Go Slow on Crimea
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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, General Norstad, then Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, first stated SACEUR'S military judgment that M.R.B.M.s were required for the defense of Europe. General Lemnitzer, his successor, has reaffirmed this need. Because the strategic necessity and political advisability of putting M.R.B.M.s in Europe has been seriously questioned on both sides of the Atlantic, however, no action has been taken on SACEUR'S request. Nevertheless, many European political and military leaders have great confidence in SACEUR, and the Commander's expressed requirement for M.R.B.M.s has raised questions as to both the military effectiveness and the availability in a moment of crisis of the U.S. "external" forces targeted on the Soviet missiles. This uneasiness and apprehension have been stimulated and exploited by President de Gaulle, who argues that the credibility of our deterrent against a Soviet attack on Western Europe has declined since we became directly threatened by Soviet missiles.
The United States has taken the position that, although SACEUR'S requirement for an M.R.B.M. defense is fully met by our strategic forces, we appreciate the problems of European political confidence caused by the NATO nuclear "gap." Consequently, we have sought in consultation with our Allies to devise a means of meeting this "need" which will also serve to dampen European interest in independent nuclear forces, eliminate the need for further "two-key" or bilateral nuclear weapons arrangements, and avoid the political and military disadvantages of deploying nuclear missiles on the continent of Europe. As to the last objective, it should be noted that for all the talk in Europe about the M.R.B.M. gap, there is little enthusiasm anywhere for land-based missiles in "their" country.
The various multilateral schemes considered by the United States, such as the M.L.F. (Multilateral Force), are attempts to fulfill the objectives of providing M.R.B.M. coverage without putting strategic missiles in Europe. The emphasis on collectively owned and managed nuclear forces is designed not only to discourage national nuclear efforts but to help create a framework or model of Atlantic partnership which could be of major importance to the future of European unity.
Although there are strong critics of this collective approach to the Alliance's nuclear problems, the objectives that the United States Government hopes to achieve through multilateral nuclear management-i.e. avoiding further bilateral nuclear arrangements and avoiding the emplacement of strategic missiles in Europe-are generally accepted by most Americans and Europeans. Nevertheless, in reporting the nuclear problems of the Alliance, the press seems almost entirely concerned with sterile exchanges of clichés about West Germany having a "finger on the nuclear button" and the feasibility of mixed-manning.
In such an atmosphere, any U.S. proposal for meeting what we consider to be the political, not military, need of giving the Europeans greater influence in nuclear matters was bound to encounter trouble. Our first such proposal, the ill-fated M.L.F., was undermined by a combination of the differences between the United States and most of its allies as to just how urgent the project was, its unfortunate image as an answer to the German "nuclear problem," and the deadly derision heaped on the mixed-manning idea. Any new proposals on nuclear sharing seem destined for the same fate unless we clarify for ourselves and our European allies just what requirement a collectively owned and managed nuclear force is designed to meet, and how urgent that need is.
In the public mind, the collective nuclear force concept is designed primarily to meet German aspirations to play a greater role in the nuclear affairs of the Alliance. This identification has been stimulated not only by the press but by the public and private concern of many United States officials that Germany will follow France along the path to a national nuclear force if its energies, ambitions and finances are not channeled into a collective force. The sense of urgency has caused attention to concentrate on this issue, rather than on the more fundamental problem of how best to deter the Soviet M.R.B.M. threat to Europe.
Our preoccupation with the German nuclear problem has reinforced suspicions throughout Eastern and Western Europe that the United States' real purpose in suggesting nuclear sharing within the Alliance is simply to provide a convenient way of giving the Germans nuclear weapons. Consequently, talk of nuclear sharing immediately turns to the issue of Germany and nuclear weapons, eliciting reactions varying from uneasiness to near pathological fulminations. Memories of German oppression are too tender and distrust of the German national character is too widespread to permit rational discussion of nuclear sharing within the Alliance if that discussion begins with a plea for German nuclear "equality."
Nevertheless, German and American officials who insist on the urgency of enlarging the German role in the nuclear field are apparently prepared to pay the political costs of a program of nuclear sharing advertised as a means of giving the Germans nuclear equality within the Alliance. These costs will include: increased French hostility, the risk that the Soviets will shatter whatever hopes remain that German reunification can be achieved, and the prospect that the East European countries now in a process of political and economic diversification will consolidate in the face of a German nuclear threat. Much of this reaction could be expected whatever form increased German participation took, but the United States' pressure for rapid solution and concentration on the purely German aspect of the larger problem of the nuclear defense of Europe are guaranteed to intensify and exacerbate the reaction.
West Germany's economic resurgence and evidence of growing political confidence, it is argued, indicate that Germany cannot be forever denied what nations of lesser stature can now obtain. Hence the United States and the "honest Germans" should move swiftly to give Germany a measure of nuclear participation before the forces of latent German militarism demand a national nuclear force à la française. Moreover, the argument goes, West Germany, as the most exposed country in Western Europe, is in the uncomfortable position of having to depend totally on the U.S. nuclear deterrent for its defense. Therefore, West Germans are particularly vulnerable to the Gaullist argument that the United States will not expose its own cities to nuclear destruction for the sake of Germany. As for the physical presence of some 200,000 American troops in Germany, these "hostages" to American fidelity could be withdrawn at any time.
F. W. Muiley, a British expert on defense issues and recently appointed Minister of Aviation, wrote in 1962:
One may deplore the risks attendant upon a proliferation of nuclear powers but it is hardly surprising that France, for example, is seeking to join the nuclear club for reasons of prestige and in order to exert greater influence upon the affairs of the alliance. All of the arguments which led Britain to decide to develop her own nuclear weapons are equally valid from the French point of view for France herself, and there is no reason why other members of NATO should not decide to fallow suit.[i]
The logic of this argument has been compelling, particularly to Washington. The spectre of a West Germany with an independent nuclear force apparently has so disturbed Washington that it has hardly been questioned whether the French or British experience has in fact any relevance for Germany. It is perhaps time that this question be asked.
To be sure; West German advances in nuclear technology since 1958 have been impressive and help create the impression that the Germans are laying the foundation for a weapons program. Notable accomplishments in recent years include a program of nine power reactors scheduled for completion by 1969- including a 237-megawatt plant at Gundremmingen-a fuel fabrication plant, and a national investment in atomic energy programs that is now running over $200 million a year. In the ultracentrifuge field, German scientists were among the pioneers. However, little has been heard about German activity in this field since October 1960, when it was announced-amidst a flurry of newspaper comment-that henceforth the work would be classified.
The composite picture of West German prospects in the nuclear field is therefore one of increasing strength and diversity. In a very few years, if present plans are carried out, West Germany will not only become one of the leading commercial competitors in the nuclear field but will have the capacity to build a bomb in a very short time, and at little cost. But to say that Germany has a strong chance to become a leader in the nuclear power field is clearly not the same as saying that the Germans will press on to nuclear weapons if the United States fails to discover some way of sublimating this very natural drive. A look at West Germany's national circumstances may help to show this.
On the incentive side of the ledger, it is true that Germany would be in an extremely dangerous position if it were forced to defend itself against the Soviet Union with conventional arms alone. The vast open northern plain which carried German armies into Russia can also serve as a gateway for the Russians into West Germany. Because West Germany, either alone or even in concert with its Allies, could not hope to block this channel with conventional arms for very long, the incentive to acquire an assured nuclear-weapons defense is very high.
On the other hand, although West Germany is a large country by European standards, with a decentralized industrial and population pattern, its physical circumstances are not favorable for a nuclear weapons program. Adequate underground testing sites would be difficult to find, and the country is too small and crowded to satisfy the requirements for dispersal of a fixed missile system. And though West Germany has the technological and economic base to duplicate the nuclear weapons programs of France and Great Britain, does it have the political incentives?
Alone among the major powers in Europe, West Germany is a nation with a strong sense of national grievance. The reunification issue has a direct bearing on Bonn's position on the acquisition of nuclear weapons, as Foreign Minister Gerhard Schröder indicated in July 1965 when he stated that West Germany was not prepared to renounce the acquisition of nuclear weapons until the Soviet Union consented to the reunification of Germany. He thus brought into sharp focus a major German incentive for creating the option of acquiring a nuclear capability but also for refraining from doing so. For the usefulness of the nuclear weapons issue in gaining reunification would almost certainly be shattered once Germany actually acquired weapons.
It is at this point that comparison with France breaks down. President de Gaulle needed nuclear weapons in being to pursue his objective of reasserting French influence on the Continent; Germany needs the threat of acquiring nuclear weapons to force progress on reunification. West Germany has serious reservations about a non-proliferation agreement not because it wants nuclear weapons but because the Germans do not want to be deprived of the threat of acquiring them.
To look at the other side of the coin for a moment, suppose West Germany did actually decide to build a nuclear force. If it were to be more than just a prestige symbol, if it were designed actually to threaten the Soviet Union, it would run a high risk of drawing a Soviet attack while still in the development stage. Few countries would have a more precarious ride to a nuclear capability than West Germany, exposed as it would be to a preemptive Soviet strike. At the moment it has five heavy fighter-bomber squadrons of Lockheed F-104s which could be used as delivery vehicles, but their chances of success against Soviet defenses would be very low indeed. West Germany would have to make a great investment in armaments even to come up to the standard of France's present nuclear force.
In summary, Germany's incentives to develop an independent nuclear force are clearly outweighed by the restraints imposed by its special circumstances. But this conclusion rests precariously on a structure of assumptions: that German policy will be rational; that our commitment to defend West Germany will retain some credibility; and that we will not sacrifice German reunification for an accommodation with the Soviet Union. Under these conditions, the Germans are not likely to want their own nuclear weapons, for they are surely aware that nothing would so permanently solidify the division of Germany. What they do want is the bargaining power that the threat of acquiring nuclear weapons may give them.
In the rush to give West Germans a voice in the management of nuclear affairs within the Atlantic Alliance, let us then ask again whether West Germany is really the France of tomorrow in respect to nuclear weapons. If their respective national circumstances are as different as they appear to be, then perhaps we should proceed more slowly before we inadvertently excite a nuclear appetite through creating uncertainty about the nature of our commitment to West Germany's defense and national goals. Equally important, we should move with all care and deliberation if we are not to prejudice the chances for a solution to the M.R.B.M. problem in Europe.
The problem of nuclear sharing seems destined to remain with us. Whatever satisfaction the critics of the M.L.F. may derive from the difficulties the Alliance has encountered in devising a formula for sharing nuclear weapons, they would be well advised to bear in mind that the basic issue-the nuclear defense of Europe-has not been resolved. Moreover, any decision on the nuclear defense of Europe will of necessity involve West Germany; and it has been argued here that any decision on the further involvement of Germany in the nuclear weapons field should take account of a number of factors often overlooked in the American approach to this emotionally charged issue.
First, national attitudes toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons are the end product of a highly complicated and often shifting array of national circumstances. To describe the process of nuclear spread as something infectious or organic is highly misleading. We are not dealing with a modern-day black plague slowly spreading its way across the continent of Europe. The doctrine that the arguments which led France to a nuclear weapons program are equally valid for West Germany is a very questionable one at best. West Germany is, of course, concerned about its non-nuclear status, but the arguments for or against nuclear weapons are clearly not the same as those which motivated France-either in kind or intensity.
Second, and obviously related to the first point, we must realize that, unless the Soviet M.R.B.M. menace to Europe vanishes, Europe will have to have an M.R.B.M. response, be it land-based or sea-based, "one-key," "two- key" or many "keys" as in the multilateral solution. This is West Germany's nuclear problem, and one that is shared with the rest of Western Europe. What is argued here is not that a collective nuclear force is the best or only answer to this problem, but that if the nuclear sharing issue could be portrayed as what it really is-a European problem requiring careful and deliberate attention-not primarily a German problem demanding an "urgent" solution, then much of the irrational and destructive heat will go out of the Alliance's deliberations on where we go from here.
To this end, the emphasis in American pronouncements on nuclear sharing should center on the necessity of strengthening the military security and political unity of Europe-not on "satisfying" the Germans by giving them nuclear "equality," presumably equality with France and Britain. As a first step, we should resist any actions which give the impression that the United States and West Germany have the responsibility for drawing up the nuclear-sharing plans. This will be particularly true now that France has withdrawn its forces from NATO. Nothing would so prejudice the future of the Atlantic Alliance as for the United States, in the interest of somehow compensating Germany for France's defection, to rush in with a nuclear- sharing scheme devised in Washington and Bonn.
One way of emphasizing the multilateral nature of the nuclear problem is to use NATO's Special Committee established last year and composed of the Defense Ministers of Belgium, Denmark, West Germany, Canada, Greece, Italy, Turkey, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. At the moment, this committee has a mandate only to discuss means of improving Allied participation in nuclear policy and planning and could not officially discuss nuclear sharing. None the less, it can serve the purpose of establishing an information base on nuclear affairs from which multilateral discussion of nuclear sharing will obviously profit. Whatever the means, it seems imperative to move the nuclear-sharing issue to NATO- wide discussions, thereby lessening the emphasis put on the German problem. And we can begin to put that problem in perspective by remembering that Bonn is not Weimar-nor is it Paris.
[i] "The Politics of Western Defense." New York: Praeger, 1962, p. 79-80. Italics added.