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World: Europe: Of Defense and D

6 minute read

IN its 21 years of existence, NATO has always had the rich kid’s problem: it carries plenty of big bills but is forever short of small change. U.S. nuclear warheads have protected the alliance’s 14 other members against the doomsday stockpile of any potential aggressor, but the problem has been with less powerful armaments.

In the 1960s, NATO planners began to broaden their defenses with a strategy of “flexible response,” employing larger numbers of conventional forces, backed by tactical nuclear weapons. But the shift in emphasis came slowly, and so did the money to finance it. Last week, however, the alliance’s foreign and defense ministers decided at a meeting in Brussels to concentrate still harder on the vital small change elements of their defenses. In what Melvin Laird called “the most important [NATO meeting] in my tenure as Secretary of Defense,” they adopted a $1 billion program for the 1970s that will dramatically upgrade Europe’s conventional, non-nuclear forces.

A.D. 70. The plan reflects a recognition by West Europeans of several recent disturbing developments. The most important is the growth of the Soviet Union’s nuclear inventory to near parity with that of the U.S.

At Laird’s suggestion, military research experts from 13 nations began work last February on an answer to the Soviet challenge. The result is a thick document called A.D. 70 (for Alliance Defense, 1970). It concluded that NATO possesses “adequate nuclear forces,” but that its conventional military strength “is less satisfactory”—quite an understatement in view of the Warsaw Pact’s 2-to-l edge in troop strength. The report recommended and the members unanimously approved: > Concrete hangars for NATO aircraft. Having watched the destruction of Egypt’s air force by Israel during the Six-Day War, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact forces are anxious to cover their own fighter-bombers.

> A buildup of tanks and antitank guns. Soviet tank tactics are far ahead of the West’s.

> More antisubmarine devices. NATO tracking equipment has not kept pace with the enormous Soviet buildup in the Mediterranean.

> A decentralization of troops and gear, a more rapid call-up system for European reserves and standardization of communications equipment.

A.D. 70 is the first major NATO pro gram that will be paid for entirely by European members, who pledged to ante up some $920 million above their normal contributions over the next five years. The West Germans alone are paying for 40% of the “infrastructure” items, and will also provide low-cost credit to Turkey for its share. Even Luxembourg, with its army of 560 men, responded to the call and doubled its normal pledge (to $1,900,000).

No Pull out. Considering Europe’s current prosperity, the NATO pledge was still rather modest. Nevertheless, it reversed a longstanding lack of interest in the alliance that has worried U.S. defense planners for some time, and Washington was quick to show its gratitude. Laird pledged to seek a substantial increase in the U.S. defense budget for fiscal 1972—perhaps as much as $3 billion—part of which would benefit NATO. Perhaps more important, he promised that the U.S. would not reduce its present 285,000-man troop level before the summer of 1972. To underscore that pledge, Secretary of State William Rogers read a message from President Nixon promising that no pullout will occur even after that date “unless there is reciprocal action from our adversaries.”

The President’s words irritated a sizable number of U.S. Senators who want to end, or at least reduce, the 25-year-old American military presence on the Continent and let Europe meet its own conventional defense needs. Opponents of this view argue that a U.S. withdrawal would set in motion the “Finlandization” of the Continent, prompting its countries to work out accommodations with Moscow from positions of weakness. Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield’s resolution calling for a substantial reduction has already been co-sponsored by 50 of his colleagues. He is expected to introduce it some time next year. Even if the Senate approves the resolution, the President will not be bound by it; however, supporters might try to limit defense appropriations for U.S. troops in Europe.

Overall, the NATO ministers’ attitude toward the Soviet Union was tougher than it has been for years. This was especially evident in their reaction to

Moscow’s top-priority diplomatic project, a European Security Conference designed to affirm the status quo on the Continent. In their final communique, the NATO members announced that they would attend such a conference only if: 1) the Big Four reach an agreement on the position of West Berlin, and 2) other “ongoing talks,” especially SALT, are “proceeding favorably.”

Meaty Bone. The Russians last week seemed to be trying to meet the conditions. On short notice, they brought together leaders of the Warsaw Pact nations in East Berlin for their third summit in a year. Plainly, the spur-of-the-moment powwow was designed chiefly to apply fraternal persuasion to East Germany’s Walter Ulbricht to accept a Berlin agreement.

The communiqué that emerged from the secret summit indicated that old Walter’s comrades were observing what one State Department official called “Lean-on-Ulbricht Day.” It hailed the “great international significance” of West Germany’s treaties with Moscow and Warsaw, which could only have galled the East German leader. It described Europe as a place “where the tendencies toward detente and all-embracing neighborly cooperation are increasingly emerging,” which is not exactly how Ulbricht sees it. The communique also pointedly omitted any demand for immediate West German recognition of East Germany, calling instead for the establishment of “equal relations.”

In spite of all this, the East Berlin summit was hardly a humiliation for Ulbricht. The speed with which the meeting was convened—Soviet Party Boss Leonid Brezhnev flew to East Berlin straight from Armenia—indicated how anxious Ulbricht’s comrades were to court him. In addition, the communique tossed Walter a very meaty bone. While it acknowledged for the first time that any agreement on West Berlin must “correspond to the needs” of the divided city’s people, it also noted that “the legitimate interests and sovereign rights” of Ulbricht’s regime must be taken into account. In the past, that wording has been translated into a demand for East German control of the overland access routes to West Berlin.

The West has rejected such an arrangement—for reasons that were all too obvious last week. To protest a meeting of West Germany’s Christian Democratic Party in West Berlin, East German border guards slowed traffic on the three Autobahnen that link the isolated city to the West. The result: Autobahnen delays of up to 14 hours for some travelers and miles-long lines of mammoth semitrailers, whose drivers organized pickup soccer games along the side of the road while waiting for the lights to turn green. West German border police, accustomed to the maddening slowdowns, quickly went into a now familiar routine. They set up field kitchens and began dispensing goulash to stranded drivers.

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