A New and contentious concept has seeped into the transatlantic dialogue in recent times. It has been suggested that the United States may "decouple" itself from its strategic commitment to Western Europe in the future, or perhaps is in the process of doing so now. The codification of mutual deterrence in the SALT agreements of a year ago, combined with the earlier loss of U.S. nuclear superiority, is seen as having considerably eroded the remaining credibility of the American nuclear guarantee to Europe. Some go further to find in the agreements an implicit understanding between the two superpowers that neither will henceforth initiate the use of nuclear weapons in any circumstances short of the direct defense of its own territory. Arid even thoughtful Europeans who still observe the litany of faith in the nuclear guarantee do so with diminished conviction and look for opportunities through coöperative European actions to compensate for a substantial degree of American disengagement.[i]
The issue is, of course, further complicated by growing transatlantic dissonance on trade and monetary issues, which threatens to poison the political-security relationship. Increasingly, the economic interests of the European Economic Community (EEC) and the United States are seen as pointing more to rivalry than partnership in the future. The emphasis of American leaders on bilateral relations with the Soviet Union and China confirms for many Europeans the loosening of the alignments associated with the postwar balance between East and West. And even the general reassurance in Henry Kissinger's recent epistle to the Europeans calling for a new Atlantic Charter included a reference to "radically different strategic conditions," the full implications of which "have yet to be faced."
That the security relationship between the United States and Europe is in a process of change has long been clear. This is well understood by the Western governments involved in the talks on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) and at the preparatory phase of the Conference on Security and Coöperation in
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