reject anything which, like the NATO Council's resolution on Indo-China, even hints at an expansion of defense responsibilities.
Some political leaders also believe that the Communist Party line, as it was proclaimed at the Nineteenth Congress in Moscow last autumn, is proof that Russian global strategy aims at dividing the West rather than attacking. They reason that to prevent this strategy from being successful the NATO Powers must pay increased attention to economic stability and, since armed attack is not imminent, proceed more cautiously toward rearmament. Such reasoning is bolstered by European intelligence estimates, particularly those of the British, which scout the possibility of Soviet aggression this year or next.
The American answer is that in view of the unwavering enmity of the Russian leaders toward the United States, the continuation of propaganda against the United States and its allies, the steady increase in Russian armaments, both present and potential, the reorganization of the satellite armies and air forces, the acceleration of Russian economic development and the expansion of Soviet facilities for the production of atomic weapons, it is folly to relax efforts to strengthen NATO to the point where Europe's defenses are strong enough to deter Soviet attack or, if it occurs, to offer hope of holding it short of the citadels of Western civilization and power. A number of responsible European statesmen subscribe to this view. Unfortunately, some political leaders and some peoples, impressed by exaggerated reports of defense progress and moved by the factors discussed above, have concluded that the point of receding danger has arrived.
A survey of what NATO has done undoubtedly reveals great progress. But though the prospects for defending Europe are better today than in 1950, we must remember that rearmament began at very close to zero. The existing forces do not seem to be sufficient to deter a Russian attack this year, were the Kremlin convinced that an attack was necessary, or to hold an invasion for any considerable period, should it come. On paper, where no battles are fought, NATO's strength is impressive. Its ground forces total approximately 60 ready divisions and it has more than 5,000 tactical aircraft. Now it is true that this is much larger than the Russian force in East Germany and the satellites. But the comparison is misleading on both sides of the line. To begin with, of those 60 divisions only 11 are manned and equipped at the moment on the scale required for war with the Soviet Union-- the six divisions (or their equivalent) of the United States Seventh Army in Germany; the four and two-thirds British divisions, four of which form the Army of the Rhine; and the independent Canadian Brigade in Germany, which equals about one-third of a division. Of the remainder, no less than 21 are Turkish divisions. Much has been made, and rightly, of the stamina and bravery of the Turkish soldier, but it is doubtful if this stamina and bravery would compensate in war for various present deficiencies. Turkish troops have a low standard of education, there is an alarming lack of mechanized equipment, a shortage of men trained to maintain such equipment, and a dearth of trained officers and noncommissioned officers.
Further, the uneven quality of NATO's ready divisions is not merely a matter of numerical strength or equipment. By and large, the American, British, Canadian and French forces are the only troops which include a large number of officers experienced in the sort of war which Russia could fight. The experience of the Greek Army against guerrillas in Greece was useful as experience against guerrillas. But if war comes, the West will be fighting, primarily, the Soviet Army.
Moreover, Western defense depends as much on reserve divisions as on those in being. General Eisenhower, General Ridgway and Field Marshal Montgomery have all emphasized the importance of the reserve in any practical scheme of defense, yet the situation remains unsatisfactory. Back of the Soviet divisions in East Germany and the satellites stands the main Soviet Army. Russia could assign nearly 100 divisions to the initial thrusts into Europe. Yet at the end of January a tabulation showed the equivalent of only 35 reserve divisions available to SHAPE from the NATO nations--about 500,000 men at the most optimistic estimate. The West cannot hope to meet the Russian mass with mass, but it must be able to do better than that in reserve divisions. Furthermore, preparations for bringing these divisions into battle are inadequate. There are ten Territorial divisions at about 40 percent of full strength in the United Kingdom. Territorial divisions fought with valor and skill in the two world wars, but more than a month might pass after the initial mobilization order before these could be equipped, organized and transported to the battlefront. The seven reserve divisions of the French Army could, it is claimed, move to the front much faster; some of them might be in position three days after mobilization. Yet, on the whole, it is doutbful if more than half of the 35 reserve divisions would be ready for active operations 30 days after mobilization began.
Some plans also seem to pay too little attention to the question of how mobilization is to be carried out under prolonged and intensive bombing of depots and communications. The French mobilization of 1939, often held up as a model, is useless as an example. The Luftwaffe did not interfere with either the mobilization in France or the movement of the British Expeditionary Forces across the channel.
SHAPE is giving great attention to the quality of the reserve divisions. Gone are the days when the farmer or mechanic took his uniform from the trunk, drew his rifle, ammunition and rations and marched off, ready to fight. War is infinitely complicated today and even the infantryman has been caught up in its complexity. He must know something about the mortar, the machine gun, the recoilless rifle, the antitank gun. The initial period of training as a conscript does not make an efficient soldier of him. Retraining in new weapons and new techniques is essential, and this is also costly in man-hours lost from the national economy.
Such problems are all recognized, and gifted minds are at work on them. The problem of air cover for mobilization is also under consideration, but there seems to be a blind spot among NATO planners of all nations in regard to it. The continuous Allied air superiority during the latter years of World War II has bred a failure to understand the disorganization, delay and steady losses which are imposed by enemy air superiority. It is the reluctant conclusion of a number of officers who remember the terrible days of 1940 when, save in a few isolated areas, the Germans had almost absolute control of the air, that should a Russian attack develop in the next 18 months conditions in Western Europe would be almost as bad.
There has been an expansion of both quantity and quality in the NATO air forces, which now number about 5,100 tactical aircraft, fighters, fighter-bombers, light bombers and reconnaissance planes, but there are still a number of weaknesses. Undoubtedly the Soviet Air Force has its difficulties also, but in war it is always dangerous to underestimate your opponent. At the beginning of 1953 the Royal Air Force had 1,300 aircraft assigned to NATO--the largest force available to it apart from the United States Air Force. This famous service, however, is in the throes of development and change. Many of its squadrons are still equipped with outmoded Meteor and Vampire jets. Others will be flying United States jets for the next year or two. Eventually, the Swift, Hunter and Javelin fighters, and the Canberra light bomber, will reach the squadrons; then, according to its enthusiastic officers, the R.A.F. will be the superior, qualitatively, of any air force in the world. But that day is still distant. Britain saved herself and the Western World in 1940 by having the Spitfire and the Hurricane ready for the Battle of Britain, which opened a year after the war began. It would be unusual for history to accommodate her a second time.
NATO also suffers from problems of command. In war, friction among allies is inevitable. An Eisenhower or a Wellington can keep it in bounds and prevent it from interfering with operations, but in a coöperative enterprise like NATO friction between commanders is apt to break into the open. Serious criticism of General Ridgway and General Gruenther as soldiers is almost totally lacking either at SHAPE or in the NATO councils. But there is a good deal of criticism about the command of the Central Front, which runs from the Kattegat to the Alps and is presently headed by Marshal Alphonse-Pierre Juin of the French Army, a forceful personality who, however, has had limited experience in high command in comparison to his colleagues in other armies. His largest command during World War II was a corps which he led with distinction in Italy. France, not without reason, was insistent that a French soldier be given the Central Command because the area is vital to her security. The British, however, whose contribution to NATO in men, tanks and planes is important, feel that Field Marshal Montgomery was sidetracked for political reasons. They point out that the Field Marshal was commanding an army a decade ago, that he ended the war the successful commander of an army group, and that although he is 66, Marshal Juin is only one year younger. They also add that they do not think he would be any less easy as a subordinate to the American Supreme Commander than Marshal Juin has proved.
Members of the General Staffs of some of the smaller NATO nations have misgivings about Marshal Juin's plans, saying that these seem to concentrate on protecting France. Of course operational planning is secret, but the emphasis which Marshal Juin placed on the defense of the Rhine River in two speeches aroused alarm. Generally, the smaller NATO nations favor any plan that would concentrate large forces on the flanks of a Soviet attack on Western Europe, the area of Marshal Juin's Central Command, in preparation for heavy counterattacks once the Russians had slowed down or were faced with the difficult, but not impossible, barrier of the Rhine. On the whole, however, command problems are minor at SHAPE at present. The real difficulties will arise with the formation of a European Army under the European Defense Community Treaty, for this army will be under SHAPE command in addition to the NATO forces.
The tendency of the public to measure the strength of NATO solely in terms of divisions and squadrons has diverted attention from the very important progress made in the development of the logistical basis for war. This phase of activity is likely to come more to the fore in 1953, and here both NATO and SHAPE can claim satisfying results. By the end of this year, the number of operational airfields in Western Europe will have risen from 60 to about 125. Thousands of miles of communications--roads and railroads as well as telephone and telegraph--have been put into operation. Dozens of new radar stations have been built and a start has been made on the vital problem of a practical air warning and defense system. The construction of a pipe line for jet fuel will begin this year. The stockpiling of ammunition, fuel, food, weapons and supplies for maintenance is being accelerated. Depots and barracks are under construction. Even if there is no startling increase in the number of divisions and squadrons available, this will add up to solid progress. The program, known as the "infrastructure" program from a word borrowed from French railroad terminology, has been allotted $955,600,000 over a three year period, and by the end of 1953 approximately $610,000,000 will have been spent. By 1954, the defense of Europe will be on a far sounder logistical basis than ever before.
Thus far we have been dealing with our own progress and problems. What has happened on the other side of the hill?
The first effect of NATO on the Soviet Union was to create a military problem where none existed before. Three years ago the military conquest of Western Europe would have been a relatively simple matter for the 22 Russian field divisions in East Germany. At that time, Soviet quantitative and qualitative superiority was so great that only minor adjustments of personnel and supply would have been necessary as preparation for an attack by the group of armies, or "front," as the Russians call it, in East Germany.
Today this is true no longer. The equivalent of 18 Allied divisions in Federal Germany, the strengthening of the tactical air forces and the creation of reserves where almost none existed before would require extensive reinforcement of the Soviet forces on the Western front before an attack was made. The NATO build-up has robbed the Russians of the chance of achieving surprise, one of the master keys to success in war. It is because of the belief that the Russians would need some time to complete their preparations for attack, and that these preparations would necessarily become known, that some NATO governments are paying so little attention to the problem of how to mobilize reserves speedily. Again one glimpses a tendency to complacency; there is danger in trusting to a preconceived picture of Russian behavior, or in betting too heavily on the efficiency of intelligence services.
Although Soviet Russia has had to face a new military problem with the growth of the NATO forces, she has effected changes and improvements in her military strength which cannot be overlooked. The satellite armies and air forces have been reorganized and reëquipped. No one can say conclusively why the Russian command has not brought new divisions into Eastern Germany to maintain its former margin of superiority over the West in Central Europe, but the improvement in the position of the satellite fighting services may well be an answer. This process began before the invasion of Korea gave the great impulse to Western rearmament. After a prolonged period of political purge and military repair, it is probable that the Polish Army, 16 divisions strong, is today the equal in number and equipment of the armies of some of our leading European allies. Considerable improvement also has been made in the Hungarian, Rumanian and Bulgarian armies. The Czech army, wracked by purges, is slowly being remolded.
The West has not yet begun to rearm West Germany, the last great reservoir of manpower available in the important Central European area. On their side, however, the Russians--after a series of drastic purges aimed at attaining absolute political reliability--have begun the process of turning the Bereitschaften (or Readiness Squads) of the Peoples Police of the East German Republic into a "Peoples Army." It is expected that by June this force will amount to a corps of three divisions, one of them armored.
The Russian potential in Europe, then, cannot be estimated any longer solely by the size of the Soviet Army and Air Force stationed in East Germany. If the satellite divisions were thought reliable enough to be used, their strength would double the over-all Russian strength. Russian military thinking still places maximum importance upon the use of manpower in war, despite the development of atomic bombs and guided missiles. Some Allied officers believe that the Russians would not attack from East Germany without a superiority in manpower of at least five to one. They tend to believe that the Soviet command would, therefore, call on reinforcements from the Soviet Union itself before it struck, and predict that the build-up of a five-toone force in East Germany would take the Russians not less than two months.
Against this theory the point is stressed at SHAPE that the Russians have assembled enormous quantities of matériel in Eastern Europe, and that to begin operations they would have to move only men and weapons into East Germany. After stockpiling for four years, the Russians have on the spot all the supplies required to launch a much larger army than is now stationed there. In an atomic war, such stocks would be essential to the Russians, since their conquest of the Continent would have to be completed before the effect of Allied atomic bombing on their industrial centers was felt by the Soviet armies fighting in the West. Moreover, the preparation of East Germany as a springboard for attack has not been confined to stocking supplies for the ground forces. An extensive system of airfields has been completed, and one of the best-qualified American air commanders estimates that the Soviet Air Force could fly from 4,000 to 6,000 aircraft into East Germany and Czechoslovakia and have them in operation against the West within 48 hours.
The United States correctly places the maximum emphasis upon the effect of atomic bombing in winning a war. But in the opening phase of war the effect of atomic bombing on the Russian fighting services would be relatively at its weakest. We must expect that if the Russians conquered Western Europe they would build up large stocks of all kinds of supplies there; and at home they will have dispersed their industry to the greatest extent possible and will defend primary targets with utter ruthlessness. Atomic bombing may, indeed, prove to be the decisive weapon in any war between Russia and the West, but it may not influence the opening operations in Europe to the degree sometimes supposed.
The military strength of NATO has reached a point where, in the words of a prominent French soldier, the West must "return to first principles." One of the most important of these principles is standardization. This means not simply standardization of arms and other equipment, in itself a protracted and difficult process, but ultimately the standardization of organization and of tactical concepts. Obviously no approach to the latter can be made until arms, equipment and organization have been standardized. Equipment, especially in weapons, is the key. This was demonstrated in a striking fashion in the manœuvres of September 1952 in Germany when two armored divisions, one French and the other American, attacked together. It was impossible for the older French tanks to keep up with the new United States armor, and the gap which appeared between the two divisions grew as the difference in the rate of their advance increased. Standardization should reach down into the reserve divisions as well. Naturally, the ready divisions must be served first with new Centurion or American tanks. But it is manifestly impossible to expect adequate battle performance from a British Territorial division that has been trained with obsolete tanks.
The extreme complexity of the weapons and techniques of modern war, mentioned before, substantiate the arguments advanced by military leaders for a longer conscription period. Eighteen months, the period adopted by most of the continental nations, do not provide adequate time for training. Those who have had a chance to compare the bearing in manœuvres of conscripts serving 18 months with those serving two years are aware of the superiority in morale, keenness, adaptability and even physical fitness which the longer period imparts.
Differences exist concerning the strategic and tactical concepts which will govern the NATO forces if war comes. The lack of standardization forbids for the moment the adoption of general tactical planning, but it is essential that a single over-all strategic plan for the defense of Europe be framed and adopted. The insistent demand by officers of the smaller NATO nations for what they call the "German plan," which calls for the concentration of strong forces on the flanks of the position in Central Europe, indicates that if a general plan exists at present it is not favored by all of the participating countries. One answer is that until the Federal Republic of West Germany is armed, the NATO forces must, because of a shortage of resources, confine themselves to defensive planning based on the Rhine River. In the summer of 1951, General Eisenhower told the writer that the most striking result of the addition of the 12 German divisions to the NATO forces would be the extension of the field of practical operations eastward from the Rhine. At the moment, that river is the eastern limit of any serious defense of Europe. Actions east of the river under present conditions could be merely counter-punches to throw an enemy off balance. They could not stop him. But with the addition of 360,000 German soldiers and a German tactical air force the NATO shield can be edged eastward, and defensive planning can be enlarged to account for areas which now are directly threatened by the Russian front in East Germany. One of these is the entrance through Schleswig into the Jutland peninsula. Another is the huge industrial complex which we call the Ruhr; it could not be defended now by the British, Dutch and Belgian divisions which, with Canadian, Norwegian and Danish forces, make up the Northern Group under the command of General Sir Richard Gale. Still a third is the Netherlands north of the Rhine, which would be left almost undefended by a strategy based on holding the line of that river.
Once the European Defense Community Treaty is ratified, the rearmament of Germany will take a somewhat longer time than enthusiasts in the Pentagon believe. The Germans, it must be remembered, are starting from scratch. Their own military planners believe it will be 18 months, at least, before German forces are in the field, and two years before the 12 divisions and the tactical air force are completely organized, equipped and trained.
Two other factors will influence the quality of the new German Army. One is geographical; this army will not be drawn from the great military recruiting areas of Imperial and Hitlerite Germany like Brandenburg and Mecklenburg, but from areas whose troops have had an "uneven" record in the past. Another is financial. The German politicians apparently believe that rearmament can be accomplished without any reduction of living standards and without disturbing the economic prosperity of the Federal Republic; as noted above, income and corporation taxes have been cut at a time when other potential members of E.D.C. are tightening the screws to raise money.
So much has been made of the difficulties of obtaining legislative sanction by the E.D.C. nations for German rearmament that further comment may be redundant. It should be understood, however, that part of the reluctance springs from the old fears and dislike of Germany. When they were frightened by the approaching shadow of the Red Army, France and the other Western nations contemplated German rearmament with something approaching equanimity. The Russian policy of relative quiet in Europe, plus the vigorous approach of the Germans to their new position, have created doubts.
NATO's responsibilities are not limited to the Central Front, although that is where the bulk of planning and resources have been concentrated. As the organization has developed, the inclusion of Greece and Turkey has raised new military problems for its commanders in southeastern Europe--and new problems for the Soviets as well. There is pressure within NATO for greater emphasis on the rearmament of the Turkish, Greek and, eventually, Jugoslav forces. It is argued that once they have been given modern weapons, their units reorganized, and sufficient officers and noncommissioned officers trained in modern weapons, their favorable strategic position on the left flank of any Russian advance into Western Europe will help deter the Russians from attacking.
Such reasoning has been called academic in some quarters. The Russians, it is stressed, have revitalized the fighting services of the satellite nations which face these states. It will be some time before the Turkish Army can be considered fit for active operations against a mechanized enemy; and the Jugoslavs, who have about 30 divisions, organized on the Russian Table of Organization, are only now beginning active coöperation with their neighbors. Yet the movement toward creating a common strategy in this area is growing. The forces available there, combined with the tactical air power exercised by United States and British carriers in the Mediterranean and the strategic air power represented by Allied bases in Africa, do raise NATO's prospects considerably. Eventually the change in the whole aspect of the strategic situation in southeastern Europe might have as important an effect on Soviet plans as German rearmament.
Where does NATO go from here? Europe is changing fast and prophecy is difficult, but it seems safe to say that there will be only slight expansion this year of the number of ready and reserve divisions available to the NATO command. Ratification of the E.D.C. Treaty would promise strong German reinforcements within the next two years. There will be, however, a steady increase in the efficiency of the ready and reserve divisions in 1953, a result of the flow of new ground weapons, such as the Centurion tanks ordered by the United States, and new aircraft. New weapons, plus better training, plus the extension of standardization bit by bit promise a much greater efficiency than exists today.
Finally, NATO's defense of Europe will rest on a much more solid logistical foundation by the end of this year. The redisposition of airfields and supply bases and completion of the present construction program for all "infrastructure" items promise to give the forces now under arms much greater staying power than heretofore. Much must still be done, however, on the problem of preparing reserve divisions for swift intervention in the battle.
It is all too clear that the NATO states, with their economies based primarily on industry, cannot match Russian mass with mass and simultaneously maintain industrial superiority. The alternative is greater efficiency in the use of men and matériel-- especially armor and tactical aircraft--so that superiority of quality will compensate for inferiority in numbers. To the extent that this is practised, the West can be considered to be moving--despite the loss of a sense of urgency--toward a position where the defense of Europe will be practicable. But time is needed for the construction of an efficient defense based on highly trained and formidably equipped ready divisions and reserves. Can we count on having time to construct forces of this type? If not, then there must be a return to the mass goals set at Lisbon.