The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
A European Security Conference (ESC) will almost certainly take place in 1973. It will convene with active, if reluctant, American participation. This unfortunate reluctance is especially pronounced in Washington. The United States now has not only an opportunity but a responsibility to lead the Western nations in a search for a new system in Europe. In view of the inevitability of the conference, it would be especially short-sighted to forsake the dynamic and innovative role we could play. Unhappily, I see no signs, at least from a vantage point on Capitol Hill, that the United States will enter this decisive stage with any policy ideas which might wrest the initiative from the East. The Western impetus for a constructive conference comes almost entirely from some of our NATO allies, whose cautious enthusiasm is under a steady restraint from the Washington flagship of the Atlantic Alliance.
The Soviet Union first proposed such a conference in 1954 to forestall West German rearmament. As a manifestation of Russian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a U.S. presence, Americans were to be relegated to observer status.
Although cold-war tensions effectively mooted positive security moves in Europe for a decade, a breakthrough came in 1964. In a U.N. speech, Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki revived the prospects for an ESC and his remarks were shortly seconded by the Warsaw Pact's Political Consultative Committee. Only after the setback in détente diplomacy following the August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, however, did the Warsaw Pact change its position and agree to full participatory status for the United States and Canada.
Unquestionably, Russia and her allies have been the prime movers for an ESC. Soviet motives are probably a combination of the following: (a) to legitimize the European territorial and ideological status quo by a multilateral renunciation-of-force agreement; (b) to forestall or delay West European political-military integration by decreasing perceived security threats and freezing current institutional arrangements with a treaty; (c) to increase trade and technology exchanges with Western Europe, which may be impossible without corresponding improvement in all aspects of East-West relations; (d) to secure its Western flank in the event of Chinese hostilities; (e) to divorce Western Europe from the United States in various aspects of economic, political and military affairs, perhaps by weakening or dissolving NATO.
While many of the same motives obtain for the other East European countries, they have two major additional reasons to favor an ESC. First, the diplomacy involved in the conference gives the East Europeans substantially more room to maneuver diplomatically and to assert varying degrees of independence from Moscow. Second, the prospect of a renunciation- of-force treaty and Western pressure to weaken or nullify the Brezhnev Doctrine makes an ESC especially attractive to some Warsaw Pact members.
The West has already achieved a great deal from the fulfillment of its preconditions for convening the conference. Perhaps most important was the Warsaw Pact agreement in 1970 to a full role for the United States and Canada in the ESC, a move which meant at least temporarily accepting the legitimacy of the American role in Europe.
As further preconditions for an ESC, the NATO Foreign Ministers had insisted on "satisfactory" outcomes to the Bonn-Moscow and Bonn-Warsaw talks, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and the Berlin negotiations. The agreement on Berlin, which essentially guaranteed the viability and independence of that city, represented a tremendous diplomatic victory for the United States and its allies. With this agreement and the signature of the West German treaties, the West has achieved a great deal before the conference even begins. Another no less crucial precondition, although never stated as such by the West, was the agreement secured at the Moscow summit in May, to pursue force reduction talks in parallel with the ESC.
Now, American and West European planners are focusing their attention on "freer movement of people, ideas, and information beyond the traditional pattern of cultural exchanges" [i] (emphasis added), as a prime goal of the ESC. This exchange, combined with the actual process of multilateral discussions and with visible progress in détente, is designed to loosen Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. At the same time, Washington is taking pains this winter to emphasize substance and preparation for the ESC over "atmospherics," false spirits (i.e. "Spirit of Geneva") and a misleading sense of détente. The fear of a propaganda show still pervades Western capitals.
Based on agenda proposals submitted by the Warsaw Pact and NATO, the subject matter of the ESC includes (a) trade arrangements, (b) technology and information exchanges and (c) security issues. Varying emphases and interpretations exist, of course, on both sides and within both sides about what these agenda items mean and how they will be pursued.
The West Europeans attach considerable importance to increased contacts across the once impenetrable Iron Curtain. For domestic political reasons and economic motives, as well as for explicit détente objectives, our NATO partners are extremely anxious to continue the already considerable communication and commerce they have with the East.
The East Europeans are equally determined to increase their access to Western markets, industrial techniques and technology. Not only do the East European élites envy Western progress but many of them view increased contact with the West as a significant tool to loosen, even further, Soviet control of their political systems.
Yet the two superpowers are not nearly as concerned with the increasing pan- European activities as are their respective allies. The Nixon-Brezhnev Declaration of Principles called only for a relatively innocuous "improvement of relations and contacts"-a far cry from the affirmative European position. In fact, NATO-Europe is reportedly incensed that the United States backed away from an allied consensus on demanding significantly increased East-West contacts; it appears that the Kremlin is still adamantly determined to police traffic between East and West, and that the President yielded.
The other major area of discussions will be security relations. A good deal of work remains in this area before the ESC can be successfully convened.
While members of both blocs seem agreed on some type of renunciation-of- force treaty, President Nixon has expressed concern lest this confirm the present division of Europe. The United States can tolerate the present territorial arrangement but must not appear to support the ideological status quo. We must insist, according to Deputy Secretary of State Irwin, "on an evolutionary process which will help bring the continent together."
Clearly related to this is the future of the Brezhnev Doctrine. The President's foreign policy report of February 1972 states that "the use or threat of force by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe . . . is incompatible with détente in Europe. . . ." Not only the United States but our Western allies are eager to free the Warsaw Pact members from Russian domination, even though some East European ruling parties would feel uncomfortable if Soviet power in their countries were reduced.
Yet the crux of the security issues facing the conference remains the bloc forces facing each other in Central Europe. The issue of force reductions has long been an inhibiting factor in progress toward an ESC, and it is a crucial issue in its own right.
If the European Security Conference is the child of Soviet planners, the Western alliance is the somewhat surprised parent of mutual and balanced force reduction talks (MBFR). NATO countries, but principally the United States initially, advocated force reduction talks for two negative reasons. First, their insistence on MBFR talks before an ESC served to brake the Soviet conference proposal. Second, and very importantly, the imminence of negotiations was intended to forestall U.S. critics who called for unilateral troop withdrawals.
Although there were several Soviet responses to the 1968 NATO call for force reduction talks, it was not until May 14, 1971, that Secretary Brezhnev's offer to the West to "taste the wine" of negotiation was accepted as evidence of serious Russian interest. Not coincidentally, Brezhnev's statement came just before the debate on the Mansfield amendment, and figured prominently in defeating the Senate Majority Leader's effort to legislate the unilateral withdrawal of 165,000 American troops from Europe.
Progress on MBFR talks then slowed. Moscow refused to accept Signor Brosio, the retiring head of NATO, who had been designated to explore Eastern views of MBFR. This lull continued until the Nixon-Brezhnev Declaration, followed by the announcement in September 1972 that a mutual commitment to conduct MBFR talks in parallel with ESC talks had been substantially agreed upon between Moscow and Washington.
Conventional thinking would have suggested significant Russian advantages in refusing MBFR talks. The domestic pressures in the United States for unilateral withdrawals would increase if there were no prospect of mutual and/or balanced reduction, pressures which would presumably be in Soviet interests. The consequences of the increasingly likely unilateral American withdrawals, or so the predictions go, might well be reduced West European troop levels accompanied by weakened political confidence and decreased stability. This "unravelling" of NATO is then supposed to lead to a "race to Moscow" and subsequent Soviet control over the whole of Europe.
Moscow, however, evidently does not subscribe to quite the same scenario. The General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party must have known that his May offer for troop talks would strengthen the Administration's hand in resisting a large unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces. Typical was Senator Nelson's statement during debate that "If Mr. Brezhnev had not spoken on the subject, I would have been prepared to vote ... to cut our forces in half in accordance with the Mansfield amendment."
This apparent Soviet interest in maintaining U.S. troop levels in Europe is not as surprising as it might seem. It can be explained by a combination of factors. First, the continued détente which Moscow values so much may depend, as West German Chancellor Brandt has declared, on a firm and visible U.S. commitment to Europe. Second, and complementing this view, the Kremlin fears that unilateral U.S. withdrawals are more likely to galvanize West European political union than to act as the starter's gun for any race to Moscow. (Paradoxically, France, which is reluctant to support MBFR, may take this position both to preclude a race to Moscow and to ensure, by the U.S. presence, a slower movement toward European unity.) Third, political and military union in Europe (following the progress already made toward economic integration) would present the possibility of West German control of nuclear weapons and/or an increased Bundeswehr, either of which would pose severe threats to the Soviet conception of European stability.
This is not to deny that the Soviets are interested in troop reductions. Given the ironic condition that U.S. troop withdrawals are acceptable to most of our allies, if gradual and reciprocated, Moscow would gain additional troops for its Chinese border, obtain budgetary savings and tremendously facilitate the détente process.
Yet the Nixon administration does not seriously anticipate quick success in troop talks. "We do not expect dramatic withdrawals," reported Deputy Secretary of State Irwin in a June 1972 address, "in the near future."
There are serious domestic objections to current U.S. troop commitments in Europe. These criticisms, raised principally in the U.S. Senate, argue in favor of unilateral reductions of American troops in Europe. The reservations about the size of our troop deployment overseas stem from the following perceptions: (1) a dangerously high U.S. balance-of-payments deficit; (2) costly manpower inefficiency; (3) high budget costs; and (4) the absence of military necessity.
(1) Balance of payments
The balance-of-payments problem was not only embodied in the language of the Mansfield amendment, it played a central role in the accompanying debate. The Brookings Institution's valuable study, "U.S. Troops in Europe," estimates that $1.9 billion of our gross balance-of-payments deficit results from NATO expenditures; offset agreements have reduced that deficit to approximately $1 billion. While the current offset agreement, covering FY 1972-73, will only reduce our amount by a like amount, the package is somewhat more favorable to the United States. Previously, offsets consisted of military purchases, principally by West Germany, and bond purchases which earned interest. Now, the Federal Republic of Germany pays the interest and also has made available $184 million for rehabilitation of terribly unsatisfactory U.S. barracks in Germany.
Yet the balance of deficit remains huge and unfair. Even as staunch a defender of NATO as Timothy Stanley judges it "intolerable . . . that . . . U.S. forces abroad contribute to a balance of payments deficit for the United States." Numerous technical solutions are available, but European policy-makers have not displayed the political will necessary to deal with this issue. None the less, though quite serious, it should not be allowed to interfere with what should otherwise be political and military decisions.
(2) Manpower inefficiency
U.S. forces in Europe are reportedly somewhat "fat." Excessive support troops and an inordinately higher number of top-ranking officers are the most frequent charges in this direction.
Claims regarding excessive support forces result from two different analyses. First, as the Senate Armed Services Committee (chaired by Senator Stennis who, ironically, led the fight against the Mansfield amendment) recently reported, one-sixth (55,000) of our military personnel in Europe are performing general support functions which might be better performed by host country nations. These reductions would in no way affect our combat capability, and the Committee has instructed the Department of Defense to review this possibility in next year's Military Manpower Requirements Report.
Second, a large proportion of our active duty soldiers oriented for European contingencies, whether stationed in Europe or America, will not be required unless a ground war in Europe is of unexpectedly long duration. "Can we truly afford," asks Lieut. Col. Edward L. King, a retired Joint Chiefs of Staff planner, "96,000 active duty soldiers who have no appreciable combat function until 60 days after" hostilities begin in Europe?
Many observers have also found U.S. forces in Europe to be top-heavy. Senator Mansfield reports 128 generals or flag officers in the U.S. European Command, a ratio of one general for every 2,343 enlisted men. Aside from the high salaries these men receive, they represent potentially tremendous pressure from the Services to maintain the status quo regarding our military establishment in Europe.
A related criticism concerns the morale and readiness of our troops in Europe: remaining vigilant and tough without a visible and continual threat is difficult. There is alarming and widespread disharmony and dissatisfaction among U.S. troops across the Atlantic. After a European tour, Congressman Samuel S. Stratton of the House Armed Services Committee told former Chief of Staff Westmoreland in March 1972, "My basic impression . . . was that we don't really have a ready force that would be prepared . . . to handle the Soviets if they came through the gap . . . we are a far cry from a ready force."
The high cost of our troops in Europe impels many to argue for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Europe. Operating expenses for our forces in Europe are about three billion dollars annually. We spend an additional five to six billion dollars on common NATO investments. Including forces in the United States earmarked for European contingencies, this brings the total up to $14 billion-while adding a proportionate share of the cost of total U.S. armed forces yields the figure of $25 billion.
Critics on this side of the Atlantic maintain that the Europeans are not bearing their fair share of the burden. Comparisons of the percentage of the gross national product (GNP) spent on defense, per capita defense expenditures, length of military service and the size of military establishments, depict U.S. efforts as considerably greater than those of our allies. Unquestionably, the Europeans must do more.
Yet there are some factors that partially explain these apparent disparities. First, official European acceptance of the flexible response strategy and its increased manpower responsibilities did not come until 1967. Second, it is unreasonable to expect a coalition of still sovereign European states to achieve anything approaching the ostensible efficiency and rationality that a single nation such as the United States can achieve. Third, $14 billion is one and one-half percent of our GNP, which compares favorably with the European average of almost four percent. The corollary to this is that the United States has defense expenditures that not only have nothing to do with Europe but that many Europeans may disapprove of. Fourth, we unquestionably are protecting ourselves and our own interests by protecting our European allies and cannot write off NATO-related expenditures as a form of charity.
Finally, the Europeans are now contributing more. Their proportion of combat-ready NATO troops has risen substantially in recent years; in round numbers of units stationed in the central region, our allies now provide 23 of 27 NATO divisions (including two French divisions in Germany, but excluding three others stationed in France.) Financially, although the European Defense Improvement Program represented far less of an improvement than it was purported to be, it set the stage for future increases in the European effort. In fact, the December 1971 agreement by NATO-Europe to increase combined annual defense spending by one billion dollars raised earlier defense budgets by an average of three to four percent.
Further measures, especially those that would increase the respective host country's assumption of local costs of U.S. military operations in Europe, are necessary to reduce the U.S. burden. At the same time, this would aid in alleviating the balance-of-payments problem.
To many, however, the cost of maintaining large forces in Europe would still be too high. Senators Mansfield and McGovern, based on different analyses, have advocated withdrawing large numbers of troops from Europe. Yet, if U.S. troops are withdrawn from Europe but not deactivated, costs will probably not decrease but actually rise. The one-time costs involved in transporting these troops to the United States, the expense of retaining dual bases in this country and Europe, the somewhat higher maintenance costs at home, and the additional redeployment capability required argue against this type of withdrawal on a cost basis.
Nevertheless, while Senator Mansfield's amendment and Senator McGovern's generally sound defense budget do not provide for deactivation of the troops they would withdraw from Europe, their respective efforts do force a reëvaluation of the political-military necessity of maintaining 320,000 troops across the Atlantic. Although it does not make sense from a budget standpoint to withdraw forces from Europe and maintain them in this country, it is possible to effect large savings if troops are deactivated when withdrawn. Moreover, such a transatlantic withdrawal would help solve the balance-of-payments problem, unless such savings were negated by reduction of the European purchases of U.S. arms which are now part of the "offset" agreements.
(4) Military necessity
Force levels in Europe should obviously reflect military reality. The Administration feels that our 320,000 men in Europe comprise an integral part of a flexible response capability to meet any conceivable Warsaw Pact action. This flexible response capability became official NATO doctrine in 1967 and is designed to deter aggression against Western Europe on any level-threats, limited military inroads, major conventional attacks and strategic nuclear assaults.
This doctrine receives support not only from our allies but also from the "Old Guard"-Presidents Truman and Johnson, two former Secretaries of State, five former Under Secretaries of State, three former Supreme Allied Commanders in Europe. Such a group constituted the impressive array which was fielded by the Nixon administration against Senator Mansfield's amendment.
The rough conventional balance that many see in Europe supposedly receives increased significance as a result of the strategic nuclear parity between the United States and the Soviet Union. Presumably, the United States is now less willing than it would have been earlier in NATO history to attack to save Bonn from a conventional attack, because of an increased fear for Chicago. Therefore, in a nuclear standoff, NATO conventional forces must be able to deny Communist forces a quick victory over a small piece of territory.
Serious and varied doubts, however, exist about the status quo. Senator McGovern's proposal to withdraw 170,000 men reflects an optimistic appraisal of the NATO forces' initial capability to withstand a Warsaw Pact attack combined with an equally sanguine estimate of U.S. redeployment capability. Senator Mansfield and others take the opposite approach by doubting the ability of current U.S. and NATO forces to resist Warsaw Pact forces for even a short time without resort to tactical nuclear weapons.
The crucial question, therefore, and the determining factor regarding the military requirements for troop levels, is the expected length of a ground war in Europe. If we must plan only for a short conventional war in view of the estimated threat of escalation and/or the conflict resolution machinery available, our large European deployment is unnecessary. Not only our ground forces, but a substantial part of our entire navy could be reduced if this were the case.
The expected role of the 7,000 tactical nuclear weapons we have in Europe is essential to judgments regarding the expected duration of a European conflict. A low nuclear threshold would dictate a substantially smaller European force than we currently have. There is, however, even less information available to Congress in this regard than agreement among our NATO allies on the actual use of the weapons.
My own judgment is that a protracted conflict in Europe is exceedingly unlikely given the high risks and terrible costs involved. In a strictly military sense, then, present troop levels are probably excessive.
Admittedly, an invasion of any West European country by the Warsaw Pact powers is a very improbable contingency today. International wisdom, however, recognizing that perceptions are inherent in political reality, dictates considerable risk in unilaterally reducing forces in Europe. The psychological and political effect on our allies would be intense no matter what its direction. As former West German Defense Minister Schmidt acknowledges: "Who would imagine for a moment that any European force could be a substitute for the political weight and the deterrent value of the Seventh Army? And who would seriously argue that a European armada could have the same psychological and political effects as the Sixth Fleet . . . ?" (Emphasis added.)
Former Defense Secretary Laird's alternative scenario of increased Soviet influence over all of Europe or the European "development of independent nuclear capabilities which could provoke Soviet counteraction" is not unreasonable. Nor are other possibilities, including Europe's becoming a giant Sweden, culturally Western but substantially independent and neutral in external affairs. Thus, the budget savings possible from the withdrawal and deactivation of U.S. troops in Europe do not seem worth an immediate, large-scale and unilateral withdrawal. Instability on the economic, political and military levels is so widespread and intense that a different approach must be found.
Troop talks, however, may be very protracted and hence only a long-run answer. Realistic projections indicate that the MBFR negotiations could be the most difficult in East-West history. Some estimates suggest the talks may last five to seven years. Geographical asymmetries, dissimilar manpower and weapons systems, and the sheer number of nations and bureaucracies involved will prevent rapid and far-reaching agreement.
Yet standing idly by waiting for troop talks to run their course would be the ultimate folly. As the ponderous negotiations edged along, the entire détente process could suffer while both European pressures for the maintenance of our troops, and American pressure for their reduction, would most likely increase. Such a development could well strain NATO to the breaking point.
To resolve these contrary pressures, I suggest a small but significant unilateral reduction (whether in manpower, firepower or both) for all of NATO. This process could be the key to unlocking the armed confrontation in Europe, opening the door to successful MBFR talks, and preserving the Western alliance. The reduction should be a coördinated NATO effort, reducing not only American troop levels but European as well. This would make clear to all that our action is not taken out of desperation but motivated by a sincere desire to facilitate force reductions. If handled with diplomatic skill, a synchronized reduction need not diminish the psychopolitical support our troops give to our European friends.
This reduction could trigger a similar response from the East. Showing one's good faith (while expecting the other side to reciprocate) is just as valid an approach in this negotiating area as the Administration's current commitment to a bargaining-chip strategy in SALT. And beginning a modest downward spiral now would immeasurably assist the MBFR negotiations themselves.
As the European Security Conference and the MBFR talks unfold, there can be useful interaction between the two. The ESC may produce "confidence- building" agreements (such as troop-maneuver controls) that could speed success in the MBFR setting. And in time there might be a direct link, tying progress on European coöperation more directly to European security.
For in the long run the two go together. It is time for the United States to tackle both in a positive spirit, to work in new closeness with its NATO partners, and to rekindle some of the imagination of the late 1940s.
[i] "U.S. Foreign Policy, 1971," A Report of the Secretary of State, p. 9.