The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
A NOTHER article on disengagement? Surely, after the number that have recently appeared, after the spate of speeches, broadcasts and interviews on the subject, there can be nothing more to say. My excuse for nevertheless discussing it again is that, despite all that has been said and written, there still appear to be much misunderstanding and confusion about what exactly the advocates of disengagement want and why they want it.
This is partly because the single word "disengagement" has been used to describe a number of totally different propositions ranging all the way from some "thinning out" of forces on both sides of the Iron Curtain in Europe to the complete removal of United States forces across the Atlantic. Those of us who have tried to put forward reasonably precise proposals which do not involve the withdrawal of American or British forces even from continental Europe may be pardoned if we are mildly irritated when we are grouped not only with Mr. Kennan but with Mr. Khrushchev and subjected to the same attack from Mr. Acheson's blunderbuss. Nor is our irritation diminished by the feeling that some of our critics are so passionate in their opposition to any departure from the status quo that they deliberately introduce confusion, hoping thereby to destroy all heretics together—however moderate—in the flames of their righteous indignation.
Recognizing the deep sincerity of these "conservatives," I feel, nevertheless, that on a subject as complex as this a cooler, more intellectual, more objective approach is desirable. But let me add that the misunderstandings cannot be ascribed to the critics alone. The exponents of plans for disengagement have sometimes been too vague; and failures of communication have often occurred through partial reporting and half quotations. Moreover, the word "disengagement" is itself misleading.
In this article I hope at least to clear up some confusion. I shall attempt to restate the general approach of those in Britain who believe that the West should put forward proposals for disengagement. I shall explain why we think this is desirable and what form the disengagement might take. And in so doing I shall try to review the latest state of the debate on the whole subject.
It may help to clear some of the confusion out of the way if I begin by outlining what I think is not in dispute between our critics and ourselves.
First, whatever the differences of opinion about the situation in the Soviet Union and the intentions of the Soviet Government, we have never for one moment doubted the need to preserve "the deterrent." By this I mean that the risk of aggression by the Soviet Union is still far too great for the Western democracies to give up such power to retaliate as will deter the Soviet from launching a major attack.
Secondly, we believe that the maintenance of NATO is, in present conditions, essential. It could be argued that, because the United States has the strategic nuclear weapons necessary to deter the Soviet Union from attacking, Western Europe can simply shelter behind them without either any formal alliance with America or any significant military power of its own. There are, however, overwhelming military and political objections to this. Without NATO the morale of Western Europe would collapse, and we might be faced with a series of small but growing encroachments and advances from the Soviet against which neither the United States nor the European countries would be prepared to see strategic nuclear weapons used.
Thirdly and consequently, we hold that it is essential for American and British forces to remain at present upon the Continent of Europe, since without them the European peoples, and probably the Soviet Government too, might not believe any longer that the United States and Britain were prepared to join in resisting aggression.
Fourthly, since effective deterrence means being in a position to retaliate against a major nuclear attack, the West must be so armed as to make it impossible for the Soviet Union to destroy the power of retaliation before it can be used. This is the case for a large number of air bases, and for ensuring that a situation never arises in which the Russians could destroy all the weapons of retaliation before they could be launched or delivered.
Finally, we reject the argument, sometimes heard in Britain, that there is no purpose in the West retaining the bomb because we shall never use it first and that if the Russians used it first there would be no point in adding further destruction to the havoc which already existed. This is beside the point. The purpose of having the bomb, as has been repeated ad nauseam, is to deter the Soviet Union from launching an attack. So long as it does this, it fulfills its purpose.
To sum up, I believe that the policy of defense-deterrence is fully justified in present circumstances and must be continued unless and until genuine all-round disarmament with full controls, together with political settlements, should make it unnecessary. But—and here our differences begin—we do not believe that this simple defense-deterrence posture is enough—nearly enough—as a policy for the West.
To begin with, it has for some time been apparent that the real danger of war no longer lies in a deliberate decision by the Soviet Union to launch a major nuclear attack. Mr. Allen Dulles has recently confirmed that this is his opinion. The real danger lies in disputes leading to minor armed conflicts which, in turn, might develop into a major war. But it is also apparent—and is generally accepted—that strategic nuclear weapons cannot be used for dealing with minor conflicts. The United States would not be prepared to drop thermonuclear bombs on Russia if, for example, rioting followed by armed skirmishing occurred in Berlin or on the frontiers of East and West Germany. I believe this has been the case for many years; but the sputnik has made it certain that no American President is going to risk the wholesale destruction of U.S. cities except as an absolutely last resort.
Since, however, the Russians are perfectly well aware of this, the power of strategic nuclear weapons to act as a deterrent against minor acts of aggression is now very slight indeed. The theory, therefore, that we can rest our policy solely on the major deterrent is completely discredited. The possession of strategic nuclear weapons is an essential, but not the only essential element, in our defense policy.
It is for this reason that Western policy has turned to the development of smaller, so-called tactical nuclear weapons. But even these, it seems to me, would never be used in the first instance to deal with minor conflicts. For such conflicts conventional forces would be required. I am not concerned here with the problem of whether there has been too great a decline of conventional forces and too great an emphasis in the strategy of the West on nuclear weapons. I think we must accept that a change here is unlikely. What I am concerned with is just how far the doctrine of deterrence works and is applicable in the case of minor outbreaks.
One must certainly hope that it is. But one cannot but have doubts; one cannot but recognize some difficulties. In some countries there is a resistance to the idea that smaller nuclear weapons may be used on their territory to restrain Russian forces, while the large cities of the United States and of Britain are kept, so to speak, immune from nuclear attack. The significance of these feelings partly depends in the last resort on how destructive the tactical nuclear weapons are to be, but it is also affected by the general NATO strategy which lies behind the decision to rely on tactical nuclear weapons.
For my part, I believe it would be helpful if certain principles were laid down about this strategy: that no more force should ever be used in the event of a local conflict than is necessary to contain the attack; that any conflict should as far as possible be localized; that in any event every effort should be made to avoid using weapons which poison the atmosphere over wide areas; and, perhaps most important of all, that the object should be not to win any such small war which breaks out but to terminate the fighting by agreement. If a declaration of this kind could be made, some at least of the fears and uncertainties in Europe might be diminished.
Even so, one cannot say that the theory of deterrence applied to minor attacks has anything like the same clarity and conviction as its application to full-scale nuclear war. For there remains a real doubt as to whether, once a small conflict breaks out and conventional forces are engaged, it will be possible to prevent first the use of tactical nuclear weapons and then a gradual stepping up to the use of thermonuclear bombs. Experts can discuss the doctrine of graduated deterrence—there is no doubt much force in the arguments of those who believe in it—but we can never be certain that it will in fact be possible to limit war in the manner intended. This uncertainty is sometimes held to be in itself a deterrent against aggression. I am not so sure. To me it seems just as likely to weaken the resolve to resist and thus the significance of the deterrent.
Anxiety remains for another reason. Even though the possible use of small tactical nuclear weapons, instead of the H-bomb, might deter the Soviet Union from any conscious and deliberate minor attack, it is doubtful whether this, any more than a deliberate major attack, is what we really have to fear. Sometimes we are apt to think too much in terms of the Korean War, where a conflict was deliberately started by the North Koreans under the direction of the Soviet Union. Since then, however, we have had two examples of war or near-war which did not spring in any way from a deliberate decision of the Soviet to attack.
In the case of the Suez adventure the decision was made by Israel, France and Britain. It is true that the Soviet Union had supplied arms to Egypt, but there is a big difference between the supplying of arms—and, after all, other countries were supplying arms to other Middle Eastern countries—and the actual decision to attack with those arms. The second instance is, of course, that of Hungary, where the new, revolutionary, disturbing element was not deliberate Soviet aggression but the passionate revolt of the Hungarian people against their Communist government.
In looking at the world today we should not underestimate the danger of passion as a cause of war. It may not be the cold calculations of the Kremlin but the blind anger of repressed or backward peoples which could cause the explosion. In such circumstances the theory of deterrence does not apply, because people simply do not behave rationally; they do not count the cost as we assume, when applying the theory, that the Soviets do.
The doctrine of deterrence as the chief element of policy seems even more inadequate when one takes into account the probability that, as the years go on, the power to make and to use nuclear weapons will spread to many more governments. The process, to be sure, will be a slow one. Such weapons are very costly to produce and call for very advanced scientific techniques. Apart from the three Powers who already make fissionable material, only one—France—appears likely to be able to manufacture a nuclear weapon in the near future. But who can say what the scientific developments in this field will be in, say, ten years' time? And even before that, can one really be sure that countries and governments which are far less responsible, far less likely to calculate the consequences of their actions, may not somehow come into possession of these weapons? If this should happen the danger of a nuclear war starting without any deliberate decision by the Soviet Union or any other major Power will be greatly enhanced. The temptation to use an atom bomb and force a quick surrender from a neighboring country with which there is a long-standing dispute before anybody else can intervene might prove irresistible to some governments.
Then there is the special case of Western Germany. Since Germany is a member of NATO, and since the NATO countries have decided that they must have tactical nuclear weapons, there is at least a long-term logical argument for allowing German forces to have these weapons on the same terms as the forces of France, or the Low Countries, or even Britain. Yet, millions of Europeans, including Germans, have an uneasy feeling that the arming of German forces with nuclear weapons may be a step on the downhill path. It is true that at the moment the Americans keep possession of the atomic warheads. They have "the key to the cupboard." But may not this be a first step toward Germany's not only possessing these weapons herself but manufacturing them as well? The present German Government has declared that it has no intention of doing so. But what will future governments do? These doubts and fears may be unjustified, but they exist all the same—inside as well as outside Germany.
For all these reasons many of us have come to the conclusion that the policy of defense-deterrence, though necessary, is inadequate and that the West must also make a great effort to eliminate the danger spots from which small armed conflicts may develop into a major war. We have no illusions about the difficulties. But the attempt must be made, through agreements, even of a limited character, to break down the barrier of fear and suspicion which still dominates relations between the Soviet Union and the democracies.
There is one other quite different but very powerful argument in favor of the West coming forward with positive proposals for peaceful settlements. Even if the cold war is regarded in military terms as a secure stalemate with no danger of hot war breaking out, a struggle still continues between the Communist bloc and the Western democracies. It is a political and economic struggle, a struggle for influence and prestige in which propaganda plays a large part. While it is no doubt chiefly concentrated in the so-called "uncommitted areas," it is also taking place within the democracies themselves.
It has often seemed to me strange that while the governments of the West are fully aware of this and while the United States Government in particular devotes a great deal of money and effort in this field, they so often fail to realize—unlike the Russians—the importance of the public reaction when forming and expressing their own policy. For some reason Radio Free Europe is regarded as a legitimate instrument of propaganda but statements by the President or the Secretary of State are not. To take into account world opinion when making government pronouncements is looked upon as a kind of dirty trick which only the Russians use. As a result, so it seems to many of us, the West loses point after point in the cold war; and for most of the time it is not even trying.
Now, of course, I do not mean that the West should put forward specious proposals which are obviously insincere and can quickly be exposed as such. That would be just bad propaganda and worse than nothing. But the very fact that our governments appear to consider (and, of course, they may be right) that the Russians are never serious, but are thinking solely in terms of propaganda, should give them—the governments of the West—a huge advantage. For if the Russians do not want peaceful settlements it should be easy enough to make this plain. Yet it will never be made plain if we adhere to a purely negative line both in replying to Russian offers and in refusing to make any of our own.
The best propaganda of all for the West, both in the uncommitted countries and among their own peoples, is continually to put forward definite, clear-cut, reasonable proposals for peace which are not designed to bring relative advantage to our own side (so that on this account they are inevitably rejected by the Russians), but which aim at reducing tension while leaving the balance of security unchanged.
While it would be bad propaganda to put forward proposals which plainly weaken the Soviet position, so, of course, it would be foolish for the West to propose or to agree to plans which weaken its own. I must emphasize that those of us who wish the West to take the initiative are perfectly well aware that in considering any possible change, whether in the field of disarmament or on political issues, the balance of security between East and West must not be impaired and must not be felt to be impaired by either side.
It is for this reason that although I regard the Rapacki Plan as an advance—because, for the first time, Poland and Czechoslovakia are grouped with Eastern Germany as, so to speak, the equivalent of Western Germany—nevertheless a plan which simply involved a nuclear-free zone in that area would not be acceptable to the West because it would probably upset the balance of security to their disadvantage. That is why we have urged that it should be treated as a basis for discussion, with the understanding that conventional forces should be included as well.
But the announcement that the United States "rejects" this plan seems to me almost a classic case of how not to handle a proposal of this kind. First of all, the reply should surely have come from the West as a whole and not from the United States alone. Secondly, how much wiser it would have been, from the point of view of propaganda, if while drawing attention to the weaknesses of the plan, the United States had expressed its willingness at least to discuss it at a summit conference. It is hard to see what possible drawbacks there would have been to a reply of this kind. Instead of giving the impression of intransigence, which, of course, will now be fully exploited by the Soviets in the satellite states, it would have presented the West as seriously interested in relaxing tension, although quite legitimately concerned to safeguard its interests.
This is perhaps a convenient point to underline an even more fundamental difference between those who are content with the status quo and those who want to go forward to try to achieve settlements. It seems clear from their writings and speeches on the subject of disarmament and foreign policy that some American writers, of whom Mr. Acheson is one,[i] take the view that negotiations with the Russians are useless, because they will never agree to anything which is not to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of the Western Powers. Such persons hold that there are no possible settlements which might remove causes of friction but not be of disadvantage to one side or the other.
Behind this attitude there lies the conspiratorial or melodramatic theory of Soviet policy, according to which the members of the Soviet Government are little better than an extremely clever gang of international criminals whom all right-minded persons must strive to eliminate and with whom, in consequence, our relations can never be friendly or even relaxed. According to this theory, to relax tension can only be dangerous. For it cannot lead to peace and it may be disastrous in undermining our will to resist. Thus, fears and suspicions are good. If they disappear we shall be falling into a trap: we shall be disarmed morally and mentally. Incidentally, this line of reasoning is held to apply not only to the policies of Russia but also to those of the satellites, who are just part of the gang, even though they are small fry compared with the Soviet.
I may have expressed this point of view rather strongly, but something like it seems to me to lie at the heart of so much disagreement in the West that it is well to put it sharply and then give the reasons why many of us in Britain cannot accept it.
To begin with, it seems to us out of accord with the facts. It is simply not true to say that the Russians have been unwilling to make any agreement whatever. They made and kept the agreement on Austria. They have accepted, following the Geneva conference, a situation in Indochina which is now less favorable to them than they might have claimed according to the conference decisions. The truth seems to be that they are prepared to make agreements if it suits them but that they generally keep strictly to the letter of any agreement and take advantage of any loopholes or lack of precision in drafting.
Secondly, it is surely evident that internal changes have taken place within the Soviet Union and that, partly as a result, there has been some change in the Soviet attitude to the outside world. Admittedly, this may be just a change of tactics, but it would be very surprising if, over the years, economic progress in Russia was not accompanied by social change and if these two things did not influence the attitude of the government to the outside world. I have yet to meet a single person who has been in Russia recently who does not comment on the changes in the atmosphere there. The mere fact that Mr. Khrushchev does not slaughter his opponents in the same way as Stalin did is itself of some significance.
Thirdly, it will hardly be denied that whatever may be the position within the Soviet Union, there have been quite remarkable developments in the satellite states, particularly in Poland and Hungary. Of course, these states still have Communist governments. But all who visit Poland, for instance, come back impressed by the freedom of speech which now exists there. Without a doubt the Communist régimes there are much less powerful than we once supposed. Although prophecy in this field is dangerous, it does seem as if over the long period further liberalization will have to be allowed or the pent-up forces will break out in another explosion. In any event, the governments in both countries are facing serious problems. The picture of them as being just part of a slick, brilliantly organized, immensely powerful, sinister conspiracy simply does not fit the facts today at all. Nor, for that matter, does the position of Jugoslavia. Very wisely the governments of the West gave Marshal Tito much support when he broke away from the Soviet bloc. They did not then insist that everything was black or white. There is really no reason why they should do so in the case of the satellites.
But if it is an error to suppose that nothing has changed or will change on the other side of the Iron Curtain, it is an even more serious error to imagine that it is an easy matter just to maintain the status quo on our side. The experience of the last few years leads to an exactly contrary conclusion. For example, one NATO country after another has reduced its contribution to the common cause. No doubt this can be ascribed to democracy and the pressure of public opinion. But to some extent this is part of the data of the problem. Democracy is, after all, what we are seeking to preserve.
I believe that this alone makes it virtually certain that a purely negative attitude on foreign affairs is not going to be adequate and that the enthusiasm for NATO among the Western democracies has weakened today principally because the West has no positive foreign policy. Merely to go on preaching that we have to be strong and everything will be all right is not enough. It is quite unconvincing, if indeed it conveys any precise meaning at all. On the contrary, the morale of NATO will be high provided people feel that serious efforts are being made to achieve peace. If these efforts fail it will be unfortunate, but if it is seen that the failure is the result of Soviet not Western intransigence, then there will be a far better understanding of the need for the maintenance of strong defenses. If these efforts are not made, it is virtually certain that the pressure of public opinion will lead to a steady weakening of the West.
One last point before I turn to the specific proposals for disengagement. I cannot help feeling occasionally that some American citizens suffer from a wholly unnecessary defeatist feeling about talks with the Russians. They give the impression that they expect the Russians will always get the better of them. In the old days we used to be told in Britain that Americans were suspicious of us because we could always outsmart them. Now the same sort of thing seems to extend to Russia. It is not shared, in my opinion, by any European government—certainly not by Dr. Adenauer, who has expressed his willingness to have summit talks continuing over three years. I hope, therefore, that American opinion will become more confident. Judging by conversations I have had with American diplomats and leading politicians, there is no justification for this defeatism.
To sum up our general approach. While fully accepting the need for defense-deterrence, we cannot regard it alone as a sufficient policy for the West. The danger of war, the difficulty of maintaining the status quo, the need to carry public opinion with us, all make it highly desirable that the Western Powers should actively seek a solution to the major disputes which threaten peace. While we have no illusions about the difficulties of negotiating with the Soviet Union, we do not believe, either in the light of what has happened in recent years or as a matter of principle, that agreements with the Kremlin satisfactory both to Russia and the West are inherently impossible.
What kind of agreements? There are obviously two possible kinds: disarmament and political settlements.
If I leave disarmament on one side, it is not because I regard the project as unimportant or the prospect as hopeless. It seems to me that an agreement to suspend nuclear tests should not be difficult to reach independently of other disarmament measures. Such an agreement would be worth while both for its own sake and because it might be a prelude to a wider agreement. But it is necessary that we should at the same time try to reach political settlements without insisting that they must be a condition of disarmament. Moreover, as it happens, the particular proposals for disengagement which we have in mind also involve a measure of disarmament.
What political settlements? The two areas where the dangers seem greatest are the Middle East and Central Europe. There are special difficulties in the case of the Middle East and, although it would be highly desirable to reach an agreement which minimized the threat of war in that explosive part of the world, I shall not pursue the subject here.
So one turns to Europe. The problems stand out clearly enough: German reunification; a peace settlement which determines, inter alia, Germany's eastern frontier; the situation in the satellite states. But how serious are the problems? How grave is the danger that unless they are solved they may actually lead to war?
These are difficult matters of judgment on which opinions will differ. It could fairly be said that at present the continued division of Germany and the maintenance of a Communist government in East Germany do not give rise to any obvious danger of armed conflict. But for how long will this be true? It seems to me hardly possible to deny that so long as Germany is divided there is present in the heart of Europe a natural source of disturbance and a potential threat to peace. The threat could take more than one form. It could be an armed clash on the frontier between the forces of the two Germanys. It could be a rising in East Germany, followed by armed intervention from West Germany.
Some may argue that Germany ought to be kept partitioned, as Poland was, and that this is the lesser danger. But this would mean permanent occupation not only of East but of West Germany too. And that is all over. West Germany is independent and will shortly become the most powerful NATO country in continental Europe. Today we may feel there is not much to worry about. The present West German Government is unlikely to take any rash step. But in a few years' time, with another government, a larger army and passions roused, can one feel so confident? Surely it is worth while to try to bring about reunification peacefully by agreement and under controls.
The same arguments apply to the peace settlement and the eastern frontier. As part of a wider agreement there is every chance that Germany could and would accept the Oder-Neisse line today. More than one of her political leaders have hinted as much. Until this issue is disposed of, there inevitably will be continued nervousness over the possibility that sooner or later it may be settled by force.
I have already referred to developments in some of the satellites. The possibility exists—not perhaps this year or next year, but sooner or later—of further risings. We shall then again be faced with the hideous dilemma of allowing the revolution to be brutally suppressed while we stand idly by, or of ourselves risking, by armed intervention, a third world war. We escape danger only by shame. Can we not find some way of avoiding this? Is it not possible, again as part of a wider settlement, so to change the status quo as to ensure that the satellite peoples can become freer in a process of peaceful development? It may sound far too ambitious but is not the possibility worth exploring?
It was, indeed, no coincidence that recent plans for disengagement were first put forward just after the Hungarian rising in the autumn of 1956. The plans have been described and discussed often enough. But to avoid misunderstanding, I set out again the one which I believe is the most sensible. Let me call it the "full" disengagement plan. It covers five points:
(1) The evacuation by foreign forces of an area comprising West Germany, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
(2) Agreement upon and international control over the national forces permitted to the countries within this area, the controls to be as comprehensive as necessary.
(3) The reunification of Germany on the basis of free elections.
(4) A security pact under which the territorial integrity of the frontiers of the countries included in this area would be guaranteed by the countries themselves and also by the four major Powers—the United States, Britain, France and Russia.
(5) When the preceding points have been agreed to, an undertaking to be given that Germany would be prepared to leave NATO and that Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary would withdraw from the Warsaw Pact.
A few explanatory comments are required.
First, we have never suggested that so ambitious a plan could possibly be agreed upon quickly. We have recognized that negotiations would take several years.
Secondly, there would be no question of putting forward this plan until it had been first agreed upon by the Western Powers—including the German Federal Republic.
Thirdly, the plan must be subject to modifications agreed on in the course of negotiations. I have set it out in detail at this stage only because so much confusion and misunderstanding have sprung from vagueness.
Fourthly, the plan does not involve either the end of NATO or the withdrawal of American and British troops from the Continent. These troops would remain in Western Europe, i.e. France and the Low Countries, and of course in Britain.
Fifthly, although I have not specifically mentioned Germany's eastern frontier, agreement on this would probably be necessary as part of the wider settlement.
The advantages of these proposals are clear enough. The reunification of Germany, the withdrawal of Soviet troops to their own frontier and the establishment of controlled disarmament in one of the danger zones of the world are surely all highly desirable aims. Not that the plan is designed to improve the relative strength of the West, for if this were the case, there would be no reason to hope that the Soviets would ever accept it. The intention rather is to leave the relative balance of security unimpaired. That is why, if we really desire German reunification and the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the satellite states, we must concede the withdrawal of Germany from NATO.
That a change of this kind would lead to a great relaxation of tension is surely undeniable. But it is equally true that before it is ever likely to come about, tension must first be relaxed to some extent. Above all, there will have to be a genuine desire on the part of America and Russia to coöperate in solving the problem of Central Europe.
Now for the criticisms.
It has been said that the neutralization of Germany as well as the three satellite states will inevitably lead to the spread of "neutralism" in other NATO countries and, therefore, to the break-up of the alliance. This is surely based on a misunderstanding. The withdrawal of Germany from NATO does not mean that Germany contracts out of her geographical position and somehow escapes becoming involved in a European war. Nor does it mean that she can stop spending money on defense any more than Sweden, Switzerland or Jugoslavia. She will have her own conventional forces which she would be committed to use if there were a breach of the security pact and with which she would be expected to repel any minor attack. No doubt, also, radar screens covering the frontier of the neutralized area would be available to the West and the Soviets. Thus, to speak of a vacuum being created in Central Europe is a misconception. If Russia decided to attack, West Germany could not possibly keep out of the war. Neutralization is the price to be paid for reunification. It does not mean "non-involvement." The idea that it would be attractive for other countries to imitate Germany, therefore, simply does not follow.
Another criticism is that, if American and British forces were withdrawn from Germany, they would have to leave continental Europe and perhaps Britain as well. I see no reason for this. It is true that the rehousing of these troops on their present scale would be expensive and would take time. But it is certainly not impossible. There are at present five American divisions in Europe. We could reasonably hope that in an atmosphere in which such a far-reaching political settlement was reached the size of the American forces could be reduced so that the total number of American and British troops would not exceed, say, 100,000. To claim that these could not be physically accommodated in France, Belgium and Holland does not make sense. If the argument is, rather, the psychological difficulty, this seems to me likely to be diminished rather than increased by the change. For much of the opposition in Europe today to the presence of American forces is because of what is regarded as the needlessly warlike attitude of the United States Government. If tension were relaxed and the prospects of peace greatly improved, opposition might very well die down. I emphasize, however, that like the rest of the plan, the movement of American and British troops must be looked upon as essentially a long-term operation.
Then there is the reëntry argument. It is said that if Russian forces withdraw from the satellite states and the Communist régimes then were threatened with revolt, the Russians would immediately march in again; there would thus arise an even more dangerous situation than the present one. The reëntry of foreign forces into the specified area would certainly be a breach of the security pact. If it were to happen, NATO forces would also have the right at once to reënter from the West. But there is no reason why a surprise attack would be any more possible under the new situation than it is today. Why, after all, should the Russians be more likely to reënter the Poland from which they had withdrawn—even though they knew this meant facing resistance from the West—than they are to launch an attack today over the West German frontier?
The fact of the matter is, however, that if they intended to reënter because a Communist government was threatened with revolution or displacement, then it is unlikely that the Russians would have made the agreement in the first place. Again, I emphasize that the assumption underlying the plan is that the Soviet Union has decided it is worth while trying to achieve a permanent settlement and that so long as her own security is not impaired she is prepared to loosen the bonds on her satellites.
One cannot help feeling, moreover, that behind this particular criticism lies an altogether excessive timidity. For the implication is that the West cannot afford the slightest risk of a disturbance to the Communist régimes in Eastern Europe lest this may involve the danger of war. In other words, we must cling to the status quo because even a desirable change might involve risks. That there would be risks cannot be denied, but they exist today. That is one of the reasons why it is so necessary to try to eliminate them, not by accepting that dictatorship in Eastern Europe is permanent and inevitable but by trying, through agreement, to ease the transition to more liberal régimes.
A fourth criticism is that it is dangerous not to have American and Soviet forces actually facing one another. It is held that so long as the Russians know that, if they attack, American troops are involved, this will provide a sufficient deterrent to any kind of aggression. This argument is irrelevant if, as I have already argued, it is no longer the case that a deliberate decision on the part of Russia to attack constitutes the real danger. But in any event the point cannot be sustained in face of the absence of American troops in Scandinavia, Turkey, Greece and the Middle East. The deterrent still applies in these parts because nobody doubts that if the Russians were to launch an attack in force there the Americans would be involved. This, surely, is the crucial point.
Nor does the case of Korea, as is often claimed, alter the matter. For it was not the departure of the Americans in itself which led to the Korean War, but the accompanying statements of Mr. Acheson and General MacArthur that the Americans had no strategic interest in Korea. To suggest that the only way to avoid war is for American and Soviet troops to face one another is certainly not a doctrine which is put into practice. They face one another today only in a very small sector of Europe. Yet nobody really believes that this means that Europe is the safest place and that other parts of the world, where there are no American troops, are correspondingly more dangerous.
Nevertheless, I must freely admit that on the basis of the present relationship of Russia and the United States, there is little hope of much progress being made for the time being towards the full disengagement plan. Both sides appear to think that it would upset the balance of security to their disadvantage.
The Soviet leaders, in particular, have made it plain that they will not consider either the complete withdrawal of their own forces from Central and Eastern Europe or the reunification of Germany. Although the fact that the Soviet Union takes this view really makes nonsense of the idea that the West would be at a disadvantage if the disengagement plan were to be agreed upon, and although to propose such a plan would still, in my opinion, be worth while—partly as a long-term objective and partly because of the impact on public opinion—nevertheless at this stage it is no doubt necessary to accept a more limited objective. This means in effect dropping from the plan what the Russians will not at present accept, together with what consequently becomes irrelevant—the complete withdrawal of foreign forces and the reunification of Germany on the one hand, the security pact and the neutralized area on the other.
This leaves the possibility of a modified plan, which involves a reduction in foreign forces and a pilot disarmament plan in the area—the second of the five points outlined above. Such a plan, to have any value, must, of course, be accompanied by the establishment of international controls. But it would then be a definite advance, a step towards a wider disarmament pact. Judging by the proceedings of the Disarmament Subcommittee, it does not seem very likely that the Soviet Union will agree to really effective controls on her own territory. She might, however, agree to controls in Poland, Czechoslovakia and even Hungary. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that Poland at least would warmly welcome a development of this kind. Apart from the advantages in the way of a pilot scheme for disarmament, it would also reduce tension generally and, to some extent, encourage a greater degree of liberalization within the satellite states. For these reasons it seems to me well worth while trying to agree on a limited pact of this kind. And, if so, then there are surely good reasons why the West should gain credit by proposing it themselves. It seems to me regrettable that they did not do so in answer to the Rapacki Plan.
It is, indeed, hard to see what objections there can be to such a change. None of those levelled at the more ambitious plan applies. Germany does not leave NATO; foreign forces are reduced but not wholly withdrawn (the foreign forces of the West in Germany are in any case being reduced); there is no "reëntry" problem. Neither NATO nor for that matter the Russians need fear that the balance of security is being changed to their disadvantage. The only criticisms I have heard are that it discriminates against Germany because she alone of the Western Powers becomes subject to controlled disarmament and that, for some reason, it is supposed to freeze the status quo.
The first argument makes one despair. If those countries which happen for geographical and historical reasons to be in a danger zone are going to complain that they are treated unfairly when it is suggested that special controls should be set up to reduce the dangers in which they live, how can we hope to get peace? Moreover, the Paris Treaties themselves discriminate against Germany.
The second argument, though more respectable, is equally unconvincing, especially when it is put forward by those who are themselves resisting any proposal to change the status quo. In fact, there is no reason whatever why this limited form of disengagement should prevent a political settlement, unless, of course, it is suggested—which is sheer lunacy—that uncontrolled military force is to be used to bring such a settlement about.
One can only hope that, despite the rejection of the Rapacki Plan, the West will be prepared to reconsider its attitude on this if and when the summit conference takes place. Perhaps the statesmen concerned may be induced to do so, if not from any real conviction, then at least because the events of recent months should have revealed to them how very much more effective Western diplomacy is when it puts forward positive, reasonable proposals instead of just turning down offers from Moscow. If the NATO meeting at Copenhagen was successful, if the allies are rather less disunited, if there is a general feeling that the West has at last scored a few points in the cold war, it is only because for once in a way it is the Russians who have been saying "No" to our proposals, rather than we who are saying "No" to theirs. Although point-scoring should never be regarded as the main object, nor affect the type of proposals put forward, a certain amount of it can be expected as a by-product of the kind of Western initiative for which some of us have long been pressing.
[i] Cf. "The Illusion of Disengagement," Foreign Affairs, April 1958.