Since nuclear deterrence began, some of the forces providing deterrence for the West have been stationed in Europe. In the early period, when delivery systems did not yet enjoy intercontinental range, European real estate was essential for America's strategic deterrent. But with new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and sea-based nuclear missiles, introduced in the late 1950s, the U.S. nuclear deterrent no longer required bases in Europe: the age of geographic deterrence identity between the United States and its European allies had come to an end.

The military and political problems of the European theater nuclear balance have arisen since then. They are essentially caused by the distinctiveness of the theater issues from the nuclear-strategic aspects; the main focus of debate regarding the balance has, in fact, been on the degree of this distinctiveness and the consequences that follow from it. This pattern runs from the transatlantic debate over the Multilateral Force (MLF) in the early 1960s to that over the function of tactical nuclear weapons in European defense; from the political concerns over the withdrawal of the U.S. Jupiter and Thor missiles in the early 1960s to the first real Alliance decision on theater nuclear forces, taken in December 1979, to station new U.S. Pershing II and cruise missiles on European territory. However painful that decision was for a number of European governments, and however controversial it has become in their internal political debates, it is not the first nor will it be the last time that theater nuclear issues have strained the Alliance.

The main reason for this does not lie in distinctiveness between the central and the theater nuclear balance in terms of weaponry; it lies in the distinction between the requirements of central and of extended deterrence. The former relies on the capability to launch a destructive second nuclear strike against a nuclear attacker. The latter, particularly as long as it has to make up for conventional defense deficits, relies on the credible potential for a nuclear first strike. The political strains thus built into the issue from the start have been aggravated by the advent of strategic parity and vulnerability: the United States must ponder whether to risk its own survival for the sake of that of its allies, while the allies wonder whether the United States might seek to separate its own security from theirs, either by trying to confine nuclear wars to allies' soil, or by refusing to protect them with an effective nuclear "umbrella."

The December 1979 decision on theater nuclear weapons is important for both the political and military consequences which may derive from it. It is significant that the decision occurred against the background of Soviet-American strategic parity and bilateral attempts at arms limitations. It represents the first occasion when the Alliance-as opposed to individual nuclear weapons states-took a decision on the production (not merely the introduction) of nuclear weapons. And, as the widespread European opposition to the NATO decision testifies, it emphasizes the probably inseparable connection between nuclear and political matters in the Western Alliance.

The issue will be examined in five parts: first, the military and political background of the 1979 decision; second, the procedure implied by the decision, on the procurement of the new systems, and on the arms control proposal that accompanied it; third, the problems raised by the implementation of the program for political cohesion in the Alliance; fourth, the possibilities for arms control; and, finally, the major consequences for the future.


Major military decisions rarely can be traced to one cause or to one justification. In the Long-Range Theater Nuclear Forces (LRTNF) decision of December 1979 ostensible and underlying causes often differed, while military motivations combined with political ones.

The military reasons for the new program fall into two related categories: the advent of strategic nuclear parity between the superpowers, and the growing Soviet threat to theater nuclear forces in Europe. In the 1950s and 1960s, and even during much of the 1970s, America's superiority in strategic nuclear forces was so manifest that little attention had to be paid to the military requirements of theater nuclear forces. Their deployment was-as the fate of the MLF of the early 1960s or the introduction of thousands of nuclear warheads for theater purposes at the same time underlined-more an instrument for Alliance policies than a real addition to military deterrence. The Soviet strategic disadvantage and the commensurate U.S. advantage created a general conviction, not seriously affected by General de Gaulle's doubts, that the United States could afford a nuclear exchange while the Soviet Union could not: the U.S. surplus of strategic deterrence provided regional deterrence for America's allies as well.

Three developments changed this picture of confidence. First, and most important, the Soviet Union caught up with the United States and attained numerical parity during the 1980s. Second, the strategic arms limitation agreements between the superpowers had the effect of distinguishing the strategic from the theater nuclear issues, thus highlighting the deficiencies in theater forces which, in the past, had seemed of little consequence. Third, the advent of ICBM vulnerability in the 1980s reinforced this distinction: it will clearly be even more difficult for an American President to authorize a nuclear strike in Europe if a Soviet response could destroy much of America's land-based strategic missile forces.

Developments on the strategic level thus tended to call attention to the theater level, where, as a result of the extent and reach of the Soviet military effort of the past decade, the picture looked far from reassuring. There was justified concern that NATO's longer-range nuclear systems-all of them aircraft-were aging and increasingly vulnerable to Soviet preemptive attack. And the buildup of the Soviet SS-20 medium-range missile caused concern that the Soviet Union was obtaining "escalation dominance" (the ability to control the level of exchange by effectively deterring the other side from escalating). Hence the belief that this would have to be offset by new, more survivable and equally medium-range missiles, capable of reaching targets in the Soviet Union.

Yet none of these arguments, however plausible, is totally compelling. Despite the rough parity in the number of strategic launchers between the United States and the Soviet Union, the American lead in deliverable nuclear warheads remains impressive; even as it declines toward the mid-1980s, new theater-based missiles would only make a marginal difference. The buildup of Soviet theater-range nuclear weapons only adds to military options that the Soviet force of medium- and intermediate-range missiles has enjoyed from the late 1960s, rather than creating new ones. Moreover, there is no compelling military reason for arguing either that U.S. strategic forces would no longer be sufficient to provide adequate deterrence against the use of these weapons, or that the new Pershings and cruise missiles would be. The limitations on strategic forces imposed by SALT II (still observed even though the agreements have not been ratified) will make regional imbalances more dangerous only under two conditions: if the remaining strategic forces are clearly insufficient to counter unfavorable regional asymmetries (and they are not); or if the limits implied that Soviet advantages could not be offset by commensurate U.S. force programs (they also do not).

If protection of nuclear launchers against preemptive destruction is a prime consideration for the new program, then the Pershing II (slightly but not decisively more mobile than the Pershing I missile) seems less suited to the mission than the ground-launched cruise missiles, while both of these systems would be more vulnerable on land than in a sea-based mode-an option that was rejected. "Escalation dominance," finally, suggests a tidiness in categories of nuclear weapons and nuclear escalation processes which belongs more to theoretical scenarios than to the realities of a world in crisis or at war.

Yet military decisions cannot always wait for a clarity of concepts which all too often is elusive. And while there are aspects of the 1979 LRTNF program which are open to criticism, its military features tend in general to strengthen deterrence and crisis stability, and to emphasize the deterrence identity between Western Europe and the United States. As long as Western Europe's security cannot be assured by conventional forces alone and the nuclear deterrence link to U.S. strategic forces remains necessary:

- U.S. nuclear forces in Europe will be a more credible and more proportionate demonstration of that link than U.S.-based strategic nuclear systems alone would be;

- these European forces should be able to survive a Soviet attack, so that the danger of slipping inadvertently into an all-out nuclear exchange would be minimized (the 464 ground-launched cruise missiles and 108 Pershing IIs of the NATO decision would be less vulnerable to attack than the present U.S. TNF arsenal in Europe);

- the composition of these forces should make the limitation of nuclear conflict to the European continent less likely (the new systems' ability to reach targets in the Soviet Union would widen the conflict beyond the immediate European conflict theater);

- and finally, these forces should provide additional deterrence but not an offensive option against the Soviet Union (neither the cruise missiles, which require a flight time of two to three hours to reach their targets, nor the Pershing IIs, which are well below the quantitative levels required for an effective disarming strike against Soviet military installations, provide serious offensive options).


If the military rationale is strong, it remains true that political even more than military concerns shaped the 1979 NATO decision. This has injected ambiguity into the issue. What may be desirable today, for political reasons, may become for other political reasons less desirable tomorrow. Over the period of NATO's LRTNF decision, political concerns and motivations have in fact changed considerably. At first the call for the new weapons came from Western Europe, while the United States was significantly less impressed with the need for them. But as Soviet opposition and European domestic controversy over the program picked up and enthusiasm waned in Europe, the implementation of the program became for many in the United States a test of Alliance cohesion.

In the late 1970s European concern over the Soviet SS-20 was coupled with suspicion over the SALT process and, in particular, the way in which "grey area weapons"-outside the SALT definition but of direct relevance to the European theater-were treated in the Soviet-American negotiations; today European governments come close to claiming that the ratification of the SALT II Treaty is a condition for implementing the 1979 program.

Then, Europeans tended to see American readiness to go ahead with the program as a much needed manifestation of U.S. leadership and continued commitment to European security; today the United States (probably irrespective of the political philosophy of the Administration) would see the collapse of political support for the TNF modernization as a sure sign of the "Finlandization" of Europe.

The contrast between 1979 and the present suggests that the motivation for the program lay not so much in Soviet behavior as in an uneasiness about the Alliance itself. This was particularly true of U.S.-West German relations, and it is not coincidence that the West German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, was the first Alliance leader to raise the issue publicly.1 Thus was confirmed a law of the Alliance, and especially of U.S.-West German relations, which has been in effect since the early 1960s: whenever political relations are strained, this finds its expression in nuclear issues. This is not, in itself, surprising. The ability of the United States to offer credible security to its European allies depends on nuclear weapons and the will to use them, in the final event, for the sake of Europe. Since there can be no guarantee to that effect, the credibility of the U.S. commitment depends, in the first and last instance, on the recognition of mutual vital interests and mutual trust. But once the trust is questioned-and European sensitivities are always highly developed-nuclear weapons become the most visible expression of the commitment.

But nuclear weapons, as earlier experience has shown, cannot cure a political malaise of the kind that developed between Europe and America in the early Carter years or in the early Reagan months; only the reestablishment of political trust can. Moreover, nuclear weapons are both the most reassuring and the potentially most controversial symbol of Alliance cohesion: reassuring if they underline America's willingness to risk her own security for that of Europe, but controversial if they suggest that the primary theater of nuclear war would be Europe. Only political trust makes these tensions tolerable. To seek remedies for political strains in the Alliance through the nuclear route is, therefore, shortsighted. It is simply the wrong instrument.


The 1979 decision was a novelty in two respects: for the first time a U.S. nuclear weapons program was made dependent on prior allied consent, and the decision to procure new arms was linked with an undertaking to negotiate their limitation through bilateral U.S.-Soviet arms control. It is the novelty of this procedure which has tended to accentuate the political impact of the issue in particular, and of theater nuclear matters in general.

First, before the new weapons were even produced, America's allies were asked to commit themselves to deploy them on their territory. The U.S. refusal to proceed without this commitment amounted in practice to a collective decision for the production and implementation of two major new weapons systems involving non-nuclear member states of the Alliance.

The significance of this novel procedure has been little noticed, yet it cannot be overstressed. The familiar pattern of nuclear procurement decisions in the preceding 30 years of the Alliance had been that these were made by the United States alone (and Britain and France for their respective forces) and that only afterwards, through a bilateral arrangement, were the countries on whose territory the weapons were to be stationed asked to agree to the specific deployment. This practice had been abandoned for the first time in the "neutron bomb" affair in 1978-probably one major reason for the ill fate it experienced.2

It is unfortunate that this practice was again employed for the LRTNF program. To ask European non-nuclear countries to endorse a nuclear weapons program inevitably forces them to protect that decision within their domestic political context by devices that are not conducive to the effectiveness of the program. It was this which led the government of Helmut Schmidt to insist that West Germany should not be the only continental European country to agree to the deployment of the new weapons, thus both prolonging the decision process and strengthening already strong anti-nuclear emotions in Holland-which later on were to spill over into the debate on the German Left. Similarly, the request to European non-nuclear Alliance states to stand up and be counted in a nuclear procurement decision practically invited these governments to attach conditions to the decision and, in order to gain domestic political support, to link it to an arms control initiative in a way which rendered the whole program ambiguous.

Some will contend that European (and particularly German) insistence on the need for linking the program to arms control was the result less of the chosen procedure than of a growing European respect for the weight of Soviet military power and growing doubts over American consistency. One cannot prove the contrary, but to this observer it is not a convincing argument.

A more probable explanation is that there exists in Europe, particularly but not only in those countries that have foresworn a nuclear military capability for themselves, a profound and continuous allergy to all nuclear military matters, which inevitably surfaces if their governments are asked to take responsibility for nuclear weapons programs, and which responsible politicians in these countries have to take into account. One cannot ask European governments both to be involved in the decision and to avoid the controversy. The one follows from the other.

Why then was this not taken into account as the LRTNF decision was shaped? Why was this lesson from the neutron bomb debacle not learnt? Two explanations seem probable. First, that part of the lesson was not sufficiently recognized. Second, political perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic assured that, even if the lesson had been recognized, other considerations now seemed weightier. For the Carter Administration, the lesson from the neutron bomb fiasco was that what had gone wrong was a lack of firmness by the United States, so that, on the LRTNF issue, it was essential above all to prove U.S. leadership, not to be more perceptive toward domestic European political requirements.

But there was also logic to the U.S. approach. Since the new weapons were specifically designed for, and only relevant in, the military context of Europe, it made little sense for the United States to go ahead with their production unless those on whose soil the weapons were to be stationed gave their prior agreement; in fact the absence of such agreement might well have jeopardized the budget request in the U.S. Congress. Moreover, was it not natural for a mature Alliance that there should be no "nuclearization without participation"?

The question for the future is to what extent the full participation of European governments in specifically Europe-related nuclear weapons decisions is desirable or unavoidable. It may be desirable if this is the necessary ticket for European governments to become involved from the start in all nuclear questions which affect them. But is it? This depends partly on whether or not one believes that to leave these matters to the United States will change substantially the reliability of the U.S. security commitment to Europe. Since that commitment is essentially defined by America's strategic interests, and these are unlikely to change, a greater European say on Alliance nuclear matters might be optically more satisfying, but in substance it would be marginal.

On the other hand, has the procedure become inevitable now that the TNF precedent has been established? On the U.S. side the answer was provided by President Reagan's August 1981 decision on the production of the neutron warhead. By deciding unilaterally on the weapons program and promising to seek later the agreement of host countries for the deployment, the United States returned to the pre-1977 practice.

Is the precedent nonetheless still powerful in Europe? The first reaction in West European capitals, and particularly in West Germany, to Reagan's neutron bomb decision might suggest so; the Administration was bitterly criticized for its unilateral decision, for not having consulted its allies. But two factors put this in perspective. First, President Reagan's decision was deliberately, and unavoidably, exploited in the European campaign against the LRTNF program; it served those who have argued that the decision was a way to allow the United States to conduct nuclear wars on European soil as additional evidence for their thesis. The procedure was not the central issue of the critique, but rather the substance.

Second, the experience with the LRTNF program has already been a thorny one for most European governments, and they are unlikely to want to repeat it. While it is possible that future West European governments will ask for a more defined responsibility in America's nuclear decisions, it is not very likely; more probably, they will want to return to the convenient position of supporting U.S. nuclear decisions without being accountable for them. This position accurately reflects the different nuclear status in the Western Alliance and also minimizes the political controversy surrounding nuclear issues in Europe. While it may not be sufficient as a durable formula for Alliance nuclear diplomacy in the future, it is at least politically acceptable in Europe.

The second special feature of the 1979 decision was its "two-track" nature: the military program should be pursued as far as necessary, and arms control negotiations as far as possible. But while the first track constituted the Alliance's first multilateral nuclear production decision, the second was put firmly in the context of bilateral Soviet-American talks and agreements. The reasons for this distinction are many: originally, that TNF negotiations should be firmly set in the context of SALT in order to avoid the impression of "decoupling" of theater from strategic deterrence, and, more recently, that a U.S. Administration reluctant to embark on SALT might be induced to do so through the back door of TNF negotiations. But in order to protect the deployment program and to ensure domestic political support for its implementation, European governments have had to have recourse to raising hopes for arms control-a matter which they do not control. We owe to the avowed skepticism of the Reagan Administration toward arms control that the built-in contradiction between multilateral arming and bilateral arms control has been brought into the open. It is an awkward one for European domestic, for East-West, and for West-West relations.

Domestically, it means that European governments which have obtained support for the first part of the December 1979 decision, under condition of the second, find that with the doubts over arms control the political support is waning. They can do little more than make appeals to the United States, which are the less effective since they are not dictated by a clear notion of arms control but by domestic political difficulties-and thus often appear tactical, not substantial.

In East-West relations, it means that European governments are the Achilles heel of the decision, and one which the Soviet Union quite legitimately will seek to exploit. The fact that Europeans control the deployment but not the negotiations means that the Soviet Union will use their anxieties in order to put pressure both on the European domestic debate and, indirectly, on the United States. It also means that the Soviets will be less pressed to make substantial concessions in the negotiations, as long as they can hope to delay the program's implementation without such concessions.

In West-West relations, it is a situation which is bound to create misgivings. European impatience over the slowness of arms control will all too readily be interpreted in the United States as a desire to renege on the deployment decision and as kowtowing to the Soviets-a picture-book example of "self-Finlandization." Conversely, European governments will be pushed by their domestic dynamics to show that they are doing something and, if nothing much happens, European public opinion will be tempted to blame not the Soviets but the Americans for the lack of results.

It is true that the latter reactions would also have arisen if the procurement decision on LRTNF had been taken by the United States alone. The question is not, therefore, how these frustrations could be avoided but how they could be made politically less disruptive.

One answer, frequently heard in the Washington of the Reagan Administration, is that the fault lies in the "double track" nature of the decision itself: procurement should not be made conditional on arms control. I do not share that view, for reasons developed later in this article. But it is clearly a combination which requires more thoughtful presentation and management than has been provided by the governments that endorsed it in 1979.

Would the situation now be improved by a more direct participation of European governments in the negotiating process? The arguments against the wisdom of such participation are, on the surface, compelling: as long as only Soviet and American systems are involved, only Soviets and Americans control the substance of the negotiations, and only they will decide on the result; to include America's allies formally would not only bring the differences between them to bear on day-to-day negotiations but also contain the risk that European nuclear systems would be dragged into the process, against original intentions; the negotiations, already fraught with a good many complexities, would become even more complicated.

Yet these arguments leave major doubts. For one, there is the experience of the Vienna negotiations for Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR). Here Europeans are involved, with their own forces, in a collective negotiation, and in spite of differences over timing, domestic pressures and attitudes to East-West détente the negotiations have shown a remarkable degree of cohesion within the Alliance, over an unprecedented period of time-now entering into their ninth year. The MBFR negotiations have also shown that the primarily bilateral issue of Soviet and American conventional force reductions can be addressed in a multilateral forum and that-through the device of a first (the superpower) and a second (the European) stage-inadvertent slippage from one negotiating area into another can be controlled. Moreover, that same experience indicates that political differences within the Western Alliance may be more effectively reduced when West European governments have a seat at the table than when they have not: it is not difficult to imagine a major domestic politicization resulting from the troop reduction talks had the protracted negotiations been of a purely bilateral Soviet-American character.

Why should the MBFR experience not also apply to the TNF negotiations? After all, nuclear questions were discussed in that context, too; Option 3 in NATO's negotiating stance offered reductions in American theater nuclear warheads in exchange for the withdrawal of Soviet tanks from East Germany. Both in MBFR and in the Helsinki process of the Conference on Security and Cooperation earlier fears that these multilateral gatherings might aggravate Atlantic dissonance were disproved; indeed, it seems to have been precisely the direct participation of West European delegates in these negotiations which led not only to highly effective Alliance coordination but also to the determination of all Western governments concerned to sort out their differences in camera and not in the public political arena.

There is a more profound political reason for this, not merely that of procedural dynamics. It lies in the basic European attitude to the military balance in Europe. By and large, the European instinct is that a balance exists as long as the United States remains committed to, and present in, Europe. Asymmetries in the strategic nuclear forces of both major powers have generally been viewed, for this reason, with much less concern in Europe than in the United States. Arms control, much of the rhetoric notwithstanding, has for European elites generally been less important for its (so often disappointing) results than for its political symbolism of tying the United States and Europe to the pursuit of a cooperative modus vivendi with the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union to greater respect for the interests of the Western Alliance as a whole, including Europe. For Europeans, this is the "bargain" in arms control, not precise force limitations or reductions.3 Full participation in negotiations, whether on conventional or on nuclear forces in Europe, responds to this approach.4 If those concerned are tied both into the discipline of the negotiations and the responsibility for the outcome, the basic political objective would be met more effectively and more harmoniously. By contrast, the halfway house of LRTNF-European participation in the procurement but not in the negotiation-is a recipe for major difficulties in the pursuit of both.


Rarely has a NATO decision been as carefully prepared to assure political support during its implementation as that taken by the Council of Ministers in December 1979.5 Yet within only a short time the consensus achieved has become shaky, to the extent that it cannot be foreseen with certainty whether the program will be implemented. What makes this even more surprising is the fact that the NATO position should, in theory at least, be strengthened by the continuing Soviet buildup. Why has it come to this?

Two reasons have been suggested above: the agony that direct European involvement in nuclear production decisions arouses, and the lack of direct European involvement in preparation of the arms control aspects. Yet there are three additional reasons why this particular program has run into trouble.

The first is that it was announced at a time of deteriorating Soviet-American relations. Only two weeks after the NATO ministers signed their communiqué, Soviet forces marched into Afghanistan, and the United States, having failed to develop the means for an effective regional response, decided instead to bring home to the Soviet Union its profound concern by putting bilateral détente on ice.

The European political reaction was predictable. European public opinion in 1979 feared for the consequences in the European region itself of the deterioration between the superpowers and tended to play down the significance of Afghanistan. It fitted badly with this instinctive reaction that, at the same time, they were involved in the first major nuclear modernization program since the early 1960s.

A traditional European attitude to superpower détente was thus manifested anew. Europeans are worried if Soviet-American relations are progressing smoothly lest this imply a "deal over our heads"; only 12 months before the 1979 decision many European governments had been concerned, for instance, that some of the provisions of the emerging SALT II agreement could harm their military options. Yet they are even more worried if Soviet-American relations are in difficulties and understandably so: the effects are felt most directly in Europe. Their impulse, then, is often not to rally to the Western against the Eastern superpower but to resent both as spoilers of European détente.

Moreover, this sentiment was strengthened both by frustration over Mr. Carter's inconsistencies and later by uneasiness over Mr. Reagan's pronouncements-to the point of reviving, in the political and in the public mood, the old "Europe for the Europeans" dream. The unfortunate presentation of Presidential Directive 59, together with the apparently irrepressible enthusiasm of some American nuclear theoreticians for elaborate options for limited nuclear exchanges, combined with and rationalized this resentment.6 In the simplification of European concerns, doubts over the United States acquired a new and disturbing respectability: was the alliance with a United States apparently bent on acquiring military superiority, on fighting limited nuclear wars and on delaying arms control, still an asset or, on the contrary, was it becoming a liability for Europe? These doubts could not but render that most visible symbol of the Alliance, nuclear weapons in Europe, even more controversial.

The second and related reason for the weakening of the 1979 consensus lies in the intensity of the Soviet reaction and the clear Soviet willingness to go to considerable lengths to stop the TNF program, through political interference in the Western and particularly in the West German debate. In retrospect, there can be little doubt that NATO treated the question of Soviet reactions less than adequately when it prepared the program. Perhaps a more careful assessment of Soviet nuclear thinking and likely responses would have led to a different emphasis in the TNF program (e.g., on cruise missiles alone rather than including the ambiguous Pershing II as well) and to its presentation (less on the SS-20 threat than on the need to make NATO nuclear forces less vulnerable to the whole gamut of Soviet preemptive capabilities). As it is, the long-range capabilities of the new systems are presented, and perhaps actually perceived, by the Soviets as a strategic not a theater threat, which either has to be prevented by a cancellation of the Western program or, if that is not successful, by a strategic response. NATO's opportunistic stance of justifying its own program by the growth of the Soviet SS-20 arsenal means that the program is politically vulnerable to Soviet offers of a moratorium: if tomorrow the Soviet Union declared that it has stopped all SS-20 procurement and would only take it up again if and as NATO systems are being deployed, the political support for the TNF program could be in considerable trouble.

The third reason lies, paradoxically, in the novelty of the TNF decision, namely to link the go-ahead for the production of the new weapons to an offer to negotiate their limitation. This link had been designed not least in order to assure political support in Europe for the program, to make it more palatable for the latent nuclear allergies. The combination of announced (but not completed) production plans and an offer of arms control negotiations is in itself a promising model, since it avoids the familiar obstacle to arms control that the weapons programs which one wants to constrain are usually completed before the negotiations. (Imagine how much better the situation might be today if the Soviet Union, before embarking on its earlier massive nuclear modernization program, had adopted a similar stance!)

And yet, the net effect of the particular combination chosen by NATO has not been to secure European public support for the program but to make its implementation more doubtful. The mistake lies not in the combination itself, but in an ambiguity for which European governments have to take most of the blame. It was they who have repeatedly insisted that, theoretically at least, arms control could lead to agreements which would render unnecessary the deployment of a single new American missile in Europe (the so-called zero solution). The result has been predictable: arms control, in much of the European debate, is seen no longer in parallel to the deployment but as its alternative; even more, deployment has become, for much of the critical European public, counterproductive to arms control.

The eagerness of European governments to make the deployment decision politically more palatable has thus made it more, not less, controversial. Raising what serious observers regard as totally unrealistic hopes for a "zero solution" through arms control has deprived the military arguments for the TNF program of much of their credibility. It would have been better, both in the interest of credibility and of getting the Soviets to make serious concessions, to announce the minimum number of forces required and to make the extent of the program beyond that conditional on Soviet restraint. Instead, all of the Western program has been made to seem conditional on Western proof that the West-and not the East-is serious about arms control.

All this does not mean that the TNF modernization will not take place. Contrary to the agitation of the debate, there remains instinctive majority support in all the major West European countries for responding to the threat caused by Soviet nuclear forces. But it does mean that more is now needed to assure implementation than was thought necessary in 1979.

For one, it is no longer sufficient to base the modernization of Western TNF on the Soviet SS-20 program alone. Instead, it will have to be squarely based on precise Western military needs, and this implies both a fuller and a more balanced presentation of the threat.7 Such a presentation should rightly point to the whole range of Soviet delivery systems that threaten the survival of nuclear missiles in Western Europe, not just the SS-20 missiles and the Backfire bomber but the modernized shorter range missiles as well-the SS-21, -22 and -23-that the Soviet Union is now beginning to deploy.

Second, and most important, it must be made clear that the new weapons are an additional means of deterring, not of fighting, a war, and that notions of limiting a nuclear conflict to Europe are without foundation. For any democratic society to consent that its security be based on nuclear weapons requires clear assurance that these weapons will not be used except in extremis. To pretend, as much of the American expert (and occasionally official) debate on limited nuclear options and nuclear warfighting suggests, that nuclear weapons are in fact usable and that nuclear exchanges can be kept limited and controlled is not only technically highly doubtful given the uncertainties of command and control on which such limitability would have to rely:8 it is also dangerously apolitical since it forgets that no strategic doctrine can endure in a democratic society which frightens its own citizens at least as much as leaders of the opposing camp. To make the nuclear weapons of the LRTNF program politically acceptable, deterrence itself has to be made credible again as a valid concept and not one that is indistinguishable from fighting with nuclear weapons.

Third, there will have to be visible progress toward arms control. The start of substantive Soviet-American negotiations on limiting theater nuclear forces, slated for late November 1981, will take some of the pressure off beleaguered European politicians for some time. But more is needed than gaining some time. Even assuming that the first of the U.S. LRTNF systems will be deployed on schedule, i.e., by late 1983, the full program will not be completed before the late 1980s. Political support needs to be maintained not for a mere few months but for a matter of years. What will be needed is either indisputable evidence that the United States as the West's negotiator has done everything to reach agreement and that the Soviets have obstructed this-and that can never be proven to everyone's satisfaction-or an agreement which, by defining mutual limitations, also defines the extent to which the 1979 decision should be implemented.


As serious arms control negotiations get underway, the United States and NATO as a whole must, of course, play the hand as it lies. It may be possible over time to work out interallied procedures that evolve in the direction of those followed in the MBFR negotiations, but to attempt to revise the format at any early stage would probably lead to delays that are unacceptable from every standpoint. Similarly, whatever one may conclude in hindsight about the wisdom of the Pershing II element in the deployment program, it must be pursued with all possible vigor unless and until some agreement is reached that produces equivalent Soviet concessions. Any major or early change in procedure or substance could lead to an unraveling of the program as a whole and to grave political consequences for the Alliance.

Similarly, political reality alone argues against over-ambitious arms control concepts, and with special force against any temptation to present to the Soviet Union proposals for dramatic reduction on a "take it or leave it" basis. Given the doubts that still remain in key NATO countries about the Reagan Administration's sincerity in seeking arms control, any such approach would only fuel public controversy in Europe.

In the longer run, it would undoubtedly be desirable that agreements should lead to a nuclear force relationship in Europe which effectively excludes the option of a preemptive strike, such as replacing ballistic delivery systems by cruise missiles on both sides; but this is unlikely to be attainable in the near future. Likewise, one would wish that agreements would regulate the whole range of nuclear systems threatening the survival of nuclear delivery systems on each side, including the SS-21, SS-22 and SS-23, and not only the long-range varieties. Neither of these controls, however, can realistically be expected-at least not in the first round.

Again, it would be logical to link LRTNF to agreements on strategic arms limitations, in such a way as to include all systems that constitute a strategic threat to either of the major powers or their allies.9 But this is scarcely practical within the constraints of time and politics that determine the TNF and the SALT issues. An agreement that is realistic will not be ideal.

What then should be the elements of a realistic approach to TNF arms control?10

First, the West is right to insist that negotiations, at least initially, deal with longer-range missile systems alone. To include shorter-range systems, or to accept the Soviet request for an "organic" link with forward-based systems, would amount to delaying agreement. While clearly these weapon systems have to be taken into account in formulating the negotiating position, and might be considered specifically at a later stage, they should not be the subject of the negotiations in the first phase.

Second, the aim should be an equal numerical ceiling, and the "unit of account" should be warheads on missiles deployed, not launchers. To concentrate on launchers would, in the short run, favor the Soviet Union, but in the longer run would encourage the West to seek ways to proliferate the number of warheads in NATO systems.

Third, the Soviet SS-4 and SS-5 missiles would either have to be disbanded or put under a composite ceiling on the Eastern side which would also imply a higher ceiling for Western LRTNF. The first of these alternatives is clearly preferable, and it will be difficult for the Soviet Union to argue both that the SS-20 is merely a modern replacement of the older systems and that they must be retained.

Fourth, the West should seek a prohibition of new medium-range systems on both sides, beyond the current modernization. This might also, if agreed, provide some kind of a barrier against the upgrading of range capabilities in other, formerly short-range systems; such as the Soviet Frog, Scud and Scaleboard missiles that are currently being upgraded.

Fifth, there should be an attempt to formulate major principles of nuclear balance in Europe which might apply beyond the LRTNF systems to other theater nuclear vehicles. The West must clearly be concerned that if it agrees to limitations on LRTNF, it will, due to the political controversy aroused by nuclear modernization in Europe, have few other bargaining chips to encourage restraint in the modernization of shorter range Soviet systems. And the Soviet Union has already emphasized that U.S. forward-based systems (nuclear delivery systems capable of reaching Soviet territory from supporting points in and around Europe) should be "organically linked" to the negotiations. Perhaps there is a chance to profit from the obvious Soviet concern over the new missiles to push the negotiations beyond the mere regulation of the existing balance to an understanding on the rules which should govern it in the future.

Two important obstacles remain. The first is that of verification. The dilemma which modern arms control has increasingly been forced to address-that less and less of what is militarily relevant can be adequately verified-is even more acute in the case of theater nuclear forces, with their multiple-range and multiple-purpose systems, their small system sizes and considerable mobility. The West, and particularly the United States where verifiability has become a dogma of arms control, will have to face the choice between agreements that restrict the weapons of concern but with less than assured verifiability, and agreements which, while verifiable, can cover only a section of those weapon systems which determine the theater nuclear balance. This choice might be made less sharp with the help of "associated measures" to assist the monitoring of agreements, but it will not disappear.

The second obstacle is that of political will, the readiness on both sides to make concessions for the sake of an honorable agreement. The West seems disposed to go in this direction. But how will the Soviets respond? Soviet behavior over the past two years suggests that there is indeed profound concern over the Western program; once it becomes clear that that program cannot be successfully torpedoed politically, the Soviets are likely to be willing to accept some restrictions on their own efforts in exchange for restrictions on the Western one.

The difficulty will lie in making precisely this clear to the Soviet leadership, when the continuing controversy surrounding the LRTNF program in Europe might give rise to hopes in Moscow that a de facto Western restriction-the collapse of the 1979 decision-might be had without restrictions on the Soviet effort. The temptation will be there for the Soviet Union to use the negotiations in order to delay the deployment of the Western systems, not in order to reach agreement. The anti-nuclear forces in Europe are, in this respect, also anti-arms control forces: the more effective their opposition to the LRTNF program, the bleaker the prospects for agreement.

It is doubtful if the Soviet temptation to delay agreement can be overcome unless a number of factors combine. It will need, first, on the part of European governments, a more confident and informative campaign to rally support around the TNF program than they have generally displayed to date; it will no longer be enough merely to react to Soviet proposals, or to point to the number of SS-20 missiles deployed against Europe. It will require, second, that the commitment of the United States to arms control in general and to TNF limitations in particular become credible to European public opinion and to Soviet leaders alike. And third, it may have to involve a readiness, by the United States, to make the TNF negotiations a test case for nuclear arms control. This might be done, for example, by suggesting that successful talks could affect weapons systems beyond the LRTNF definition-such as the sea-launched cruise missiles envisaged by the Reagan Administration-or that a failure of the TNF talks would negatively affect the future of SALT. Soviet delaying techniques would then not only risk making agreement on theater nuclear forces difficult, but also darken the prospect for negotiations on strategic nuclear weapons, which are likely to be the more important objective for Soviet diplomacy in the 1980s.


NATO's 1979 decision on LRTNF procurement and arms control is neither the first nor will it be the last time that nuclear issues have to be addressed by the Western Alliance. It provides both the latest and probably the most penetrating lessons of how to deal with these issues. What are these lessons?

First, and most important, do not try to solve political problems within the Alliance by nuclear remedies. Nuclear weapons are simply too terrifying a symbol for Alliance cohesion; for maximum acceptability, they should be assumed but not seen. Moreover, the malaise within the Alliance is rarely one that nuclear weapons programs can cure; if the past 30 years are any guide, then malaise springs from European uncertainty not over America's military strength but over her political willingness to exercise it for the sake of Europe. Finally, nuclear programs require a lead, and implementation, time which exceeds that of political cycles: they cannot be realized fast enough to allay a low in Alliance trust, and they are still around when Alliance political relations require other than nuclear medication.

Second, do not overload the European political process by asking from it more than it can sustain. The nuclear allergy will remain a factor in European politics for the foreseeable future. Non-nuclear states are, by definition, more sensitive to this allergy than those which have a tradition of nuclear weapons. European governments should not, therefore, be asked to share in any procurement decision for U.S. nuclear weapons in the future, although their agreement to deployment on their soil remains essential. If, however, that rule is neglected-as in the 1979 LRTNF decision-then European participation needs to go beyond the responsibility for procurement and include direct involvement in negotiations for the control of nuclear arms.

Third, take care how you present the case for nuclear weapons. The only basis on which those who must fear that they will be obliterated by nuclear war can tolerate nuclear weapons is as an essential means of deterrence. Talk about "nuclear warfighting" and limited nuclear war is not only highly doubtful in its strategic assessment; it is also profoundly and disturbingly ignorant of the need, in democracies, to find and maintain support for the policies of security. This applies to the Alliance countries as a whole; while the phenomenon is, at present, most articulate in the protestant North of Europe, it is by no means absent from other Alliance societies, including the protestant North of America. There is a high political price for talking about nuclear weapons as if they were merely a more powerful type of conventional explosive.

Fourth, take care how you plan the use of nuclear weapons. This is not just a matter of presentation, but very much of substantive policy. The uncritical way in which Western, and particularly American, strategists have welcomed more and more limited options for nuclear use may, in a strategic sense, be an affordable luxury; in a political sense, it is an unaffordable liability. It is clear that some options beyond that of the secure second-strike capability continue to be required. But it is a failure of the strategic community that, to date, it has been unable to define how many are enough. The option for a limited first strike with nuclear weapons remains essential for effective deterrence in Europe. But this very fact makes it even more necessary to make clear that this is not an option for "nuclear warfighting," but an aid to deterrence. Two consequences follow from this. One, that nuclear weapons do not provide an effective remedy for conventional military weakness-a banality by now but one that is still insufficiently recognized in NATO's conventional military posture. The other, that the Alliance should pay maximum attention to crisis stability in its nuclear posture; battlefield nuclear weapons which, if used at all, have to be released in the fog of war are much less suitable for this task than are mobile LRTNF stationed in the rear of the theater.

Fifth, resist the temptation to engage in precise nuclear doctrines. The more precise the doctrine, the more controversial nuclear weapons for extended deterrence become. For the United States precision implies an unacceptable automaticity of nuclear response; for Europe it implies the combination of two concerns-that of "decoupling" the United States from NATO Europe and that of "nuclear warfighting." An American nuclear doctrine which emphasizes endurance and suggests limited nuclear conflicts cannot but undermine European political support for nuclear weapons in Europe and, with it, for the Alliance.

Sixth, and last, respect that the search for arms control is the necessary companion of nuclear deterrence. The fear of an uncontrollable arms race is a deep-rooted one in all our societies, and it will not be dismissed merely by pointing out that the other side is moving ahead. Once deterrence and balance are seen as a danger to rather than a condition for peace, as is the case in much of the European "Peace Movement," even the most persuasive military arguments become mute. The credible search for addressing the dangers of uncontrollable arms competition is thus an essential corollary of prudent deterrence.


But how far into the future will these lessons be relevant? It was argued at the beginning of this article that the political problem of extended deterrence began when the age of geographic deterrence identity between the United States and Europe came to an end. Since then, many of the political implications of theater nuclear forces have been due to their technical distinctiveness, which in turn led to the definition, however inadequately, of nuclear balances distinct from the overall strategic balance.

That period too is now coming to an end. The cruise missiles on B-52 bombers may be classified as "strategic," but they are not substantially different from those to be launched from European soil and classified as "theater" weapons. As William Kincade has put it: "Cumulative technological innovation is ushering out the era dominated by large limited-mission strategic systems. . . . Alongside improved models of these behemoths will be smaller, more flexible, more interchangeable and faster weapons with greater firepower and more supple control mechanisms."11 In other words, technological distinctiveness will soon be a thing of the past, technological flexibility the theme of the future.

It is too early to be sure about the implications for political cohesion and nuclear issues in the Alliance. One desirable possibility would be that the disappearance of weapons distinctions will again reunite the European and the North American continents into one strategic zone, where deterrence functions irrespective of geographical distances.

But there is also another, more daunting possibility. A Europe that continues to depend on the readiness of the United States to fire nuclear weapons first could make demands on the United States which in the strategic conditions of the 1990s may not be satisfied. To quote Kincade again: "Americans will have to accustom themselves to the kind of insecurity their West European allies have long lived with, their survival dependent on decisions made in distant capitals, and possessing no immunity from nuclear weapons effects."12

Unless Europeans can show that their reliance on nuclear weapons is not merely the consequence of insufficient conventional military efforts of their own, will they then still be regarded as a tolerable risk by their American ally?

2 See the analysis in Strategic Survey, 1978, p. 10.

3 See Philip Windsor, "West Germany and the Alliance," Adelphi Paper No. 170, Winter 1981.

4 David Owen's suggestion in Survival, May-June 1980, p. 122, to include West Germany in the talks is incomplete but goes in the right direction.

5 For a full account of these preparations see David D. Elliot, "Decision in Brussels," April 1981, unpublished manuscript available from the author at the California Institute of Technology.

6 President Carter's Directive on U.S. strategic doctrine of August 1980 was leaked to the press as a major new stance of toughness vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, implying the actual use of nuclear weapons, rather than as a doctrine of deterrence. See Strategic Survey 1980/81, p. 44.

7 The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) has attempted to do this in a special section of its annual Military Balance since 1979.

8 See Desmond Ball, "Can Nuclear War Be Controlled?", Adelphi Paper No. 169, London: International Institute of Strategic Studies, 1981.

11 "Over the Technological Horizon," Daedalus, Winter 1981, p. 122.

12 Ibid., p. 125.



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  • Christoph Bertram is Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. This article is adapted from a longer chapter prepared initially for the Aspen Consortium on Arms Control and International Security. The chapter will be included in the Consortium's report, Rethinking the U.S. Strategic Posture, edited by Barry M. Blechman, to be published by Ballinger in the spring of 1982.
  • More By Christoph Bertram