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Maintaining credible deterrence in Europe. NATO chief: tougher to do if Euromissiles go

If NATO's Pershing 2s and ground-launched cruise missiles are removed under a Euromissile arms control deal, says NATO commander Gen. Bernard Rogers, ``then the question is: What can we do to continue to make our deterrent credible and continue to make it flexible?'' Various American officials have suggested that the 20-year-old options of either nuclear or conventional ``flexible response'' to a Soviet attack could still be preserved by America's remaining nuclear forces. These include: the Lance and other battlefield nuclear weapons, ``dual-capable'' (nuclear or conventional) aircraft, nonstrategic sea-launched cruise missiles, some 400 strategic submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic (intercontinental) nuclear forces.

Some strategists outside of government also argue that the independent French and British nuclear forces help deter a Soviet attack; a few even talk of the possibility of shifting to a purely conventional deterrence of war.

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General Rogers, the supreme allied commander for Europe, says he finds all of these alternatives wanting, unless substantial improvements are made. The slowness of cruise missiles means both that they could not strike ``time urgent'' targets like mobile Soviet missiles, and that they would be vulnerable to Soviet air defenses.

In a Europe without long-range intermediate nuclear forces (INF) - considered a likely scenario, given the progress on current superpower Euromissile arms talks - NATO could use aircraft and air-launched cruise missiles to maintain the kind of deterrent credibility that comes from holding Soviet territory at risk, Rogers says.

But he says he sees several problems militarily.

First is the high loss rate of aircraft trying to penetrate massive Soviet air defenses - and the drop in accuracy compared with the fine-tuned Pershing 2s and ground-launched cruises.

Second is the removal of dual-capable aircraft from their crucial conventional role of bringing heavy firepower to bear to offset the strong Soviet superiority in heavy ground weapons.

Third is the drawback that even refueled F-111 aircraft can reach only as far as the Soviet Union's three Western Military Districts and not the Soviet heartland.

Fourth is the reduction of ``burden-sharing'' among allies if only aircraft are to pose a potential threat to Soviet territory from Europe. At present, four European allies - with a fifth pledged to join - share the risk by stationing long-range INF on their territory. Specially equipped European Tornadoes might be able to take over part of the mission, but this would still ``reduce the burden-sharing to those nations that have the aircraft equipped to penetrate,'' Rogers says. These are Britain, West Germany, and Italy.

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Fifth is the fact that standoff air-launched cruise missiles are so heavy that they would not fit onto the United States F-111 - the only aircraft in the European theater that is capable of reaching the Soviet Union. The cruises would require the bulkier platform of the B-52, which would have to be forward-deployed. This would make the cruises indistinguishable from America's strategic B-52s and therefore unsuitable for intermediate escalation, as the Soviets could confuse a theater strike with a strategic one.

There are difficulties with sea-launched cruise missiles as well, Rogers says, especially in sometimes scanty availability and in coordinating command and control.

Nor are the submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that the US and Britain commit to NATO considered a satisfactory theater deterrent.

However - here Rogers stressed that this was his personal opinion - ``we should not use strategic weapons for theater purposes, because whether we like it or not, the Soviet Union ... can't identify those [SLBMs] that are assigned to SACEUR [Supreme Allied Command in Europe] from those that are not assigned to SACEUR. And being a strategic weapon, the first thought that comes to [the Soviet] mind is, we're going to get the strategic laydown by the United States, and therefore before the full blast strikes us, we'll release our strategic nuclear weapons.''

As for battlefield weapons, in his 1985 Nuclear Weapons Requirements Study, Rogers called for a modernized Lance with greater accuracy and range, modernized nuclear artillery warheads, and air-to-surface standoff missiles for either nuclear or conventional warheads.

Ideally, to preserve NATO's ability to hit targets in Eastern Europe, Rogers would like to maintain some capability in shorter-range intermediate missiles. In particular, he would like to convert the Pershing 2 to the shorter-range but highly sophisticated Pershing 1-B. He says it would be politically difficult to carry out this conversion in Europe - and he thinks it would require the willingness of at least one other NATO ally besides West Germany to take these weapons on its soil.

If this does not happen - and if the shorter-range West German Pershing 1-As were dropped in the arms control deal, then NATO would be left with only Lances. The overall balance would be unfavorable: NATO would end up with 95 Lances with a range of 115 kilometers (about 70 miles) against more than 1,200 Soviet Frogs, Scuds, and SS-21s with a range of up to 300 km.

As for French and British nuclear weapons, Rogers acknowledged that the Soviet Union has to take both the existing arsenals and their prospective modernization and expansion into consideration in its planning. But since the French reserve the right to make their own decision on employment at the last minute, NATO cannot count on these weapons in its planning. And it is questionable whether Britain will ``wish to use its strategic weapons systems for theater purposes.''

Nor does Rogers - a man who for the past eight years has been preaching the inadequacy of NATO's conventional forces even under the nuclear umbrella - credit at all the idea of eventually substituting purely conventional deterrence for today's nuclear deterrence.

Second of two articles. The first ran April 27.

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