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NATO chief cites improvements as reducing threat from Soviets

By Elizabeth PondStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 22, 1985

Mons, Belgium

Supreme Allied Commander for Europe Gen. Bernard Rogers thinks that NATO's deterrence of war has been ``enhanced'' in the past year and a half, in its nuclear, conventional, and especially political, aspects. In an upbeat interview at his headquarters here in Mons he declared himself delighted that:

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Belgium in the end has proceeded on schedule with its deployment of cruise missiles.

The nuclear-warhead reductions General Rogers will unveil next week will set rational numbers for NATO nuclear levels for the first time in at least six years.

A comparable exercise in comprehensive rational planning for NATO conventional forces is being undertaken for the first time.

Several NATO members have drawn up detailed budgeted programs to get their ammunition stocks and other measures of ``readiness'' up to prescribed NATO standards.

Together, General Rogers said, these measures strengthen deterrence of war. ``I can say . . . that the time we can fight conventionally before I have to ask for the release of nuclear weapons is extended,'' he added -- even though ``the gap continues to widen between our conventional capabilities and those of the Warsaw Pact.''

He declined to estimate if the extra time before resorting to nuclear weapons is a matter of days or hours. But he definitely thought NATO's improvements heighten the disincentive to any Soviet attack or political blackmail based on the Warsaw Pact's conventional superiority in Europe.

On the cruise deployment approved by the Belgian government and implemented on March 15, Rogers said he is ``delighted'' that this stationing is proceeding as scheduled. ``That just has to be seen by the Soviets again as a major defeat, that they can't . . . veto what we are doing over here for our own security,'' he commented.

Referring to Soviet hopes that the strong antinuclear movement in Belgium would get enough political support to block the stationing, Rogers said, ``The fact that the Belgians had the courage to deploy [cruises] on their soil despite the many attempts to keep them from doing it, both internal and external, . . . showed the unity, the solidarity within the alliance.''

Rogers expressed hope for a similar decision by the Netherlands, the final NATO ally scheduled to receive intermediate-range missiles. He pointed out, ``In the end those nations who share the burden . . . will carry greater strength in the discussions and consultations than would otherwise be the case. And the Netherlands recognize this. And the Netherlands have always been . . . very supportive of the alliance despite the pulls and tugs.''

On his plan for NATO nuclear reductions Rogers said, ``Tuesday of next week will be the first time in almost six years that with confidence I can stand before my political masters and as we project . . . towards the end of this century say to them that I'm not asking for one more or one less warhead than we need for deterrent purposes.''

Rogers's study followed instructions by the NATO defense ministers' meeting at Montebello, Quebec, in 1983, to reduce NATO's current 6,000 nuclear warheads in Europe by 1,400. In Montebello, Rogers says, he described reductions to 4,600 as a possible but ``high-risk'' option.