Since the end of World War II, Europe and North America have enjoyed an unprecedented era of peace. The central framework for maintaining that peace has been the North Atlantic Alliance and its permanent organization, NATO. Created to secure the West against aggression through a mutual defense system, NATO has proved remarkably successful in meeting a variety of challenges over the years. It has done so because Western leaders and the overwhelming majority of their countrymen have recognized the virtues of collective security for nations whose fundamental interests are held so closely in common.

The Alliance today faces a more complex set of challenges than perhaps at any time in its history. Paramount among them is the unrelenting growth of Soviet military power which is coupled to, if not the major inspiration for, the current expansionism in Soviet foreign policy. The global nature of Soviet military power adds a new dimension to traditional concerns, for it poses a menace to the vital worldwide interests of a regionally bounded Alliance. Over the years the Alliance has formulated responses to the threats which face it. Programs for security improvements grow within the integrated military structure. Political commitments to these programs are renewed at NATO ministerial meetings. Yet, to an uncomfortable degree, these programs have fallen short of fulfillment.

The reasons for nations' reluctance to carry out agreed defense commitments go beyond the current economic slowdown in the West, although that is the proximate cause. In the debates over security policy throughout the Alliance there is evidence of deeper public concerns over basic Alliance purposes and over the viability of Alliance efforts to achieve them. Thus, in this fourth decade of NATO, it would seem appropriate to reaffirm what it is we seek to achieve and to elaborate clearly for our publics how we propose to get there.

The first step in that process is to renew our understanding of and commitment to the basic objectives which brought our nations together in this unique experiment in collective security. There is no real debate over the central principle on which the Alliance was formed: to preserve the peace while maintaining our freedom intact. We have succeeded in that primary goal. But this is the nuclear age and knowledge of the terrible destructiveness of modern weaponry has placed a premium on a corollary security objective, the scope of which transcends NATO and which is desired by all-the governments of the Alliance, the demonstrating minority, the quiet yet concerned majority-all of us. Simply put, we seek a more stable and less hostile world order. It has long been a Western aspiration to find a way of preventing war through limitations on the means to wage it. Thus, beyond our longstanding objective of maintaining peace with freedom, we must acknowledge that the objective of a stable world order with reduced levels of arms and forces is also fundamental to our security.

II

Our basic Western security objectives, then, require the search for a viable means of transforming a competitive international system which places a heavy defense burden upon our societies into a less hostile relationship among nations. How to accomplish this transformation is not only vital for the future course of the world, but also of immediate relevance to the Atlantic Alliance because a vocal minority among our citizens question whether freedom is worth protecting at the costs modern deterrence and defense entail. Some take their argument further and call for unilateral disarmament by the West.

The notion that peace and freedom in the West are divisible constitutes nothing less than a repudiation of Western postwar achievements. Pacifism, neutralism and unilateralism can lead only to the eventual acquiescence to Soviet will. The peace, to be sure, can be achieved in the short run through deliberate concessions, but such a peace would come at an inevitably terrible cost as the burden of demands from the East became intolerable. We would then face the choice of having to defend what we value from a position of military inferiority or go the last steps in surrendering those values which make us distinguishable as Western civilization.

The way ahead for the West lies neither in acquiescence to the Soviet menace nor in untempered hostility toward and lack of dialogue with the Kremlin. The former course would be a recipe for surrender, the latter a denial of hope for the future. Rather, the most promising path toward achieving our security objectives-indeed there seems to be no alternative-lies in the deliberate Alliance-wide pursuit of a comprehensive array of equitable and verifiable arms reduction accords and arms control measures which can lead to reduced and balanced levels for all categories of forces. Only such accords can result in lowered levels of military capability for aggression and reduce apprehension and increase confidence between potential adversaries. Verifiable arms control measures, such as limits on numbers of types of nuclear missiles, numbers of warheads per missile and ceilings on forward-deployed conventional forces, can inject a greater degree of predictability into the military situation which encompasses the superpowers and their allies. In turn, that predictability adds to the manageability, and thereby the stability, of the military situation.

To those who argue that meaningful measures of arms control and reductions are unachievable given the record of intransigence by the Soviet Union, I would respond that the incentives for the Soviet Union to share the Western interest in such accords are growing. First, there is the ineluctable high priority the Soviet leadership must assign to avoiding the awesome destructiveness of nuclear war. Second, current and prospective economic difficulties in the Soviet Union are so severe that surely it is in the Soviet interest to devote some portion of that 13 to 15 percent of gross domestic product being spent annually on military growth to overcome the major problems in other sectors.

Further, the historical context of East-West arms control accords reflects Soviet willingness to agree to measures that enhance Soviet security even if they are in Western interests as well. It should not be forgotten that the Soviet leaders resisted for some time any entry into negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear forces. As we have seen with their about-face on entering into such negotiations, Soviet intransigence in specific arms control areas often breaks down in the face of resolute Western action.

III

While incentives exist in both East and West to pursue arms reductions and controls, they alone are not sufficient to bring about reorientation of Soviet foreign policy from its expansionist tendencies. That expansionism has been inspired partly by ideology but also by increasing Soviet confidence in the ascendancy of their arms and their ability to use military power for political gain. If we have any hopes of succeeding in negotiating arms reductions and control measures, two further conditions-one political, one military but demanding considerable political will-must be met. First, the NATO allies must convey to the East an impression of political unity and cohesion. Second, the Alliance must display military strength and the resolve to maintain that strength at levels sufficient for deterrence.

The current transatlantic tension is not the sole impediment to NATO's unity and cohesion, but it would seem to be the most serious dimension, and it must be reduced if we are to create the necessary perception of Alliance solidarity. American complaints tend to center on three areas: a belief that Europeans are not bearing their full share of the defense burden; an impression that a tide of anti-Americanism is sweeping across Europe; and a suspicion that Europe expects Americans to take all the nuclear risks. For their part, Europeans are unhappy at the perceived stridency and militancy of tone in the rhetoric of U.S. foreign policy; tend to believe that the United States would rather confront than negotiate; and resent that Americans do not seem to appreciate the burdens that Western Europe does bear, to include being the theater in which war, perhaps a nuclear war, would be fought.

The debate over burden sharing is not new, but it seems at present to be particularly ill informed. Many of the facts about the actual European share of the Alliance load are poorly understood in the United States. For example, in the 1970s European spending for defense increased at a rate of two percent per year while American spending decreased by nearly that figure. If Allied Command Europe were to enter into a conflict tomorrow, 90 percent of the ground forces and three-quarters of the air and maritime forces initially committed to it would be West European. There are also hidden costs to the Europeans associated with such less evident but essential contributions as the real estate provided free for about 900 U.S. military facilities in Western Europe and for over 70 allied bases (built at a cost of $2.5 billion) which will be shared by America's reinforcing air squadrons.

Nor does the image of rampant anti-Americanism spreading across Europe correspond to the facts. While the media may highlight the demonstrations which take place in the free, democratic European societies, poll after poll reveals that the vast majority of West Europeans have a positive impression of the United States and desire continued friendship with it. Americans must also remember that their forces are in Europe not as an act of charity, but due to the sure knowledge that American security is best preserved through a collective approach and a forward strategy, not by a "go-it-alone" neoisolationism. The simple fact is that the United States could not retain the freedoms or the prosperity it knows today through some alternative "Fortress America" concept.

In particular, the United States must not in a time of pique and anger take some arbitrary and inevitably disastrous action, such as withdrawing its forces from Europe. Such a step would not only be counter to the vital interests of the United States which are inextricably linked with Western Europe, but it would unravel the Alliance, cause West Europeans to do less for defense, and facilitate the Soviet long-term objective of dominating Western Europe without ever having to risk hostilities.

Europeans must also do their part in repairing the Atlantic bridge. The younger generation of Europeans seem not to have learned of America's postwar role in enabling European recovery. A number of Europeans do not seem to understand-or accept-the distinct qualitative differences between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The tendency to place the two superpowers together on the same moral plane reflects an inadequate appreciation of the distinctions between democracy and totalitarianism, between an alliance of sovereign nations and a pact controlled by one, and the search for stability contrasted with expansionism.

There is also a need for Europeans of all ages to adjust to the security implications of global interdependence. The United States has accepted the worldwide responsibility for protecting the collective interests of its allies and needs assistance in carrying it out. More European leaders should voice support of this initiative. They should also speak out against the occasional anti-American outbursts that occur in their nations. Some do, but it takes an extraordinary effort in stressing the laudable record of Atlantic partnership to gain media attention equivalent to that accorded each peace demonstration in Europe.

It is in the interests of both America and Western Europe to ease the current atmosphere of tension by reconciling their cross-perceptions. It can be done if both sides are patient enough to listen and wise enough to accommodate the separate interests and problems peculiar to allies.

Saying that better transatlantic understanding is required is not to imply the need for an era of monolithic response by the Alliance to all occasions or issues that confront it. There are national interests within NATO that cut across the grain of Alliance consensus or unanimity. Thus, we must expect that on some issues pragmatic self-interest may guide Alliance relationships. When this occurs, we should not leave the field free for those who, for whatever reasons, would exaggerate or exploit our differences at the expense of the constructive aspects of the Alliance.

In sum, on both sides of the Atlantic there is a need to accentuate the positive. As allies we have at stake far too much of mutual value to risk self-satisfying recriminations. They serve only to poison the well from which we should now be drawing to refresh our faith in each other and to ensure that our unity is recognized clearly by the Warsaw Pact. There is no single more salient instrument for conveying that solidarity than full and consistent implementation of NATO's two-track decision to modernize its intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) and to pursue negotiations with the Soviet Union to reduce and balance such forces. That decision of December 1979, reached after thorough Alliance consultation, is no less than an expression of our most fundamental objectives: to take necessary collective action in defense of peace and freedom, while seeking to advance our aspirations for a more stable international environment. Furthermore, let us not lose sight of the fact that it is NATO's intent to deploy the modern INF missiles which constitutes the most compelling, perhaps the only, blue chip on the table for our negotiator at Geneva.

IV

Along with restoring the perception of political solidarity and unity, if we are to be successful in negotiating arms reductions accords and control measures, the Alliance must be seen as possessing a posture that is militarily strong and resolute. In other words, the Alliance must be capable of implementing its strategy. In the days of the West's nuclear superiority, a "tripwire" strategy of "massive retaliation" that posited the early use of strategic nuclear weapons made sense. But a decade and a half ago, as the Soviets strove for strategic nuclear parity, NATO recognized the inefficacy of that concept and adopted its current deterrent strategy of flexible response, one which is still appropriate today if adequate forces are made available. That strategy is deliberately vague about the precise nature of NATO's response to aggression, but it envisions three types of military response:

- direct defense to defeat an attack or place the burden of escalation on the enemy;

- deliberate escalation on NATO's part; and

- general nuclear response, the ultimate guarantor of deterrence.

If flexible response is to be credible, it must be supported by an adequate military capability for each leg of the NATO triad of forces-strategic nuclear, theater nuclear and conventional. Today, in each of these force categories, NATO has been surpassed by the Warsaw Pact. However, at the strategic nuclear level, the United States and the United Kingdom are taking actions to ensure the continued deterrent value of Alliance strategic nuclear forces. At the theater nuclear level, NATO's two-track program of force modernization and negotiations is aimed at restoring the balance lost over the past several years and filling a gap in our spectrum of deterrence. Last November, President Reagan took the initiative to propose to the Soviet Union a "zero-level" of land-based, intermediate-range missiles. That proposal struck a responsive chord in the West, and NATO's continuing preparations for the deployment of its own intermediate-range missiles (Pershing II missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles) are the central motivation for the Soviets to continue to negotiate, and, in a serious vein.

The destructive power of nuclear weapons and the grave risk of rapid escalation to a general nuclear exchange which could result from the first use of theater nuclear weapons are persuasive arguments for keeping the nuclear threshold in Europe as high as possible. That can only be done by maintaining adequate conventional forces, the third leg of our triad.

NATO's commitment to the strengthening of its conventional forces was implicit in adopting the strategy of flexible response in 1967. The intention to provide a stronger conventional deterrent has been reaffirmed by NATO's Long Term Defense Program, adopted in 1978, and by national commitments to the biennially agreed NATO Force Goals. However, despite these repeated expressions of intent to bolster conventional capabilities, nations have fallen quite short of their fulfillment and cannot realize them at current levels of effort. Although Allied Command Europe gets stronger every year, the gap between the conventional force capabilities of NATO and those of the Warsaw Pact gets wider each year. This gap is exacerbated by NATO's shortcomings, relative to the Warsaw Pact, in its ability to sustain its forces in combat with personnel replacements, ready reserve units, stockpiled ammunition and pre-positioned reserve combat equipment. Currently, we must measure our ability to sustain combat in Europe in days, whereas we can estimate the Warsaw Pact's sustainability in weeks or months.

In short, Alliance conventional capabilities today are clearly inadequate to meet the growing Warsaw Pact conventional threat. Instead of possessing the variety of capabilities which would truly translate into flexibility in response, NATO is left in a posture that in reality can only support a strategy more accurately labeled a "delayed tripwire." The amount of delay following a conventional Warsaw Pact attack before the tripwire would be activated and NATO would face resorting to the nuclear option would depend on such variables as length of warning time and the timeliness and appropriateness of decisions taken by political authorities. Against large-scale conventional aggression, even with adequate warning and timely political decisions, our posture might at best be sufficient to allow NATO only the time and security necessary to deliberate and escalate to the use of nuclear weapons. We must not delude ourselves-NATO's continuing failure to fulfill its conventional needs means that we now must depend upon the use of theater nuclear weapons to accomplish our missions of deterrence and defense.

There is a more acceptable alternative to this posture, namely to acquire a conventional capability that would provide a good prospect of success in the forward defense of Europe. To be capable of such a defense does not demand that we match Warsaw Pact land and air power on the continent division for division, tank for tank and plane for plane. Nor does it entail a buildup of such proportions that it might be construed as an offensive threat to the Warsaw Pact. We do need some increase in numbers of forces to offset Soviet military growth, but far more important to success is the enhancement of our ability to do better with our forces in being and to carry out the essential modernization of those forces.

In operational terms, we need the capability to hold the lead divisions of a major Warsaw Pact conventional attack while we conduct an effective interdiction and destruction campaign with conventional means against its follow-on forces, thereby neutralizing them before their weight can be brought to bear at the front lines. Such capability will also provide us the opportunity to carry out counterattacks to reverse the flow of battle. We must also exploit electronic warfare to a much greater extent than we do now so that we can blind our adversary's radar and interrupt the centralized direction of his operational forces. At the same time, we must have greater assurance in our ability to control the sea lanes to Europe and to win the air war over the continent.

The concept for the conventional destruction of the Pact follow-on forces has been developed by the Supreme Allied Command (SHAPE), utilizing the good work in this field by several of our nations. The concept is now a part of Allied Command Europe doctrine; our current challenge, should a contingency occur, would be to exploit it as best we might with present conventional means. Meanwhile, major efforts must be expended to encourage nations to develop and procure the advanced technological targeting and weapons systems that will make the application of the concept most effective.

The provision of such a robust conventional capability for NATO not only would enhance deterrence and raise the nuclear threshold, but would face the Warsaw Pact-should it attack conventionally and its attack be frustrated-with either having to be the first to escalate to theater nuclear weapons or withdrawing its forces. Faced with that prospect, I do not believe Soviet leaders would initiate aggression. I believe that they are no more anxious than NATO to escalate and cross the nuclear threshold; their uncertainty as to whether employment of theater nuclear weapons would soon escalate to a strategic nuclear exchange is surely as great as ours. I cannot believe that there is any Soviet leader, current or future, who would wish to expose his people to the potential destruction of such an exchange.

Moreover, the "zero-level" proposal for intermediate-range nuclear forces creates an additional reason for NATO to acquire a strengthened conventional posture. In a "zero-level" INF era and in the absence of improved conventional capabilities, NATO's deterrent spectrum would consist of its heavily disadvantaged conventional forces on one end and its strategic nuclear systems on the other, with the only escalatory option coupling the extremes being relatively short-range nuclear weapons, most of which could only be employed on Alliance soil. Few, if any, could put Soviet soil at risk. Achievement of the "zero-level" outcome will reinforce the need for a high sense of confidence in the strength of NATO's conventional capability.

V

To say that NATO should strive to attain a conventional posture which would constitute a credible deterrent to Warsaw Pact conventional aggression is not to imply that the Alliance should also now declare a "no-first-use" policy for its nuclear weapons, as has been suggested recently in these pages. The single most important factor in restraining Soviet aggression will always be that chasm of uncertainty about Western readiness to cross the nuclear threshold. Despite their greatly improved theater nuclear capabilities, Soviet leaders can never totally discount NATO's willingness to resort to nuclear weapons in its defense as long as NATO maintains the capability and the policy flexibility to do so. Moreover, even if we were to develop a conventional defense during this decade along the lines described, we could never be certain of success without eventual recourse to nuclear weapons. (We should also not lose sight of the tactical advantage to the defender resulting from his threatened use of nuclear weapons serving as a restraint on the tactical massing of Warsaw Pact forces preparatory to an attack.)

Another inherent danger of declared no-first-use is that many in Europe and the United States would see such a policy as a limitation on the American commitment to European security. This might well create a situation in which the final guarantor of deterrence-the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal-would be viewed as divorced from the fate of Europe. Would that foster Alliance solidarity and the credibility of our deterrent or undermine them? Further, declaring a no-first-use policy and then trying to develop the conventional capability to make the policy feasible would seem to be putting the cart before the horse.

Hence, while I argue that the nuclear threshold in Europe can and should be raised by improving NATO's conventional capabilities, realistic deterrence in Europe will continue to require the plausible threat of nuclear escalation by NATO. In sum, NATO's ability to deter would be jeopardized as much, or more, by eliminating the flexibility to escalate than it would by continuing the current inflexible posture of having to escalate in order to defend successfully.

If any declaratory policies are espoused, I would hope they would continue to be along the lines that NATO will never commit aggression against the Warsaw Pact-or anyone else-but, if attacked, NATO will keep all its options open so as to convince the aggressor that the risks and penalties of attacking would outweigh any potential gains to him.

VI

The principal argument against providing NATO an adequate conventional deterrent has always been its presumed high cost. However, attaining the conventional capability I describe is feasible at levels of national defense expenditure which are not so great as most imagine. It can generally be achieved by the end of this decade if all nations will only fulfill in full the commitments they have made for force improvements included in the Force Goals for 1983-88. We calculate at SHAPE that meeting these goals will require an average annual real increase in Alliance defense spending of about four percent for these six years. (This constitutes only one percent more than the goal of a three-percent annual real increase to which nations agreed in 1977.) For some nations the annual increase required would be more than four percent; for other, less. However, I hasten to add that, in my judgment, the performance of nations should not be measured by any individual annual percentage real increase in defense expenditures; figures can be skewed or funds spent for defense projects not included in Force Goal improvements. Rather I believe that a nation's performance should be judged by how well it meets its force improvement commitments set forth in the agreed Force Goals.

To be sure, such a sustained increase in Western defense spending would constitute a substantial economic challenge for nations struggling with recession, unemployment and exorbitant energy costs; but it can be done if our nations resolve to do so. The Alliance has the necessary resources. It will require some tough choices; but better to make them now while they are still ours to make and are within a reasonable range of affordability. Most of all, however, an increase in defense spending as proposed will require that the peoples of our nations, especially in Western Europe, be convinced that the growing imbalance in force capabilities poses a menace to their future freedom and security. Only when parliaments hear their peoples saying that they are prepared to make sacrifices to improve security arrangements will nations give defense the necessary high priority in the allocation of national resources. In this regard it would seem that the American people have gotten the word and are prepared to sacrifice for security. It is most important that they continue to set the example for the rest of the allies.

Our peoples will ask whether there is any hope, even with all this investment in defense. They will want to be assured that not only will deterrence be enhanced in the short term, but that their sacrifices will lead to our objective of a more stable world order based on lowered levels of arms and forces. They will want to know that what is being suggested offers the best prospect for reducing the threat to our security, without war and with their freedom intact.

I submit that the answers can be in the affirmative. The military situation for NATO as a defensive Alliance is not yet unmanageable, not beyond restoration. For the past three decades, the NATO allies have mustered their collective resources to provide the strength necessary to keep the peace and prosper as free societies; we can continue to do so if we resolve that we will do so. Our surest course will be for NATO to demonstrate unity, resolve, strength and consistency of purpose, characteristics which will, more than anything else, give our principal adversary compelling reasons to seek genuine and lasting accords with the West predicated on reduced and balanced levels of forces.

VII

There are some obvious paradoxes in what I have been suggesting. As a defensive Alliance we do not need to match the Warsaw Pact in forces or equipment, yet we must set defense expenditures higher than we would like since we are not afforded the luxury of setting them unrelated to the unabated military growth of the Warsaw Pact. We depend ultimately on our nuclear strength to deter the most ominous threat to our security, yet building a more capable conventional force posture has become more crucial than at any time in the postwar era. Our objective is a stable world environment with reduced levels of arms and forces, yet we must increase our levels today in order to be successful in negotiating their reduction in the future. This in turn requires that our peoples must make sacrifices today to enhance their security so that tomorrow their sacrifices can be reduced, without risk to their freedom. Then our nations can devote a greater share of their resources to the further social progress to which all of our peoples aspire.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • General Bernard W. Rogers has been Supreme Allied Commander Europe since June 1979, stationed in Belgium. Before assuming this international position, he was Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1976 to 1979. Portions of this article are adapted from an address by General Rogers on February 26, 1982, to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. A German translation of this article is being published simultaneously by Europa-Archiv, in Bonn.
  • More By General Bernard W. Rogers