The problem of including medium-range nuclear missiles in an eventual SALT III negotiation is bound to become, in the coming months and probably years, one of the basic issues between the Western nations and the Soviet Union on the one hand, and within the Atlantic Alliance on the other, as well as a problem of internal policy for a good many European nations.

This, in itself, is already a new phenomenon. Up till recently, questions related to doctrine of use or the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe have not been subjects of public debate and, on the whole, were decided upon by the United States. Only France, at the beginning of the 1960s, made objections to the concept of flexible response (although not proposing another solution). But since she left the integrated military organization in 1966, it looks as if the most perfect harmony of views has prevailed in the Defense Planning Committee or the Nuclear Planning Group of the Alliance.

As for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, although they concern one leg of the triad on which European security is founded (conventional forces, theater nuclear forces, and strategic forces) and the most important component of deterrence, the consultations in NATO, from 1969 right to the present, have been more in the nature of a sharing of information by the U.S. representatives than of a discussion among equally interested partners. The Europeans have in the main left it to Washington to take care of the interests of the West as long as forward-based systems were excluded-that is, the aircraft stationed in Western Europe (land-based or on carriers) but capable, in terms of range, of reaching the territory of the Soviet Union, and above all the strategic nuclear systems of France and the United Kingdom.

In the last two or three years, however, the issue has moved into the so-called gray area, of possible additional weapons deployed within the territory of the West European members of NATO but capable of reaching the territory of the Soviet Union, whether in the form of medium-range land-based ballistic missiles or in the form of cruise missiles launched from the ground or from aircraft. These systems are in fact partially embraced within the present SALT II negotiations, specifically in connection with limitations on the deployment of cruise missiles during the life of the protocol which is part of the package. To this writer's knowledge there has not been one official comment in Europe over the provision limiting the range of land-based cruise missiles to 600 kilometers. Yet should that provision be extended by SALT III over the next decade, when it will be more and more difficult for piloted aircraft to penetrate air defenses, it would further reduce the capacity of European-based weapons to strike at the rear of enemy forces.

So much for the past. But with the possible regulation of gray area weapons, it seems that the decisions to be made should not be left only and entirely to rest on American authorities-even if the first official debates bearing on future production and deployment programs are likely to take place when the U.S. Senate engages in the debate over ratification of SALT II in the last half of 1979 and perhaps into 1980.

But what is beyond doubt is that the shaping of a position will be difficult for European governments in view of the many parameters they will have to take into account. So the aim of this article is to say, from the point of view of a European, what are the ideas that appear to be of paramount importance in the framing of a policy. That policy concerns not only the security of Europe but rather the security in Europe of all the members of the Alliance; the problem is of vital importance to all of them irrespective of their positions on the eastern or western shores of the Atlantic.

No doubt some will be surprised to see a Frenchman voicing an opinion on such matters, since his government has already made known that in no case will it be a party to any kind of discussion on the gray area. To whatever extent this abstention proceeds from an analysis of the disadvantages of such discussion, what should be evident is that France's refusal to take part is not dictated by a refusal of the deployment of such weapons in Europe: France is indeed the only country to have already on its territory land-based missiles capable of reaching Soviet territory. It should be noted in this instance that she does not fare any worse for that matter, nor does she feel handicapped in her relations with the Soviet Union.


Several factors are contributing to put the problem of Western security in Europe during the next decade in a condition that will be new when compared to the one we are familiar with. But the basic factor is the appearance of the new medium-range Soviet missile, the SS-20, along with the Backfire bomber. Some may argue that there is no great novelty since, for almost 20 years, Soviet SS-4 and SS-5 missiles have kept Europe under the threat of their megaton warheads. The difference lies in the following facts. The old missiles, carrying one reentry vehicle, were of a doubtful accuracy and therefore unfit for antiforce attacks against the military targets whose destruction would be necessary to disarm the Atlantic Alliance in Europe; their use would have been difficult to distinguish from anti-city aggression. In other words their use, in response to NATO's own employment of tactical nuclear weapons, would have implied a jump in escalation with the obvious risk of retaliation at the same level. The situation will be different with the new mobile SS-20 missiles, less vulnerable and each equipped with three reentry vehicles deemed to enjoy high accuracy which could therefore present most military targets between the Elbe and the Atlantic Ocean with a grave threat of possible destruction.1

Whereas up to this point Soviet superiority in conventional forces has been counterbalanced by American superiority in theater nuclear weapons, this will no longer be true in the case of those nuclear arms best suited for antiforce strikes in the full depth of the European theater. In other words, while there was till now a "balance of imbalances" which more or less matched one another, the years to come will be marked by Soviet superiority in both fields. This has to be pondered over in relation to NATO defense doctrine, which calls for the use of theater nuclear weapons in first-strike missions should the developments of conventional fighting make it necessary. Such a doctrine would no longer be valid or applicable if the enemy can take out, from the onset, Western nuclear weaponry.

Moreover, this new situation is parallel to that developing in the balance of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) forces, where the SS-17, SS-18 and SS-19 will give Moscow the numerical advantage in the relationship between reentry vehicles and targets to be destroyed. These changes increase the importance of a first-strike antiforce capacity, reduce the validity of the once-accepted doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), and generally diminish the role of second-strike capacity in relation to strategic deterrence.

This is not perceived necessarily in Europe as an indication of a danger of war but as the sign of our continent's growing vulnerability, while the vulnerability of Soviet armaments threatening us is diminishing. The improvement of Soviet first-strike capability in land-based missiles could give them parity and maybe superiority over the United States in the ability to control escalation. This would be an advantage more important than second-strike resources in crisis management, when political victory or defeat would be decided. Which might mean primarily the fate of Europe.

And this is taking place in a global strategic environment which is characterized by the gravest doubts about the validity, from now on, of the traditional formula of sea powers to win wars against continental powers-"Trade space for time." This formula was based on three components: control of the sources of raw materials and energy; command of the seas which allowed for the transport of such resources; and time to obtain numerical superiority of war materials and equipment. The changes which have taken place in world geostrategy have nullified most of these former trump cards. Africa, 40 years ago an Anglo-Franco-Belgo-Portuguese continent, is now independent with Russia present at some key points. The Near East and its oil fields, up till recently a zone of exclusive Western influence, is in the throes of the changes we witness. The Indian Ocean, once an Anglo-Franco-Dutch lake, now counts more Soviet strongholds and bases than we do. Thus, even assuming that the navies of the Atlantic Alliance would eventually gain the upper hand over that of Admiral Gorchkov, their command of the seas would no longer play the same role if Europe were conquered. For its liberation would not depend on the launching of thousands of Liberty ships nor on the production of American factories. It could only take place at the cost of utter destruction of the Soviet Union, which implies that of the United States and deprives the conduct of war of any rationality. And this also would weigh in the management of any crisis.


From what has been said it follows that the relation of forces, at any time and at different levels, is more and more important for the preservation of stability in East-West relations and of Western vital interests. And this applies to the medium-range nuclear weapons with which we are concerned here and which may be included in SALT III.

Two questions arise in this connection. The first is whether it is necessary to deploy weapons in Western Europe that can reach the Soviet Union. The second is whether there is a case for including missiles of such range (whether of friend or foe) in the next phase of the negotiation on the limitation of strategic weapons.

The first question was raised publicly by West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in his speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London on October 27, 1977. Taking stock of the balance that was in the process of being established at the intercontinental strategic level and the lack of balance in Europe, he asked whether it was not necessary to do something to restore a more equal situation on the old continent.

One knows that NATO's doctrine provides that the destruction of military targets located in the Soviet Union and its satellites, as required for the defense of Europe, would be performed both by American systems stationed on the old continent and, upon request of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), by missiles from the U.S. central system. Now that the Soviet Union is about to enjoy the advantage of a first-strike capacity in Europe, the defense of that continent will be dependent to a much greater degree upon support by U.S. strategic weapons, specifically submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). But since SLBMs may not be capable of all missions related to SACEUR's requirements and since they may have to be earmarked for more strategic missions as the result of the ICBMs' growing vulnerability, the likelihood is that the fulfillment of SACEUR'S missions will be entrusted to air-launched cruise missiles which are vulnerable before takeoff and need hours to reach their targets.

So the rationale for the deployment in Europe of land-based medium-range systems-cruise missiles, Pershing II, and/or medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs)-is that (a) because of their mobility they could not be knocked out by their counterparts and therefore would reduce the first-strike capacity of the aggressor, and (b) they would threaten counter-strikes capable of high antiforce damage inside Soviet territory and that of its allies. In simple terms it means reducing the advantages to be expected from the qualitative improvements of Soviet weaponry. And it would greatly consolidate the linkage between theater nuclear forces and the U.S. central systems. The danger of decoupling between the two is the gravest threat to the credibility of deterrence. Such deployments as envisaged here, maintaining or restoring the capacity to "de-sanctuarize" Soviet territory from Europe (and in the context of the defense of Europe), would establish in the most visible manner the complementarity and continuity of theater and strategic forces.

If, on the contrary, the European theater were to be denied (through SALT or otherwise) the deployment of such medium-range arms and left entirely dependent upon U.S. central systems in that range of defense means, there could be no doubt that such a change would be taken as a definite worsening of the danger of decoupling-that is, of reducing the likelihood and prospect of a U.S. strategic response, if needed, to aggression in Europe.

In that respect the situation created by the protocol of SALT II prohibiting, albeit temporarily, the deployment of ground- or sea-launched cruise missiles with a range exceeding 600 kilometers might create a dangerous precedent. For the first time, the United States has made a commitment bearing on theater weapons while no parallel measure had to be agreed to by the Soviet Union. It would be surprising if, in the next phase of the talks, Russian negotiators did not claim that those restrictions were part of a general deal, the balance of which would be altered by the deployment of weapons with a bigger range in Europe.2

The second question is to determine if it is advisable for the Western powers to agree to have gray area weapons as well as strategic ones included in SALT III. Important as may be considered the pursuit of SALT in the overall context of East-West relations and the policy of détente, it would be against the interest of all of us if medium-range arms were to be included for the sole sake of negotiating and because the Russians have been asking for it from the beginning.

Moreover, one cannot avoid being struck by the fact that there is no clear indication, so far, of the result that would be sought in such a negotiation. If medium- and long-range weapons are to be +included in the talks, the question of how to account for the former will necessarily arise, and here the difficulties are grave.

If one seeks global equivalence in the totals of both arms systems treated as a unit, the Soviets will be entitled to say that they are put at a disadvantage, since all American weapons accounted for in the grand totals could reach their territory, while as far as they are concerned only those of intercontinental capacity could hit the United States. It would be naive to believe that the leaders in the Kremlin would buy such a deal since, for the last ten years, they have insisted that not only U.S. bombers in forward-based systems, but French and British nuclear forces, should be taken into account.

If, on the other hand, one agrees to the Soviet definition of strategic weapons, i.e., any weapon that can hit the territory of the two superpower contracting parties, the Russian missiles aimed at Europe would be kept out of the agreement while those that the United States would deploy in Europe would have to be limited in numbers and included in the American total. In that case Washington would have to accept a position of inferiority in central systems-which means giving up the policy which was followed for SALT II.

It is therefore difficult to envisage what aim for the negotiation could be at the same time reasonable as far as the chances of success are concerned and acceptable in terms of Western security. To be sure, some would meet the dilemma by arguing that the purpose of the talks is neither the search for balance nor the consent to imbalance for this or that category of weapons, but to set ceilings for Soviet programs which otherwise would be developed freely. That argument has only one defect: it admits from the beginning that one possesses neither the power nor the will to match the programs of the opponent-a bad position from which to start a negotiation. Let us even go a step further and imagine that the Kremlin would agree to reduce by ten or 20 percent the number of SS-20s which are to replace, or be deployed alongside, the 600-odd SS-4 and SS-5 missiles now accounted for. It could hardly make any difference to the threat confronting Europe.

So, at least in the present state of things, the most likely result of talks on gray area weapons would be the political and juridical ratification of the inferiority of the Alliance in a range of armaments which is certainly the most important in the balance of forces on the old continent. It would be difficult to overestimate the adverse consequences on allied relationships as well as on the future of Europe of such a freezing of a new and dangerous situation.


Until and unless a definition of a negotiating purpose that gives an answer to the security problem of the Alliance as a whole in Europe is proposed, we must therefore hope that SALT III will continue, like the first two SALT exercises, to bear only on the central systems and not on theater ones. The worst error in any case would be to start off in a situation where the Russians have their programs in full swing while the U.S. position would be based only on its capacity to manufacture and deploy Pershing II or a mobile MRBM in Europe. With the Soviets, less than with anybody else, can possibilities be traded against facts. The press has indicated that there is an inclination in the U.S. Senate to ratify SALT II on conditions related to the launching of an MX program. Should that be true, the Europeans must hope that some provisions will equally be made for the adoption of programs aiming at taking care of the reversal of the situation on their continent.

But it would be asking too much, and probably unfair, to expect that such a policy could be adopted without a statement of their position by European governments. The precedent of the enhanced radiation weapon (or so-called neutron bomb) offers an example-so perfect that it is worthy of becoming classic-of how to mishandle a problem among allies.

It was certainly a good idea on the part of President Carter to ask the NATO governments their opinion and advice about the production and deployment of an armament expected to obviate, to a certain degree, Warsaw Pact superiority in tanks and armored vehicles. For the first time a momentous question about nuclear armaments for the defense of Europe could be made the subject of common discussion and decision.

The least to be said is that the responses were neither prompt nor clear. In Germany a controversy was started which transformed the question into an internal political debate. The Netherlands were hostile and Britain noncommittal, while France took the position she did not feel concerned since she has no part in the integrated command. Mr. Brezhnev sent letters to all European leaders asking for the rejection of the American offer. This unprecedented interference in the affairs of the countries concerned was seconded on home fronts by the communist parties and pacifists of all creeds. And, in the end, after two governments had eventually made known that they could, under certain conditions, agree to the stockpiling of the weapon on their soil, President Carter decided to delay deciding anything.

The same mechanism of pressure is already taking shape with the aim of paralyzing the Western powers over the question of medium-range weapons. Soviet diplomacy is at work and finds support in public opinion in various countries.

If, when confronted with the need for a decision, each government's reaction is to abstain in the hope that Moscow's wrath will fall on its neighbor-or if the Europeans expect the government or the Senate of the United States to make the right choice whereas Washington relies on its transatlantic partners to stick their necks out-the security of each and every NATO member will be in jeopardy.

It is because the matter is of general concern to the Alliance as a whole that the decision should not appear to be a bilateral affair between the United States, which would provide the missiles, and the countries where they would have to be deployed. There is no doubt that the acceptance of such deployment will present considerable difficulties and require great political courage for those concerned. The least that could be done to help them is a clear backing from their allies that would prevent Moscow from singling them out as the enemy and saboteur of East-West peaceful relations. Never was it more necessary that a decision on defense of vital importance to all members of the Atlantic Alliance be the result of an agreement by as many countries as possible, whether they have nuclear weapons on their territory or not, and whether these weapons are of American or domestic origin.

With the possibility or rather the likelihood of the gray area weapons being included in the next round, Europeans will be directly concerned and one cannot conceive that they will act as if they did not care.

In that respect it is somewhat worrying that the very word SALT should have assumed such importance in the diplomatic vocabulary-to the point of being synonymous with the pursuit of the policy of détente. The danger is to endow the symbol with the same importance as the substance. If there is no other motive or justification for extending the negotiation to the gray area than the need to feed SALT and perhaps give it a new start for the sake of it, then clearly the interests of the Europeans and Americans alike do not call for such an extension.

It may be our misfortune that European governments do not realize this, or that they will be unable to convince the American Administration not to yield on that point to Moscow's pressure.

In that case the last hope would be that Washington will not embark on the next phase of the negotiations before it has made the decision to produce and deploy the missiles. Such a decision would have to be accepted by the other party in the talks as a hard and fast policy just as the latter's own programs are accepted by the West. This would have to be the sine qua non condition of the talks being extended to gray area problems, if they are not to be deprived of any useful purpose before they start.


1 To be sure, in a densely populated area such as Western Europe, Soviet use of high-yield weapons would cause collateral damage that could not be held negligible. In that event, while the "surgical operation" sometimes referred to might well cripple the patient, it could also expose the surgeon himself to dangerous consequences-in effect raising the operation at once to the strategic level and inviting retaliation by NATO strategic forces. On the other hand, no one should doubt the ability of the Soviet Union to equip its missiles with warheads of reduced kilotonnage that would still be adequate to destroy military targets.

2 The point often made that the said clause has no practical effect since, in any case, the United States will not be able to deploy cruise missiles with ranges above 600 kilometers before 1981 is not entirely convincing. For, if the Russians found that clause useful while there was no danger of actual deployment, it may be that what they were interested in was indeed the precedent this established for the future.

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  • François de Rose served as France's Ambassador to NATO from 1970 to 1975. For many years he has been connected with French military and civilian nuclear programs. He is the author of La France et la Défense de l'Europe.
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