The end of Hitler’s New Order in Europe in May 1945 ushered in a new order in America’s relationship to Europe. The arrangements that were designed, debated and put in place during the following four years endure to this day. They are part of the world into which the present generation of foreign policy practitioners and commentators were professionally and intellectually born; and they shape the perceptions and limit the imagination of the general public. NATO, in particular, is a fixture in the international political and strategic firmament. The present Atlantic relationship is not without flaws, but since its framework has the aspect of a given, critiques fix on surface phenomena and proximate factors—apparent weaknesses or apparent strengths. Improvements are considered within the given framework, not as alternatives to it. Even the flaws are felt as mere irritants, inspiring only enraged political opposition or petulant geopolitical daydreams.

In the past few years, the tides of discontent have been lapping at the base of the Atlantic alliance. And there has formed a sort of unholy and unintended coalition of the European left (for example, the German Green Party and the radical wing of the Social Democratic Party, or the left wing of the British Labour Party) and the American right. The outbursts of one nourish the resentments of the other. Indeed, if NATO ever is washed away, the cause may be seen to be the feuding of these transatlantic factions.

But, after almost four decades, it is time to gain more perspective on the architecture of NATO and to do some wholesale reckoning of NATO’s situation. For there is another, structural, reason for NATO’s present debility, which is at the root of the attitudes of the factions of left and right on both sides of the Atlantic: the danger and yet the incredibility of the American military guarantee of Europe, including our "nuclear umbrella." The cracks in America’s guarantee in turn proceed from a tension inherent in the American assumption of this strategic commitment to Europe 36 years ago.

The commitment to Europe presents the United States with a choice between high, and perhaps unsupportable, costs associated with the confident conventional defense of Europe, and unassumable risks attributable to reliance on the earlier use of nuclear weapons. The direction in which this tension is resolved, by any particular American administration, is not rigidly determined; to some extent, cost can be transmuted into additional risk, and risk can be transformed into mere cost. (That is what is meant by "lowering" or "raising" the nuclear threshold.) But as long as the United States is committed to Europe, the choice itself is inescapable.

The Europeans have a somewhat parallel choice: costly generation of sufficient conventional forces, or acquisition or expansion of their own national nuclear arsenals, with more resolute and risky doctrines of employment. But there is an obvious difference: the European allies are situated along the forward line of defense. The United States can "decide" whether it wants to pitch its own security perimeter along that common line.

It may be unpleasant to inquire about the problems of NATO from an American viewpoint, and it may seem crass to weigh those problems primarily on the grounds of cost to Americans. Yet considerations of cost (underlying the political pique voiced by conservative Americans, and traded off against the risk involved in holding our nuclear umbrella over our European allies) will decide the future of NATO. And that future will be disposed within the American political, economic and social process.

Moreover, there may be little that is peculiar to NATO that argues for a change in the present dispositions. The attempt (and most are of this kind) to treat NATO as an issue in itself will probably end in exhausted and frustrated affirmation of the present stance. It is America’s need to reexamine its comprehensive national strategy that may indicate a shift in its relation to Europe.


The alliance of Atlantic nations has been beset by many problems. There have been the periodic recrudescence of commercial and agricultural disputes; the irreconcilable antagonism of pairs of nations, such as Greece and Turkey; the threat of Eurocommunism; the acrimony over "burden-sharing"; the complaints about the "one-way street" of American military production for the alliance; the assaults of neutralists and anti-American political groups; the failures of "consultation"; and the recriminations about American "hegemony." But, whatever else is wrong with the Atlantic alliance, its essential problems are strategic.

NATO’s history, from its beginning in 1949 to the present, could be written in terms of a series of strategic crises: the failure of the EDC, the Suez and Hungarian crises, the Cuban missile confrontation, the Skybolt fiasco, the failure of the MLF, de Gaulle’s withdrawal, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, Kissinger’s futile "Year of Europe," the October 1973 Mideast war and the response to OPEC, the divergent reactions to Afghanistan and Central America.

The recent crisis of intermediate nuclear forces (INF) deserves special comment. Although the emplacement of American missiles was a response to German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s 1977 plea for some regional balance to the Soviet SS-20s, the compromise "two-track" decision opened an abyss between the European and American allies: the United States bent on a considerable deployment of INF, the Europeans intent on negotiations with the Soviet Union. True, the cohesion of NATO has weathered five years of Soviet bluster and the excitement of West European peace groups. But the crisis illustrates a point of deeper significance. One might ask why European governments—with some reluctance in Holland and Belgium—would have wanted these longer-range nuclear weapons in the first place. The additional protection they afford is illusory; they are not even subject to European control. The new missiles are not an increment to NATO’s strength; rather, they represent another European attempt to secure America’s commitment to the defense of Europe. They are a symbol of Europe’s abiding distrust of America’s extended deterrence.


What does all this history prove? First, NATO’s crises are not random. There is a common thread; they are all tests of confidence among the allies. Second, the crises are not accidental or superficial. They would not be crises if they did not have deep causal roots; in fact, they derive from the divergent conceptions of alliance, the divergent security needs, and the divergent geopolitical situations of the United States and Europe. Third, the crises are not novel. They stem from problems that have been implicit in the alliance from its inception.

Thirty-six years after the founding of NATO, the defense of Western Europe still rests on the proposition that an American president will invite the destruction of our cities and the incineration of 100 million of our citizens to repel a Soviet incursion or resist a Soviet ultimatum in Western Europe. On its face, America’s war plan—never denied by any president from Truman to Reagan, or by any secretary of state from George Marshall to George Shultz—is the first use of nuclear weapons, if necessary, to defend Europe. But, under the surface, America’s nuclear commitment to Europe is not so sure. The word that encapsulates this problem is "coupling"—a term of art used by strategic analysts to connote the integrity of the chain of escalation, from conventional war in Europe to theater nuclear weapons to the use of America’s ultimate strategic weapon.

In a larger sense, coupling connotes the identity of the fates of the peoples, societies and political systems on both sides of the Atlantic. The root of the problem is that America, the alliance guarantor, hoping to escape the destruction of nuclear war, will seek to put time between the outbreak of war in Europe and the decision to escalate to nuclear weapons, and will take whatever advantage it can of its distance from Europe. (Not that an adversary is likely to test American will with an attack on Europe. Odds of, say, 65 percent of an American nuclear response will restrain a potential aggressor. Even a whiff of American nuclear retaliation is probably enough to keep the Soviet Union from invading Western Europe. But those odds will not convince allies. There is a nagging asymmetry about nuclear protection: it takes more credibility to keep an ally than to deter an adversary.)

Virtually every American strategic move—the multilateral force, flexible response, the Schlesinger Doctrine, the neutron bomb, INF—has evoked the specter of decoupling in one or another of its forms: either the avoidance of a nuclear response altogether or the attempt to confine even a nuclear conflict to the European theater. Recently, the Strategic Defense Initiative, a design to protect American society from Soviet missiles, has stirred European concern that the United States could afford a "Fortress America" mentality and ignore forward defense in Europe. And America’s current attempt to endow NATO forces with "emerging technology" has had the significance, for some Europeans, of further detaching the United States from its commitment to escalate to nuclear weapons, specifically by promising conventional coverage of some targets that now require nuclear systems.

At issue here is not whether these American strategic moves are well planned or well meant—they might even have the declared or ostensible purpose of affirming coupling—but whether they have the possible effect of attenuating the American connection with Europe; whether they provide reasons, or pretexts, for the United States to make its escalation to strategic nuclear weapons less than prompt and automatic; whether they give the United States additional "firebreaks." Coupling is the essence of alliance protection in a nuclear age, and firebreaks are an imperative of American security. But coupling and firebreaks are inversely related.


America’s commitment to NATO can scarcely be evaluated without examining the logic of extended deterrence. Extended deterrence (as opposed to central, or primary, deterrence) is the attempt to discourage attacks or pressures against nations and peoples other than ourselves by threatening the use of our nuclear weapons. Some would say that NATO, more than other alliances, not only depends on, but virtually consists of, the extended deterrence provided by its principal guarantor, the United States. That is perhaps an exaggeration, but it suggests a fault-line in NATO: the requisites of extended deterrence and the difficulties in achieving those requisites result, to the extent that we succeed, in danger and expense to the United States, and yet, to the extent that we fail, in the implausibility of our protection of Europe.

What are the requisites of extended deterrence? It can be argued that to validate extended deterrence—that is, to be seen as standing ready to implement it as convincingly as we do central deterrence—requires the practical invulnerability of our own society to Soviet attack. (I say "practical," since absolute invulnerability is beyond anyone’s reach; what is required is to limit damage to "tolerable" levels of casualties and destruction.) This is so an American president can persuade others that he would risk an attack on our homeland in the act of spreading America’s protective mantle over Western Europe and other parts of the world. If we were to seek societal invulnerability, we would have to work through both our defensive and our offensive strategic systems. First, we would have to achieve a strategic defense. Second, we would have to be able to hold in reserve, after any of the earlier stages of protracted nuclear exchange, enough destructive power to threaten strikes against Soviet cities. Finally, we would have to acquire the capability to limit damage to the United States by killing hard targets, such as Soviet missiles in their silos, and perhaps Soviet command bunkers, and control and communication facilities.

This latter requirement for a counterforce capability has two liabilities: it is open-ended, and it is unstable. A damage-limiting attack against hard targets is a demanding requirement, in numbers and characteristics of weapons. And, to have its intended effect, it must be preemptive. Indeed, counterforce and first nuclear strike are mutually dependent. A first strike implies counterforce targeting, since, at the strategic level, the only initial attack that makes sense is the destruction of as much of the enemy’s nuclear force as possible. In return, counterforce targeting implies a first strike, because a second strike against the enemy’s missiles is useless to the extent that one’s missiles would hit empty holes.

This is not to argue for any of these implementing measures. Quite the contrary, it is to show how our weapons and our strategic doctrines, far from being mindless, are closely dictated by our alliance responsibilities. Conversely, our willingness to protect allies rises and falls generally with our ability to protect our own society from nuclear attack and, more specifically, with the prospective viability of counterforce. To the extent that there is any explicit doubt—technical, economic, political—that we will achieve that invulnerability or that we should pursue counterforce (and I believe there should be such doubt), there is an implicit doubt that our extensive nuclear commitments, especially to Western Europe, can survive.

As long as the United States is committed to the defense of Europe, the risks that stem from our extended deterrence will inspire attempts to avoid the contingent nuclear destruction of our homeland. Such an attempt is the case against the first use of nuclear weapons, of which the most notable statement in recent times is the 1982 article by McGeorge Bundy, George F. Kennan, Robert S. McNamara and Gerard Smith. The article is classic not only in its exposition but also in the problems it incurs in its premises and argument.

Its principal problem is that it insists on maintaining the integrity of the American commitment to the defense of our West European allies; and yet it seeks to obviate the risk, to the United States, of destruction in a nuclear war. One must try to reconcile these awkward objectives. Thus, crucial to the Bundy-Kennan-McNamara-Smith proposal is that its apparent renunciation of the first use of nuclear weapons is conditioned on the acquisition of an adequate conventional defense.

But those who opt for conventional defense cannot mean just any effort; they must mean high-confidence defense. And they cannot just exhort or prescribe; they have the further burden of predicting that this will be achieved. To determine the feasibility—and hence the predictive probability—of conventional defense, we must have a bill of costs. In terms of forces, I judge (from an analysis of Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger’s 1986 "Posture Statement," presented to Congress on February 4, 1985) that, for fiscal year 1986, the Reagan Administration intends the following regional attribution of our total of 21 active ground divisions: NATO/Europe, eleven and two-thirds divisions; east Asia, three and two-thirds divisions; other regions and the strategic reserve, five and two-thirds divisions. By applying these fractions to the total cost of our general purposes forces, $241 billion, we can calculate the rough cost of our regional commitments. By my estimate, Europe accounts for $134 billion (Asia absorbs $42 billion, and the strategic reserve, including an expanded requirement for rapid deployment forces, mostly for Centcom—that is, the Persian Gulf and southwest Asia—takes $65 billion).

Given a reasonable projection of current cost growth, over the next ten years Europe will cost the United States $2.2 trillion. The appropriate question is whether even those resources will be forthcoming, let alone the greater ones required for self-sufficient conventional defense.


NATO and its critics have responded by proposing various solutions to provide sufficient conventional defense, or to adjust the American relationship to the alliance, or otherwise to meet the challenge within acceptable parameters of European and American sacrifice and exposure to risk. Though generally right-minded and full of individual points of merit, in the end they prove insufficient or contradictory, or improbable of execution.

NATO has proceeded with a long list of schemes to patch up its tactical deficiencies and repair its basic defensive stance. Energetic and often imaginative efforts have been made by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, beginning in the Carter Administration. These moves fall mainly into the category of "quick fixes" in NATO’s existing posture: increasing armaments and firepower, including precision-guided antitank weapons and heavier American army divisions; improving electronic warfare; bringing about greater military integration of NATO in the areas of logistics, air defense, weapons procurement, communications and headquarters, and intelligence; refining doctrine and stressing maneuver; improving mobility and readiness; fostering greater use of reserves; and correcting the maldeployment of forces along the front.

Many of these moves have been accomplished. Some are sensible, as long as the alliance exists in roughly its present form, with more or less its present mission, in an international environment similar to the present one. But some of the quick fixes are not as quick or cheap as they might seem. And some moves—such as logistics integration and weapons standardization—would reduce our autonomy of decision-making and flexibility of action in the event of hostilities.

There is also a question of sufficiency, even if all these measures were taken. Such a former advocate of a staunch conventional defense as General Maxwell Taylor has doubted NATO’s capability, to the point of advocating a return to the nuclear "tripwire." Taylor cites certain factors that are inherent in NATO’s situation, notably the lack of maneuver depth and the vulnerability of supply lines resulting from the French withdrawal from NATO in 1966. Others have questioned the ability of the navy to resupply the army in Europe in a sustained conventional war. The attrition of American convoys or individual ships would be fearsome, even if we exacted an equivalent toll on attacking Soviet naval forces, undersea and surface. In any case, few European terminal ports would survive the devastation of the first few days of a war. Alternatively, heavy reliance on pre-positioned equipment would make our entire posture vulnerable to prompt Soviet air strikes.

NATO’s second response is addressed to the more advanced offensive capabilities imputed to Soviet forces in central Europe. To this end, NATO has acquired an interest in emerging technology and associated tactical concepts. Emerging technology is literally a deus ex machina. It consists of revolutionary developments in long-range surveillance and target acquisition, and in lethal specialized submunitions and accurate terminal guidance. The tactical concepts—sometimes generically labeled "Deep Strike"—are bold attempts to target the secondechelon Soviet armored units, logistical installations, choke points and airfields, usually far behind the forward edge of battle.

Many aspects of the new military technologies and tactical doctrines are constructive. But serious questions have arisen. Some center on the technical feasibility and high cost of the new systems. Still other critiques challenge their relevance to the specific threat, the Soviet "operational maneuver groups." These are mobile, combined-arms units of less than divisional size that range laterally, just behind the front edge of the battle, to exploit opportunities; they would be hard to interdict with the new weapons and tactics, since they operate close to the front and do not require massing. Another objection is that the new munitions, though themselves conventional, use the same delivery vehicles that are assigned to nuclear weapons; this might create a fatal ambiguity in a war. And the duality of delivery vehicles might subvert arms control by complicating verification. Indeed, emerging technology itself could spur a conventional arms race in central Europe.

Other measures are periodically proposed to ease the impact of the American commitment to defend Europe. One category involves adjusting roles and burdens within the alliance. The West European countries are spending on defense, in percentages of their gross national products, only fractions of what the United States is spending; that gap is growing larger as European governments, in periods of economic stringency, slight their contributions to defense. In one reckoning, comparative contributions of certain NATO allies are as follows: the United States, 7.3 percent; Britain, 5.3 percent; France, 3.3 percent; Netherlands, 3.2 percent; and West Germany, 2.7 percent.

The reaction in the U.S. Congress to these discrepancies is reflected in an amendment proposed by Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) in the spring of 1984. Nunn, normally a strong supporter of NATO, was attempting to coerce our European allies into fulfilling their 1977 promise to increase defense spending by three percent a year. (In 1983, non-U.S. alliance members, including Canada, increased defense spending by between 1.2 and 1.7 percent, while the United States had increased its NATO spending by 4.9 to 9 percent annually over the previous four years.) Nunn proposed that U.S. troop levels in Europe be cut by 90,000 (about one-third) by 1990, unless the Europeans either increased real defense spending growth to three percent or met specified logistical and force goals. The amendment was opposed by the Reagan Administration and defeated in the Senate, 55 to 41.

Yet those who support the present dispositions argue that Europe is paying the lion’s share of the common costs: ". . . of the ready forces currently available in Europe, about 91 percent of the ground forces and 86 percent of the air forces come from European countries, as do 75 percent of NATO’s tanks and more than 90 percent of its armored divisions."

But comparing burdens is not the point, or the problem. The question has always been whether the United States is getting its own money’s worth out of its forward strategy, and would still be getting its money’s worth even after some putative redistribution of burdens. Inevitably, we are thrown back on the economy of alliance. There are several ways of formulating this issue. It may be that the actual costs of our preparations to support the alliance exceed our gains, even if we include as gains the benefits we derive from the contributions of allies. It may also be that, in the calculus of a possible war, the losses we would sustain through not defending forward in Europe would be less than the losses we would incur through such a defense, even if it were successful. The value of both of these outcomes must be cut by their fractional probability, which is far less than certainty, and to the latter we must add the real costs we would have sustained in preparing to defend in that way. If we are assessing bargains, it is these more comprehensive and more complex calculations that are the appropriate ones.

A more far-reaching approach to mitigating America’s burdens in NATO has been labeled "devolution." It comprises a deliberate, orderly and militarily adequate effort by the United States to confer defensive capability and responsibility upon Western Europe. More than the other remedies, devolution is premised on European unity; there would have to be a fit political and strategic receptacle for the increased security capabilities and responsibilities. But the integration of the European states has not been impressive. And there is the more challenging question of combined military competence, particularly in nuclear arms. True nuclear allies must share strategies, decision-making and targeting. Even if it could be achieved, an independent European nuclear force would be at best useless to the United States, and at worst a considerable embarrassment.

The question here is not whether the West European nations could defend themselves, in some measure. It is whether the United States would benefit from continuing to be a party to such an alliance. The trouble with devolution is that, for the United States, it combines aspects of commitment and decommitment, arraying them in a series of contradictions: we would have participation without authority, risk without control, involvement without the clear ability to defend and exposure without adequate deterrence.

Another approach is the unilateral withdrawal of part of the American forces in Europe. The salient version was the Mansfield Amendment, or Resolution, offered annually in the Congress for eight years, until 1975. In its various forms, it would have reduced American troops in Europe by as much as two-thirds, redeploying them to the United States but not (in all but one year’s version) deleting them from the active force structure. Yet withdrawal of units saves nothing unless they are also deactivated. Nor would the Mansfield proposal have touched the forces kept in the United States for European contingencies. Most significantly, our commitment to European defense would have remained in full force. This is not a virtue but a flaw; the Mansfield type of initiative represents withdrawal without decommitment, a precarious stance.


The foregoing ideas for remedying or mitigating America’s situation in Europe have some value and are often ingenious. But they do not, severally or in the aggregate, constitute a policy that would close the gap between conventional requirements and available resources, or obviate nuclear strategies that are precarious and still lack credibility.

A thorough and consistent disengagement from Europe would shed the responsibilities as well as the burdens of alliance. I believe the United States should devolve defensive tasks upon the European states, but not insist on the orderly and sufficient substitution of capabilities or harbor illusions of maintaining American political weight in subsequent European decision-making. Withdrawal from Europe would probably take a decade of preparation, diplomacy and logistical rearrangement. We would progressively reduce Europe’s strategic dependence on us, and insulate ourselves from the consequences of conflict in Europe.

It is important to reiterate and emphasize that disengagement from the defense of Europe would make sense (or not) only as part of a broad alternative conception of foreign policy and national strategy for the United States. The resolution of our defense predicament and our fiscal dilemma suggests a wholesale remedy. Globally, we would draw back to a line that has two mutually reinforcing characteristics: credibility and feasibility; a line that we must hold, as part of the definition of our sovereignty, and that we can hold, as a defensive perimeter and a strategic force concept that can be maintained with advantage and within constraints over the long haul.

If we were to disengage, we could save on the order of $150 billion a year from the current defense budgets. (Another $80-$100 billion or more, to close the federal budgetary gap that looms each year for the rest of this decade at least, should come from stringent cuts in entitlements and other domestic programs.) We could defend our essential security and our central values with a much smaller force structure than we now have. Such a force structure would provide the following general purpose forces: eight land divisions (six army and two marine), 20 tactical air-wing equivalents (11 air force, four marine and five navy), and six carrier battle groups. With the addition of a diad of nuclear forces—submarines and cruise-missile-armed bombers—this would mean manpower of 1,185,000 men (army 370,000, air force 315,000, navy 365,000, marine corps 135,000). The total defense budget at the end of a decade of adjustment would be about $158 billion in 1986 dollars. In contrast, the Reagan Administration has requested, for 1986, 21 land divisions and 44 tactical air-wing equivalents, with 13 carrier battle groups; this force requires 2,178,000 men and $314 billion.

Unless we change our course, the defense budget will be close to $750 billion by 1995, and cumulative defense spending during that decade will be over $5.1 trillion. Under a noninterventionist policy, the 1995 defense budget would be two-thirds less, and the cumulative cost over ten years would be under $2.7 trillion. The savings from our present European spending would amount to a greater fraction than the savings from the overall defense budget, since Atlantic-oriented forces would constitute only 26 percent of the non-interventionist program, compared to the current European-oriented forces that constitute 42.5 percent of the present defense program. At the end of a decade of adjustment, there would be no American forces in Europe; but in and around the United States, oriented toward the Atlantic, there would be three (army) divisions, seven tactical air-wing equivalents (five air force and two navy), and three carrier battle groups. Cumulatively, over ten years, instead of spending $2.2 trillion on NATO, we would have spent only $900 billion in that direction.

If we are to cut defense spending significantly, we must change our national strategy and our foreign policy. The only way to save significant sums from the defense budget is to remove large, noticeable units from the force structure. And this would make it necessary, somewhere along the line, to reduce our defensive commitments in the world. Specifically, both of the cardinal elements of the present American national strategy would have to change. Instead of deterrence and alliance, we would pursue war-avoidance and self-reliance. Self-reliance is a response to (as well as a precipitant of) the dissolution of alliances, nuclear proliferation and the practical demise of extended deterrence. Precisely because America’s stance in the world is essentially defensive, rather than aggressive and expansive, we would benefit from a compartmentalization of deadly quarrels between other nations. Compartmentalization must mean the delegation of defensive tasks to regional countries and the acceptance of the results of this, win or lose. We would, over time, accommodate the dissolution of defensive commitments that obligate us to overseas intervention—not just in Europe, but in the western Pacific and the Middle East.

The other phase of this alternative national strategy, war-avoidance, is a response to the diffusion of power, the attainment of nuclear parity by the Soviet Union, and the risk of nuclear destruction to ourselves. It is based on the fact that we can no longer intricately and reliably manipulate or manage conflict. We will always need a strategy that discourages direct nuclear attacks on our homeland or intolerable coercion of our national political choices through nuclear threats. But today our own safety depends on maintaining "crisis stability," where both sides have a strong incentive to avoid striking first with their nuclear weapons. A design for stability must include, among other elements, an unconditional doctrine of no first use of nuclear weapons. And a consistent policy of no first use implies the dissolution of our defensive commitment to NATO.


Because I propose a more restrained national strategy, with smaller forces and defense budgets, that does not mean that I take the "threat" as trivial or nonexistent. On the contrary, the essence of a true noninterventionist position, both historically and logically, is that it takes threats seriously but is prepared to accept some foreign damage, for fundamental reasons that have to do with preserving the integrity of our political, social and economic system from the kinds of distorted effort and misguided control that proceed from far-reaching responses to external challenge.

There are other kinds of answers to the doubts about American disengagement. The alleged unfavorable consequences that we should examine are the ultimate effects on the core of basic American values: the integrity of our constitutional system, the safety of our lives and domestic property, the health of our economy and the quality of our lives. (This definition does not include the indefinite defense of relatively congenial political systems abroad.) The possibility that we would have to confront a final threat to these basic values is remote. Surely it is not the contingent certainty (1.0 probability) conjured up by those who fear any departure from the status quo.

Still another kind of answer to the doubts that follow upon American disengagement would be the demonstration that Europe by itself does indeed have a strong basis for self-defense and therefore could achieve a good probability of deterrence. A seeming contradiction here is really a simple irony: as long as the United States remains the alliance guarantor, it must contribute substantial conventional forces, as well as provide continuous coupling of our nuclear forces for extended deterrence. These specifically American contributions are necessary to satisfy the requisites of alliance, not absolutely necessary to ward off a Soviet attack or pressures.

In the event of an American withdrawal, the most obvious, though least likely, scenario is a calculated large-scale Soviet invasion of Western Europe. A more plausible challenge is that American withdrawal would lay Western Europe open to Soviet pressures and, because of Europe’s sense of impotence and exposure, the outcome would be "Finlandization." True, Finlandization and more intensive establishment of satellites have occurred in cases marked by special circumstances. The real question is: would the model apply to a large, populous, rich, industrially capable, socially whole, politically resolute country with a military force that would have far more than nuisance value—a country, in short, such as West Germany? It is hardly likely. Finlandization requires a willing victim as well as a determined aggressor.

But, if Finlandization is excluded, what would America’s European allies do in the event of our disengagement? Their options range from acquiring national nuclear forces, to improving their conventional defenses, forging a new European military community, adopting unconventional defensive strategies (often suggested are forms of territorial defense or mobilization on the Swedish, Yugoslavian, Swiss or Israeli models, or even less orthodox strategies of denial or attrition), or doing all, or several, or none of the above. Each nation, according to its external and internal situation, would adopt some combination of moves. It is far from certain that West Germany would independently go nuclear; that would worsen its position not only with the Soviet Union but also with its West European partners.

Were Western Europe to coalesce, it could become the second most powerful entity in the world—in theory more powerful than the Soviet Union. Even now, Western Europe has greater population (372 million), more ample economic potential ($2.6 trillion in gross national product), comparable military manpower (over 3.1 million), a respectably competitive military technology, and the calculable nuclear forces of Britain and France. NATO Europe’s aggregate defense spending, however, is markedly inferior ($83 billion).

Indeed, the proposals of military analysts for quick fixes, though designed to improve NATO so that it would be bearable for the United States to remain, ironically hold possibilities for Western Europe without the United States. If NATO’s weaknesses are just beginning to be addressed (the alliance has been maldeployed, stretched thin, immobile, wrongly configured, badly integrated) and, further, if the Soviet Union could have achieved its present military advantage from an inferior production and manpower base and from a weaker economic and social system, then it is not fanciful to imagine that the West European countries—together, or even powerful ones such as West Germany individually—could generate a formidable defense.

Finally, when the question of American disengagement is broached, an automatic rejoinder is that shared values—cultural, political, social, economic—form both the basis of our attachment and the ultimate justification for our continued defensive support. Indeed, it is argued (in an exercise of circular reasoning) that our support itself is a value, a moral worth that transcends any calculus of net utility. But no argument about values is whole, or even clear, unless it is stated from the vantage point of some subject. Whether right or wrong, my argument is a view from the United States. Americans are faced with an increasingly demarcated choice: the salvation of Europe, or their own solvency and safety.

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  • Earl C. Ravenal, a former official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, is a professor of international relations at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. He has written extensively on foreign policy and national security; his most recent book is Defining Defense: The 1985 Military Budget.
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