How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear
Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon
Politically, Western Europe is enfeebled if not paralyzed. And the dilemma of the world's most civilized concentration of peoples, deploying more economic power than any region save North America, is more than paradoxical. It is disturbing and potentially troublesome. One wonders if there is still time for Europeans to do anything about it, and, if so, what. Western Europe is caught up in fresh political currents strong enough to restrain any serious efforts by the European Community to enlarge significantly the political influence of the member states and to reduce their dependence on America.
A fine irony runs through this picture of Europe stuck fast. After all, there is movement in Europe, in both East and West and within the European Community. Brandt's Ostpolitik and Brezhnev's decision to respond have inspired more contact between the two halves of Europe in the past three years than in all the preceding years since World War II. Much more heartening to "good Europeans," for whom an enlarged and eventually unified European Community remains an article of faith, Britain and other candidate members have finally taken their places in Brussels; the moment then is historic. The question is whether it is also transitional and, if so, to what.
Optimists can and do take heart from the September meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which restored the amenities between Europeans and Americans struggling to maneuver the world payments system out of limbo and onto solid ground. The NATO flank is also abnormally calm. Reasonably enough, Europeans do not see a unilateral American troop withdrawal around the next bend, and nobody is quarreling about strategy for the moment. The caucus of West European defense ministers known as the Euro-group has acquired experience and some coherence. Of greater importance, relations between the senior political figures in London, Bonn and Paris are good. The mutual suspicion and even antagonism that tormented most relationships of the three predecessor régimes seem to have been largely dissolved.
Briefly, West Europeans for the most part appear to be getting on reasonably well with each other, with the Americans and with their neighbors to the East. Yet the implications of what is happening are scarcely encouraging.
West Europeans now find themselves either observing or participating in three central processes: negotiations and other contacts between East and West; monetary and trade talks with the Americans and Japanese; and efforts to adapt the European Community to its enlarged membership while establishing, as well as improving, modes of coöperation.
Inevitably, these different activities are carried forward separately and in uneven relationship. They are, in short, disjunctive. While the East- West process has acquired a relatively steady rhythm, transatlantic talks on trade and money are fitful and more urgent, yet lacking visible or immediate political gain. Equally, efforts to move toward economic integration, let alone political union, are bedeviled by the differences, no less intractable really than before, between member governments, especially the key governments-Britain, France and West Germany.
Of the three processes the first is now most to the fore. The old orthodoxy of an ascendant North Atlantic system, its European interests eventually represented by an integrated community, has been victimized by time and events. Presently, it arouses more skepticism than articulate support. Logic keeps the concept alive, but a sense of déjà vu, if not futility, saps its vitality. Today the dynamic lies elsewhere, most conspicuously in the process of competition and accommodation between the great adversary powers.
Reluctant themselves to tinker with their political-security edifice, European governments all recognize that the web of East-West negotiations may in time dislodge some of its foundations. After all, Western Europe remains the cape of a continental land mass, politically vulnerable-even, perhaps especially, in a nuclear age-to the strongest neighboring power, the Soviet Union. The balance of power, in its most profound and enduring sense, continues to run through Europe. Not for a long time has it shifted, since neither of the great powers-superpowers if you will-has been willing to tolerate shifts that might be prejudicial to its interests. That was the lesson of Berlin in the years 1958-62 and of Prague, 1968. Yet with both superpowers now taking political risks and nudging the system for European security away from the simple rules of confrontation and status quo, the political environment is bound to change, and the balance of power, one way or another, will be affected. Obviously, neither of the great powers intends to lose ground in the process, but almost certainly one of them will. Again, whatever happens, Western Europe is unlikely to benefit politically; it stands to lose ground if and as Soviet influence grows at the expense of America's.
So far, the advantages in East-West dealings have been reciprocal and difficult to equate. The interim Berlin agreement bore clear gains for the Western powers, but also made possible the ratification of Moscow's nonaggression treaty with West Germany (the sine qua non of Brezhnev's opening to Western Europe) and its cherished European Security Conference (ESC). The Ostpolitik launched by Brandt reduces pressure on West Germany and offers access to the East. Equally, it enables the Soviet Union to become a factor in West German political life and to expand its influence in Western Europe. Moscow need no longer rely on pressure and intimidation to exert influence in West Germany. Brandt's victory in the election last fall was an endorsement of the Ostpolitik. Moreover, it became clear during the election campaign that no matter which party or coalition is in power in Bonn, the essentials of the Ostpolitik are irreversible: Barzel had been given carte blanche by the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) to follow Brandt's lead.
The Phase-One SALT agreements amount to a creditable first step and a clear gain for stability, at least in conventional strategic terms. The ABM problem would appear to be disposed of, and the two sides have accepted some equivalent of parity and mutual assured destruction (even though the Soviets have not yet openly endorsed such a doctrine). The political effects of the SALT process are less clear, especially with regard to Western Europe. The Phase-One agreements were by and large applauded by NATO European governments, which have long since acknowledged a state of strategic parity between the superpowers.
SALT's second phase, however, will touch issues closer to home, notably America's forward-based nuclear-capable aircraft on which West Europeans rely to offset Soviet missiles targeted on their cities. The Soviets may also try to link Phase-Two progress with agreement by the United States to deny any of their allies assistance in the area of nuclear weapons. Since bilateral arrangements with Great Britain, to date the only beneficiary of such assistance, are due for renewal next year, this so-called nontransfer issue could become divisive. Finally, the fact that there is no direct West European voice in SALT-the first major piece of East-West business that has lacked the participation of West Europeans-reinforces the sense of dependence and feeds the old anxiety about Americans and Russians negotiating over their heads on matters of great concern to Europe.
Europeans are, of course, deeply involved in the European Security Conference and in negotiations on mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR), just getting underway in parallel. To the degree that the ESC responds to a mood in Western Europe that strongly favors reconciliation with the Soviet bloc, it may strengthen the hand of governments. Then there is also a possibility, however modest, that ESC might actually promote progress on issues that affect security.
A reasonable assumption is that the Soviet Union, which proposed the ESC, stands to gain most. The conference formally removes any lingering obloquy earned by Russia when she crushed Czechoslovakia's liberal experiment. All the European states, plus the United States and Canada, are meeting with the Russians and Czechs, not to mention the East Germans. Symbolically, then, the conference is important to Moscow. Politically, it has the great merit in Soviet eyes of freezing the status quo in Europe. And that is the irony of the ESC. It creates the illusion of movement, perhaps even novel departures, yet is designed to formalize the status quo, or what is sometimes called "the recognition of existing realities."
Among these realities are the division of Europe and the Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe. NATO is not vigorously challenging the Brezhnev Doctrine, and therefore tacitly accept the notion of limited sovereignty in Eastern Europe. The Soviets in turn are challenging neither NATO nor the enlarged European Community. Moreover, the Soviets are accepting what some call "interpenetration of blocs," a process that obviously risks strengthening pressure in some East European countries for greater control over their own internal affairs. Clearly, the Russians regard the risk as acceptable and worth taking when measured against the political gains they seek. They intend that the ESC will help to blur an already ambiguous political environment and in time serve the traditional goal of weakening Western Europe's (and perhaps America's) will to sustain collective security and joint institutions.
The irony of MBFR is that the initiative was NATO's, yet the Soviet Union enters the negotiations holding higher cards. It has, after all, more troops in Central Europe, the area in question, than the United States and the further advantage of proximity. Departing Soviet units, unless dispatched to the Eastern frontier, could be swiftly returned to East Germany, Poland or Czechoslovakia. The political advantage also lies with Moscow, which is under no internal pressure to thin out its European deployments. Washington, on the other hand, first conceived of MBFR as a means of neutralizing pressure from Senator Mansfield and his congressional allies to reduce America's European commitment, or at least to buy time. Probably few people in Washington believed that Moscow would ever permit its European forces, which after all have the critical role of guaranteeing bloc security, to become the subject of a negotiation with NATO governments.
Very likely, MBFR will buy time. The negotiations should be at least as protracted and arduous as SALT. The issues are even more complex, involving the several forces of many different countries. How to assess their different capabilities in terms of equipment, readiness, training, logistical support, etc.?
Apart from buying time vis-à-vis the U.S. Senate, an MBFR agreement would seem preferable on balance to a unilateral American reduction. With a combination of good luck, good faith on both sides and good management, the parties might reach an acceptable military balance in Central Europe with somewhat fewer forces. Even more useful, perhaps, would be a few political side agreements aimed at reducing the instabilities of the military confrontation. These so-called confidence-building measures might include limitations on the size of maneuvers, advance notification of maneuvers and restrictions on the movement of troops across national frontiers. The utility of such agreements would depend on how tightly they were written. Like the ESC, MBFR has the further advantage of meeting a popular preference for tackling security problems in an East-West context. None of the Western governments is disposed to allow the Soviets to preëmpt the peace issue.
What needs next to be said is that MBFR as an operational problem is full of traps. Practically speaking, MBFR need not go very far before NATO's war- fighting capability would be degraded. This in turn might serve to reduce the so-called non-nuclear pause to an unacceptable level. Washington would again be asking itself why nuclear arms should be treated as the weapon of last resort in all parts of the world except Central Europe. Or European governments may come to regard MBFR as the Americans' chosen instrument for their military withdrawal. Soviet diplomacy can be relied upon to encourage the idea that America one day will leave Europe and go back to being a hemispheric and Pacific power. Precisely because this suspicion comes naturally to Europeans, it would not take much to twist it into a politically troublesome anxiety.
Britain has always been hostile to MBFR and will seek to minimize its scope and effect. The French make no effort to conceal their hostility to any proposition that might diminish America's military presence in Europe, and France will not participate in the talks. The West Germans seemed to favor MBFR as long as it remained in the conversational and model-building stage. They, too, saw it as a useful hedge against the Mansfield bloc in Washington. But now that MBFR is on the green baize table, the Anglo-French distaste for it is affecting Bonn's attitude. Europeans and Americans, whatever their identity of interest, perceive many things differently. Washington may come to regard MBFR as a realistic means of helping adapt to a swiftly changing political environment, whereas Europeans, again, may see it quite simply as a first long step toward American disengagement. Such an attitude, however overdrawn, might inspire West Europeans to try extending in common their political influence. More likely, it would induce the opposite effect and contribute to a further lowering of the area's political profile.
The progressively greater movement and subtlety in East-West politics tend to obscure Western Europe's political confinement. A kind of "damned if we do and damned if we don't" attitude discourages Western Europe. The absence of political unity-the unwillingness or inability to move toward it-means that Western Europe's political course is influenced as much or more by what the great powers do separately and together than by what Britain, France, West Germany and the others are doing independently, or even together. Without unity, Western Europe is an assortment of middle and small powers, no one of them a convincing figure in the conduct of its own most important affairs. Yet any major initiative frankly designed to promote political unity, as for example a defense community, carries risks which these governments, on past or current form, are unwilling to run.
Little if anything that is being done by the great powers will help Western Europe to extend significantly its political running room. An obsession with China pushes the Russians to anchor more securely their position in Eastern Europe, to discourage Western Europe's political pretensions and to scale down the level of confrontation with the United States. In accepting the Common Market as a distinct economic institution and even agreeing to work with it, Moscow hopes to blunt any incentive the member states may have to develop comparable political and defense institutions. Far better from the Soviet viewpoint to treat such matters in the East-West context. The policy is animated by the parallel purposes of expanding Soviet influence in the world and containing China. There is no place in such a design for a strong and united Western Europe. A permanent U.S. military presence in Europe is less intolerable, but far from desirable. And Moscow will do what it can to encourage the American departure.
America, although once looked upon uneasily as the federator presumptive, seems now to West Europeans to be losing interest in the integration movement. Some perceptive Europeans expect Washington to continue deploying substantial forces in Europe, but to trim or dilute its political involvement there. In a sense, this is already happening and has been for some time. A break in the continuity of America's political priorities probably began some years ago. Other than rhetorically, Western Europe no longer has a reliably preëminent claim to Washington's attention. And it has been some years since anyone could spell out in precise terms America's goals in Europe. Triangular politics and related projects like SALT are seen by Europeans as closer to the center of Washington's interest.
Europeans also sense that triangular politics has given Washington a taste for Realpolitik. Rightly or wrongly, they feel that Washington is telling them, in effect: we will maintain a high military posture in Europe and meet our NATO commitments, but in return Europe must forbear rocking America's boat on commercial and monetary matters. In short, many Europeans feel that Washington is using security to gain an advantage in its dealings with them on urgent problems of money and trade. Europeans resent what some of them call America's economic chauvinism. They suspect that Washington now thinks of the Common Market mainly as an instrument for escalating inefficiency, especially in agriculture, and for promoting competition with American exports. They also suspect that the United States will try to bring its principal economic competitors to heel. Once America's problems with Japan have been whittled to manageable size, Western Europe, they fear, will be confronted with a U.S.-Japanese economic alignment. If all this appears as a caricature of the American attitude, the fault doesn't lie entirely with the Europeans. Transatlantic communications are rarely as clear as they might be.
Western Europe cannot play at triangular politics. It lacks power and does not threaten either of the great powers, let alone China. But Western Europe can and will play at triangular economics with America and Japan. Moreover, most West European countries will try to exploit the warming climate to the East by expanding their sales and joint ventures in Soviet client states. In the bargain, they should gain a measure of access to Eastern Europe at other levels. Still, this kind of access relies heavily on Soviet good will. Thus, it is Moscow, not Washington, that can offer West European states opportunities beyond their frontiers. And the process should be reciprocal; certainly, the Soviets will try to exploit it as yet another means of building influence in Western Europe.
Moscow may also find itself in a position to play off Western Europe against the United States and Japan. Suspicious Europeans already worry that America may try to preëmpt the bulk of Soviet trade, which, while not yet very large, will grow. A lively competition could develop for the distribution of advanced technology to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, plus the management techniques and training that go with joint ventures. The absorptive capacity of these countries is limited but growing. Certainly the Americans, the Europeans and the Japanese will seek the largest possible share of the market. The Russians may decide that in certain advanced sectors the American shelf is most alluring. Or possibly the Japanese in others. Or decisions affecting most sectors may be politically based, designed to buy influence and perhaps to sharpen tensions among the suppliers.
More and more the Atlantic agenda is dominated by issues of money and commerce-immediate operational problems that focus the attention of governments in a way that equally intractable security matters presently do not. The President offered a glimpse of what may lie over the horizon in an interview with Stewart Alsop last September:
. . . I think international economic problems will be much more important in a second term than in the first . . . I think there will be really exciting developments in the international economy. With Russia and China, we'll be expanding on the initiative we've already begun. In a second term, we'll also be paying a lot of attention to our friends and allies-to the Latin Americans, Japan, especially Western Europe. Our relations with our allies could be one of the most serious problems in a second term.
Quite clearly, the Administration will take a direct hand in dealings with America's chief trading partners. Within the government, people expect its position to be tough and to meet some issues head on that in the past have been politely ignored. We are entering what one closely involved figure describes, perhaps euphemistically, as a "delicate period." Hopefully, something constructive will emerge. On the monetary side, prospects are less bleak than they had been. The comprehensive American proposals for reforming the system, offered during the last meeting of the IMF, came as a pleasant surprise to European finance ministers. France's Giscard d'Estaing professed to see "a convergence of views," and Germany's Helmut Schmidt hailed the ending of "the religious wars." Still, nobody thinks that much more than an improved climate for monetary reform has been achieved. Western Europe, Japan and America remain sharply divided on familiar lines.
The sharpest clashes will center on commercial issues that would once have seemed too pedestrian for sustained high-level attention. Who, for example, has suffered most from Japanese exports? And should the United States be compensated for losing that part of its trade with Britain that will now be sponged up by Common Market countries? A number of these countries maintain discriminatory quotas on Japanese goods. The dubious restrictions date to the immediate postwar period, and the Common Market Commission would like to replace them with a single comprehensive safeguard clause that would permit some restrictions against Japan, though on a reciprocal basis. Japan would retain some of her own restrictions, which are not discriminatory and apply to everyone. Washington argues that America is absorbing a disproportionate share of what is called the Japanese problem. Also, the argument continues, the United States does not have discriminatory trade restrictions (although the recent textile agreement, while technically nondiscriminatory, was directed against Japan, Taiwan and Korea). Washington would like to see the United States fitted into the Common Market's safeguard clause, but the Europeans say no. The issue is extremely sensitive and unlikely to become less so as senior officials enter the scene. The same can be said of the impending quarrel over trade with Britain. The Common Market will argue that America will be compensated for whatever trade is lost by reductions in British tariffs, which are generally higher than the Community's. The Americans disagree and seek more tangible redress.
Adherents of European unity hope-in some cases believe-that the effects of enlargement will stimulate the Community to rise above internal differences and develop unified policies so as to deal more effectively and realistically with both superpowers. Such thinking conforms to the conceptual underpinnings of the European movement; the combination of British accession and an inexorable logic driving the member states together on economic issues should trigger a self-generating process, the product of which will be a politically balanced and integrated Community.
Possibly events, faith and logic will push Western Europe onto this path. It cannot be ruled out, and other governments, especially America's, should not permit fashionable skepticism to obscure the continuing merit of the idea. It must be said, however, that the problems of the Community countries lie at least as much with each other as with the great powers. If this were not so, the Community could provide its own catalyst. As it is, only a reviving fear of the Soviet Union and/or abandonment of Europe by the United States seems at all capable of catalyzing an impulse for political unity. Almost certainly, the Russians will not be foolish enough to frighten the West Europeans into huddling together. Almost certainly, Washington will not be foolish enough to risk leaving Europe to the dangerous uncertainties that could follow the departure of all or most American troops.
Now as ever, Western Europe's hope for freeing itself from this blend of vulnerability to and dependence on the great powers rests with Britain, France and West Germany. Only if these, the major European powers, can sort out their differences and agree to agree, will Europeans learn to speak with what Alastair Buchan calls "similar if not identical voices."
Well before joining, Britain had begun to adopt the most rigorously "European" stance of the three. Mr. Heath and the convinced Europeans of Whitehall are likely to put forward numerous initiatives. The question is how hard they can or will push their projects and whether, in any case, they can jostle their principal partners toward compatible ends. Moreover, it will be some time before Britain is ready to pursue seriously other than essentially self-serving projects. And this is entirely understandable. The price of membership is high.
A system whereby each member subsidizes French agriculture seems to Britain unfair. Whitehall urges a regional industrial policy as a kind of quid pro quo; areas with high unemployment and declining prospects would be the beneficiaries. Britain is likely also to encourage the use of Community funds to promote trans-European mergers in key advanced sectors, such as aircraft, computers and electronics, where Britain excels but feels that competing with the Americans will require investment, production and marketing on a European scale.
Finally, the British will find themselves devoting a good deal of energy to the seemingly banal but essential business of maneuvering key places in the Brussels bureaucracy for the gifted people who will be going there. In short, Britain's attention for some time ahead will be focused on the immediate problems and implications of membership, as distinct from imaginative ideas about recharging Europe's batteries.
Favored (if that is the word) with Europe's most productive farmers, France's interest is to sustain the common agricultural policy (CAP). The French also want some monetary solidarity to make sure that exchange-rate alterations do not unhinge the CAP, which seems to be held together with string and glue and does rely on fixed parities. The French will strenuously oppose concessions to America in any trade negotiations. After years of concern about industrial competition from the Germans and Italians, they must now contend with Britain inside the Community, not to speak of the very much more formidable Japanese.
Pompidou's France seeks both independent European positions and closer bilateral links with Washington. And it would like to acquire some leverage on Bonn by strengthening links with Britain. France favors the ESC, because it might loosen things a bit in the Eastern bloc and extend France's political margins, especially vis-à-vis the Germans, who are busily regularizing their relations to the East. On the other hand, the French, as noted, yield to none in their hostility to MBFR. Pierre Hassner has said, France "wants to keep the U.S. military presence, but wants to do nothing . . . to help prevent or slow down the disengagement she fears. She wants complete economic and monetary independence from the United States and blames her European partners for not sharing this attitude enough."
No more than ever is France disturbed by the contradictions of her policies. And as far as the eye can see, France will reject the integrationist moves of others except in matters affecting agriculture and money, where the country's immediate interest requires that sort of thing. To the question of whether France can have it both ways, one is tempted to answer, yes, unless her partners, confidently and clearly, take strong, unified positions. But neither is that likely to happen.
The German attitude, as always, is conditioned by geography and history, as well as immediate self-interest. On the one hand, West Germans have cast their lot with the European Community. But the precise implications of the commitment are unclear, because the Ostpolitik also appears irreversible. Though Bonn pressed hard for British entry there is no reason to assume that Bonn will support British initiatives aimed at promoting political unity but which would go down badly in Moscow. Already the Germans regard Britain's entry as a political gain but a distinct economic hazard. The Germans worry that they will be infected by a diseased British economy and dragged down by an accident-prone British currency.
Boxing the compass leads back to the conclusion that no combination of Britain, France and Germany can be expected in the near or middle term to do very much about Western Europe's political confinement. Greater access to the East may only sharpen competition and existing divisions, as it will be pursued bilaterally. The October summit conference of the members and candidate members of the Community was a political dud, which is one of the reasons that the French government, after first proposing a summit conference, had been tempted to cancel it. Yet, the Community has no better weapon, really, than a summit conference for taking new departures.
Monetary and trade difficulties, plus MBFR and ESC, are edging Western Europe back to center stage in its dealings with Washington. The comments of President Nixon noted above are a sure sign. Still, Washington seems no clearer than before on knowing what it wants, or can reasonably expect, from the Europeans. Perhaps the alternative-something like a precise policy with fixed goals, political and otherwise-is simply not feasible, given America's conflicting priorities and the impossibility of dealing with Europe on most matters as other than a group of states with divergent views.
The tendency, in any case, is to deal with Europeans bilaterally, the traditional and more comfortable diplomatic method. Still, an integrated Europe, on balance, would better suit American interests. The political advantages are no less than before. America could only gain from the greater security that Western Europe would acquire through a sure sense of its own political purpose and integrity. At the economic level, European integration, though its precise effects could not be calculated, would probably prove less difficult for America than a mixed bag of bilateral dealings and episodic negotiations with the Brussels bureaucracy. Once integrated, West Europeans would all be on the same commercial and monetary cycle; no single region or state would be affected very differently by American actions, and America would have a better sense of what to expect from Western Europe. Perhaps more important, Western Europe as a bloc might well be less sensitive to trade issues and able to find a better balance between political and economic questions. A Western Europe bereft of political growth potential will be tempted to focus its energies on, and perhaps to exaggerate, matters like trade. In short, a Western Europe permanently bogged down is likely to present the United States with the worst of all possible worlds.
If and when Europe's political relevance to America declines, or seems to decline in European eyes, there may be quite a nasty reaction. A random, inarticulate anti-Americanism may begin to animate Western Europe's activities. Rather than being the eternal tail to an American kite, many Europeans may wonder if they couldn't manage their affairs more directly by relying less on American influence and power than on rapprochement with the Soviet Union, perhaps within a system that would permit dealing evenhandedly with both superpowers, even to the extent of playing them off against one another. In the end, such a tendency would dismember the Atlantic system and extend Soviet influence, however gradually, throughout Europe and conceivably elsewhere.
The United States can't catalyze European political coöperation, let alone unity, and shouldn't try. The Americans, however, can and should avoid taking steps that will discourage the process. Washington must bear in mind that what it does, along with what Moscow does, cannot but affect Western Europe in some fashion.
The Americans can also avoid letting the tail wag the dog. Trade and financial disputes have created urgent operational problems, some of which may defy equitable solutions. At some point, the enlarged Community's agricultural policy will cause measurable injury to American grain exporters, who believe that God intended Europeans to raise livestock, not wheat. Doubtless Western Europe, along with the rest of us, would benefit politically as well as economically from some basic reforms of its agriculture. But since reform will come slowly, if at all, the rest of us had better adjust to what the beneficiary of the system, France, calls the situation acquise. And the Americans, at least, should not allow commercial differences with Europe to degrade political links, which are no less vulnerable for their self-evident importance; the all too human but dangerous tendency is to take this set of relationships for granted.
Ultimately, there lies the question of who or what will speak for Western Europe. Americans, if they cannot directly influence the answer, should at least avoid leaving the impression that it doesn't greatly matter. Because obviously it does.