How to reform the Atlantic alliance

The Atlantic alliance badly needs overhaul and extension to meet the growing Soviet threat to the West's access to vital raw materials and markets in the third world, and to reflect the European allies' collective desire to become a world power again.

How to organize a new relationship between the Europeans and the US that recognizes these new factors, allows for possibly conflicting interests, and ensures the long- term health of the alliance through a more equitable sharing of the security burden, both in Europe and in the third world?

First, the Europeans must be urged to assume greater responsibility for their own conventional and nuclear defense. In the past, neither the British nor the French have shown any willingness to surrender control of their nuclear deterrents to each other or anybody else. Washington has displayed an equal lack of enthusiasm for the idea of an autonomous European nuclear force, on the grounds that it would severely damage the West's strategic credibility.

Yet, if the US really wants a responsible partner, who feels neither subservient nor impotent, it should encourage the Europeans to take charge of their own defense.

The obvious, practical solution would be for the Europeans to coordinate their forces and strategies through a revamped, autonomous Eurogroup, which might be called the European Defense Commission (EDC). Its function would be to coordinate, not integrate, nuclear and conventional forces in Europe, including US troops stationed in West Germany. The EDC would operate through regular meetings of national defense ministers and general staffs, with its own budget and secretariat, and would ultimately be responsible to the European Community's Council of Ministers.

British, French, and US nuclear missiles would remain under the existing forms of control, but modernization, deployment, and an increase in the total numbers of purely "European" missiles would be coordinated among the Europeans. West Germany would have a more relevant say in European nuclear strategy without a finger on the nuclear button. If the European Community ever evolved into a federal state, the national deterrents could come under a joint national/EDC dual key system.

The European NATO theater would be commanded, for the first time, by a European, with an American deputy. The EDC wing of NATO would be coordinated with its North American counterpart through a reorganized NATO Council, where the allies could sit either as national or as EDC representatives.

The strategic balance in Europe could be decoupled from the wider US-Soviet realtionship as European missiles replaced US forces. For the alliance as a whole, the EDC would offer a nuclear front line, free to negotiate balanced nuclear and conventional arms reductions with the Warsaw Pact without threatening the SALT relationship. The continued presence of some US troops would symbolize the US nuclear commitment in the event of a major crisis.

Suc an arrangement would allow many of the 300,000 US ground troops to be redeployed elsewhere, perhaps in the Middle East. The threat of US troop reductions if the allies did not fall into line or do more for their own defense would be greatly diminished, while the Europeans would have to begin to accept full responsibility for their own security, something they have always demanded without displaying any willingness to make the concomitant political and financial sacrifices.

The idea of a geographical extension of the alliance to the third world, where the more immediate threat to Western security lies, has been proposed before, most notably by de Gaulle in 1958. Dismissed then by Washington as pretentious, nationalistic twaddle, it has recently been revived by Edward Heath , the former Bristish prime minister.

Heath envisages a global directorate which would define and coordinate a common and total security policy -- both military and diplomatic -- against the Soviet threat in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Crisis management machinery would be set up to avoid recent examples of alliance disarray and to anticipate crises. The directorate would formulate a common strategy toward moderate third-world countries, upon whom the West's economic health and stability ultimately depend.

The advantage of such a directorate would be to combine US power with Europe's new ambition, greater diplomatic flexibility, and good relations with much of the third world.

Is Washington prepared to accept European participation in its global and nuclear policymaking, something it has always demanded as a right of the allies? Is the US prepared to recognize that US and European interests are not always the same, that one cannot expect blind obedience and commitment if others perceive no direct threat to their own interests?

Are American politicians ready to admit that exhortations to be obedient, that America knows best, that the smack of firm leadership will quickly end the recent rebellious whiff of allied self-assertiveness, are simply not going to work any more? What benefit can they hope to gain from a weak and resentful Europe?

Alliances must be nourished and kept in good repair. The graveyard of contemporary history is littered with schemes for reorganizing the alliance, largely because Europe did not evolve as Washington expected.

If the alliance fails to rise to the challenge, the result may eventually push the US toward isolation and the Europeans toward accommodation with the Soviet Union.

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