Brussels — NATO Secretary-General Lord Peter Carrington believes that the Iceland summit has ``altered people's perceptions about defense and NATO strategy.'' Superpower contemplation of the abolition of all ballistic missiles, he suggests, has ``highlighted the imbalance of conventional weapons'' in Europe. And it continues the long-term shift in nuclear deterrence from a basis of probable retaliation to one of uncertainty. In other remarks in an interview at the Brussels headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Lord Carrington sought to clarify European reactions to the summit by explaining that despite some reservations, Europeans do not really oppose the tentative Soviet-American agreement to rid Europe of missiles in the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF).
Lord Carrington sympathized both with Americans who fail to understand European concerns and with Europeans who fail to understand American concerns about nuclear deterrence and arms control. ``I think if I were an American I would be surprised when at Reykjavik [Iceland] there was a suggestion that nuclear weapons were going to be reduced - which has, after all, been the aim of everybody for a long time - I think I would be mildly surprised at ... the European reaction. And at the same time [as a] European I think I would be mildly surprised that in so short a time so many quite radical proposals were made.... What happened has made [Europeans] think and has made them realize that with an imbalance of conventional weapons, NATO versus Warsaw Pact, a rundown of nuclear weapons is going to have an effect, as they see it, on the balance of power in Europe.''
In the European theater, Europeans don't really oppose removal of all longer-range INF missiles as sketched out in Reykjavik, Lord Carrington explained. They just want to make sure that the balance of short-range missiles and of conventional weapons is ``taken account of.'' And this coincides with the American position in Reykjavik.
On the conventional disparity, Carrington suggested, ``the nearer you would get to a situation in which you would reduce nuclear weapons and possibly eliminate them altogether, as some people are saying, the more important that imbalance becomes. And there are two ways you can remedy it, you know. You can remedy it, one, by spending some more resources, but that is very expensive, and conventional arms are much more expensive than nuclear arms. And, secondly, you can really make an effort to get arms control negotiations going in conventional weapons.''
On nuclear weapons, Lord Carrington made a careful distinction between ``two levels'' of consideration: ``what happens if deterrence fails,'' and ``how to maintain the deterrence,'' or war prevention. The latter point is the one that he deals with primarily.
``Of course the deterrence has got to be credible,'' he acknowledged. Carefully addressing his remarks not to the question of a drop in European confidence that the US would engage its nuclear weapons on behalf of Europe, but rather to nongovernmental proposals for a NATO policy of no nuclear ``first use,'' he continued: ``But the fact remains that uncertainty of what might happen is in itself a very important deterrent. And this is one of the reasons why, for example, a pledge by the West, by NATO, of no first use of nuclear weapons would in itself lead to less deterrence.... If the other guy attacks us, and he has the certainty that we are not going to use nuclear weapons, you are removing one of the factors in his mind as to whether or not it is possible to wage a successful conventional war.''
In this connection Lord Carrington felt that the British and French found ``very reassuring'' the Camp David statement that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher got in talks with President Reagan last month. That statement gave a lesser priority to the Reykjavik goal of eliminating all ballistic missiles. Despite reiteration of that goal by Reagan administration officials after the Thatcher visit, Lord Carrington took the Camp David formulation as the expression of administration policy. ``I think when the President says that he agrees with what Mrs. Thatcher says, then one accepts that the President means it.''
Lord Carrington went on to suggest that concern about a post-nuclear world is in any case very premature. He cautioned, ``Let us be a little bit realistic about this before we get too excited about the abolition of all ballistic missiles. One of the conditions which the Americans laid down [at the summit] was adequate verification.... And to verify that all ballistic missiles have disappeared is really quite a considerable problem in the light of the closed society in which the Soviet Union operates.''