How to Get a Breakthrough in Ukraine
The Case Against Incrementalism
In our nuclear age, questions of defense planning-once a fairly simple matter of estimating the amounts expended by the various nations, totting up numbers of mobilizable men, evaluating weapons (as in Janes Fighting Ships), appreciating the contributions of allies and so on-have passed into a surrealistic sphere of bluff, counterbluff, nightmare and potential extinction of the human race. Reassuringly, neither of the superpowers, even when one held a monopoly or a vast preponderance of nuclear power, has so far been willing to use, or to threaten the use of, the superweapon in pursuit of its political aims-even (as in Vietnam) against a tiny nonnuclear adversary. (Khrushchev's empty threat at the time of Suez was the exception that proves the rule.) Indeed, its possession has so far simply resulted in a perpetuation of the political status quo. Any negotiated arrangement between the superpowers on the limitation or even reduction of their nuclear panoply will also, most likely, only be possible on such a basis.
It is therefore clear, in a general way, that as long as a substantial American force remains in Germany, giving rise to the assumption that if the Soviet Union attacked the allies in the West it would be the signal for a nuclear holocaust, the defense of Western Europe is in all probability assured. Nevertheless, in spite of statements to the contrary, we are always given to understand that there may, in the not too far distant future, be some partial withdrawal of American power and that, insofar as this may weaken the "credibility" of the major deterrent, it will be necessary for the European members of the Alliance somehow to fill the ensuing gap. Already an effort to meet this American-implied demand has been made by the constitution of the so-called "Eurogroup" (though France is not a member) and that is very much to the good. But might it be possible for Western Europe, one day, and if necessary, to be primarily responsible, within the Alliance, for its own defense? Most informed persons would unhesitatingly say no. I wonder.
Supposing, just supposing, that the Americans, perhaps dissatisfied with the attitude of the European Economic Community in regard to trade or indeed its contribution to a common defense, made it clear that within a given period-say, five or ten years-they would no longer be prepared to maintain any forces on the continent of Europe. Would we then have to conclude that there would, fairly shortly, be no means of successfully countering any aggressive or threatening move on the part of the East, or, even, failing that, preventing the assumption by the Soviet Union of the political leadership of the Continent, and make arrangements accordingly? Again, I wonder. Let us try to think what might be done in the dread circumstances suggested. Some may feel that this is a useless or even dangerous exercise. However, as the French say, il faut envisager le pire!
The accepted philosophy at the moment seems to be that if there should be any aggressive move by the Warsaw Pact forces, whether in the central, the northern or the southern areas of NATO, it would be countered by a move having the same sort of weight behind it. This would give time for the conflict to be limited or localized and, if possible, for negotiations to take place. Yet, if it were a serious offensive, it is obvious that the Russians, with their three-to-one superiority in conventional weapons, their streamlined arms production and logistics, would quite quickly make a serious penetration, to say the least. In order to halt them, there would very soon be no alternative for the allies, in whatever sector, but to have recourse to nuclear weapons of some sort, presumably in the first instance making use of the so-called "tactical" nuclear weapons, though we are told that nowadays some of these have a devastating yield and a range of hundreds of miles. Knowing that the allies possess some 7,000 of these weapons, either under the direct control of the Americans or at the disposal of other allies under the system of the "double key," and on the assumption that they would, in the event of a serious attack, unhesitatingly be prepared to use them, if only on a very small scale to start off with-just to show that we did have the will to employ the ultimate weapon rather than surrender-the Russians, it is maintained, will not attack or allow an attack to take place. Our position is therefore now secure.
It is true that the Russians have similar "tactical" weapons and that if the allies did employ theirs to halt an offensive, and the adversary retaliated, as he surely would, with like means, not only would East Germany, and no doubt parts of Poland be reduced to a desert, but also, and immediately, West Germany, which it would be the presumptive object of the Russians to occupy and subsequently to exploit. And no doubt a general interchange of "strategic" nuclear missiles would soon after also take place. This, therefore, is another major reason why the Russians, who are not mad, will not attack or allow any attack to take place, and why the allies (or rather, as things are, the Americans) will not be in the position of having to use, or even to threaten to make use of, any part of their nuclear power. Such, at any rate, is the theory and indeed for as long as powerful American forces remain in Germany there is, happily, little doubt that "flexible response" is likely to maintain, if not peace, at any rate the European status quo.
It is not, therefore, as if the "flexible response" theory is inherently wrong or even outdated. On the contrary, the general idea that we should have sufficient conventional forces, backed up, as things are, by tactical nuclears, at least to check what might simply be a testing maneuver on the part of the Russians (as part, perhaps, of some effort to extract concessions by nuclear blackmail) is doubtlessly valid as such. In any case, it is infinitely preferable to the idea of "massive retaliation" which, with the achievement of nuclear parity between the superpowers, is obviously out of the question. And it may well be that such attempts on the part of the U.S.S.R. would be much more likely than a massive armored attack which, again as things are, would only be held by resort to tactical nuclear weapons on an increasing scale.
But if we are to consider unpalatable possibilities at all, we must face the fact that we may, within the next few years, reach the point at which no power-not even a superpower-will be prepared to use nuclear weapons against another nuclear power on a first strike, the risks of so doing being judged greater than the prospective advantages. As we have seen, our whole present strategy rests on the assumption that the Americans would be prepared to do so, and no doubt, as things are, they would. But the real question is: at what point, given any serious reduction of the U.S. forces in Germany, or even any bilateral understanding between the two superpowers on nuclear matters, would the Russians cease to believe that the President of the United States of America would actually press the nuclear button except following some direct threat to the United States? It is anybody's guess.
We must, after all, remind ourselves of what would be entailed by such a decision, in other words, a decision to employ nuclear weapons on a first strike in Europe, and on the assumption that threats to use them had not checked the Soviet advance. Unless the Russians at once called off their offensive after what might be called a warning nuclear shot across their bows, not only would much of Europe become derelict, but the American forces in Europe might be written off as well. True, the Russians would seek if possible to avoid a general nuclear holocaust-as would, of course, the Americans. So it might be possible to limit nuclear activity to Central and Western Europe.
But this would be intolerable. For what would happen to Europe when it was over? It seems likely that any organized societies continuing to exist might turn rather toward the U.S.S.R. than to the United States. The Russian military advance, in other words, might have been halted, but there might be a danger that in the long run the Russians would "win" the European war. It is perhaps not very difficult, therefore, to imagine the sort of advice which the Bundesrepublik would be giving the Americans in the NATO Council in the dire event of the President's being confronted by such a decision. Or even the British government for that matter. As things are, the French would no doubt be busy proclaiming their own neutrality! Nevertheless, we must assume that the President would indeed press the nuclear button. At any rate, as I have said, our entire defense rests on the assumption that he would and even more on the assumption that the Russians know he would.
But if the President would now have no hesitation about pressing the button- and I would repeat that our whole present safety depends on his willingness to do so if required-what would happen when and if the Europeans had no absolute guarantee that he would do anything of the sort? Would they-on the assumption that they had a sufficient quantity of their own by that time-be prepared to loose their own tactical nuclears on a first strike, or even fire a warning shot? Would they indeed be prepared by their own action to run the risk of total nuclear war with the Soviet Union which would still, presumably, have 700 missiles trained on all the major cities of Western Europe? They certainly would not. Nor would the Russians believe for an instant that they would. Whatever the extent of the détente achieved by then, however greatly the Russians were concerned with China, it would be clear that the West European democracies were in grave danger of, at the least, falling completely under the political domination of the Soviet Union. That is, unless they have by such time got together and thought out some new way in which they can organize a "credible" conventional defense.
The argument so far has been to the effect that, as long as considerable U.S. forces remain in Germany, our security is almost certainly assured, but that if they are reduced beyond a certain point, a doubt will arise regarding American determination to employ nuclear weapons on a first strike, such doubt increasing as force reductions proceed and ending up in near certainty if, by any evil chance, the U.S. forces were withdrawn altogether. For no one in his senses would believe that the European members of NATO would be willing in these circumstances even to fire a nuclear warning shot.
Should this be admitted, then the logical deduction is that the only possible defense of Western Europe against a (no doubt quite unlikely) aggressor from the East would be a "conventional" one. Or rather that the only way to create an effective deterrent to such an attack would be gradually to build up a conventional system of defense which in Soviet eyes would be "credible," leaving it to the adversary, if he wished to break it, to employ his own nuclear weapons on a first strike, which, ex hypothesi, he would not be prepared to do. It will at once be said that such an effort would be impossible, or at least impracticable ; that it would be beyond our means; that it would involve increasing our existing forces in Germany and thus cut right across attempts to achieve a détente by a mutual and balanced reduction of forces; that it would probably end up in conscription and so on. I suggest that these are outdated fears largely resulting from our experiences in World War II.
For what would be the object of the whole exercise? Simply to hold up any Soviet armored thrust in the central theater without resort to nuclear weapons. What weapons would consequently be required? Sufficient antitank weapons and aircraft of new design both to protect these weapons and to deal with the Soviet tanks themselves. How can the new-model antitank weapons best be deployed? In fixed ground-to-ground rocket emplacements; in helicopter "gun-ships"; in specially designed fighter aircraft; and above all, by many small mobile land units. Could small mines in addition be laid from the air in the path of the advancing columns? Why not? Could there be special electronic means of incapacitating tanks? Perhaps in the future. But in any case all such weapons would be purely defensive and could not therefore give rise to any justified complaint of aggressive intentions on the NATO side. They could, further, easily be reconciled with any mutual and balanced reduction of forces.
For it would naturally be the small mobile units-perhaps a thousand at company strength, some grouped together for immediate employment-which would represent the core of the new forward defense strategy. Manned by tough professionals, they could, to some extent, be stationed in the frontier zones and for the rest transported at a minute's notice by helicopter to any sensitive area. A portion of their weapons could be brought with them and a portion discovered sur place. Their deployment would be directed by an Area Commander-there might possibly be three of them in the central zone-reporting directly to SACEUR (the Supreme Allied Commander Europe). No doubt the bulk would have to be concentrated in the northern sector where the nature of the ground makes it more difficult to hold up an armored offensive than in the south. In addition, there would behind the lines, be a (conscript) militia, reinforcible by a "territorial" army, mobilized at short notice, whose sole function could be to protect all vital areas and points from a "conventional" attack by enemy paratroops. It may be, in short, that there are some lessons to be learned from the success of the North Vietnamese in holding up attacks by vastly superior conventional forces. Our existing armored divisions might indeed in such circumstances gradually be readapted to new conditions. For the whole theory rests on the assumption that (short of recourse to nuclear weapons) armor cannot hold up armor unless there is something like parity between the two sides on land and in the air. Since it is impossible to achieve such parity without entirely unacceptable expenditure, necessity therefore surely obliges us to look elsewhere than to armor for a "conventional" defense.
It will be seen that under some such general scheme it should be possible not only to reduce substantially the number of our armed forces in Germany (and their dependents) but also to standardize the production in Europe of the new weapons required-thereby greatly reducing their cost-and to streamline logistics in a way impossible under the present rather top-heavy national set-up. There would admittedly be additional expenditure on airplanes and antitank weapons as a whole, as also, perhaps, on extra hunter-killer submarines to frustrate any outflanking effort of the adversary in the Baltic or even in the Mediterranean; but the net saving should be considerable and the total number of men employed capable of much reduction-more especially since under such a scheme our conventional defenses would not depend in the first instance on armored divisions. Indeed, as and when the new "forward" defense was installed, such formations might suitably be thinned out and transformed into something more mobile, like the U.S. "air cavalry."
But the overriding consideration would be that if all this were accomplished under some kind of European Arms Procurement Agency, and given a European Combined Chiefs of Staff Organization (perhaps with a French chairman), it would become apparent that the Russians would have little chance of penetrating the West European defenses unless they were prepared to use nuclear weapons on a first strike. This, I repeat, they would not be prepared to do under our major hypothesis because, if they did, the war which they had started would clearly not be worth winning, if only for the effect of the Western tactical nuclear second strike.
The Russians would be all the more disinclined to do so were there in reserve some British and French strategic nuclear force, presumably submarine-and it would not really matter much whether it was actually "combined" or not-which, on a second strike, presumably authorized only after a nuclear attack on the homelands, would at least be capable of inflicting considerable (and it need not even be tremendous) damage on the Soviet Union. Nor, as I say, would there seem to be any objection-pending, possibly, the creation of a "nuclear free zone" between the Rhine and the Vistula-to the French and British forces having their own tactical nuclear weapons (and the Germans having them also, as now, under a "double key" system) which would also only be for use on a second strike. The general conception, in other words, would be that of some West European nuclear deterrent (or deterrents) which would only be deployed in the extremely unlikely event of the Russians themselves having recourse to nuclear weapons, whether strategic or tactical. It would follow that in such circumstances the European or "Community" members of the Atlantic Alliance would be entirely at liberty to join the Chinese in saying that they would never use nuclear weapons on a first strike-a gesture which might do much to offset some of the present popular criticism of NATO in quite influential "liberal" circles.
It goes without saying that the success of such a new scheme of defense would depend very largely on the willing coöperation of France. But if France actually took the lead in proposing something on these lines, could we British and the Germans really turn it down? And even if she did not, could not we and the Germans alone make a successful effort to operate it by ourselves, together with the Low Countries? And why should Americans object? For years they have been urging the Europeans to get together and, so far as possible, be responsible for their own defense. It is obvious, too, that it can only be by such means as these that we could have any certitude of securely attaching the West Germans to the West. For if the conventional defense of Western Europe is really impossible, and if the U.S. nuclear guarantee should ever be in serious doubt, it is difficult to see what could prevent the Bundesrepublik from coming to some political arrangement directly with the U.S.S.R. Such unpleasant possibilities are not for today; but unless we and the French and the Germans can very soon begin building up a coherent system of West European defense that may take five to ten years to complete, we shall be lucky indeed if we do not have to face them tomorrow.
Apart from the technical aspect, on which the experts could pronounce, are there any overriding political objections to such a scheme? Hardly from the financial point of view, since all concerned would probably be able, by harmonizing their respective efforts on new and more economical lines, to reduce substantially the percentage of their GNP that they now devote to defensive purposes. There is, however, the very real problem of "the flanks." If you concentrate on Western Europe, that is to say on the "nucleus" of the seven countries of the Western European Union you will (or so it is often argued, more particularly in NATO) inevitably weaken the position and even the morale of Norway on the one hand and Turkey on the other. It is really rather difficult to follow this argument. In the first place both the countries mentioned are in NATO and should consequently look to that organization for their defense rather than toward Western Europe, of which Turkey, at any rate, forms no geographical part. If NATO should ever fail, then obviously they would have little hope. What we are, however, contemplating is a situation in which Western Europe may have to defend itself without the presence of U.S. troops and with no certainty of the extension over it of the American nuclear "umbrella."
In such circumstances, the Americans must clearly maintain this umbrella over Norway and Turkey. If they did, then there could be no objection to Western Europe's providing for its own conventional defense within a continuing Atlantic Alliance. As things are, of course, Norway and Turkey depend primarily for their defense on the American nuclear coverage provided, for the time being, chiefly by the American navy, and so far as Turkey is concerned, by the Mediterranean Sixth Fleet. It is useless to think that Western Europe, however united, can itself fulfill these functions. It can hardly replace the Sixth Fleet; it can in no way, by itself, defend the Finnmark against the Russians, although it might with conventional means help to defend the rest of Scandinavia. It could scarcely come to the "conventional" rescue of Turkey. Although it might have sufficient naval force in the Mediterranean to prevent its domination by the Russian fleet, it could hardly have a naval nuclear element (surface, or even submarine) in that sea which would be deemed ready to hit Russia on a first strike. What seems to be required, therefore, is some new conventional defense in the center and the continuance of some NATO defense of Norway and Turkey in which all members of the Alliance might, as now, participate to some degree. After Vietnam the Americans may perhaps give up being a major land power, but they will hardly cease to be a major nuclear and naval power.
It really all comes down to this. It is only common prudence for the West European democracies, if they wish to ensure their freedom in the long run, to build up and to streamline their conventional defenses and to establish, within the alliance, some kind of unified command. It is useless to say, with M. Michel Debré, that this cannot be done until the British are in a position to have a common nuclear policy with the French; to pass on to them American production secrets; to initiate common nuclear production lines, and so on. Though there could well be coöperation, up to a point, in the organization of a "second-strike" nuclear capability, all this is quite unlikely to happen, and, what is more, it makes little difference whether it happens or not. Nuclear weapons, at least European nuclear weapons, only being "second-strike" weapons, all that would be necessary would be for the British and the French to agree on a common targetting program for their respective strategic "deterrents" and for them to coördinate under a common command the functioning and positioning of any "tactical" nuclear weapons that they may jointly, or severally, be able to produce.
To resume, what is essential, unless all the democracies are to founder, is for them to have a common foreign and defense policy of some kind: in other words, to adopt a common attitude toward the U.S.S.R. Nor, on the assumption that the United States does not wish any longer to bear the main burden of the defense of Western Europe, is there any reason to suppose that the Alliance will be endangered by the proposed reorganization, as it might be if its Eastern members failed to agree on any really satisfactory and coherent plan for filling the gap.
On the contrary, for as long as SACEUR is an American there is no reason why the Americans, if they so desired, should not themselves participate in "new-look" forward defenses. Only when and if they withdrew the great bulk of their troops would it be necessary to contemplate a SACEUR of European nationality. And even then the Americans must continue to hold their strategic umbrella over Turkey and Norway and the policy of the Alliance as a whole continue to be formulated within the North Atlantic Council. What is essential is that, faced with the ever-increasing Soviet conventional and nuclear potential, the West should adopt altogether new and totally nonaggressive methods of collective self-defense.
Unless we do so we are all in real danger, not so much of physical defeat as of moral collapse, that is to say, in a failure to grasp the fundamental purpose of our collective life. And if we do not take care such a collapse may even start at the forthcoming conferences on European Security and on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions. The way to détente is for Western Europe, in close coöperation with the Americans, to secure, or begin to secure, its own defense before talking; not to start talking before it has secured its defense.