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NATO and Nervousness

Brass Tacks

By Robert H. Neuman

Eight years after its birth, NATO has become a sensitive and nervous problem child. Its raison d'etre has changed radically, along with transformations in military and diplomatic tactics. Yet, the fears and objectives of its Continental members have failed to keep pace with other developments, forcing the U.S. to tread a shaky line between political and military realities.

The original notion behind NATO's inception was the establishment of a deterrent military force which, in the event of war with the USSR, would give the U.S. Strategic Air Command time to strike one deadly, retaliative blow which would presumably bring the Kremlin to its knees. Vital to this concept was America's monopoly of nuclear weapons. When this monopoly was broken, nuclear warfare became the vital element in military thinking, and America revamped its strategy along the lines of "massive retaliation." The advent of nuclear weapons called for a reduction of ground forces, and in 1955 NATO's goal of sixty-five divisions was reduced to thirty-five.

Along with these changes came a reconsideration of NATO's goals. It is now conceded that, with Russia in possession of nuclear arms, Western Europe could not provide an adequate deterrent force. Recognizing this fact, the emphasis in recent years has been to transform NATO into more of an economic and political, rather than a military organization. The replacement of Lord Ismay, a military leader, with Dr. Spaak, a political figure, as Secretary General underscores this shift.

But the fears of Western European nations, primarily West Germany and France, have not changed. They fear the reduction in conventional armaments and troops, and they recoil at Britian's recent cut in her NATO ground forces and conversion to nuclear weapons. These countries, especially Germany, foresee a war of nuclear goliaths. They also fear that in the event of "brush wars" fought in Western Europe with conventional arms, they will be at the mercy of the overwhelming Soviet ground forces. Furthermore, they fear that by committing Western defense to nuclear weapons, the West will be compelled to take the initiative in using such forces, thereby precipitating a suicidal holocaust.

The United States sits on this thorny problem, fearing to jeopardize either military adequacy or diplomatic bonds. Secretary Dulles has assured Bonn and Paris that America will not reduce her NATO manpower, thereby attempting to allay the inevitable neutralistic sentiment which would result from such action. But, being committed to nuclear emphasis in its general defense scheme, America is hard put to modify this concept as applied to Western Europe.

Bonn naturally wants NATO to plan for halting a Soviet offensive at the Elbe, rather than at the Rhine. But such a goal is admittedly impossible to achieve, and nuclear retaliation must be the primary objective. Yet, America can afford to sustain its NATO troops at their present force, if only to avert European fears and neutralistic repercussions. Besides, an adequate European ground force is vital to protect the missile sites which would launch the nuclear reprisal.

Such military considerations must not be permitted to paralyze the emergent economic functions of NATO. These functions will rapidly overshadow other objectives, and antipathies over military strategy cannot be allowed to interrupt such progress. It is to this goal that America must yield, and must make concessions to Europe, if only to prevent political tensions from destroying the delicate, nascent, economic agreement.

America, then, must continue to balance political necessity with military strategy. Britain, unable financially to sustain superfluous troops in Western Europe, cannot afford this luxury. But, in the course of the current meeting of the NATO Council, Continental nations should be made to realize that nothing more than token service can now be paid to the outdated concept of deterrence through the use of conventional military forces.

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