The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
EVERYWHERE there is doubt whether the old Great-Power system still exists as it always did. Now it is natural enough for statesmen to hold on to yesterday's concepts even in times of change. The politician gets accustomed to a certain lingo just as the violinist does to a certain stroke with his bow, or the carpenter to the rhythm of his hammer. He supposes, too, and with reason, that familiar words may move the soul of the people the way they have always done. Yet recently many of the most familiar words--security and peace and power, words which hardly any policy can get along without--have lost some of their weight. People all over the world want the same things, perhaps even more sincerely and fundamentally than ever before. But when politicians refer to those things in the same terms that were effective in the past, using the same voice and the same intonation, many people begin asking themselves whether this really does justice to the demands of our time.
Doubt on this score is particularly strong in Germany, for here the sense that times are changing is very acute. Because their country is divided, the Germans are forced to live simultaneously in two worlds and thus are affected by everything that occurs in either. Inevitably the shocks of the past years have reopened the deep wound of their division and have made them more acutely conscious of it than they had been in a long time. Furthermore, the fact that the free world is on the threshold of missile and atomic armaments faces it with monumental strategic and technical decisions, and this in turn means that the Government of the German Federal Republic is suddenly pushed into strategic decisions for which the nation as a whole is hardly prepared. Simultaneously a new wave of terror and church persecutions in East Germany is arousing even those in West Germany who had meantime settled down quite comfortably.
However, these specifically German events are not alone in making the ground tremble; they gain their real importance through their connection with world-shaking developments.
One of the excitements of writing history is to track down the exact moment and the very events which have made men realize that a new age has begun. When the historian of the future tries to do this for our times he will probably be surprised to find how long it took the realization to dawn even on educated people. Thus the rise of the Soviet Union to the first rank of power, with everything which this implies, was long denied; many people simply refused to recognize the corresponding loss of power for the West and tried to spare their wounded ego by self-deception. Similarly there was hesitation in realizing that Asia and Africa, where Western influence had so long been predominant, were steadily gaining importance in their own right, partly on account of technological developments, partly through a psychological and intellectual evolution. And each successive development of the nuclear age, even when predicted, has found public opinion unprepared.
The reactions of the average European toward these and other world-wide revolutionary changes were conservative. It was comfortable to conclude that the security provided by the Western community would continue. Yet this was shown to be a miscalculation when the Soviet Union upset the uneasy balance and succeeded in breaking into the Western security system on the flanks, particularly in the Near East. Conservative power arrangements proved insufficient to preserve the balance, let alone change it in favor of the free world as Western thinking had expected.
The instruments of power which the Western nations are emphasizing today are still mainly of a military nature. Compared to what they spend for defense their expenditures for intellectual or economic assistance are insignificant. Furthermore, the accent has been on efforts to formalize the Western system in binding agreements and pacts wherever possible. This procedure is highly traditional, like the old type of navy which relied for its strength on impressive battleships. Flexibility, adaptability, quick and surprising manœvre can hardly be expected from such ponderous structures.
It may be said in favor of this policy that it has accurately reflected public opinion in the countries concerned, where the drive for security, stability and freedom from worry has been very strong. Many elections have been won by pointing to the spectacle of pact systems sailing proudly along, and many appropriations of funds have been extracted in the same way, even from stingy parliaments. Yet is this the method to beat a flexible and aggressive opponent? Specifically, does it appeal to nations which are not conservative and prosperous? Does it take account of the nationalistic forces in Asia and Africa which are of a different mind from the patriarchal upper classes? Agreements and preparations to meet a threatening attack from a third party are useful; but is a pact good when it commits the partners to political and economic actions in distant areas? To state the proposition in positive terms: the alliance has value and importance as an instrument of military security in a strictly limited sense; but the attempt to activate or reactivate pacts of a military nature by making them serve political and ideological purposes places undesirable and unnecessary limits on the political and ideological potentialities of the free world.
The free world possesses assets in ideas and in economic strength beyond those represented in the membership of the various military pacts. Consequently, it would be a grievous mistake for the free world to take up such problems as the construction of irrigation systems, hospitals or technical institutes in Asia and Africa through existing pacts. An elementary rule ought to be never to give nations in those areas the impression that the West supports them mainly because it wants their help in defense. Otherwise the opponents of the West will easily make it seem that the economic and technical aid which they offer in competition does not have the strings which are in fact attached.
It seems necessary, then, for the West to undertake a new enterprise of coöperative action on behalf of all the free nations of Asia and Africa, completely divorced from political and strategic patterns. If this international effort were carefully separated from all alliances and pacts, allied and neutral countries alike could participate and contribute their share. Particular importance should be attached to the inclusion of both donors and recipients of economical and technical aid in the common enterprise.
Granted that although the resulting changes might in general be very much in the Western interest, they also might lessen the strength of existing alliances. Now it has become an established attitude in Western capitals over the years that any proposed change in foreign policy was to be considered first of all from the point of view of whether or not it would alter the pact system in any way. If there was a suspicion that this might be the case, some Western political circles reacted as if a Geiger counter had touched a radioactive spot. Any change that threatened to subtract from any alliance in even the smallest degree was rejected. The dominant motive was the conservative aim of grimly preserving the status quo.
For those who felt this way even the revolutionary tremors that kept occurring again and again during the past five years in the Soviet orbit were almost more a shock than an encouragement. The uprisings in Germany in June 1953, then the overturn in Poland, followed by the fight for freedom in Hungary in 1956, did not really rouse their enthusiasm or warn them to work toward a quicker change of things or even make them realize that their own attitudes and ideas might here and there have failed. On the contrary, fear could be detected behind their applause--fear that the entire system of power in which they had put their trust might be shaken. The fact was that the attitude of the Western world was basically too conservative to feel any challenge to fresh action. People did not dare question whether their own planning had been developed adequately to take account of such eventualities. There was--as always--a mute hope that once again they might get by, even at the gigantic price of having to fail in the face of a fight for freedom.
Since a conflict in Europe would almost certainly lead to a major conflagration, and this would leave the entire Continent a graveyard, military action has been and will be impossible. The question therefore arises whether, military action being excluded, political action is possible. If not, the policies and methods of the free world are bound to imply the maintenance of the status quo and thus indirectly guarantee rather than upset the rule of Communism up to its present borders.
Obviously--and this is generally accepted in Europe--no policies or actions can be contemplated which would not maintain a firm balance of power on the Continent. For many years to come such a balance will not be possible unless the sea Powers, and particularly the United States, remain firmly established there. Whatever new initiatives are contemplated, then, will always have to be tested against this basic prerequisite.
But events in Central and Eastern Europe from 1953 to 1957 have clearly shown that the gradual evolution of liberty, and therefore also the reunification of Germany, are hardly conceivable so long as Soviet forces remain there. It is still an open question, one which probably even the historians will be unable to answer, whether a bold political initiative by the West in the autumn of 1956 proposing negotiations for a mutual withdrawal of forces from Central Europe could have brought aid and succor to the Hungarians and the Poles. But as they look back on this period, and as they look ahead also, many Europeans feel that only this kind of approach can lead to the rise of freedom and the eventual decline of Communism in Europe.
Possibly such a policy would involve putting certain limitations on existing pacts. Can this be considered without endangering the entire security system of the free world, and particularly the presence of American and British forces in Europe? The answer will depend on what the basic aims and purposes of the present pacts really are. The Atlantic Pact seems to be looked upon as something more than an instrument of military assistance and defensive preparation. It is a necessary means (the argument runs) for keeping the United States under an obligation to come to the aid of Western Europe in case of attack and for keeping Germany from engaging in dangerous adventures.
As far as Germany is concerned, she no longer has any possibility of playing the balance-of-power game even if she would. She no longer is in a position to choose and exchange partners irrespective of their strength or ideology. Compared with the Soviet Union, which has become a world Power, Germany is now a medium Power, unable to hold her own if she were ever to cut her ties with the free world and change over into the Eastern camp. No responsible group in Germany doubts that such action would deprive her of her independence. Nobody, therefore, takes seriously the lingering suspicion that Germany will ever join the Eastern bloc or even go halfway by indulging in a balance-of-power policy. Consequently this reason for keeping Germany under restraint is now quite unreal.
In the same way, doubt about the reliability of the United States as a firm and determined partner exists only in those European quarters where it is deliberately nourished. Europe as a whole understands the difficulties of recognizing and implementing common interests across vast geographical distances. Nevertheless, nobody fears that even those free countries in Europe which are not included in the Atlantic Pact would be left to their fate if their liberty and integrity were threatened. In these fateful years the average European seems to have learnt to be more sober in judgment than those who rely on common façades of power to reassure themselves regarding the reality of common interests and beliefs. Nobody in Europe, for instance, thinks that if Vienna, Stockholm or Berne were to call for help against aggression the appeal would be in vain. Everyone is convinced that common interests and common ethical standards would bring the Powers of the free world into the field even if the bridge of paragraphs did not exist.
However, in order for a feeling of community to become an intellectual and political reality and also to act as a strategic fact in an emergency requires the existence of a clear and firm public opinion in the nations concerned. Is the free world really so lacking in this responsible public opinion that it has to pay the enormous price of a cumbersome system and slow decisions?
The essential is to attain freedom of action, and this can be achieved in Europe or in Asia only by forming a close partnership between policy-making groups and the people, based on increasing public knowledge and understanding of international affairs. If this partnership can be achieved many conservative ways of conducting foreign policy can be dispensed with. For one thing, governments can trust their peoples to know the score in emergencies even if they are called on to participate in events in distant places and even if there are no written treaty ties or firm commitments. There also will be an end to the embarrassing efforts to preserve alliance systems from withering away by extending them into political, economic and cultural realms. Of course pacts are useful in their limited field. But the task of policy in a divided world is not just to preserve the status quo; it is to shape the destiny of communities. A policy which does not have the strength to effect changes remains mere declamation. Measured by this yardstick, the policy of the Western Powers has substance only within their own sphere of influence.
In connection with the question whether the accepted policy is capable of doing more than maintain the status quo we reach the reasons for some of the latent diversities of interest between Germany and her partners in the Western Alliance. The division in the world, including the division in Europe, is unpleasant to almost all those partners, besides imposing a moral burden on them. But they can endure it. The Germans cannot endure it. Any symptoms that might indicate the contrary are misleading --at least in the long run. True, a few Germans find themselves so comfortably off in the Federal Republic that they can ignore the fact that their country is divided. After all, many Germans after 1933 closed their eyes to the existence of concentration camps. But it would be a bad service to the Germans today to encourage them to forget the 20,000,000 compatriots under Communist rule and settle down apart from them as comfortably as possible. That would be to shrug off the responsibility of citizenship without which no stable German democracy can exist.
The overwhelming majority of the German people are fully dedicated to the fact that their divided country has a common fate. The real trouble is that they are in the difficult and uncomfortable position of not knowing any means by which unification could be brought about. In these circumstances some may eventually lose heart, thus leaving the field to some future form of radicalism, left or right. But this can happen only if the civic responsibility of the moderate forces which today dominate the country should falter.
For years our policy was based on the assumption that the Western world's power and weight could be decisively increased, partly through a six-nation merger in Europe, partly through the Atlantic Pact. In other words, the West would become so strong and cohesive that a Russian retreat would be inevitable. For a time this way of thinking was understandable; today it is anachronistic.
The discovery that it no longer was feasible to achieve a sufficient technological and military superiority to alter the balance of power between East and West decisively was bound to be shocking. For the Western world the shock has been wholesome. Will the Soviet Union now talk itself into the same sort of wishful thinking that the West is just beginning to abandon? That is a serious question, but for the moment it affects our policy toward the Soviet world only indirectly. At the NATO conference in December at least preliminary steps were taken toward a way of thinking based on the reality of the present nuclear and global balance. Though only a beginning it is encouraging; for what has been so depressing in recent years has been the shocking discrepancy between the free world's gigantic expectations that the situation would change substantially in its favor and the highly limited possibilities that anything of the sort would occur.
Under the sobering influence of this interim period we face the question how to achieve solutions of a limited nature in the overall conflict not on the basis of changing the East-West balance but on the chance of preserving it. Here, of course, the German question is a vital factor. When most of the solutions officially put forward are examined seriously they are seen to be based on the hypothesis that one side would allow itself to be forced into accepting a substantial reduction in power by consenting to the substantial strengthening of the power of its opponent. Now, for the first time in a long while, there is at least discussion about the possibility of a compromise. At least some thought seems to be given to the possibility that all the great Powers should withdraw from Central Europe. This, of course, would make sense and increase international stability only if at the same time the Germans were given the right of self-determination.
As far as can be gathered from Khrushchev's hints and the proposals made by Polish Foreign Minister Rapacki, the present Soviet plan is to demilitarize Central Europe--an "atom-free" zone--and thus ease tensions locally. Simultaneously the two German semi-states would become international treaty partners, trustees, one might say, of this zone. The effect obviously would be to harden the division of Germany instead of ameliorating it. It can be argued that, despite the serious disadvantages involved, the ensuing military relaxation of tension might lead to a political relaxation. On the other hand, the Communist régime in East Berlin would acquire the guaranty of the Western Powers--even of West Germany.
Obviously a guaranty of the Communist régime against the will of the German people is not feasible. The idea of a military withdrawal from Central Europe therefore hinges on a political agreement about the German question. Unless the people of the free part of Germany are to be forced to accept the humiliation and self-stultification involved in collaborating to perpetuate the enslavement of their East German compatriots, the great Powers will have to reach an agreement both about a military withdrawal from the Elbe and about the status of the German territory after the withdrawal.
Recent history provides examples of how a withdrawal might be carried out. The procedure would seem less dramatic, more matter-of-fact, if the land troops of the Powers concerned were to leave gradually over a period of several years and not all at one time. This would also provide an opportunity for the United States and Great Britain to establish suitable bases for their remaining special units west of the Rhine and south of the Alps. Furthermore, as when the Allies withdrew from the Rhine after World War I, the evacuation might be by stages and not all at once. In any case, it can be expected that by the end of the period of withdrawal long-range missiles will have become of such decisive importance to both sides that advance positions in Germany will have lost much of their military value.[i]
There is always the possibility, of course, that a disengagement of forces in Central Europe would in effect create a screen behind which small "proxy" aggressions might occur. The German Federal Army might not like to have to face these alone. Although attacks of this nature upon a newly-formed European political and security system may seem unlikely, apprehensions on this score are bound to exist for a time. There are three possible ways of dealing with them. One is for the Federal Army to be strong enough to deal promptly with a "burglary" or to put out a "fire." The second possibility is to ask the United Nations for an international force, composed if possible of units from several small--possibly neutral--states, to watch over the present demarcation line on the Elbe as well as to safeguard reunited Berlin during the interim period and up to the conclusion of a final peace treaty with a reunited Germany. The third possibility is that in the course of future talks and negotiations about disarmament the Powers will agree on some kind of limitation both in the strength and composition of forces in the area concerned. Clearly, nuclear disarmament in a vital area like Europe would be inadequate if it were not matched by an agreed and internationally controlled limitation of conventional forces as well.
Admittedly the proposed course leaves aside the question of the German-Polish border and many further problems. But no practicable policy can solve all questions at once. Some must be postponed.
From the free world standpoint the procedure undoubtedly presents a number of disadvantages. The United States and Great Britain would have to evacuate extensive bases between the Elbe and the Rhine and content themselves primarily with air fields and missile ramps further west. It would be difficult for them to retain strong land forces on the Continent. The Federal German Army, limited in size and equipment, would be left to patrol the territory between the Baltic and the Alps. It cannot be denied that this situation would have certain disadvantages. But if the withdrawal of Soviet land forces could be gained, then the road to freedom would eventually be opened to Central and Southeastern Europe. Probably such a development would have to be linked with firm military arrangements about the limitation and control of armaments in Central Europe. It is at least worth thinking of extending this area both to Scandinavia, where Denmark and Norway have unilaterally renounced their claim to nuclear arms, and also to the Southeast, where at least Hungary and possibly Rumania would have to be included, provided Bavaria, and with it the Alps, were to come into the scheme on the Western side.
Germany as a leading technical nation would be able to make a substantial contribution to the stability of Europe and to international security if, as a free and united country, she were prepared to accept limitations of her defense as far as this could be done without infringing on her own security and on that of her neighbors.
Furthermore, the achievement of both a political evolution and a military détente in Europe would considerably improve the chance of preventing a nuclear armaments race from spreading across the world. We see indications that additional nations have ambitions to achieve "nuclear sovereignty." As matters stand today, the "fourth power problem" does not simply threaten to disrupt any security system that might eventually be achieved; it also threatens the position of the major Powers.
The Russians might consider it in their interest to accept a "package" agreement about political and strategic questions in Europe which would include a provision prohibiting nuclear weapons from being distributed to non-nuclear states. It would relieve them of the embarrassing prospect of having to hand over such weapons sooner or later to nations in the Soviet orbit--for example, to Hungary and Poland as well as to China--a development which would almost certainly end by disrupting the entire Soviet system of power. For these reasons it can be taken as probable that the Soviets are even more interested in reaching an international atomic agreement than is the West, strong as is the pressure of Western public opinion.
Thus statesmanship has ample opportunity for action provided it possesses the requisite imagination and courage. Very little can be achieved, however, if the Western Powers lack confidence in each other and if they stick rigidly to the idea that negotiations not only are morally suspect but are doomed from the beginning to be fruitless. Those who refuse to negotiate are left with only the choice between open force--which the nuclear situation rules out--and tacit acceptance of the status quo. Of all immoral acts in the face of Communist dictatorship such an acceptance would be the most immoral. As far as Germany is concerned, it is rejected as unrealistic and intolerable.
Hence, negotiations. But who will negotiate and how will the negotiations be conducted? In the framework of a policy which had ceased being conservative and had become active, the question of who will negotiate depends largely upon what will be negotiated. If the subject is mainly atomic, everything will depend upon an agreement between Washington and Moscow. And a failure there would render a whole series of other negotiations impossible. If that agreement is reached, no third or fourth nation can seriously contest it. This is why there is a tendency at present, particularly in Germany, to believe that the Western world should give the United States the necessary power-of-attorney to make an effort with the Soviet Union to stop nuclear competition. It is true that bilateral talks can always have unfortunate implications for third parties. But compared to the horrors toward which mankind is drifting so long as the race in nuclear weapons continues unchecked such risks are minor and must be taken.
From the European point of view in general, and from that of Germany in particular, it is necessary that diplomatic and not merely propagandistic talks begin between East and West. This would offer an occasion for the Germans to renounce atomic armament. It would allow the German problem to be limited to the narrow area of Central Europe without obscuring its connection with the question of disarmament. It would permit military and political changes in Central Europe without upsetting the balance between East and West.
Even if by extraordinary efforts German reunification could be brought about, this would by no means imply immediate European reunification. On the other hand, European reunification is unthinkable without German reunification. There has to be a beginning at some point, and there is an advantage in starting with limited problems instead of global ones. Some believe that the German question can be solved only in the context of larger issues. Others hold that the pervading malaise can be cured only if man himself changes his nature. Both views are based on moral more than political ideas. Should a chance of solving the East-West conflict appear suddenly tomorrow--so much the better. But if our destiny does not include such a miraculous event we shall have to make a start along a more modest course. This leads by way of negotiations with a limited goal through successive phases of diplomatic preparation and political exchanges to a gradual understanding of each other's point of view; and only at the end, if all is well prepared, can there be conferences as the last stage on a long road.
The basic requirement is for a common program of the Western world which will aim at a new power system without upsetting the balance in Europe. The United States as a non-European Power will have to participate. For it to withdraw from Europe entirely in the near future would be a catastrophe. Yet traditional weapons have already diminished so much in importance that some rearrangement obviously becomes feasible. If the Soviet Union shows an interest a hopeful star will rise. If it refuses, the free world will nonetheless have gained the kind of initiative and effectiveness which it cannot any longer hope to achieve by simply sticking to traditional methods.
War, said both the President of the German Federal Republic and the President of the Bundestag at the beginning of the year, has lost its function as the continuation of policy by other means. This is true. Therefore our policy must at last disengage its concept and actions from the handicap of predominantly military thinking. At no point along the line between the free world and the Communist world can a far-reaching and acceptable policy be shaped so well as on the soil of Germany. It would indeed be an historic act of reconciliation if following such unspeakable sufferings and in the face of such infinite dangers the nucleus of a new political order were formed at the very spot where chaos had originated.
[i] The foregoing does no more than indicate the direction in which a solution is to be sought. It is not a "plan" to take the place of an active foreign policy.