Courtesy Reuters

Nuclear Weapons Sharing and "The German Problem"

In the American effort to cope with the nuclear problems of the Alliance, one theme has been dominant: We must somehow devise for Germany "an appropriate part in the nuclear defense" of the West, as the joint communiqué of last December's Johnson-Erhard meeting put it. Due in large measure to this preoccupation, public debate about nuclear sharing within the Atlantic Alliance has left the universal impression that the central problem is how best to satisfy the German desire for further control of nuclear weapons. All but lost sight of is the crucial issue of how many and what kinds of nuclear weapons are required to defend Europe, who makes the decision to use them and how they shall be deployed.

Because it is now both economically and technologically feasible for Europeans to think about developing their own nuclear weapons program, it is only natural that there are differences within the Alliance over ownership and use of nuclear weapons. At the root of the problem is European awareness that there may be alternatives to complete dependence on the United States to deter the Soviet nuclear threat to Europe. Of all the complex of issues stemming from these changing nuclear circumstances, however, none has proved more vexing than how best to offset the 700 medium- range ballistic missiles (M.R.B.M.s) that the Soviet Union has pointed at Western Europe. And no other issue illustrates so well the liabilities of allowing a European problem of the first order to be portrayed as a "German problem."

Over the past few years, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) has acquired a number of pre-targeted nuclear systems-British V-Bombers and the Polaris missiles of three U.S. submarines now operating in the Mediterranean-capable of covering some of the missile sites in Western Russia which threaten Western Europe. But there is a gap in the target coverage; and that gap is now covered by non-NATO forces located outside continental Europe and beyond the control of SACEUR. In 1959,

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