Courtesy Reuters

Missiles and the Western Alliance

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 [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]

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