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Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: The Essays of Zbigniew Brzezinski
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Moscow and the M.L.F.: Hostility and Ambivalence

In the Soviet opposition to the American-sponsored scheme for a Multilateral Force-the NATO nuclear-missile fleet-two themes have been paramount: the M.L.F. is the opening wedge for the German acquisition of nuclear weapons, and the M.L.F. will set in motion the process of nuclear proliferation. According to Soviet spokesmen, the consequences are bound to be dangerous for the peace of the world, and, as if to give credence to these warnings, they have ominously hinted that the "most serious" consequences will follow implementation of this scheme.

Although the issue of German access to nuclear weapons and the matter of proliferation are obviously inter-related problems, the Soviet and East European spokesmen have tended to place more stress on the German danger, both in their public statements and in the attacks on the M.L.F. by their press and radio. This is presumably because of the greater emotional response that can be generated by the very thought of Germans wielding nuclear weapons. The German theme naturally has been stressed particularly heavily by the Czechs and the Poles; their public comments and their official notes to the United States have concentrated heavily on the remilitarization of West Germany, on the building of the national German Army, its growing offensive capacity, and so on. It is noteworthy that the Rumanians, Bulgarians and Hungarians, all historically somewhat more indifferent to the subject of Germany than the Czechs and the Poles, have been markedly less interested in the M.L.F. The more serious Soviet treatments of the problem, as, for instance, in the monthly journal International Affairs, as well as informal comments by Soviet spokesmen, have laid equal stress on the danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons, hinting at the complications that could ensue for both sides, especially with regard to the American-Soviet disarmament negotiations.

In recent months, the Soviet attacks have become more shrill, frequent and even somewhat more threatening in tone. The current Soviet offensive against the M.L.F. raises the question, what is the real Soviet purpose? Is it the same as that proclaimed, namely, to deny West Germany any access to nuclear weapons systems and to stop the process of proliferation, thereby serving the cause of peace? Or is there some hidden and different motive?

It is legitimate to ask this, even though the Soviets might charge that in doing so one is questioning their good faith. Yet if their good faith is not involved, then perhaps their good judgment might be. The Soviet leaders must realize-since it is a matter of public knowledge-that today the European situation is far more complex for the United States than was the case even a decade ago, and that the French decision to pursue its own national nuclear force (following the English precedent) creates a real political alternative for West Germany. The Soviet leaders must also know that within West Germany there is already a powerful political faction, centered in Bavaria, pressing for a Gaullist policy, and that its influence and potential nationalist appeal are not to be dismissed lightly. The Soviet leaders should, therefore, at least consider the possibility that a defeat of the M.L.F. will not mean the maintenance of the status quo, but an irresistible German drive for its own nuclear force or, alternatively, a Franco-German nuclear enterprise, linking together for the first time in a joint military venture the two European nations with the most distinguished history of martial achievements.

The Soviets must know that at the present time NATO's tactical missiles and strike aircraft are under the so-called "two-key system" and, given the existing political pressures in Western Europe, it might be expanded to include Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (M.R.B.M.s) unless the development of the M.L.F. preëmpts that probability. Under the "two-key system," allied countries own and man the missiles, while the warheads are controlled jointly by the United States and the country where the missiles are placed. This arrangement comes much closer to the national deterrent idea than does the M.L.F.


One possible answer to the question concerning Soviet motives in opposing the M.L.F. can be called the extreme Machiavellian interpretation. According to it, the Soviets do realize the consequences of the failure of the M.L.F. and they welcome them. That is why they also frequently tell the West Europeans that the M.L.F. is an American scheme for the perpetuation of U.S. monopoly, thereby cynically playing on European nationalist feelings. In their view, a resurgent, militarist Germany will, first of all, do more than all of Khrushchev's present and past efforts to resolidify the Soviet bloc, now torn asunder by nationalist conflicts. The Poles, the Czechs and the others, threatened by a militant and nuclear- armed Germany or Franco-Germany, will have no choice but to flock to Moscow for their protection. The Soviet people will also rally more closely around their leaders.

Secondly, a resurgent nuclear-armed Germany will inevitably disunite the West. It will drive England and Italy into neutralism, and might even give Paris some second thoughts. One consequence might be to push the United States into a posture of direct conflict with Bonn, thereby putting America and the Soviet Union on the same side against the continental West Europeans. Alternatively, it might drive the United States out of Europe. Clearly all of this would be most desirable from the Soviet point of view. Such an extreme Machiavellian interpretation can even draw on historical analogy: the Soviet attitude toward the rise of Hitler was very much of that sort. Acting on the theory of "the worse, the better," Moscow opposed Hitler's rise only verbally, while instructing the German Communist Party not to support the Social Democrats in their efforts to stop the Nazis.

The extreme Machiavellian interpretation presupposes a high degree of recklessness and cynicism in the Soviet approach to the M.L.F. and discounts any sincerity in the proclaimed Soviet fears of Germany. If that is correct, there is nothing to be done but to go ahead with the M.L.F., ignoring altogether the Soviet concerns. Yet this interpretation is not entirely satisfactory. For one thing, it simply ignores the recent historical experience of Russia and Eastern Europe, particularly during World War II; it is most unlikely that this ordeal did not leave its mark on Khrushchev's and Gomulka's patterns of thought. Furthermore, if it were correct to suppose that the Soviet leaders cynically and recklessly see political advantage in a nuclear-armed West Germany, then a purely national German nuclear force would serve these Machiavellian Soviet objectives even better. But both the Soviets and the East Europeans have made it amply clear that they would regard that as nothing short of a calamity.

The fact is that fear of Germany in the East is a reality in the same way that the preoccupation of many Americans with Cuba is a reality-except that the Russians, having only recently lost 25 million people in a war with Germany, have somewhat more cause to be concerned about the 70 million technologically advanced Germans than perhaps we do about the 6 million Cubans. The real and deeply felt concern thus blends with other Soviet political objectives, some of which correspond less with the proclaimed Soviet stand; and together they produce a Soviet policy that may be labeled the mixed-motive interpretation.


There is some evidence to suggest that recent Soviet efforts to establish a bilateral American-Soviet relationship are closely related to the increased Soviet fear of a German-French alliance, inevitably directed at the present status quo in Europe. To counter that, the Soviet leaders would like to achieve an American-Soviet co-sponsorship of the present division of Europe, thereby gaining time for the reconsolidation of the East while setting in motion new dissensions in the West. The quest for a bilateral relationship with the United States has made the Soviet leaders rethink their long-standing objective of driving the United States out of Europe; they can no longer be sure that success in this would actually benefit them, and the hesitant and fumbling Soviet approach to West European problems during the last several years reflects continued indecision on this score.

Notwithstanding this ambivalent attitude toward the United States, a standing component of Soviet policy is its opposition to any American sharing of nuclear weapons with the continental Europeans and its determination to obstruct any Western measures which aim toward greater unity. When in late 1959 it was proposed under the Norstad Plan that NATO become the fourth nuclear power (and some suggested variants even provided for coördinated national nuclear forces), the Soviet response was very negative. A. Arzumanyan, the Director of the influential Institute of World Economy and International Relations, described the Norstad Plan as "a compact between the most aggressive and reactionary American top brass and West German militarism." Some Soviet commentators implied that in the Norstad Plan they saw a double threat-the actual and direct spread of nuclear weapons, including to Germany, and the potential resolution of internal Western conflicts. Initial Soviet comments on the M.L.F. were somewhat milder; it was seen primarily as an effort to reduce Western political bickering and more specifically to forestall Paris' wooing of Bonn. In retrospect, it seems clear that at least in part the Soviet willingness to change its previous attitude and to sign the test-ban agreement was connected with the calculation that it would force the abandonment of the M.L.F. (as well as perhaps promote some new Western dissensions). Only as the M.L.F. moved closer to fruition was the Soviet campaign against it stepped up. It reached a new peak in the middle of this year with the bitter attacks on Erhard and the Soviet note to the United States of July 11, 1964, threatening "severe and perhaps irreparable consequences."

There appears to be some tension between the Soviet desire not to drive America altogether out of Europe, thereby leaving a vacuum which Moscow thinks inescapably will be filled by de Gaulle and Strauss, and the obvious Soviet advantage in keeping the West in a state of fragmentation. As the M.L.F. could become an instrument for coördinating the Western military effort in the decisive branch of nuclear weaponry and for forging even closer political ties between Europe and America along the lines of the Atlantic Community concept (albeit for the time without France), the Soviet leaders see an immediate stake in strongly opposing it. The emotional implications of even indirect German access to the nuclear club then become useful in stimulating opposition in Western Europe, within the Labor Party, or among the potential neutralists in Scandinavia and Italy.

For the time being, it is this short-range and mischievous interest in Western disunity that appears to be the chief Soviet stake in preventing the M.L.F., and it over-rides the long-range genuine fear of Germany. A prolonged period of internal Western bickering is certainly the optimum condition from the standpoint of the Kremlin. The Soviet leaders may presumably calculate that there is no immediate danger of a sudden German veering toward Paris and of a defiant German pursuit of an independent national nuclear deterrent. Therefore, they can afford to oppose the M.L.F. and even put their opposition to good use in terms of inter-Communist politics. In this respect, the mixed-motive and the Machiavellian interpretation overlap. The German threat is always helpful in gaining greater adhesion from the Poles and the Czechs, and the opposition to proliferation justifies the Soviet nuclear monopoly in the Communist world. Multilateral nuclear arrangements in the West would eventually embarrass the Soviet monopolists, but it is doubtful that the Soviets would wish to share their know-how and devices with the Poles, the Hungarians, etc., not to speak of the Chinese.

On balance, it would seem that the Soviet attitude toward the M.L.F. is thus not so much a matter of total recklessness and cynicism as of shortsightedness and a combination of ambivalence about the United States position in Europe, of a basic hostility to Western unity, and of real concern about Germany. The ambivalence makes it more than likely that the present détente will not be affected by the M.L.F.; the Soviet stake in not having America back the West Germans and the French in a more vigorously anti-Soviet policy is too great to be affected by the M.L.F. In fact, one is reminded here of the various Soviet threats after the collapse of the E.D.C. of what would follow West German rearmament. Just as the Soviets have warned recently of "most serious consequences" that would follow the implementation of the M.L.F., in December 1954, a special communiqué issued by the Soviet Union and the East European states warned that the rearmament of West Germany "would be an act aimed against the preservation of peace and making for another war in Europe." Yet because of the broader Soviet interest at the time in developing the so-called "spirit of Geneva," the rearmament of Germany was followed by ... the Austrian Peace Treaty. The reopening of the Berlin crisis or any other overt Soviet action ending the present détente will be based on broader calculations than just a reaction to the M.L.F. Similarly, Soviet hostility to Western unity has to be taken for granted. There is no reason to expect the Soviet Union not to oppose the M.L.F. or any other multilateral Western arrangement.


However, because in the past the Soviet record in analyzing developments in Western Europe has not been notable for its perception, there is merit in further discussions with the Soviets and the East Europeans about the M.L.F. in the hope of assuaging at least those aspects of their hostility that stem from genuine fears and from a misreading of developments. In talking to them, it would be especially desirable to draw on arguments derived from actual Soviet experience; mere American assertions that the M.L.F. is designed to prevent nuclear proliferation, particularly to Germany, can be dismissed by Moscow-from its very different perspective-as inherently dishonest or simply naïve. Yet Russian fears, if genuine, exist already in respect to the two-key system. The point which Moscow ought to be made to understand better is that the M.L.F. provides less national access than the two-key system, and as long as Western Europe is exposed to Soviet M.R.B.M.s there will be demands for a comparable West European deterrent. The only question is under what and whose control.

Recent Soviet experience offers two mutually reinforcing avenues of argumentation that may strike closer to home. First of all, Moscow makes much of German rearmament, and the West German Army is cited daily as a threat to peace. Because of their emphasis on this, the Soviet leaders should be reminded of their earlier opposition to the E.D.C. There are strong parallels between that opposition and the present attacks on the M.L.F. It is doubtful that at the time the Soviet motives were of the "extreme Machiavellian" variety; rather, then as now, they were probably mixed: desire for less Western unity, fear that the E.D.C. would prompt German rearmament, hope that its failure would perpetuate divisions in the West and avoid the creation of a German Army. The Russians now know how wrong they were. The collapse of the E.D.C. led straight to the formation of a German Army. If their concern over German rearmament is real, perhaps they occasionally entertain some second thoughts about their opposition to the E.D.C. And if that is the case, then perhaps they might give the M.L.F. a second look.

Even more effectively, because it is still a live issue, the Soviets might be asked to reflect on their recent and unsuccessful attempts at alliance management, particularly with respect to China. This should not be approached as a matter for Western glee, but as providing an analogy for the purpose of drawing a lesson useful to both sides. The Soviet experience shows that defying the desire of one's allies for a larger share of the decision-making and of military power can be very unrewarding. Today the Chinese are openly striving to achieve a national nuclear force, and the Soviet Union cannot stop them. If the Soviet leaders are seriously concerned about proliferation, and especially about the eventual German acquisition of nuclear weapons, they should ponder their failure to cope with the Chinese. The Germans are certainly better prepared technologically for acquiring such weapons, they have potential political and military backing in France, and there is already a "Chinese faction" within the ruling Christian Democratic party in the persons of Strauss et al. Moscow should realize that its disregard of these pressures simply reinforces the suspicion that its policies toward the M.L.F. are in fact governed by purely Machiavellian calculations, and that in reality it does not mind Germany taking a "Chinese" path. A temperate evocation of the Soviets' own experience with Peking may drive home the lesson-which Marx also taught- that frustrated nationalism becomes simply more nationalistic; that nationalism satisfied and controlled by multilateral arrangements becomes internationalism.

The M.L.F., far from weakening the Soviet opposition to the Chinese, even buttresses the present Soviet stand and in the very unlikely event of a reconciliation could even provide the basis for continued Soviet opposition to a Chinese national nuclear deterrent. By attacking the M.L.F. as nothing but a device for spreading nuclear weapons to our allies, the Soviets strengthen the Chinese claim for Communist national deterrent forces and in effect embarrass themselves. By seeing the M.L.F. for what in fact it is-a multilateral arrangement-the Soviets further justify their earlier refusal to aid the Chinese.

It would also be important to talk with the East Europeans, particularly the Czechs and the Poles, who have shown most concern with the implications of the M.L.F. for West Germany, and who have increasing, if still limited, leverage on the Soviet Union. Their stake in the situation is far simpler and less ambitious than the Soviets'; it is to assure their own security. Hence it would be useful to impress them with the fact that they should not accept uncritically the Soviet interpretation of the M.L.F., nor Soviet policies toward Germany as a whole. They should be asked whether they would prefer West Germany to own M.R.B.M.s under the "two-key system," rather than the M.L.F. Without entering into the complex and necessarily speculative issue of the nature of Soviet motives, one could recall to the Czechs and the Poles that if the E.D.C. had come into being there would be today no national German Army. The M.L.F. is simply an atomic equivalent of the E.D.C.

Furthermore, the Poles and the Czechs might be reminded that the primary consequence of the two postwar Soviet offensives in Germany-namely, the two Berlin crises in the late forties and the late fifties-has been to strengthen West Germany's military position. Increased Soviet pressure on the West simply led in each case to a new push in West German rearmament. This may or may not have been intended by the Soviets, but it is doubtful that the outcome has been beneficial for East European security.

That the East Europeans may in fact have a more realistic understanding of the situation is suggested by Gomulka's proposal of December 1963 for the denuclearization of Central Europe, which did not make the abandonment of the M.L.F. a precondition (although the Poles held that German ports would have to be closed to M.L.F. ships); parallel East German statements, echoing the Soviet line, were far more rigid, and warned that the M.L.F. would further reduce the chances of German reunification. Presumably, the Poles realized that the M.L.F. does in fact reduce somewhat the chances of Germany acquiring an independent national nuclear force, and for the East Europeans this is most important.

Yet when all that has been said, it is still necessary to come back to the elusive historical-psychological dimension of the problem. Europeans find it hard to understand why Americans are so concerned about Cuba-and we often feel that the Europeans are letting us down by not sharing our view of Castro. We feel strongly that missiles in Castro's hands would be a threat to us and to peace; the argument is doubtless valid, even though Cuba is small and has never waged war on the United States. That cannot be said about Germany in relation to Russia and Eastern Europe. It is therefore essential to dispel legitimate fears. The United States stands to lose very little by making a public pledge that it would oppose any attempt by West Germany to transform its participation in the M.L.F. into an independent nuclear force; this would merely reinforce the point made by President Kennedy in his Izvestia interview of November 1961. Some M.L.F. participants which do not now have national nuclear forces-as for instance, Germany-might wish to file a formal declaration with the United Nations, stating that under no circumstances would they seek an independent nuclear deterrent, outside of multilateral control and manning. Neither step is likely to reassure fully the Soviets and the East Europeans, who know that in political affairs words have a short life span, but it would show that we recognize and respect the Soviet fear that the M.L.F. might evolve into national nuclear forces. Public and solemn pledges would become an additional obstacle to national proliferation and would underline the twin purpose of the M.L.F.: to provide a collective nuclear defense of the West without promoting the spread of national nuclear forces.

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