Time for NATO to Close Its Door
The Alliance Is Too Big—and Too Provocative—for Its Own Good
More than a year after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the West is still laboring under a vexing paradox. By comparison with earlier police actions in East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the vaunted military machine of the Soviet Union has not fared well in the attempt to "pacify" all of Afghanistan. Yet while unable to impose control over a ragtag army of underequipped, quarreling mountain tribesmen, the Soviet Union has scored two staggering diplomatic victories: it has succeeded in splitting the Islamic world and in accelerating the continental drift between Europe and America. Instead of infusing the West with a new unity of purpose, as might have been expected, the crisis over Afghanistan has left a legacy of confusion, distrust and resentment which, in retrospect, turns the many disputes of the past into minor family squabbles.
There are many who would challenge this somber assessment. What about Suez and Berlin in the 1950s, what about the Gaullist offensive, the demise of the Multilateral Force and the pressure to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the 1960s? Or Vietnam in the early 1970s? True, the history of the Alliance is the history of dissension and diverging interests. True, from Suez to Southeast Asia, Europeans and Americans have never been able to close ranks in the face of crises outside the pale of the North Atlantic Treaty. Yet-so we are assured-the shock waves were always contained, and somehow the Alliance has always managed to transcend adversity. Indeed, it now shines forth as the most enduring defense compact of free nations in modern times. According to the counsel of conventional realism, then, the past was not as serene as we remember, and the present is not as bleak as we pretend. Plus ça change. . . .
The comfortable view of postwar history rests on the belief that the fundamentals have not changed. The Alliance was, after all, conceived as a bulwark against the overweening power of the Soviet Union, and nothing that has happened since-the rise of Europe, the relative decline of the United States, the new threat to our energy supplies-has really eroded its key foundation: the common perception of a European security deficit which could only be balanced by the United States. Hence the crises may come and go, but the tie will hold.
After Afghanistan, this premise of an overriding transatlantic security interest is no longer self-evident. Throughout the first three decades of the defense relationship, societies on either side of the ocean were indeed tied together by the conviction that the Soviet Union, by virtue of its power and ideology, represented the prime threat to the independence of Western democracies. Domestically, this consensus spanned almost the entire political spectrum-from the conservative Right to the democratic Left. In foreign policy, it served to defuse the most vociferous disputes between the allies. After torpedoing the European Defense Community in 1954, the French returned quickly to the Atlantic fold because, in the end, their fear of the Soviet Union weighed more heavily in the scales than their fear of a resurgent (and rearmed) half-Germany. During the Suez Crisis in 1956 the United States humiliated its two oldest allies, France and England, yet the Alliance held because President Eisenhower was merely applying pressure while Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was rattling his nuclear rockets at the same time that he was crushing the Hungarian revolution.
Things have changed. There are sizable (even if not dominant) groups in the democratic European Left, stretching from the Labour Party in England via the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) to the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), whose traditional pacifist instincts have now combined with increasing resentment of American fealty demands in the wake of the triple crises in Iran, Afghanistan and Poland. Yet-and this is a crucial transformation-the Left stands by no means alone. Support for détente-minded "realism" and distrust of American designs extends deeply into the "bourgeois" camp: from the left wing of the Free Democrats in Germany to the Christian parties in the Benelux countries and the center groups in Scandinavia. And whether a Christian Democrat/Christian Socialist government in Bonn would actually conduct a very different Ostpolitik once it acceded to power is at least open to question. In foreign policy, then, the traditional ideological chasms between Left and Right are narrowing; the two camps are drawing together on the joint platform of "Little Europe" nationalism and resistance to American leadership.
Nothing could dramatize the difference between the 1960s and the 1980s more vividly than Europe's responses to the Cuban missile crisis and the invasion of Afghanistan. In 1962, relations among Bonn, Paris and Washington were anything but harmonious: General de Gaulle's challenge to American "hegemony" had already blossomed into a full-scale offensive. And in the aftermath of the Berlin Wall (1961), Chancellor Adenauer's ancient fear of superpower collusion at the expense of sacred German interests was hardening into unmitigated paranoia. Yet when the missile crisis broke, the two European leaders immediately fell into line behind President Kennedy because they understood that something more crucial than their own quarrels with Washington was at stake: the global balance between East and West.
Afghanistan, however, brought forth very different reactions. First, President Giscard d'Estaing rushed off to Warsaw to pay his respects to Soviet Party Chief Leonid Brezhnev; a few weeks later, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (albeit with President Carter's grudging blessing) traveled to Moscow in an attempt to salvage at least some remnants of détente from the clutches of the two enraged superpowers.
Today, the overwhelming nuclear edge the United States possessed during the Cuban crisis has given way to "parity." Today, the Soviet Union has become a bona fide world power for the first time in history, with the means to project its military might to the remotest corners of the globe. Yet today it is no longer quite clear who the enemy is. Somehow it seems immaterial that one superpower has dealt a heavy blow to the status quo by invading a neutral country, whereas the other, even if haphazardly, has been trying to restore it. Both are no longer quite rational, both are seemingly conspiring to rob Europe of the precious fruits of détente, and both-as Helmut Schmidt has reiterated ad infinitum-lack a sorely needed "war avoidance strategy" which heeds the so-called lessons of 1914.
The Chancellor's cautious resort to historical metaphor betrays an ambivalence which, in turn, reflects the sharpening dilemmas of European policy: how to save détente in Europe without playing into Soviet hands elsewhere, how to please the Americans without affronting the Russians, how to show firmness abroad without risking repudiation at home. Those who are not in power, however, can afford to shrug off the dilemmas and indulge in resentment pure and simple. Thus former Chancellor Willy Brandt, the architect of Ostpolitik and European détente, has denounced the "venomous stammering" of the two superpowers; he has deplored "sterile agitation" in the wake of Carter's "get tough" pronunciamentos; he has appealed to Germans and Europeans alike to stand ready "to save what can be saved" of détente. At the height of the Polish crisis last December he castigated those in Washington who "indulge in an orgy of impotence."
As in George Orwell's Animal Farm, the distinctions between pigs and humans vanish, and worse: in a textbook example of psychic displacement, fear and frustration are turned not against the aggressor but against the one who is closest to us. The most striking case in point is a letter which the novelist Günter Grass and three of his writer friends addressed to Chancellor Schmidt last April: "Since Vietnam at the latest, the American government has forfeited any right to moral appeals. . . . The limits of Alliance loyalty are reached when peace is jeopardized wantonly or negligently." There is no crisis, the letter's authors state, for "nobody is attacking us, nobody is threatening us." Hence, Grass et al. conclude, declarations of firmness are strictly "childish." Instead, "we Germans ought to use every possible means, every possible compromise to save the peace."
Lest this be brushed off as a knee-jerk reflex of old anti-Vietnam activists and leftist intellectuals, there are some interesting public-opinion data which suggest that the general populace is not far behind the indignant avant garde. A confidential poll sponsored by the West German government in the spring of 1980 revealed that:
-half of the West German population supported "more independence" vis-à-vis the United States (29 percent against);
-60 percent opposed the "stationing of more and new atomic weapons" on West German soil (in favor: 24 percent);
-45 percent of the respondents viewed "military neutrality of the Federal Republic and the GDR (German Democratic Republic)" as a useful way of safeguarding the peace (against: 34 percent).1
The blurring of the security issue ("Who threatens whom?") confirms the suspicion that Afghanistan marks a qualitatively different crisis in European-American relations. One might still respond, "This, too, will pass"-especially now that the Carter Administration has been voted out of office. But if it does pass, it will certainly take a very long time.
To be sure, Jimmy Carter was a problem for the Europeans, who could only react with puzzlement and frustration (some even with contempt) to the gyrations of U.S. foreign policy from 1976 to 1980. In the course of three years they were confronted with a total about-face. At first, there was the abrupt turn toward "Wilsonianism": the almost blind neglect of power and conflict in favor of "world order" and "global issues." Scarcely three years later, however, there was the sudden shift toward "Trumanism" à la Carter: toward rearmament, rapid deployment forces, embargoes, boycotts-in short, a "get tough" approach toward the Soviets. Worse, this medium-term cycle was but the background for rapid short-term oscillations which turned unpredictability into a steady routine in which a policy was hardly announced before it was already disputed, reversed or forgotten. Clearly, these "zig-zags and flip-flops," as Time called them, did not enhance the leadership potential of the United States. They made it very difficult even for its staunch friends to stick their necks out. And for those who distrusted the United States to begin with, the diplomatic blunders of the Carter Administration served as a perfect smoke screen for debating style rather than substance, and for the pursuit of their own narrow interests.
A steady foreign policy under Ronald Reagan, especially if it avoids the more blatant forms of unilateralism, will certainly reduce frictions. It will not, however, solve the problem. For the clashes of perceptions and policies dramatized by Afghanistan (and Iran before and Poland after) are not rooted in personalities but in the divergent evolution of societies on either side of the ocean. Our societies have been moving in different directions for the better part of the 1970s; the Atlantic has become deeper and wider.
In the first place, the Europeans, and the Germans in particular, have profited far more heavily from détente than has the United States. In terms of historical memory, the Europeans look back at the recurrent confrontations from the Berlin Blockade (1948-49) to the Berlin crisis (1958-1962) and compare them with the unprecedented era of stability in the 1970s. It was an era which saw the quasi settlement of World War II (also known as the "New Ostpolitik"), the Four Power Agreement on Berlin which at least quarantined a perennial trouble spot, the drawing together of the two Germanies, the flourishing of trade, and a good deal of person-to-person interaction across what used to be known as the Iron Curtain. While crises and confrontations multiplied elsewhere, Europe remained an island of peace.
The American experience was far more sobering. Reacting to the hapless, costly and society-rending intervention in Southeast Asia, the United States cut back on its worldwide commitments and began to deemphasize the weight of military power in foreign policy. Yet in the process of defining a more modest role for themselves, Americans saw Soviet armaments growing apace, followed by geopolitical gains which stretched from Angola to Afghanistan. And in spite of the SALT I agreement on limiting nuclear arms and sundry other agreements concluded with the Soviets in the heyday of détente, the military balance deteriorated both strategically and conventionally, globally as well as locally.
For the United States, détente did not "work," for the Europeans it did-hence their almost obsessive attempts to snatch as many pieces as possible from the jaws of the rattled giants. Nor was arms control discredited in Europe just because it yielded nothing tangible after so many years of barren negotiations (like those on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions [MBFR] begun in Vienna in 1973). What matters more is the perception that arms control has not been a palpable failure either. Not only does the process continue, there is also hope for more negotiations (such as the talks on Theater Nuclear Forces [TNF] offered by Brezhnev last October). But most important of all there is no backlash born out of frustration. While many Americans associate the SALT period with the onset of unbridled Soviet opportunism, Europeans looking at Europe congratulate themselves that here at least the steady growth of Soviet military muscle did not translate into political pressure or armed adventurism. In Europe, the Soviets are still on their best behavior.
Second, and precisely because détente worked, the Europeans have acquired new vulnerabilities (in addition to the old ones like contiguity with the Soviet bloc) which the United States does not share. The West German case is the most telling case of transformation. Before the "New Ostpolitik," the Federal Republic was America's most faithful junior partner in Europe because of its special conflict with the East (centering on Bonn's refusal to consecrate partition and the territorial redistribution that followed World War II). Conducted from a position of weakness, conflict with the East translated into a unique degree of dependence on the West. Yet as a result of the New Ostpolitik, the Federal Republic not only shed a good deal of the old fetters but also acquired new stakes. Vulnerabilities were thus shifted eastward.
Since the early 1970s, about 300,000 German ethnics have been allowed to emigrate from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but an estimated three million still remain-as unwitting hostages to good relations between Bonn and its eastern neighbors. By extension, all the achievements of Ostpolitik-especially the fitful process of reassociation between the two Germanies which has to substitute for the impossible goal of reunification-are hostages to détente in Europe. And even though Eastern trade is still relatively small, West German exports are about 16 times higher as a share of GNP than those of the United States. The same holds true for every other area of cooperation. Since the United States shares very few ties of interdependence with the Soviet bloc, it has very little to lose from the outbreak of Cold War II.2
Because the Germans, along with the rest of Western Europe, are far more dependent on imported energy, they are also about to increase their dependence on the Soviet Union in this strategic sector. If built as currently planned, a gigantic pipeline tapping Siberia's natural gas reserves will supply 30 percent of West German needs by 1985. The Germans argue correctly that these gas imports represent but a small share of total energy consumption (five percent), and they point to the traditional reliability of the Soviet Union as compared to, say, Iran and Iraq. The crucial political point, however, is that countries like Iran and Iraq, no matter how irrational and unreliable, do not press vital political demands on the Federal Republic, nor do they have the clout of a superpower like the Soviet Union.
Third, it comes as no great surprise that the uneven distribution of détente's costs and benefits has left a heavy imprint on the domestic bases of foreign policy in Europe and the United States. In Europe the decline of East-West hostility, the steady progress of trade and travel, and the perception of ultra-stability along the East-West divide have realigned domestic priorities away from defense and toward public welfare and private prosperity.
The fear of confrontation and the claims of tranquillity loom far larger than the problems of the military balance, Soviet opportunism, or instability in the Third World. As a result, countries like Belgium, Holland and Denmark can no longer be regarded as full-fledged members of the Alliance. In England, as recent Labour debates have shown, polarization on defense is sharpening. And throughout Europe, the modernization of intermediate-range Theater Nuclear Forces (decreed at NATO's December 1979 meeting in Brussels) will run into increasing domestic opposition as the day of deployment draws closer. (The French, as usual, are the exception. Regardless of Gaullist rhetoric, their policy of splendid aggravation was always finely attuned to the realities of the military balance in and around Europe. With Soviet power growing and France's security barrier between Scheldt, Rhine and Elbe weakening, the French are projecting a five-percent real increase in defense expenditures for 1981.)
In the United States, public opinion points in the opposite direction. The Vietnam-induced revulsion against entangling commitments and the use of force has yielded to the "new patriotism" which yearns to make the United States "number one" again. Détente has become a four-letter word, and the popularity of defense spending is on the upswing. Whether the current mood represents a new sense of resolve rather than mere frustration still remains to be seen. The widespread aversion to the draft is one indication of ambivalence; Ronald Reagan's tenuous campaign promise of "more guns and fewer taxes" was another. Hence, the nation's tolerance for national sacrifice may well fall short of its newly proclaimed aspirations.
Even so, it is clear that perceptions and beliefs on both shores of the Atlantic are drastically out of phase. The few premises that are still shared by Europeans and Americans are dwarfed by the many disputes where they clash not only over tactics but over Weltanschauung.
Arms control. If Americans now question arms control both as a process (stabilizing East-West relations) and as an end (slowing the arms race), Europeans still view the enterprise as an important ingredient of détente and as an imperative goal in its own right. In Europe, arms control commands broad-based, even growing public support; in the United States, the restoration of military strength now looms larger than balance-through-reduction. The clash of public moods is nicely illustrated in the quite opposite approaches taken by the United States and Europe to TNF modernization and SALT.
The 1979 Brussels decision to deploy 572 intermediate-range missile systems in Europe could only be bought with an ironclad commitment to arms control talks with the Soviets-as substitute or as alibi for an eventual TNF buildup. In the United States, by contrast, President Carter felt compelled to pay for SALT II with a massive rearmament program (like the mobile MX missile and a host of conventional add-ons). Put differently: in Europe, arms control is the price of rearmament (even that may not be enough for the actual deployment of intermediate-range Theater Nuclear Forces in 1983); across the ocean, rearmament is the price of arms control (and even that was not enough to buy the passage of SALT II in the Senate).
Détente. Ten years ago, Europeans and Americans embarked on the road to détente with a tidy theory in hand. Together they would cast a net of interdependence around the Soviets, enmeshing them in trade and technology transfers, credit lines and arms control agreements. Having acquired a stake in cooperative relations with the West, the Soviet Union would behave according to Western standards-like any reasonable power which values peace and prosperity more highly than the costly pleasures of aggrandizement. The Kremlin, the theory ran, would not risk the horn of capitalist plenty for a quick geopolitical grab here or there.
Today, the question is not only whether "linkage" has failed but also whether some of us have not become more "interdependent" than the Soviet Union. For by the same theory, Soviet "misbehavior" should have been met with the denial of cooperation and the cutting of links. Yet, in practice, Western responses did not follow the logic of linkage but the "détente differential" between the United States and Europe.
Having little to lose from the breakdown of superpower détente, the United States reacted to the rumblings of Cold War II with sanctions and rearmament. Counting their numerous blessings, many Europeans asserted not only the basic validity of the original concept but also the need for more rather than less détente in times of tension. If Americans were struck by the deterioration of the global military balance, Europeans worried about the threat to regional tranquility. Hence, they invoked the "1914 analogy" and the danger of mutual miscalculation engendered by an ill-considered call to arms. Americans, on the other hand, pointed to the "Munich analogy" and the danger of Soviet miscalculation stemming from perceived Western weakness. Conscious of the burden of global containment, the United States called for resistance on a global scale; scrambling to shore up the dikes around the Continent, the Europeans asked: "Why risk détente here just because it has broken down elsewhere? Shouldn't we pocket our regional gains instead of gambling them away in extra-European disputes which call for different chips anyway?"
Perceptions of the Soviet Union. For Americans, Afghanistan posed a threefold threat: a move so close to the Persian Gulf was fraught with grave implications for global security and Western energy supplies; it suggested that Soviet objectives tended to expand with Soviet (military) means; and it dramatized an inherent opportunism which could only be checked by countervailing power. The Europeans took a more benign view, stressing the defensive motives of the Soviet Union. They saw the thrust into Afghanistan as a limited response to a set of circumstances that were sui generis; they emphasized the unique vulnerability of a multinational empire to fundamentalist challenges from across its borders; and they invoked the age-old Russian trauma of encirclement and invasion as guideline for a Western strategy which ought to reassure rather than provoke the Soviets.
With equal insistence, Americans and Europeans each claimed superior wisdom for their point of view. The din of mutual recrimination merely helped to obscure the obvious: an irreducible difference of interests lies at the root of all our disputes and inevitably conditions our perceptions. For the Europeans, détente has always been more than just the relaxation of tensions and the stabilization of the military milieu. Détente in Europe was to offer a framework which might allow the Soviets to loosen their stranglehold on the eastern half of the Continent. This was certainly the key thrust of Ostpolitik. If reunification of the two Germanies was precluded by the realities of territorial possession, then the increasing permeability of borders and the cautious liberalization of regimes would mute the consequences of partition and ultimately even render irrelevant the quest for a unitary German state.
All of this required that the Soviets be fed a steady diet of reassurance, supplemented by a stream of material benefits which would outweigh the risks of partial devolution. Hence the narrow German tolerance for anything which might either destabilize the Soviet regime or legitimize the reimposition of East-bloc uniformity by force-long before Afghanistan. In 1977, the Germans were rattled by Carter's human rights campaign, in 1978 they vacillated over the "neutron bomb," in 1979 the ruling Social Democratic Party barely consented to TNF modernization, in 1980 they stood ready to "defend détente tooth and nail," as Foreign Minister Genscher put it. Contrary to American expectations, the Polish crisis made no difference just because it was closer to home than Afghanistan. Precisely because an invasion of Poland would reduce the rationale of Ostpolitik ad absurdum, the Germans held their breath in apprehension while secretly cursing the Americans for their renewed rush to confrontation. Given German premises, it was only logical that somebody like Willy Brandt would seek to hold off the Americans and reassure the nervous Russians by pooh-poohing the bipolar dimensions of the crisis: "Poland has a great deal more to do with Poland than with the relationship between East and West."
Domestic politics and foreign policy. There is yet another reason why Germans in particular tend to take a more generous view of Soviet motives and needs than Americans. The ruling coalition of Social Democrats and liberals gained and then consolidated power in a fierce battle over Ostpolitik between 1969 and 1972 by pitting a program of reconciliation and cooperation against Christian Democratic orthodoxy. Having staked their fate on détente, they are condemned to defend it-all the more so because a freezing chill in Europe would surely benefit the conservatives. In a country as exposed as the Federal Republic, the failure of détente might well redound against those who presided over its initiation and intensification. This explains not only Bonn's resistance to the more extreme demands of neo-containment but also the unflagging attempt to reassure a security-conscious home audience by representing Soviet motives as essentially reasonable and defensive. In stark contrast to France, where the legitimacy of a conservative regime is not tied to unruffled relations with the East, the diplomatic flexibility of the West German government is tightly circumscribed by the imperatives of domestic control.
Is this "Finlandization"? Do the Europeans seek refuge in the most optimistic interpretations of Soviet behavior because they can no longer stomach a pessimistic assessment? The foregoing analysis suggests that the widening gap between Europe and the United States requires a more complex explanation than crude geopolitical metaphors can offer. If anything, it is not fear which drives accommodation but smugness: a deep-seated sense of security born out of 35 years of peace jelling into ultra-stability. Indeed, fear would have simplified the problem considerably. It would have fused the cracks and galvanized joint action; it would have dramatized security gaps and driven Europe closer into the arms of the United States, as in the 1950s.
As it is, the growing protest against TNF modernization, for instance, is now fed by the conviction that attempts to restore the balance are the problem, that the emplacement of new and relatively invulnerable missiles in Europe will not enhance deterrence but rather Soviet temptations to go for an all-out preemptive strike. The logic may be curdled ("If you want peace, don't prepare for war"), but in politics beliefs matter more than the arcane canons of nuclear theology. And there is a generation moving into positions of power which, having experienced nothing but peace in Europe, can only respond with impatient disbelief to their elders' claims that a strong defense is indispensable to a stable détente. Precisely because we have been so successful in erecting a sturdy structure of peace in Europe, we tend to forget about the building blocks that went into its foundation-notably the American security guarantee and an unprecedented peacetime concentration of power on either side of the divide.
It has become fashionable to blame generational change for a good part of our troubles (two years ago, the National Security Council even commissioned a study on the "successor generation" issue). Indeed, the number of Europeans and Americans capable of acting as "interpreters" between the societies on the opposite shores of the Atlantic seems to be declining. Although deplorable, this is not really the core of the problem. Our disputes are rarely fueled by misperceptions or "false consciousness" but by solid differences in situation and interest which we understand only too well even if we hesitate to articulate them.
On both sides, interest in the other is shrinking. While interaction is flourishing in the realms of foreign investment and mass culture (cars, pop music, apparel, movies, fast food), it is stagnating in most other areas which used to cross-fertilize each other: newspaper reporting, language studies, university training abroad, literature and the arts. While Helmut Schmidt is fond of quoting Jefferson to German audiences, his successors might no longer care to know enough English for a perusal of the Federalist Papers. We are in danger of becoming irrelevant to each other.
What is to be done? For Rousseau, the worst of all political worlds was dependence without community. For him, there were only two escape routes from political misery: either the total community of the "general will" or the total independence of the small, autarchic family unit (preferably living on isolated mountain tops). It is obvious that we can choose neither.
We cannot choose separation because Europe, when left alone, has proven unable to solve the problem of her own order. She could not accommodate (or thwart) the rise of Germany, she cannot counterbalance the Soviet Union. Conversely, the autonomy of Europe is a key strategic interest of the United States. That country went to war twice in this century to prevent the domination of Europe by Germany, and after the second war it had to stay there to deter a third attempt by the Soviet Union.
Reluctantly made, America's investment in Europe paid off beyond all expectations. As power-in-Europe, the United States saved Europe from herself and from the Soviet Union. While holding the balance against the new contender to hegemony, the United States also provided a framework which safely enveloped the energies of the previous claimant. That the new order could at last accommodate a resurgent Germany is an abiding triumph of American diplomacy. It should not be endangered lightly by letting (understandable) resentment of European "ingrates" or "self-Finlandizers" dictate America's strategy toward its most important glacis. Even if the Europeans were to contribute nothing to the common defense, it would still be in America's own deepest national interest to safeguard the independence of Europe.
Nor can we choose Rousseau's other alternative-community. Community implies submission to common leadership, interest and purpose. The foregoing analysis has tried to show why these conditions cannot possibly be met. Europe's and America's situations-meaning the ensemble of location, power and interest which conditions a nation's foreign policy-are simply too disparate. And because we pretended to unattainable objectives, interdependence became a curse. For even in an alliance, it is difficult to march in lockstep if we listen to different beats, look in different directions and labor under different burdens and vulnerabilities. Hence the call to uniformity stridently sounded in Washington after Afghanistan exacted a heavy price: the visible disintegration of the Alliance which obscured our shared convictions while giving comfort to our opponents.
We might do better if we aimed lower so as to score higher, if we loosened some links in order to strengthen those that matter most. What matters is the astounding stability of Europe which rests on an unprecedented peacetime concentration of military power on either side of the divide. To be sure, the real foundation of peace is a unilateral American security guarantee supplemented by (insufficient) European "dues." It is only too understandable that the United States should call for larger European contributions in the service of global neo-containment. Yet the French will only do so if their sacred independence remains untouched, the British if it does not cost too much in real as opposed to rhetorical terms, the Germans (and the smaller allies) if they can go on cultivating their regional détente gardens.
Given Western Europe's current mood, deplorable as it may be when seen from Washington, there is the risk that asking too much globally will not only yield very little but perhaps even redound against the Alliance core already shaken by the recriminations of the past year and a half. Neo-containment might then be successfully represented as an American "plot" to drag Europe into extra-European quarrels. American attempts to restore the global balance might be denounced as "war mongering" designed to wrest "superiority" from the Soviets. From there, it is but a short step toward a wholesale attack against pressing Alliance necessities in Europe: against higher defense outlays ("nobody is threatening us"), against TNF modernization ("the Brussels deal is off because the Americans are reneging on their arms control commitment"), against the very idea of military equilibrium ("if we arm, we will only provoke the rattled Russians into a new arms race").
All of this is not an idle scenario of doom; it is already a reality which shapes perceptions along a broad range of opinion stretching from the far Left to the Center (including, in West Germany, parts of the Protestant church and the "ecologists"). A good recent case in point is El Salvador. While the Reagan Administration, in its first major foreign policy move, rushed high-level emissaries to Europe charged with proving Soviet intervention, a good many Europeans responded with facile analogies according to which El Salvador was being turned into an American "Afghanistan."
As Europe and the United States are preparing to haggle over a new "transatlantic bargain" for the 1980s, it is clear that they must continue to walk the tightrope between defense and détente, between a less hidebound European role and fewer strains on the Atlantic relationship. In the process, they must accept three irreducible differences between Europe and the United States.
First, the United States is a global power, and Europe, in spite of some impressive aggregates in terms of population, GNP and trade, is a collection of small to middling regional powers with limited resources and limited visions. The interests of a global power are global by definition, and great powers have always been compelled to pay a disproportionate share for the maintenance of the "system." Conversely, all small powers are intrinsically "Gaullist": they will seek to profit more from the structures provided by the great powers than they will invest in them.
The task of a global power, as Kenneth Waltz put it, "is to take care of regions where its vital interests lie if the countries in those regions cannot take care of themselves."3 There is no vital region in the world, including Europe, where the kind of devolution implied by that definition could be achieved. While Europeans and Japanese could well do more, they can neither defend themselves without the United States nor assume the burden of global containment which only the United States can shoulder. This may be manifestly unfair but it is a fact which a world power can only ignore at its peril; certainly the fate of the Shah of Iran, once touted as the cornerstone of devolution in the Gulf, provides an instructive warning. Or as General de Gaulle, by no means an admirer of the United States, once put it: "Le pouvoir est à Washington."
Second, there is the uneven distribution of means. Prima facie, the staggering economic performance of the Europeans has narrowed or eliminated many leads the United States once held. Why can't they do more then? Don't the Germans in particular have the money, the men and the guns that could be used in the service of neo-containment?
The answer is no longer as self-evident as it used to be. The Federal Republic's vaunted economic miracle has begun to show some ugly cracks under the impact of worldwide recession and galloping oil prices. After running a seemingly eternal surplus, the West German economy produced an unprecedented current account deficit of $14 billion last year (1979: $5 billion at current exchange rates); this year unemployment is expected to top 1.3 million, the highest rate since 1954. As a result, defense expenditures are slated to rise only nominally in 1981, and if the current trend persists, they will even decline nominally in 1982, for the first time in history. As everywhere else in Europe (with the exception of France), the fear of economic misfortune and the experience of regional ultra-stability have created a starkly different public opinion climate as compared to the United States.
Yet the economic facts are only part of the answer. It is not just a matter of public mood but also of historical memory. The West Germans already field the largest army in Western Europe. Do we really want an even larger West German ground force, given the legacies of World War II which are still unresolved and the memories of the past which still linger-in the West as well as in the East? Has the time really come to pierce the protective cocoon that has spared the Federal Republic the necessities of choice in matters of defense and power projection? There is already an East German Afrika-Korps in operation; do we really want a West German equivalent in the Gulf?
There are thus trade-offs between destabilization in Europe and the stabilization of the Third World which ought to be carefully calculated. For now, it makes more sense to fall back on German economic resources (even if less freely available than before) and to invest them closer to home-such as in Turkey, the soft underbelly of NATO. And if military power is the issue, German contributions to NATO's infrastructure-especially to stockpiling and pre-positioning-make more sense than more men on the ground. A larger navy that could relieve American and British forces in the Atlantic might be far more useful than a larger Bundeswehr. A division of labor along these lines would satisfy the counsel of prudence without leaving all the labor to the United States.4
Third, there is the uneven distribution of vulnerabilities. To put it crudely, Europe is weaker than the United States, it is geographically closer to the Soviet Union, and during the past decade it has acquired more tangible stakes in the détente process. Precisely because the United States has already cut most of its economic links to the Soviet Union, any attempt at undifferentiated economic warfare against the Kremlin would impose disproportionate costs on the Europeans (European Community exports to the Soviet Union in 1979 were $8.3 billion). Any policy which ignores these differentials is doomed to failure. Certainly, the record of 1980 is not encouraging: if the Europeans are confronted with American faits accomplis, they will resist vociferously; if they are somehow cornered into agreement, they will sabotage it later on.
Does this mean that Europe can do nothing to change the future risk calculations of the Soviets? What matters is a policy that appears equitable and does not play into Soviet hands by dramatizing the Alliance's inability to act in concert. There is a middle course between, say, a sudden rush to economic retaliation (a grain embargo that was soon resented by American farmers) and "business as usual." There is a difference between severing established trade links and going slow on new ones (the latter driving home the "message" to the Kremlin without the self-imposed costs of the former). Dislocating the trade-intensive economies of Western Europe is a heavier burden than the refusal to fill those gaps left by American embargoes. A check on sensitive technology exports is easier (and presumably more effective) than a blanket denial of agricultural and manufactured goods.
What matters most is a policy which is less ambitious in its demands for uniformity, one that will generate less heat through sheer friction and a bit more light. The Europeans might see that ritual incantations of détente-mindedness are no substitute for the restoration of the military balance and a policy which holds the Soviets accountable to some minimal standards of international behavior. If we are willing to pay any price for détente in Europe, the price may well rise to the point where Europe's security will hang in the balance. And the Americans might see that allies can shoulder some burdens but not all-that in the end, allies are not a substitute for American power and purpose. Above all, we must avoid a situation where the Europeans are forced into a desperate trade-off between dependencies, where they can demonstrate autonomy vis-à-vis the United States only by increasing their dependence on the Soviet Union.
1 As cited in Der Spiegel, April 28, 1980.
2 U.S. exports to the Soviet Union in 1980 amounted to $0.9 billion, down from $3.6 billion in 1979. German exports to the Soviet Union were $4.4 billion, up from $3.66 billion in 1979.
3 Kenneth Waltz, "What Should A Rapid Deployment Force Be For?," unpublished ms., Center of International Studies, Berkeley: University of California, 1980, p. 33.
4 In drawing up their count of indictments, critics should also take cognizance of the following facts. Parts of the West German navy have already been shifted from the Baltic to the North Sea and, due to the draft, there are 1.5 million trained reserves available for wartime service in the Bundeswehr.