Perils of Nuclear Sharing

The U.S. has embarked on a program of nuclear sharing which may forestall agreement with the Soviet Union on arms control and nuclear proliferation. In the last six years, nuclear warheads have been mounted secretly on West German planes and missles, despite frequent warnings from Soviet officials -- repeated last week by Andrei Gromyko -- that "West German access to decisions" on nuclear weapons will freeze any further talks.

Nuclear sharing with West Germany began in 1958, when the Atomic Energy Act was amended to allow the U.S. to provide nuclear armament and information to NATO allies. Officials told Congress that the purpose of the program was to enable our allies to equip planes and train crews; they promised that the warheads would be kept in separate stockpiles under American lock and key and would be turned over to the Allies only in case of attack. And yet, only a few months after the missles arrived, the Defense Department authorized Germany to load them on missiles and planes. U.S. military authorities argued that in the event of attack, there would not be sufficient time to take the warheads from a bunker and place them on a delivery system.

Although the President has been "kept informed of the general program," the New York Times reported recently, "he and other top policy makers have been largely unaware of the specific arrangments made by the Defense Department with the NATO allies." In fact, the President's Press Secretary told newsmen last week that the question of mounting was "a technical matter" which should be referred to the Pentagon.

The Russians, then, have good reason to fear subrosa agreements between the Defense Department and the West Germans. Under the present controls, no West German pilot could fly a plane carrying nuclear weapons -- or even board one -- without authorization from the President. But in 1958 and 1959--as a Senator Clinton B. Anderson, a member of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, told the Senate -- the Defense Department concealed custody arrangements which "raised serious problems of possible unauthorised use or accidental detonation."

In the past six years, Germany has demanded a more significant role in planning NATO strategy. Fearing that Germany may seek her own nuclear weapons, the U.S. has proposed increasingly complex schemes for nuclear sharing. These schemes -- designed to give Germany a feeling of equality without giving her the bomb -- would perpetuate U.S. control and could not possibly satisfy Germany if she really wants nuclear power. Yet, the Soviets regard them, along with the present arrangements, as an opening wedge -- a precedent for Germany's future acquisition.

The continuation of the arms race in these past six years has increased the need for agreements on nuclear proliferation and arms control. Three more nations have acquired nuclear forces; many others -- including India, Indonesia -- are capable of building them. An attempt by either the United States or the Soviet Union to build an antiballistic missile system would renew competition in offensive as well as defensive missles. The result would be vertical proliferation of new weapons systems that would destabilize the present deterrent balance. By continuing its present policy of nuclear sharing, the U.S. thus risks destroying the entente and triggering a new Soviet-American nuclear race.