In the past few months two conferences of NATO nations have rejected American proposals for a multilateral force (MLF) as "wasteful" and "superfluous." MLF would put a fleet of nuclear submarines under the joint control of NATO allies. Germany seems to be MLF's only European partisan. Yet America has rigidly declared the whole issue "un-negotiable" at the Geneva Disarmament Conference.
American interest in MLF may stem from real concern with the future of NATO unity. Some United States proponents of MLF hint that sharing Polaris submarines will give America's European allies the illusion of nuclear participation while preserving actual American control. The more realistic supporters, however, see that European participation must be more concrete if the U.S. is to convince its allies to shoulder the greater financial burden that their acceptance of MLF would entail.
But Germany, while concerned with NATO's future, of course, seems far more interested in the multilateral force as a vehicle for gaining her own nuclear bargaining power. West German defense minister Von Hassel has openly talked of persuading the American "partner" to give up any kind of special veto power as soon as the MLF becomes a military reality. As plans stand now, the Germans would pay 40% of the costs of MLF, not too high a price for a golden opportunity to gain some nuclear independence. In the Age of the Test Ban Treaty (by which, as a signatory, West Germany is bound) there is no other way for Germany to acquire nuclear arms.
Meanwhile the Russians, ever mindful of the too recent past, seem to be getting nervous, as are some of our allies. In the past week Pravda has come out with a vituperative attack on "West German militarism"; and Poland has prepared a new Rapacki plan for the de-nuclearization of much of Eastern Europe--and all of Germany.
America's persistant support of MLF is hard to understand in face of NATO apathy, especially when the U.S. has expressed such intelligent concern with the danger of spreading nuclear arms. But American insistance at Geneva that MLF is "non-negotiable" seems totally absurd. At worst discussion would assuage some Russian fears. Present policy is stimying the disarmament conference.