At the moment when East Asia is emerging as the new center of great-power confrontation, the old one, Europe, is showing signs of settling down. Eighteen years of almost glacially imperceptible movement have elapsed between the post-Stalin "thaw" of 1953 and the wary "era of negotiations" of 1971. But now the whole constellation of talks between the Soviet Union and its major Western adversaries, around the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), the Ostpolitik, Berlin, force reductions and the convocation of a security conference, look like ratifying the stalemate between the two blocs painfully reached in Europe over the years. Since this recognizes in particular the frontiers between the contestants, it amounts not only to a virtual settlement of the cold war but to the nearest approximation one can expect of a peace treaty ending the Second World War. Moreover, this development coincides with another of great importance. The likely enlargement of the European Community from six to ten member countries, including Britain, is bound to open a new phase in the integration of Western Europe. With two such changes, European security in the middle and later 1970s will necessarily be very different from the patterns that have grown familiar during 20 years.

On the whole, the natural expectation is a shift away from the quasi- military confrontation of the cold war to civilian and political processes gradually increasing the interdependence of industrial societies with potentially complementary interests. If so, it will probably be the first time that an area vital to the world balance, without being itself a great power, is brought under control not as a victim of rival masters but as a field of coöperation sought keenly by the weaker states. It could be almost the equivalent in nuclear and international terms of the King's Peace which brought the European nation-state out of feudal chaos. This is an intoxicating hope and it is not surprising that one of the questions it inspires is whether the time has not come to lower the heavy military guard which has succeeded in stabilizing Europe. Russia is not to be feared because it is increasingly preoccupied with East Asia and with consumer demands at home; and because the last thing the declining ideological metropolis of Moscow would want would be a communist Germany, let alone Western Europe, to dethrone it altogether from its already precarious monopoly. The economic and political cohesion of an integrating Western Europe, sheltered by America's nuclear deterrent, could compensate for the superior military power of the Soviet Union.

Talk of a new European security system rests upon such presuppositions. As pressed by reformers in the establishments of the smaller East European states, such a posture even becomes a Western duty. Only if Russia loses all fear of Western military power, they argue, will conservatives in the Soviet Politburo be stripped of their great alibi and forced to concede the experiments in liberal communism essential to lighten the Russian imperium in Eastern Europe. That the ultimate aim should be to deëmphasize military confrontation as much as possible is already virtually beyond controversy. It is the gospel after President Nixon's "U.S. Foreign Policy for the 1970's," which declares : "There is a growing impatience with confrontation. We and our allies seek a ... détente."

The question is no longer the objective but the means, and in particular the means in terms of the requirements of security. Revisionist American historians of the cold war tend to deny that today's stability in Europe owes much to the security balance. This is impossible, with today's knowledge, to prove one way or the other. What can hardly be denied is that peace has been strong and not weak in the most heavily armed of all the continents ; and that the acceptance of the existence of two blocs has led not to a widening rift but to closer contacts in the last ten years. The tragic expression of this was the way in which the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia was followed almost immediately by the unfurling of the Ostpolitik. It has been demonstrated as far as such things can be in politics that the security control of the European situation has been basic to the confidence needed for coöperation.

This does not necessarily mean that an emphasis on security helps to accelerate coöperation now. It is conceivable that the Soviet Union might move rather faster to a consumer society if it discounted the West as a military force in Europe and that this might help economic coöperation between East and West. But Western attitudes are patently far from the only factor in Soviet attitudes. Jugoslavia is regarded as a thorn in Russia's flesh in its own right. A fortiori, China is a powerful reason for Russia to tighten its control over, for instance, Rumania. It is often claimed in Eastern Europe that fear of NATO played a large part in the Soviet decision to suppress the Dub?ek régime. But it is highly questionable whether the Politburo would have allowed what it regarded, probably rightly, as a loss of control in Czechoslovakia by the communist party even if NATO had been irrelevant to its discussions.

Common to all these questions, as indeed to the change in internal planning, or to Comecon integration, is the desire of a rigid bureaucratic structure to maintain and enhance its power. NATO is tangential to this obstacle, which is rooted in the domestic situation of the Soviet Union and which is likely to set the ultimate limits on the speed of East-West coöperation. This is particularly so because the Czech crisis itself, and since then pressures to reduce forces in both America and Europe have been monuments to the military passivity of the West. It will be hard in the future to argue seriously that military confrontation is a major factor in Moscow's attempts to maintain socialist orthodoxy as the communist party and the Soviet Union understand it. The political confrontation is harder to dispose of because it cannot disappear so long as Western Europe fulfills aspirations indigenous to East European societies themselves and these aspirations are thought to threaten the Soviet power structure. The only circumstances under which that could disappear would be if internal developments in Russia or the West led to the convergence of societies, or if the Soviet Union established a hegemony over Europe as a whole and treated it as a backyard. In the former case coöperation is largely a product, not the sole or even primary cause, of convergence, and Western security policies, though relevant, are secondary; in the latter, the security of Western Europe itself is involved.


In practice, therefore, Western strategies must not drop security for coöperation but seek to combine the two, rather as in another phrase of President Nixon's which calls at once for lower levels of forces and costs and, protesting almost too much, one feels, "a more stable military balance" as well. This squares with two psychological postures which have been developing for some time and are likely, barring sharp changes of political direction, to develop further during the coming decade. One is the feeling that if East-West coöperation is to mean anything, it must be possible to lighten the military apparatus in Europe and buy security more cheaply, or to put the East-West balance on a more codified and contractual basis, or both. The other is that Western security policies must be tailored to a situation where the use of force seems remote, and yet to ignore its possibility might in the end raise it up again or at least undermine security and even the long-term hopes for equitable coöperation.

The simplest way to reconcile these aims would be to confirm the superpower control, based on nuclear caution, already established over Europe. It is in some ways the most likely development because it would require the minimum changes in interstate relations and attitudes. It is hard to imagine the Soviet Union, the "elephant" of modern military power, diluting its politico-military primacy in Eastern Europe. There are more doubts about the American "whale," because its insular position gives it an inherent political mobility currently illustrated by the Administration's policies in Asia.

Yet it is in Europe, if anywhere, that American interests are most firmly fixed. This is partly for economic reasons: Europe is not only the great foreign center of U.S. enterprise but still represents 20 percent of the world's annual output, whereas the whole of Asia, including China and Japan (though not Siberia) reaches barely 15 percent. It is also cultural and psychological: the family relationship between the two remains close and may become consciously closer if non-Western influences increasingly shape the world. Everything in the attitudes of the American leadership suggests that in its eyes Europe is indeed as "indispensable as Alaska" and perhaps a lot less forbidding. Moreover, though the relationship between America and Western Europe is very different from the semi-colonial situation in the East, it is hard to see any alternative for years to come to the U.S. nuclear guarantee over West Germany. British, French or European federal nuclear ambitions seem insufficient or remote; and the one subject on which the Soviet Union, fearing that the Ostpolitik conceals German ambitions for reunification, and West Germany, aware that the slightest chances for fulfillment of such hopes require Russian assent, are certain to agree on is the non-nuclear status of the Federal Republic.

The danger of real U.S. withdrawal from Europe is probably less likely than is often assumed in a Western Europe nervous of the cold, as the protected always are. The essential structure of the European security balance is likely to subsist. The rising importance of Asia and of domestic priorities should reinforce this tendency. Closer contacts, from SALT to joint production ventures and concern with the environment, could even gradually create constituencies of interest in both East and West concerned to temper rivalry with elements of genuine coöperation. In such circumstances, agreements on force reductions could codify the relationship in security terms and the process of civilian interchange gradually gain more weight and the military confrontation less and the cold war be not ended but left behind. The almost unique character of Europe as a zone of peace in the field of great-power confrontation could well be reinforced and, for the East, improved.

The difficulty with this relatively serene picture is that détente has such a different impact on Eastern and Western societies that it may actually stimulate the dangers of conflict. Given the long history of muffled explosions in Eastern Europe, East-West coöperation, far from diminishing tensions, could ultimately increase them there. Simultaneously, the powerful pressures toward domesticity in the West could lead societies to downgrade defense to the point where excessive risks are taken with security. It is plain that such pressures on governments in the West are far greater than in the Soviet Union, as they were indeed immediately after the war. The way in which the United States has proposed negotiations on force reductions to forestall unilateral decisions imposed upon it by Congress is symptomatic of a situation which also exists in Europe. There will be about 40,000 conscientious objectors in West Germany this year. It is true that the West German laws are very liberal, a reflection of the fact that the authorities have more manpower than they know how to use; but the government has not decreed the fashion sweeping the universities. In Britain, the all-volunteer armed forces shrink year by year (though recruitment tends to rise in a crisis and Ulster has been no exception).

There is good deal of anxiety that if the United States adopts volunteer forces, whatever is said to the contrary, the sheer contraction of manpower will gradually compel cumulative cuts in American troops in Europe. These tendencies on both sides of the Atlantic raise special doubts because NATO is already weaker in combat forces and, above all, reinforcements, than the Warsaw Pact, and further reductions would compel excessive reliance on nuclear forms of deterrence which themselves inspire trepidation.[i] In psychological terms, and therefore political ones, the balance of security in Europe could become weighted against the West.

The Soviet Union has more freedom of man?uvre. Though its many disarmament proposals may be sincere in that Russia would like to economize and perhaps also exorcize as much as it can potential perils in East Asia, it does not seem to be under anything like the internal pressures that beset the West. The priority on consumption figured much more prominently in the platform rhetoric of the 24th Congress of the CPSU than it does in the Five Year Plan. Moreover, troop reductions can hardly be applied to forces within Russia, since these are required by the bad relations within the communist world. And so long as these forces remain, any reductions in Europe only tend to emphasize the Soviet advantage in reinforcements. In such circumstances, Russian disarmament plans, though worth taking up for the chances they offer of maintaining cheaper security, seem at least partly designed to reinforce political processes which work in favor of Soviet power.

From this point of view, the general style of Soviet military-political behavior in recent years is not particularly promising. For the Politburo, the use of military means to political ends has been highly successful in Czechoslovakia. The blatant pressures brought to bear this year on Rumania and Jugoslavia by publicizing man?uvres in Hungary and Bulgaria suggest further reliance on such means. This saber rattling does not mean danger for the West as such, but it does raise the question whether the Soviet Union is really seeking only to stabilize the European status quo in the East or behaving according to the nature of an authoritarian régime which exercises hegemony wherever it prudently can. In that case, the nature of the restraints NATO continues to place on Soviet ambitions remains important.

The main problem is that a West aware of Soviet potential, but unable to do much about such anxieties because of divergent national policies and divisions of opinion about détente, might begin to doubt its capacity to face unforeseen crises. European and American force reductions, economic rivalries and "inward-looking" attitudes in both societies could reduce each country's trust in its allies and particularly that of Europe in an America faced with a potential nuclear crisis. In such circumstances, American opinion might grow increasingly irritated with the European states while an element of appeasement could enter into the policies toward the Soviet Union. "Détente" would then connote mainly a shift in the balance of power in Europe in favor of Russia. The Soviet Union might increasingly interfere in Western policy-making, particularly on security issues, in the name of enlightened East-West relations and be sure to find a party in the West responsive to its arguments. In the long run, it could come to regard itself as the righteous policeman of a European security defined according to its standards and convenience, exercising hegemonial pressure on the policies of West European powers whose very existence, culture, wealth and example make them, willy-nilly, the specter which haunts the domestic politics of Eastern Europe.

Such a Soviet hegemony in Europe would not pose security issues in the extreme form of "freedom or slavery," but it would place West European governments in constant and sometimes acute discomfort. For instance, if the communists were to enter into a governing coalition in Italy at a time of West European self-confidence, this would be seen as a step in their absorption into the Western system. If confidence were lacking, it could seem laden with the promise of various kinds of subordination to a politically backward superpower. All this remains wildly alarmist, of course, while one assumes the political effectiveness of the American umbrella over Western Europe. If doubts about it spread, the judgment might change. Much depends on the effects of the new doubts which have cropped up between Americans and Europeans.


As is the way with dependents, the Europeans have always had doubts about their protectors. The fear that Asia might distract America from Europe is as old as the cold war. Doubts about strategic nuclear parity are not new either. They go back to Sputnik, when it became evident America too was becoming vulnerable at home. These doubts have in the end proved easy to live with. The new one looks more serious. It is rooted not in nuclear parity but in a general impression of potential imparity in political will between the two superpowers, the one all too modern and the other too old- fashioned. Such fears may be excessively tied to short-term modes, like the aftermath of Vietnam, but they are also related to a subtle shift in the European environment which does not look like a passing phase and is no less important for being partly unavoidable.

By 1960, the major European empires were virtually dismantled, but the world system which accompanied them was prolonged and the change disguised by American strategic and economic power, ringing and encroaching on Eurasia. America's retreat from these advance positions is beginning to expose Europe to some of the consequences of its own earlier withdrawal. Strategically, the Soviet fleets are increasingly impinging on Europe's environment in the Mediterranean and Norwegian Seas as well as, more distantly, the oil routes of the Indian Ocean. On land, Jugoslavia is more concerned about security than at any time since 1948. Economically, the United States is no longer able to guarantee European oil supplies, as in 1956, or the monetary and trading context for growth. And Europe is now beginning to feel a little naked in the winds of the larger world.


That the United States reacts as a society rather than as a state to world events, while Russia reacts as a state rather than as a society, poses problems of American purpose. That the United States no longer shapes the environment and perpetuates the European world poses problems of European purpose. This is the basis of a third alternative to superpower control or Soviet hegemony in Europe, the possibility of a West European entity becoming an increasingly significant element in the security balance. The West European Ten together will have total forces numbering over two million men and 300 combat vessels, respectable resources even by superpower standards. They do not mean much without a common political purpose, which is lacking, but even the potentials of power have an effect on that.

A more coördinated West European defense system could not replace the American nuclear guarantee, but it could reinforce it and make it more credible, which would be especially welcome if the totals of West European forces and of American forces in Europe both go down. It could also help in the long run to add a more effective complement to the American navy in the maritime periphery of Europe. This would not replace superpower control over Europe but it would change its inner content and possibly long-term prospects. The European option will be open to West European leaders seeking to face the new and less serene environment or simply perhaps, in the cases of Britain and France, to prolong national ambitions through a collective effort. Without that they will be politically too weak to make their own choices.

The differences between various hypotheses about European security in the coming years presented here (and others one might put forward) are less military than political. Unless forces are maintained at levels very near the current ones, which seems unlikely, military risks have to be taken by the present standards of deterrence. But these risks may be politically acceptable in certain cases, as are the long-standing insufficiencies of NATO today, whereas in others they might seem unbearable. Thus, an agreement on force reductions with substantial cuts on both sides, accompanied by a general climate of coöperation, might maintain the credibility of the NATO structure even if present strategic concepts had to be modified, whereas smaller unilateral Western cuts would sap confidence. Similarly, a West European defense organization would be less likely to increase the number of troops than promise a better use of a smaller number and, even more important, a more cohesive reaction of the Ten to unforeseen eventualities. More depends on political than military factors, not least, timing.

There will probably be a first symbolic cut in forces in 1972; the enlargement of the European Community should take place in 1973. If there are signs of satisfactory agreements on force reductions within a reasonable time-scale, security policies may well stick to multilateral approaches both within NATO and in the East-West context. That will raise a minimum of diplomatic problems for the Germans concerned with the Ostpolitik and the French and Italians with their communist parties. It will not force gaullism in France to face a change in national priorities or the Scandinavians to touch the domestically thorny issues of defense. The European Community as it enlarges would seek its new frontier more in common trade and finance policies than in security. Yet East-West negotiations on force reductions are likely to be incredibly complex, and unless things go very well, to raise more anxieties than they allay because of the imparities between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In that case, the urge to launch the European Community on a more political course might well move into the area of defense.

There are several reasons for this. One is the anxiety about security in the governments of the larger West European countries, which is greater than one might imagine from the atmospherics of the "era of negotiation," and to some extent is a result of them. Prime Minister Edward Heath always mentions security before prosperity as an argument for British entry into the European Community. The West Germans are conscious of a need to anchor the Americans more firmly in Europe and to find a long-term alternative should the effort fail. A collective European effort might help both. To a lesser extent, a European operation would also be attractive as the only way to bring the heirs of de Gaulle back into the Western defense fold without a formal tie to NATO.

A second reason is that if Western disarmament reaches a point where doubt is cast on present doctrines of deterrence, it might well drive a wedge into the triangle between Germany, France and Britain which is the core of West European relationships. The French and the British would be tempted to stress their nuclear deterrents, and, whether they did so nationally or coöperatively, this would underline what divides them from Germany even if German attitudes to their deterrents are changing as doubts about the United States increase. This could be particularly important if other developments point the same way. Force reductions would tend to apply to Germany, the terre d'élection of NATO. Similarly, attempts to meet manpower shortages by raising militia would affect Germany in the front more than France in the rear and still more than Britain behind the Channel. Should these fault-lines in NATO-Europe become too marked they could disintegrate it, Britain and France emphasizing nuclear deterrence, Germany the Ostpolitik. A European grouping would counter this tendency. Finally, there are existing pressures toward closer organization, notably in joint arms production. Together, these factors could push the major powers in the Community to propose that Europe move into defense.

The most extreme version of the skepticism about a European defense organization one might expect would be that of the French government. That at least is the assumption, and will not be dispelled, since it is in the nature of President Pompidou's style of government that his policies should be expressed in action rather than declared principles. The moment for action cannot come before British entry into the European Community. However, for a gaullist, M. Pompidou has given hints which suggest his mind may be more open than is supposed. He has stressed the importance of U.S. troops staying in Europe, and his anxiety about withdrawals is well known. In his press conference of January 21, 1971, he proposed that a European confederation should cover the major fields of government including political ones. He stressed that the major decisions should be taken by governments, but did not exclude a role for the Commission in implementing them. All this leaves some room for man?uvre and a possibility that M. Pompidou is willing to consider proposals that serve a concrete purpose.


Indeed, it should be quite possible to establish effective defense coöperation inside the enlarged European Community on terms the governments will accept. There could be two mutually reinforcing levels of operation: consultation between the governments on broad policies, and contracts to establish joint programs in a few functional areas, like arms production, implemented in ways roughly similar to the Common Market's.

An obvious theme for European consultation would be policy on East-West force reductions and arms control. The same would apply to strategic and tactical concepts-the use of forces, the control of nuclear escalation, and so on-problems which the major NATO allies must discuss in any case when France deploys its tactical nuclear artillery, Pluton, in 1973 or 1974 in the only place where it makes sense, in Germany. This should be carried on in a European Nuclear Planning Group (ENPG) parallel to the very successful one which already exists in NATO. Other committees could be set up to discuss manpower and other policies. In themselves, such consultations need not change the attitudes of the countries involved, but, placed in the context of a European grouping with a recognizably separate identity, and associated with functional coöperation at a second level, they almost certainly would have a larger political impact.

The governments would also negotiate contracts, or treaties, establishing common functional bodies mainly in the area of what one might call Defense Support-training, logistics and the procurement of arms. The governments could set the targets and timing and entrust the implementation to a kind of Common Market system with a Defense Commission proposing policies and the national ministers disposing of them. The lack of a single logistic system is a NATO weakness which could lead to serious confusion in a crisis. In an age of travel, training in a neighboring country and learning a language as well as a trade could be a critical advantage over national systems in the recruitment of otherwise reluctant soldiers. As for procurement, the aerospace industry, which accounts for almost 40 percent of arms spending, looks like being reduced to perhaps three major European consortia in a couple of years' time. If so, the pressure for common production in other arms industries, particularly in electronics, will be increased and the main remaining problem will be to overcome the particularisms of the defense staffs and ministries. One need hardly underline in an American journal that this is never easy even within a single country, but a joint Procurement Agency, proposing criteria for weapons not tarred by a national brush, could help. A related Management Committee to stabilize government-industrial relations would also be useful.

Together, such innovations would establish what would be in effect a European Defense Support Organization. What would still be lacking, apart from the inevitable nuclear absentee, would be a Joint European Command. Its attractions would increase if the troops in Europe declined significantly, because the best counter to small numbers is mobility, i.e. the ability to order troops from any member country to where they are most needed in an agreed area. That might be too much for the governments, particularly the French, to take, though it would in fact allow France to make her point that she will not accept an American Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. For the Europeans to have their own NPG would also imply a grouping outside the NATO equivalent. But in both cases no decisions could be taken without the Americans, so that the changes would in part be more formal than real.

Implicit in them, however, would be the idea of a bilateral relationship between Europe and America. Since the U.S. administration has been favorable to the emergence of a European "caucus" in NATO, this could be turned to good account in renewing the NATO contract between the United States and its allies. A new agreement could be reached under the roof of the Atlantic Alliance in which new pledges for the commitment of American troops in Europe would be given in return for signs of European self-help through integration, and consolidated by a "sense of the Senate" vote. This could invaluably stabilize the European-American relationship for a number of years ahead.

One would expect the Soviet Union to condemn a European Defense Organization, or Community, for much the same reasons as the United States favors it. But there is no force to the idea a Community need hold up East- West coöperation, because this ignores both the time factor and the military and political context. The establishment of a Defense Support Organization, however disliked, could hardly be invoked with success as a provocation; and even a stronger arrangement, a more thoroughgoing Community, would take place against a background of falling forces and possibly agreements on them. The active emphasis of East-West exchanges would in any case be on negotiations and increasing economic contacts. In such circumstances, a West European defense organization would stand for what it was-a minimum security insurance against a breakdown in détente, which the West Europeans of all peoples have an interest in avoiding.


Confidence is, in fact, the key. The problem for Western Europe, in fact for the West tout court, with its affluent societies so responsive to hopes of external peace parallel to their own domestic ideals, is how to manage a period of détente which remains full of uncertainty. The problem is a difficult one because it involves opposite movements in the evolution of estimates of "intent" on the one hand and military capability on the other. While political expectations of a Russian invasion are declining to near zero, it makes no political sense to stress the military aspects of security. But to take prospects of peace and coöperation for granted could gradually undermine the security on which an equitable peace and balanced coöperation are based. What is needed is a capacity to meet unexpected circumstances with means relevant to them, and when circumstances mean the Soviet Union, the means can only be American or collective European or both. Such reserves of power are necessary to control détente, maintain confidence and restrain distortions of the political process.

The issue in Europe is an historic one. The nuclear stalemate is making it possible to move away from naked force toward politics and so to civilize conflict in one of the centers of gravity of the balance of power. If this can be done by freeing political forces rather than in the usual way of setting up an empire over them, it will mark a real moment of progress in international twentieth-century society. But, for all that, détente must be carefully controlled and the forces of political backwardness contained as they have already been during the cold war. In some ways the situation is more dangerous because détente can make the process reach into Eastern Europe itself. It is therefore more than ever vital, in a period when attention is directed elsewhere, to maintain a system of security insurance in Europe. This may be possible without new means such as a European Defense Community to bolster up the credibility of the American nuclear guarantee. But if optimism were to prove wrong, it might be too late to correct the political if not military degradation which would have set in. On balance, it seems wiser to control détente by building up in Western Europe a Defense Community to shore up in new circumstances the peace which has made détente possible.

[i] The Soviet Union alone has about as many combat forces in Central Europe as NATO, and it has 39 divisions in western Russia able to reinforce them in less than 30 days. There is no comparable Western equivalent in Europe or America.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now