Courtesy Reuters

THE launching of the Soviet earth satellite and the approach of the missile age have produced a remarkable debate within the free world and particularly within the Western Alliance. All the evasions of the past decade--the inability to develop a strategy for NATO that is meaningful to all its members, the oscillation between a mechanical intransigence toward the Soviet Union and an equally mechanical conciliation, the penchant for trying to combine maximum security with minimum commitment--had inevitably to produce a sense of frustration in which almost any change of course would seem preferable to continuing on the present road.

Ever since our atomic monoply ended we have been reluctant to face the fact that a time would come when the ability of the two major Powers to devastate each other might cancel itself out --at least with reference to most issues in dispute. The freezing of the status quo in Europe essentially along the lines of the furthest Soviet advance in 1945 was bound to produce resentment or despair in the countries most immediately affected--in Germany with respect to unification and in the East European satellites with respect to regaining a measure of independence from Soviet domination. The disappointments of the postwar period required only a symbol in order to coalesce in protest against a policy which had come to seem sterile, in part, at least, because reality had fallen so far short of expectations.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the reaction to the approaching missile age exhibits many of the symptoms which produced the crisis in the first place. The mechanical approach to strategy which has characterized our thinking in the Western Alliance has gone from the extreme of asserting that every Soviet challenge could be countered with the threat of maximum frightfulness to the opposite extreme of maintaining that every Soviet technological advance makes us totally vulnerable. Some critics of existing policy on both sides of the Atlantic have insisted that the Soviet technological achievement has made our continued existence dependent on Soviet good will.[i] Others argue that, since the United States now is more dependent on her allies than they on her, the European members of NATO should not only refuse to accept missile bases, but should drive a hard bargain with the United States "while the sun is shining."[ii] Thoughtful persons, identifying the symptom with the cause of the rigidity, are calling for disengagement and a neutral belt in Europe.[iii] Opposition leaders draw hope from an assumed change in Soviet motives, claiming that the increase in Soviet technological prowess is more than compensated by a transformation of Russian society which offers prospects of a more peaceful policy.[iv]

Unquestionably, Western policy must develop more dynamism if we are not to be engulfed by the revolutionary changes occurring all over the globe. But many of the premises on which suggested policy revisions have been based are extremely disquieting. And although the present impasse in Europe may be frustrating, some of the proposals to overcome it could produce an explosion with which we are ill-prepared to deal.

II

Central to the mounting criticism of American policy in Europe is the assumption that Soviet technological progress has placed the United States at a fundamental if not hopeless disadvantage. "The Gaither Report," wrote a British journal with strange relish, "has revealed that, irrespective of any efforts which America may now make, the Soviet preponderance in advanced weapons has reached such an absolute stage that America's national survival will depend, until 1961 at least, on 'Russian benevolence.'"[v] As a result, so the argument goes, the establishment of American missile bases in NATO is of primary benefit to the United States, spreading the risks without adding to the common security. "Hitherto I have always thought that the principle of an alliance was that it gave greater protection to ourselves," said a speaker in the House of Commons. "On this occasion with these rockets we are clearly inviting the risk of attack in some way and we are giving a one-sided protection to the United States."[vi]

These arguments reveal a deep-seated confusion between deterrence and the strategy for the conduct of war in case deterrence fails; between vulnerability and strategic inferiority; and between a temporary strategic inferiority and the consequences which are likely to flow from it.

Ever since our atomic monopoly ended, the threat relied on by the Western Alliance to deter Soviet attack has grown increasingly inconsistent with the strategy which the alliance is prepared to implement if deterrence fails. The often-repeated statement that the military policy of the alliance was designed to prevent a war and not to fight it begged the principal question: What is the effectiveness of a threat which, if carried out, involves catastrophic consequences for friend and foe alike? Heretofore, the belief in United States preponderance had lulled us and our allies into evading this issue. Strategy was identified with the maximum development of strength and the problem of bringing power into some relationship with the willingness to use it was ignored. Because the Strategic Air Command, the retaliatory force, had been outside NATO control, the Western Alliance took on some of the characteristics of a unilateral guarantee. Our allies have seen little significance in a military contribution of their own beyond furnishing facilities; indeed, they have had a strong incentive to keep the proportion of our troops to theirs as high as possible in order to ensure that a Soviet attack would in fact unleash our Strategic Air Command. The approaching missile age, therefore, does not so much alter strategic relationships as make them explicit. It has raised the specter that the deterrent threat may have to be implemented. It has forced our allies and ourselves to face the issue of what constitutes a viable NATO strategy.

Looking at the problem from the point of view of deterrence, the advocates of missiles for Europe consider that the greatest possible dispersal of advanced weapons would be the most effective sanction against the outbreak of a war. Looking at the actual conduct of a war, the critics of NATO strategy are above all concerned with banishing military operations from their own countries. This produces the ironical situation in which measures designed to deter an attack on the strongest member of the alliance are held to be of benefit to that member alone. Though there can be no security for our allies without the United States, many Europeans paradoxically feel that it is not necessarily in their interest to do what they can to assure the security of the United States.

Both the proponents and the critics of missile installations in Europe are misled by their absolutist approach: the advocates because they propose to use the same deterrent for every type of challenge; the opponents because they claim that the rejection of missiles amounts to an avoidance of all risks. Reluctance to face the ravages of nuclear war is certainly understandable; but there can be no doubt that all countries would suffer severely from an all-out nuclear exchange between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Neutrality may seem preferable to participation in a United States-Soviet showdown; but it is even more in the interest of our allies to help see that this showdown is avoided altogether. And the fact is that in seeking to escape the consequences of a war, the opponents of a missile strategy may weaken the deterrent to the extent that aggression is encouraged.

The dilemma is real; it cannot be resolved until there is a clearer understanding of the impact of missiles on strategy. The tendency has been to equate vulnerability with strategic inferiority and to equate a temporary inferiority with a Soviet capability to deliver an overwhelming blow. Neither postulate is correct. The growing Soviet capability in medium and intermediate-range missiles hardly adds to the vulnerability of Western Europe, all of which has been exposed for some time to Soviet short and medium-range bombers. As for the United States, we were vulnerable before sputnik, and the degree of our vulnerability is certain to grow. But we shall be in a position of strategic inferiority only if the Soviet Union should develop missiles of such accuracy and in such numbers that it can wipe out our retaliatory force, either of planes or of missiles, or if the Soviet Union should develop an air defense of such potency that it could reduce our counterblow to acceptable levels. Neither contingency is in prospect in the immediate future. Whether either does come about depends on the intensity of our effort. Meanwhile we should not make our deficiencies seem greater than they are by comparing future Soviet capabilities with present United States strength.

At present the Soviet Union does not possess operational intercontinental missiles in quantity. We therefore have time to close the gap if we act energetically and courageously. When the Soviet Union brings intercontinental missiles into production they are unlikely to exist in sufficient quantity and with an adequate degree of accuracy to knock out our Strategic Air Command, even assuming (what is by no means a foregone conclusion if we act effectively) that the Soviet Union will maintain its lead throughout this period. By the time the Soviet Union possesses accurate intercontinental missiles in quantity, our missile force should be well developed and it will continue to be supplemented by our still potent Strategic Air Force. Some time later, both sides will possess well-dispersed missile forces in a high state of readiness.

But even should the Soviet Union achieve a slight superiority during any of the phases described above, an all-out surprise attack is unlikely. Even an inferior retaliatory force can deter if it has the capacity of exacting a price the opponent is unwilling to pay. No nation will fight a war for the privilege of inflicting greater damage than it suffers itself if the degree of that suffering threatens to be intolerable. To launch a surprise attack, Soviet planners would have to be reasonably certain that they could avoid devastating damage in return; and their calculations would have to be almost foolproof. Even a high probability of success would not warrant risking national catastrophe.

To be sure, even if we make a major effort we shall not find it easy to keep up with the Soviets, especially as we must protect ourselves against a wide variety of dangers while they can concentrate on their most effective weapon. Moreover, even in an age of "missile plenty" the nature of the missiles themselves will give a distinct advantage to the aggressor. The "count-down" in present missiles--the interval between the decision to fire and the actual launching--is several hours. An attacking missile is in transit for less than half an hour. In their present state of development missiles are therefore more effective as offensive weapons than as weapons of retaliation. Until we are able either to reduce radically the time it takes to ready our retaliatory missiles or unless we can make our missile installations invulnerable to all but a direct hit, an aggressor may calculate on an advantage from a surprise attack whatever the state of our missile development. This will be particularly true if, as a by-product of its offensive missile program, the Soviet Union develops a highly effective defense against manned planes, which must remain the backbone of our retaliatory force until the reaction time of missiles is drastically reduced.

The side which is on the defensive in an all-out war therefore requires a more advanced missile technology and more secure installations than the aggressor. The aggressor can afford a "count-down" of several hours because the war will start only with his attack. His installations can be more vulnerable because the missiles will have been fired before a return blow is launched. The side which is on the defensive cannot therefore be content simply with staying even. We must make a major effort to shorten the reaction time of our retaliatory force and to make it as invulnerable as possible by dispersing it, protecting its installations and giving it mobility. Difficult as this task may be, we still have the power to achieve it. If the Soviet Union ever attains such a margin of superiority that it feels it can risk a surprise attack, we shall have only our own failings to blame.

Thus the approaching missile age will have implications for our alliances precisely opposite from those alleged by many of our European critics. Once we possess intercontinental missiles in quantity, our allies will no longer be indispensable in an all-out war. Missile installations in Europe would be essential to us in a final showdown only if there were to be a long interval between our development of intermediate-range (1,500-mile) missiles and production of intercontinental missiles and if, meanwhile, our Strategic Air Force became useless. This is highly unlikely. Our retaliatory force of manned planes will remain a potent force for some time, and the Soviet Union will not soon possess sufficient long-range missiles to risk a showdown. This is not to say that the presence of 1,500-mile missiles in Europe would not increase the factor of deterrence against all-out war. They would add dispersed strength to the striking power of the Western Alliance and thereby render a successful surprise attack more difficult. But 1,500-mile missiles in Europe are more an added advantage than a necessity for fighting an all-out war.

III

The real case for missile installations on the Continent is quite different. They are required not for the defense of America but for the defense of Europe. They are essential for the very reason that Europeans are reluctant to accept them: because with the increasing speed and destructiveness of weapons every country will be reluctant to risk its existence for anything except the most direct challenge to its survival. If Europe is reluctant to participate in an all-out war for the defense of the United States--the only meaningful rationale for rejecting missile bases --so will the United States be reluctant to risk total destruction for the defense of Europe. Our NATO allies should have every incentive to help develop a strategy which does not force the United States to have to choose between all-out war and inaction in the defense of Europe.

Rather than consider the American offer of missiles as designed for our exclusive benefit, our European allies should understand that it represents the only means by which Europe can gain a degree of influence over its future. A strong military establishment within Europe and under European control is more than ever essential, less to deter an attack on us than to pose a meaningful sanction against an attack on Europe. Refusal to accept missiles will only increase Europe's dependence on the United States. If the United States assumes the sole responsibility for the defense of the free world, it will also assume the responsibility for defining the casus belli. The decision on how to react to aggression even in Europe would no longer be a European one. As the United States grows more vulnerable, fewer and fewer objectives will seem "worth" an all-out war. Even Europe may not appear important enough, particularly against challenges which are limited or ambiguous. And, given the destructiveness of modern weapons, any attack which is explicitly less than all-out is inherently ambiguous. In time, this situation could bring about what many Europeans fear most--direct negotiations between the United States and the U.S.S.R. from which Europe is excluded.

If Europe is not to renounce the possibility of influencing its destiny, it must be able to resist increasingly bold and explicit Soviet threats at least partly with its own resources. It may be argued, of course, that an attack on Western Europe would be a challenge to which the United States would have to respond with all-out war whatever might be the military contribution of its allies. In fact, this conviction has been the central reason for NATO's lagging military effort even before the missile age. But a war "over" Europe need not necessarily take the form of an attack on Europe. On the basis of past performance, the risk of a Soviet attack designed to overrun all of Europe is less than that of local encroachments aimed to demonstrate the impotence of NATO and reduce its diplomatic effectiveness. The greater the disparity in strength between Europe and the U.S.S.R. and the greater the vulnerability of the United States, the bolder Soviet policy towards our allies is likely to become. To the extent that Europe possesses a military establishment under its own control capable of resisting a wide range of challenges, it will gain confidence to resist Soviet pressures. The stronger the local deterrent the less likely it will be that certain kinds of threats will be made at all.

In short, a refusal by our European allies to accept missiles will increase NATO's reliance on the deterrent of all-out war at the same time that the consequences of massive retaliation weaken the will to resist. On the other hand, the willingness to resist Soviet encroachments will be increased if a maximum number of alternatives is created between surrender and a war which may appear suicidal. Since the object of deterrence is to pose a risk to the aggressor out of proportion to the objective to be obtained, local forces in Europe would perform a vital function even if they could not withstand every scale of Soviet attack. Sweden and Switzerland maintain substantial military establishments. Their purpose is not primarily to defeat a major Power which might attack--for this they are quite inadequate--but to exact a price a potential aggressor is unwilling to pay. Similarly a substantial military establishment on the Continent would do much to deter rash Soviet adventures. At the very least it could force the Soviet Union into a scale of military effort which would remove any ambiguity about its ultimate intention and thus make it easier to invoke the sanction of all-out war. Even if one argues that any Soviet attack on Europe would ultimately lead to all-out war, it does not necessarily follow that a defense of Europe should begin with such a strategy. Since an all-out war would threaten the survival of mankind, it should be invoked only as the last resort; we must have other means for countering Soviet moves.

But will not the possession of nuclear weapons and missiles increase Europe's vulnerability? May they not bring on the attack they are supposed to avoid? The problem is not as simple as some of the opponents of a missile strategy make it appear. Those who oppose missile sites in Europe imply that if there were none Western Europe might be able to remain aloof from a United States-Soviet showdown. This is not a heroic assumption, but it may be a tenable one. It illustrates the degree to which our allies have relied on our Strategic Air Command as the chief deterrent and major weapon in case of war. To many of them, the proposal to give missiles to NATO therefore seems to involve them in a strategy which heretofore gave them protection without their own direct participation.

It may be, however, that in the event of an all-out war the Soviet Union would rate the chances of European neutrality sufficiently high to avoid attacking European bases, the more so as they would not be a decisive element in such a conflict. In case of a local attack in Europe--a more likely contingency--missile installations would, of course, be a primary target. But the vulnerability they create would not be inherently different from that of the many airfields, supply depots and other military installations which NATO has already established. It cannot be denied that missiles, because of their strategic importance, might receive special attention. But surely our allies will not argue that only military installations which have no significance in either all-out or limited war should be permitted on their territories.

But why missiles? Could it not be argued that a defense of Europe even with nuclear weapons in case of need is one thing, the installation of missiles quite another? "Intermediate range ballistic missiles . . ." writes a British author, "cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called defensive weapons. They are weapons of retaliation which add nothing to the security of the countries housing them but evidently add greatly to their perils. Armed with 1,500-mile missiles, in other words, NATO automatically . . . becomes an offensive alliance."[vii]

It is not self-evident that a weapon capable of retaliating against the aggressor's homeland transforms a defensive alliance into an offensive one. Even with a major missile establishment of limited range, Europe could not defeat the Soviet Union totally. And given the vulnerability of densely populated Europe to Soviet retaliation it would be such folly for NATO to unleash an aggressive war that not even the Kremlin could take this prospect seriously.

As the Soviet missile force grows, the threat or the actuality of missile attacks will become an ever more potent weapon to neutralize Europe or to force it into submission. From the Suez crisis to that over Syria, warnings of missile attacks have played an increasing rôle in Soviet diplomacy. Missiles in Europe under European control are important partly to resist aggression in the ordinary sense; they are even more vital to deter or resist the threat of missile attacks.

IV

The real argument about missile installations in Europe thus turns less on the nature of the weapon than on the strategy which underlies it. Before any real progress can be made in NATO strategy, all allies will have to realize that their increasing vulnerability causes the threat of all-out war to become an increasing obstacle to decisive action. The chief bar to the development of an effective NATO strategy has been reluctance to accept the fact that some of the most likely challenges in Europe, if not dealt with locally, are not likely to be dealt with at all. Our European allies have been unwilling to face the prospect of a local defense because they have been unwilling to make the effort it requires and because they feared that, once they admitted the possibility of less than all-out American participation, we might withdraw altogether. We in turn have been prevented from pressing the issue of local defense partly by the absolutism of our own military doctrine and partly by the fear that to do so would weaken the confidence of our allies.

But this evasion of reality can become demoralizing. A mere commitment to all-out defense will only create an impasse if no partner is prepared to face the consequences. Our allies have a right to insist on American participation in their defense; they should not be permitted to prescribe a course of action which involves the most catastrophic risks, the more so if this strategy reduces their willingness to resist the most likely challenges. A local deterrent in Europe is required to increase the range of our options, and to bring the deterrent policy of NATO into line with the strategy it is prepared to implement. A strategy of local defense is essential not as a device to save the alliance--though it will serve this purpose; rather, the alliance alone offers the possibility of a strategy which does not inevitably involve catastrophe.

If European missile forces are to be designed primarily for local deterrence, they should not be under United States but under NATO control, and they should fit the requirements of local defense. The retaliatory force for all-out war must be able to inflict the greatest amount of devastation in a minimum of time. Accuracy here is less important than power and range. A deterrent force for local defense, on the other hand, should be able to apply its power with discrimination and in such a manner that a settlement can be reached before the situation gets out of hand. And, above all, it should seek maximum mobility.

It is possible to launch a retaliatory force of manned planes at the first warning of an attack; planes can always be called back if the alarm turns out to be false. The decision to launch a missile, however, is irrevocable. Therefore it is essential that a strategy based on missiles shall find some way of understating the response. The more invulnerable missile installations are made, the more possible it becomes to reduce the danger of misinterpretation. If missile installations cannot be destroyed, the side which is on the defensive can delay its counterblow until the enemy has struck and thus avoid acting on a surmise which may prove false.

This is particularly important in the case of missiles for local defense, which must minimize by all means available the danger that local resistance will produce an all-out war by miscalculation. Accuracy and mobility are therefore prime requisites for such a missile system. Accuracy is necessary to permit a discriminating application of power; mobility is needed to reduce the vulnerability to surprise attack. NATO should therefore strive to create a missile system which can be moved by motor, a major part of which is constantly shifting position. Submarines, and to a lesser extent surface ships, provide another form of ideal mobile launching site. Both destructiveness and range should be sacrificed to accuracy and mobility, for the purpose of NATO missiles is not primarily to destroy the Soviet homeland but to pose risks out of proportion to any gains Soviet forces might make in Europe. Even an 800-mile or 1,000-mile missile would prove highly useful in posing such a threat, even though it could not be decisive in an all-out war--and perhaps because of it. The very fact that missile installations in Europe could not destroy Soviet retaliatory power would be a guarantee of their defensive intent.

Thus the proposed missile installations and nuclear weapons will add to European security, provided they are accompanied by a meaningful European effort and provided we do not gear our own military establishment exclusively to an all-out strategy. The prime issue in NATO is not missile sites, much less the degree to which the United States is dependent upon them. The basic problem is to elaborate an effective NATO strategy. The worrisome aspect of the current United States defense budget is that strategic power is once more purchased at the expense of the capability for local defense. The disquieting aspect of much of European comment about NATO is the refusal to accept the reality that maximum security can no longer be purchased at minimum cost. If NATO cannot develop a real capability for local defense, disengagement may become inevitable. But this should not cause rejoicing among our critics, for under present conditions it would mean the end of Europe's influence on world affairs.

V

What, then, of the theory of disengagement? How about the proposals for a neutral belt or a zone free of nuclear weapons?

It is easy to sympathize with the motives behind the "disengagement theory." As long as two large military establishments face each other in the center of Europe, so the argument goes, the danger of an incident that might spark a conflagration is ever present. Another argument maintains that the establishment of a neutral belt is the quid pro quo which might bring about a withdrawal of Soviet forces from the satellite states and thus permit a more normal evolution of the Communist régimes there. Disengagement is desirable, according to this theory, because NATO as now constituted is not capable of stopping a full-scale Soviet attack, and thus increases tensions without providing security. Finally, disengagement is said to be essential as a means of reassuring the Soviet Union about the sincerity of Western intentions.

The immediate difficulty with these arguments is that they run counter to the entire experience of the postwar period. Where Western and Communist forces face each other directly incidents have been rare and the few that have occurred (such as the Berlin blockade) have not benefited the Soviet Union; the risks are so enormous that both sides generally go to great lengths to forestall clashes wherever they can control events. By contrast, Soviet encroachments have almost always occurred where resistance seemed feeble or impossible. The only case of overt Communist aggression, after all, followed an American attempt to "disengage" itself in Korea and would probably not have occurred otherwise. And the arguments that NATO is both dispensable and a threat to Soviet security are clearly inconsistent with each other. No level of NATO military strength now in prospect will be able to fight an offensive war against the Soviet Union.

We must also take account of the possibility that the Soviet Union is more interested in negotiating about disengagement than in achieving it. Once negotiations were entered upon, it is more than likely that the expectation of disengagement would effectively demoralize NATO planning and undermine any military effort on the Continent. And we can be virtually certain that there will be endless evasions and delays so that the Soviet Union might well achieve one of its prime objectives by default--the dismantling of NATO without any concessions on its part.

That the Soviet Union is more concerned with achieving strategic preponderance than in reducing tensions is shown by the only proposal for disengagement that the Soviet Union has put forward--the Rapacki plan for a zone in Central Europe from which nuclear weapons would be banned. Acceptance of the Rapacki plan would not remove the Soviet nuclear threat from Central Europe, for even short-range Soviet missiles can reach much of Western Europe from Soviet territory. Because our whole strategy is dependent on nuclear weapons, it would lead to the withdrawal of all American forces from Central Europe. And the precedent having once been established, tremendous pressures would be mounted to exclude nuclear weapons from all of Europe including Great Britain. Since there is no prospect of arresting a Soviet advance without nuclear weapons, a non-nuclear zone in Central Europe would not only create a vacuum in which Soviet conventional strength would predominate but would destroy the balance of forces on which Western Europe's security depends. For ultimately NATO would be so weakened that withdrawal of the American military establishment from the Continent would be almost certain.

This situation would not be changed fundamentally by a simultaneous withdrawal of American and Soviet forces from the center of Europe and the creation of a "neutral belt." Soviet forces would withdraw only 600 miles, within easy missile range of Central Europe, while American forces, for the reasons outlined above, would cross the Atlantic. And would the Soviet Union feel less menaced by a neutral armed Germany than a Germany integrated in the Western Alliance and restrained by the collective interests of the NATO countries? Germany unaligned may be forced by domestic pressures to push its claims to the Eastern territories to the limit. Alternatively, an unarmed neutral Germany would increase tensions by creating a vacuum at the very point at which the great Powers are competing most bitterly.

Instead of adding to stability, the consequences of a neutral belt may thus make a tense situation even more explosive. A major purpose of the neutral belt is declared to be to permit a more favorable evolution within the satellite orbit. A withdrawal of Soviet forces may, however, turn a long-smoldering resentment into open revolution. Yet Khrushchev has declared repeatedly that the "socialist achievements" in the satellite orbit are sacrosanct, that the Soviet Union would always lend "timely assistance to a fraternal socialist state"[viii]--in short, that the U.S.S.R. stands prepared to suppress any upheaval that threatens local Communist régimes. Indeed, neutralization may actually prevent liberalization in the satellite countries, for only with Russian troops can the Soviet rulers feel confident of controlling the situation. The presence of Soviet forces provides assurance that change will not go beyond tolerable limits. If Russian troops are withdrawn, on the other hand, the Soviet leaders may calculate that they must resist any change however small, lest it set in motion a series of events they are no longer able to control.

Thus disengagement invites a variety of new dangers while reducing the forces to meet them. It is not a safe but a daring policy, and it makes sense only if we are ready to prevent the crushing of satellite revolutions. Otherwise it will assure only a temporary withdrawal of Soviet forces from Central Europe, with every likelihood of their return after the American military establishment on the Continent has been dismantled and Europe has been rendered defenseless. A policy of disengagement which has no answer, political or military, to the problem of upheavals in the Soviet satellite orbit, or to the return of Soviet forces under another pretext, is likely to bring about the very conditions it seeks to avoid. Its results will be either a demonstration of Western impotence and irresolution or all-out war.

This is not to say that the withdrawal of American forces from the center of the Continent can never be considered. But the proper context will be European strength not weakness, one in which NATO possesses the capability to pose a significant deterrent to Soviet aggression within Europe. The flexibility so frequently demanded requires a much greater and more sustained effort throughout the Western Alliance. The cause of much of NATO's rigidity is not, as so often alleged, too great concern with military factors, but unwillingness to face the full implications of these factors.

VI

We thus reach our final problem: the tendency throughout the Western Alliance to seek to escape our dilemmas by ascribing only the most favorable motives to Soviet policy, and to allow our resolution to be weakened by diffidence about our own worthiness to enter the lists.

On the first point, it is often argued that a Western defense effort is unnecessary because the Soviet Union has no intention of attacking. But the intentions of the Soviet Union are not a fixed quantity, unaffected by our actions. Our failure to engage in an adequate defense effort may well be the deciding factor in a Soviet decision to launch a blow. The Western Alliance can affect Soviet attitudes better by the restraint and moderation with which it uses its strength than by seeking to purchase Soviet forbearance by impotence.

The concern with Soviet intentions has also affected and often handicapped the approach of the Western Alliance to the problem of negotiation. Every Soviet overture has evoked a debate about whether it augured a basic change in Soviet society. The dispute as to whether to negotiate has thus turned less on the efficacy of negotiation than on an assessment of Soviet intentions. Both the advocates and the opponents of negotiations have seemed to agree that negotiations are not possible except against the background of a fundamental transformation in Soviet Russia, one group advocating a conference because a change had in fact occurred, the other denying any basic transformation. Opponents of negotiations have accordingly insisted on a proof of Soviet "good faith;" advocates have seen in the Soviet offer to negotiate a sufficient guarantee of Soviet intentions.

It is at least arguable, however, that negotiations are especially necessary if Soviet intentions have not changed and that a constant insistence on a change in Soviet society may undermine whatever prospect negotiations offer. The more intransigent the Soviet Union the more important it is for us constantly to put forward proposals which demonstrate our willingness to settle, but which also define the issue for which we are prepared to contend. We should make no proposal we are not willing to see accepted but by the same token we should not refrain from making proposals simply because we believe they may not be accepted. We are under no obligation to frame proposals we are sure the Soviet Union will accept. To do so would invite the U.S.S.R. to drive us back step by step. We are under an obligation to make responsible proposals which are not designed to undermine legitimate Soviet interests.

For example, in the present situation a number of concrete steps to lessen European insecurity seem possible. An inspection system in the territory included in the Rapacki plan could be instituted immediately to protect both sides, insofar as possible, against the dangers of surprise attack. Concrete proposals for limiting the scope and nature of any war that might break out could be made in an effort to reduce the danger that an upheaval in Eastern Germany or the satellite orbit would spark a third world war. The Soviet Union should be offered all reasonable guarantees that no territory she relinquishes as a result of any European settlement would be used as a base against her or contain offensive military installations. The non-nuclear zone might apply to any area from which Soviet forces withdraw, should the U.S.S.R. desire. The proposed non-aggression treaty between NATO and the Warsaw Pact members might then be concluded.

If we do not succeed in reducing negotiations to concrete issues, the psychological framework of the Western Alliance will gradually be eroded. Already the concern with peace in the abstract has led many to feel that the fact of a conference is as important as the results that may be achieved by it. Even the demand for adequate preparation is interpreted as intransigence. The search for total solutions may prevent settlements which are negotiable, by encouraging the Soviet leaders to believe that they may achieve their fondest hopes through a unilateral offer from the West and without any concessions on their part. The notion that firmness on some issues is incompatible with successful negotiation turns diplomacy into an instrument of Soviet political warfare whose primary significance is psychological and not substantive.

In fact, to interpret every Soviet overture as a symptom of a deep-seated change may cause us to overlook perhaps the most effective means of affecting domestic Soviet developments. There is little motive to change a course of action which on the whole has been extraordinarily successful. Even assuming that there is an element in Soviet society which is interested in a more peaceful course, and even assuming that it can translate its wish into political pressure, a basic change would seem highly unlikely as long as in every policy choice the "tough group" in the Kremlin succeeds in moving forward with impunity. A more cautious policy will come about only if the present course comes to seem too risky. And this may depend more on Western resolution than on abstract protestations of good will. The possibility of evolution of Soviet policy may be jeopardized by the overeagerness with which some groups react to Soviet overtures, for it will encourage the Soviet belief that any course, no matter how intransigent, can always be reversed by a diplomatic note and that any fait accompli can be softened by abstract protestations of peaceful intentions.

Thus the ultimate problem of the Western Alliance is the need to generate the purpose and the moral direction to couple humility with power and to find the inward strength to act in situations which are inherently unclear. This is impossible as long as the moral course is always identified with minimum risk and as long as our perfectionism inhibits our willingness to grapple with contemporary problems. Many of the most thoughtful people in the West are properly disturbed about the lack of stature of Western policy. But if their concern leads them to favor what amounts to a withdrawal from the scene, they will only intensify the sterility they seek to combat.

One of the most anguished and profound students of Western policy has written:

To my own countrymen who have often asked me where best to apply the hand to counter the Soviet threat, I have accordingly had to reply: to our American failings--to the things we are ashamed of in our own eyes: to the racial problem, to the conditions in our big cities, to the education and environment of our young people, to the growing gap between specialized knowledge and popular understanding. I imagine that similar answers could be found for the other Western countries. I would like to add that these are problems which are not going to be solved by anything we or anyone else does in the stratosphere. If solutions are to be found for them it will be right here on this familiar earth, in the dealings among men and in the moral struggles of the individual. If one had to choose between launching satellites and continuing to give attention to these more homely problems, I should say a hundred times the latter, for unless we make progress in them, no satellite will ever save us. Whether we win against the Russians is primarily a question of whether we win against ourselves.[ix]

But the times do not permit of such absolute distinctions. The free world does not have the choice between improving itself or dealing with the Soviet menace. Its problem is precisely that it must improve while protecting itself against the danger of aggression or subversion. Force by itself will not supply an answer to the challenge of the future; it offers the possibility that there will be a future. In the long term our vitality and the meaning of our life depend on the principles by which we live. But this does not mean that in the near future we may not need the sternness to act decisively in the face of ambiguous challenges and the moral strength to build a future even while we are aware of our present imperfections.

A problem may be ultimately spiritual, while being immediately political or military or economic. If we insist on moral perfection before we act we will achieve neither perfection nor action. At a time when the survival of our civilization and perhaps of all of humanity hangs in the balance, humility cannot take the form of recoiling before every course of action. Our moral conscience has never been more needed. But it must not magnify the absolutism of our strategic doctrine, and the occasional self-righteousness of our diplomacy, by making our choices seem simpler than they are.

[i]New Statesman: The Week-end Review, January 4, 1958, p. 1.

[ii] Geoffrey Barraclough, "Who Won at NATO?," The Nation, January 4, 1958. See also comments of Mr. Gaitskell in the House of Commons, February 19, 1958.

[iii] George F. Kennan, The Reith Lectures, The Listener, December 5, 1957; Denis Healey, A Neutral Belt in Europe, Fabian Tract 311.

[iv] Comments by Aneurin Bevan, The Times (London), October 2, 1957.

[v]New Statesman, op. cit.

[vi] Viscount Hinchingbrooke, M.P., Hansard, No. 408, p. 806.

[vii] Barraclough, op. cit.

[viii] Interview with James Reston, The New York Times, October 10, 1957.

[ix] Kennan, op. cit., November 14, 1957, p. 771.

  • HENRY A. KISSINGER, Associate Director of the Harvard Center for International Affairs and Director of Special Studies of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; author of "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy"
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