How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
Our refusal to aid France in developing her nuclear strike force has never lacked American critics. Should we not seek an accommodation with General de Gaulle, trading missile technology and components for coöperation in another military or political field? Increasingly, it is said that we should. Proponents argue that France is well on the road toward acquiring her force de frappe, despite our opposition which has embittered French officials and made their program slower and more expensive. The bitterness and higher cost leave France both less willing and less able to support common enterprises, including the provision of modern French divisions to NATO and toleration of American-controlled nuclear weapons on her territory. It is said that these are unpleasant consequences of American policy, especially as they are felt by one honored major ally and not another. If we should supply Skybolt missiles to the United Kingdom for its Bomber Command, should we not assist France in some comparable way? Especially if France pays for it and eases our troubled balance of payments?
So the critics argue, and with considerable force. But far more important than the effect of America's arms policy on Franco-American relations is its broad objective-to arrest the proliferation of nuclear powers, not to speed it. Therefore, we have persisted in one message to would-be aspirants: "If you go toward independent nuclear capabilities, you go it alone. The road promises to be long and costly. And for what?" The painfulness of the French experience may, we hope, be a forceful example to others. We regret the burdens to France, and we seek to lessen their impact by any compromises that can be accommodated within our basic arms policy. But we are not prepared to abandon this policy. To do so would give evidence to the cynics who say that stubbornness pays and would encourage other nations to undertake similarly expensive nuclear programs in the expectation that we would bail them out with military aid. The real test of our policy toward France will be measured by whether or not others are deterred from emulating her.
It cannot be maintained that American arms policy has been ideal, or that its many spokesmen have always expressed a consistent philosophy toward NATO and nuclear arms. Probably we have affronted France more than we needed to, and now we should do a better job of articulating a single coherent set of policies. Since some of the implications of these policies are unpleasant to our allies, it is all the more important to show these implications within the full context of Western defense. Where we seem inflexible, we must show that our resistance is not merely thoughtless or stubborn. Thus we need to hunt for constructive alternatives that, unlike an independent national deterrent, meet legitimate French needs without an unacceptable compromise of what we believe are our deeper mutual interests.
Many critics seem unaware how much of our policy for the defense of Europe is coherent and consistent. The public expressions of our nuclear philosophy may be incomplete, but there is more to it than is commonly recognized, as one who reads the defense statements and speeches of President Kennedy, Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara must perceive. Responsible critics of our resistance to the spread of nuclear weapons can no more neglect this doctrine than they can the stated or implied French doctrine. The relevant questions are: What makes a strike force a deterrent force? How is nuclear force to be used, under what circumstances, in order to dissuade what nation from doing what?
One prominent feature of American doctrine is that nuclear force should not be used save in direct retaliation in kind or where the defense of the free world leaves no feasible alternative. We have not forsworn the nuclear initiative; our policy does not in all circumstances forbid "first use," as some strategists have proposed. But the change from the simplicity of the 1954 concept of "massive retaliation" is as unmistakable as it is natural. It is not cowardly to shrink from unleashing nuclear violence where an alternative defense is available; it is prudent when retaliation and counter-retaliation can spiral easily to excessive levels of damage; and it is politic when even those whom we propose to defend may look upon nuclear weapons as instruments of their destruction as much as instruments for their defense. Hence we have emphasized strong conventional arms to raise the "threshold" of violence at which we are driven to use nuclear weapons first. Yet conventional arms are not to be viewed exclusively as an alternative to nuclear weapons, for an enemy is likely to find our threat of nuclear retaliation more credible when he must crash through a thick shield of conventional forces in an unmistakably major attack.
Thus the United States favors a complete deterrent for NATO rather than one confined to the upper reaches of violence, and this means a strengthening of the conventional component of defense. When our allies plead scarce resources, we suggest concentration upon the neglected Shield forces. To divert resources to a series of national nuclear forces seems to us a serious mistake when Shield deficiencies are glaring. France, for example, appears to be spending about 1 percent of her gross national product to develop her force de frappe. None the less, the financial aspect is distinctly secondary. If the military function of the French strike force promised to harmonize with that of our own strategic retaliatory forces, we would be able to do less of the same strategic job as they did more. But in fact the force de frappe promises acute disharmony. Militarily, it threatens to interfere with the functioning of our nuclear deterrent; politically, it erodes the basis for allied trust in this deterrent.
NATO members must have confidence that their allies will honor their pledges to defend any one of them that may be attacked. The greater the threat, the greater the need for confidence. Yet France openly expresses doubt that the United States can be relied upon to invoke its retaliatory power in response to a Soviet attack that is confined to Europe-no matter how aggressive and destructive it may be. The dread logic is familiar: because a big nuclear strike involves the risk of suicide, it is not credible that a nation will launch it unless its own homeland has been attacked. Hence, a bold enemy will not be deterred from attacks upon our allies. Clearly there is something in the argument, but as formulated it is misleadingly simple and cannot be allowed to stand. For if "defense of one's homeland" is the only circumstance in which nuclear retaliation is credible, then a French nuclear force does not, for example, provide a credible defense for attacks on Germany, or Turkey, and so on. Thus, NATO members are driven back to self-defense where it matters most, while enjoined somehow to preserve collective defense in the conventional field where it matters a great deal-but less.
West Germany is commonly cited as the next likely claimant for help in achieving a national force, because she is an exposed and major power. No prospect arouses greater passions throughout Europe than this. Memories of two world wars counsel the opposite course, and so do apprehensions about inevitable Soviet reactions. Moreover, it is always possible that the unresolved problems of Berlin, unification, boundaries and unrest in East Germany may trigger violence whether deliberately intended by the Soviets or not; and violence can grow, especially in situations of threat and counter-threat. In view of this, should control over strategic nuclear arms be put in the hands of Germany, the area where the East-West confrontation is most direct and threatening? If the United States agreed to a German nuclear capability, it would be tacitly acknowledging that the big deterrent in its own hands is no longer sufficiently credible. Even if such a course made strategic sense, it would certainly arouse a storm of protest throughout British and Scandinavian political parties and peoples; nor would it be confined to them alone. If one wants to help the Soviets in their aim of splitting NATO, here is a way to do it.
And what about lesser powers in NATO who might find national nuclear strike forces more abhorrent or less feasible to create-even with generous help? How are they to be defended? Moreover, if we appeared to agree with the French claim that a force de frappe is needed for first-class status in the alliance, we would stigmatize the others. In an alliance where all the members are proud, could anything be more divisive?
What we are primarily concerned with here is the case where an attack restricted to Europe is so overwhelming that NATO Shield forces are crushed, and the American strategic nuclear deterrent would be needed. Would an American strategic response then be credible, assuming, as we are, that the American homeland had not been simultaneously attacked? Actually an overwhelming Soviet attack confined to Europe is one of the least likely contingencies, but it is the one that evokes the most dreaded apprehensions in Western Europe. Hence it poses the acid test for our nuclear policy.
To those who doubt the credibility of our deterrent under the circumstances described, we must first and foremost point to our pledge-that we view ourselves as part of NATO, and not apart from NATO; and our deeds back our words. Our military presence in Europe is not a mere token. An effective Soviet surprise attack upon West Germany would probably kill more American than German soldiers, and certainly many more Americans than Frenchmen. Our nuclear capabilities in Europe could hardly escape being brought to bear forthwith.
Of the greatest importance in assessing the credibility of an American nuclear response is the fact that we can employ the strategy of a rich nuclear power, not a poor one; and contrary to popular belief, there remains a vast difference between the two.
The difference lies not so much in the greater numbers of retaliatory instruments available to us, although the numbers matter. More important still are the facts that they are better protected and that the planning for their use and continuing control is more sophisticated. We obviously could and might launch the all-out strike that fits the usual image. This strike would be designed to minimize Soviet capabilities to retaliate, which implies that Russian civilians in large numbers would be killed as a by-product of smashing Soviet retaliatory capabilities. But in self- interest, as well as moral revulsion, we might well choose to do otherwise. What our strategic plenty gives us is the ability to choose among alternative tactics, each of which poses so formidable a threat to Soviet interests that it is a compelling deterrent even where we impose severe restraints on ourselves. Smaller and less sophisticated nuclear systems can be presented as a serious deterrent only by promising to retaliate in as blunt and bloody a manner as possible. Since "city-killing" is commonly assumed to be relatively easy, the small independent national deterrent force must be directed to that purpose. The idea of sparing cities in a full-scale general nuclear war may be considered heresy by many, but it can in fact be entertained by a big nuclear power.
Here lies the novelty of an American policy that members of NATO, above all, need to understand. At Ann Arbor on June 16, 1962, Secretary McNamara stated bluntly that "principal military objectives, in the event of a nuclear war stemming from a major attack on the alliance, should be the destruction of the enemy's military forces, not of his civilian population."
Why spare Soviet cities in an American nuclear attack prompted by a massive attack upon Europe? The answer is as simple as it is upsetting to established patterns of strategic thought. Our ultimate deterrent power is that we hold enemy cities as hostages and the enemy knows it. The bargaining power over him that these hostages give us is an asset that we should be loath to throw away. We surely want to compel restraint in whatever retaliation he is capable of after our attack, and the way to compel restraint is to bring home to the enemy that most of his civilization remains hostage to us, and that it survives contingent upon his own restraint. With great and secure strategic power, we can withhold enough from an initial counter-military attack to keep his cities always under an over-riding threat.
If it be asked what restrains the Soviet Union from launching its attack on European cities at the very outset of hostilities, the answer is (a) that it is almost inconceivable that the Soviet Union would run the risk of a wholesale, indiscriminate nuclear attack on Europe without also trying to knock out the United States (in which case the whole premise of this discussion is altered); and (b) to be willing to run the risk of any attack, the Russians must look upon Western Europe as a prize to be won, not a target to be turned into rubble.
For us to leave untouched those military control facilities that are situated in cities does, of course, entail risks because it permits the enemy to retaliate; on the other hand, it may be the only way to permit enemy political leaders an opportunity to stop or restrain retaliation. We do not have to determine the relative gain or cost of this policy in advance by choosing only one retaliatory plan. But we can preserve the option to try, by adopting a policy of city-sparing, to maintain the power to deter, rather than deem deterrence wholly to have failed if nuclear war occurs. That we are serious about this element of American policy is demonstrated by the fact that we are spending billions of dollars to purchase the necessary capabilities to give it effect.
In describing this novel possibility in our nuclear policy, we had best avoid the term "counterforce." Traditionally this term has implied the all- out strike, with city destruction regarded as a bonus rather than a disadvantage. The opponents of traditional counterforce forecast dimmer and dimmer hopes that it would be effective, and because it cannot confidently be expected to be nearly 100 percent effective, they dismiss it as an acceptable strategy. But as the enemy's retaliatory capability becomes less vulnerable to the classic counterforce strategy, city-sparing becomes more important, not less so. If a nation is sure that hitting the enemy all-out will lead to intolerable retaliation, then it must aim to induce restraint in the enemy rather than to reduce his capability. It may well choose to do so by restrained counter-military attack-even when many enemy forces are thought to be invulnerable-as the best of bad gambles in a situation that is almost by definition desperate.
The novel aspect of possible American nuclear strategies rests on the concept of what not to hit. The estimate of what, specifically, it is feasible to hit may change, although common sense suggests that no collection of military targets is likely to be composed entirely of targets that are either very difficult or very easy to destroy. At any moment of time there will be a mix. Consider the strategic retaliatory program that we know most about-the American. Now and in the foreseeable future it contains some soft, fixed elements that are expected to be vulnerable, as well as some that are hard or mobile; and no doubt it contains some elements that are not expected to be vulnerable but will unfortunately turn out to be so. Unless the enemy is in magically better shape, a city-sparing attack against him will not lack for important targets.
Given our ability to affect both the enemy's capability and his intent, it is Khrushchev, not President Kennedy, who then faces the decision whether to exercise restraint or "to commit suicide." The possibility that the Soviets might face such a paralyzing choice is itself a great deterrent to an attack upon Europe in the first place. Barring always the possibility that the Soviet leaders are blind or mad, this makes a massive attack on Europe alone exceedingly unlikely. Yet even if it happened, an American response that spared Soviet cities would offer the best remaining chance of preserving some measure of deterrence after hostilities had started. Thereby we could bring tremendous restraining influence to bear upon the Soviet government to keep the Red Army and their missiles in check in order to preserve their society.
If America supplies the best ultimate deterrent (a secure threat of unlimited retaliation), plus the last best hope, should nuclear war come, of stopping short of a holocaust (the capacity to coerce the enemy by exercising restraint in selecting targets), then Europeans more than anyone should wish to make sure that this deterrent is able to perform. But could our strategic forces fulfill their promise if concurrently a force de frappe were doing what it will presumably be designed to do-namely to destroy Soviet cities-while American forces are taking pains to spare them? Would Soviet political leaders then have reason to be restrained? In their rage and dismay would they, supposing they were still alive, have time to reason? The success of the strategy outlined above depends crucially upon tight operational control of all striking forces, designed and coördinated to supply maximum leverage to a concurrent offer of terms. The nuclear policy of NATO, both politically and militarily, requires what General de Gaulle so publicly despises-integration. A world with such terrible weapons is too small for anything else.
General war is improbable; it is also possible that some time in the future a French force de frappe might coöperate in NATO operations, might even have become formally integrated to ensure coördination, or might be simply inactive or ineffective. The worst situation is unlikely to arise. But where the fate of all NATO may hang in the balance, even very small probabilities need to be taken seriously. Independent nuclear operations have become anachronisms; they should be consistently opposed, not subsidized. This proposition applies as much to the British Bomber Command, of course, as to a force de frappe. But with the Bomber Command we have operational coöperation through the same unified target planning that coördinates our own services, and Britain's 1962 White Paper on Defense speaks no longer of a British deterrent but of a British "contribution to the Western strategic deterrent."
General de Gaulle speaks otherwise, and surely we should accord him the honor of believing that he means exactly what he says, especially when he takes such pains to be clear and is so eloquent. And we should respectfully disagree. About our nuclear aid to Britain, which is so galling to France, we can try not to exacerbate matters in the future and we can give a reasonable explanation of the past. The origins of Anglo-American coöperation are found in the shared wartime nuclear and bomber programs, and this coöperation was nurtured by the earliest postwar governments. It flourished at a time when integration in operations appeared easy and desirable, rather than hard and imperative. The Anglo-American relationship has always been reciprocal, free from the distressing spectacle of an ally conspicuously withholding needed facilities until the United States has been coerced into giving the kind of assistance demanded. Hard bargaining there undoubtedly has been, but bases in Britain have been continuously available to our airplanes, complete with nuclear storage; and more recently we have obtained the Polaris base in Scotland and the use of Christmas Island. For these reasons, our past aid to the Bomber Command can be rationalized as a special case. Yet continuance of special status for Britain now is undesirable. Our policy toward the United Kingdom should be made compatible with our global arms policy.
The same reasons that cause the United States to oppose national deterrent forces should also constrain us from acting independently or without due regard for the interests and sensibilities of our allies. We cannot simultaneously preach Atlantic community and practice unimpaired sovereignty on life-and-death matters. To try to satisfy proud and militarily vulnerable allies with vague and secretive reassurances will increase anxiety and resentment rather than produce coöperation. We must somehow reconcile the operational need for unitary nuclear control with allied political participation and partnership.
To repeat, the most important step is the one we took a long time ago in pledging ourselves to a common defense in which, for example, a nuclear bomb on West Germany would provoke an appropriate American response no less than would a bomb on Maine. We are now taking other steps to reassure and inform our NATO allies about our defense policies and capabilities, and these could be very important. For instance, if our allies do not have sufficient data to enable them thoroughly to review and criticize in detail our strategic capabilities relative to the Soviets, they may well have doubts about Western superiority. If they are to trust one globally integrated force as the ultimate custodian of their interests, they surely are entitled to know that it is ample and securely protected.
Yet even this minimum of reassurance involves providing information not only about what we have but about what our intelligence says the Soviets have, as well as estimates about how Soviet forces might be used most effectively against the West. Such information is not to be given lightly, even with appropriate security safeguards; but to give it would fulfill a deep political obligation. Our allies are also entitled to be convinced that we are not skimping in our strategic budget at their expense-for example, by failing to cover a known Soviet medium-range missile site in our target planning while we do cover a known intercontinental missile site. Such information is still more delicate, but even worse from a security officer's point of view is the fact that our allies ought to know and influence the general outlines of our plans for various contingencies, so that the intellectual core of our policies is as reassuring to them as knowledge of our capabilities will be.
How much is being done about sharing such information is not known publicly, but the communiqué after the NATO Ministerial Meeting in Athens last spring indicated that progress has been made. Secretary McNamara's policy statement last June at Ann Arbor is explicit: "We want and need a greater degree of alliance participation in formulating nuclear weapons policy to the greatest extent possible." The United States has shared knowledge with its partners about the "what" and "how" of our nuclear power, and is open to counsel about the "when."
At this point arises the dilemma: each ally desires to possess both a trigger and a safety catch, while denying them to other allies for fear that strategic power either will be too loosely controlled or will be paralyzed by multiple vetoes. Perhaps this dilemma is best resolved along the lines apparently now being attempted-that is, to avoid diffusion of physical control but to try to achieve a consensus about the general circumstances in which nuclear weapons will be employed. A foreign critic may find the United States cast here in the role of an overbearing secretary of a committee who jealously guards his prerogative to write what the "sense of the meeting" is. Nevertheless, the United States is serious about these consultations, for it knows that the issues matter deeply to all. Even where a full consensus in NATO cannot be achieved, participation in the search for the greatest possible measure of agreement should satisfy some national desires and clarify matters for all.
An "Atlantic deterrent" requires no less than this, but does it require more? If more is needed beyond shared understanding and the fullest political consultation possible, actual physical participation by our allies is possible, even in the most sensitive area of all-command and control. A component of the Atlantic deterrent could be European, and could be organized as a symbol of unity in the West. Any one of many alternatives is possible for this component in terms of various combinations of bases and delivery vehicles. One combination was suggested by President Kennedy in May of 1961 when he spoke at Ottawa about "the possibility of eventually establishing a NATO sea-borne missile force which would be truly multilateral in ownership and control, if this should be desired and found feasible by our allies once NATO's non-nuclear goals have been achieved."
Clearly this suggestion is conditional, as it should be. The West does not need such a force for any over-riding military reason, and the test of its need should be European enthusiasm. If the members of NATO are satisfied with new assurances and a greater political voice in nuclear strategy, so much the better. Or if, even though dissatisfied, they disagree more than they agree about further steps, it is only prudent for us to push for measures that breed more discord than harmony. But if there are deep-seated pressures in Europe for a nuclear force that is not wholly American, President Kennedy has suggested a way to meet them. Though necessarily cautious, the American offer is unprecedented, and Europeans need only agree among themselves in order to give it effect.
Unlike a force de frappe, such a force would symbolize interdependence rather than national dependence, especially if the meaning of "truly multilateral" were made clear. A sea-borne force could be made international in ownership and operation, perhaps down to and including mixed ship crews of different nationalities, so that not even one ship with its missiles could revert as an operable force to any nation in time of crisis or internal unrest. People worry little today about "Ultras" gaining the power to unleash SAC or the British Bomber Command. But if the number of national nuclear forces grows large, the specter of irresponsible action cannot be ignored, any more than can the heightened risks of accidental and catalytic war. If there is to be an increase in the number of nuclear powers, better a safeguarded collective addition than many national ones.
It is even possible that the creation of a European force could lessen the number of nuclear powers rather than increase it. Today Great Britain has V- Bombers, and in 1963 France will have some Mirage IV fighter-bombers. On the other hand, the Bluestreak missile has been cancelled and the British speak only of prolonging the life of the V-Bombers for a few years with air- to-surface missiles. What then follows? France says that she will have an operational missile force before the decade is out, but even so, this is some years away. Perhaps French governments will persevere in seeking missiles of their own, perhaps not. Surely their future choices will not be made wholly without regard for costs and available alternatives. Is it beyond the ingenuity of such experienced powers as France and Great Britain to devise a political compromise in terms of a NATO deterrent acceptable to all, while they gracefully phase out outmoded airplane forces?
If they try, the awkward question will, of course, be that of control, and here we are back to the multiple-trigger and safety-catch dilemma. The problem of control over the firing of missiles of a multilateral force is so difficult that many find it insoluble. Yet it can be solved, if necessary. What most worries some Europeans is that there might be no American nuclear response after a Soviet attack on Europe that had overwhelmed its non-nuclear defenses. If, to meet this contingency, we let a multilateral NATO force be designed to ensure European control over some nuclear response, we give them a trigger for the case where we already expect to respond. Consequently we give nothing away if the nature of their response fits our global operations. This vital proviso can be observed by keeping the missiles of the European force aimed at key vulnerable Soviet military installations. These installations are almost certain to be included among the targets we select-unlike the less vulnerable military targets that we may not be able to hit and the very vulnerable population centers that we may not want to hit. So the requirements for integrated operations can be met, although doubtless far more complex variants for targeting and other operational aspects would be required than this crude illustration may suggest.
The political essentials are more troublesome. Assured response implies that the North Atlantic Council will give advance authorization to the commander of a multilateral force to retaliate against an overwhelming Soviet attack, for time will not permit consultation then and the enemy must not be allowed to expect that the most reluctant among 15 nations would prevent retaliation. Do Europeans really want control made so grimly explicit, so entirely automatic, that there is no place for subsequent political judgment and restraint? If they do not, their public admission of the fact will help to clarify their own parliamentary debates. If they shrink from automatic response in the worst case of Soviet attack, what are national deterrents credible against?
Debate of these matters in NATO should also be illuminating, for the more restrictions our allies want to place on any nuclear response, the more they must admit the utility of non-nuclear alternatives to meet Soviet challenges. Facing the issue will be unpleasant but educational. Probably restraints upon any automatic response that NATO might authorize will be severe, which is right. But the restraints cannot be so severe that extinction of our top political echelons can promise immunity to the Soviets. What could safely be allowed (although it should be left to the Europeans to advocate) would be an advance firing authorization that precludes response based either upon fallible radar warning systems or too sweeping military autonomy, but does ensure against paralysis of the NATO multilateral force by any single one of 15 nations.
Constructive alternatives to a proliferation of national nuclear forces are thus possible for NATO; they include a militarily meaningful NATO deterrent, if it be necessary to go this far. The United States has made these alternatives available, perhaps not fully, clearly or consistently, but none the less publicly, and at the cost of renouncing any narrow interpretation of purely national interests. We have a policy, and it is a good one. Now is not the time to abandon that policy to please France. The task is to improve and solidify it as we move toward greater Atlantic partnership.