NATO's defense minister declared June 4 that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made the production and deployment of leon-range theater nuclear forces even more essential now than when NATO decided on this move last December.
At the same time efforts to reach an arms-control agreement with the Soviet Union on these weapons will continue, according to official briefers at the top-secret NATO nuclear planning group (NPG) meeting here June 4 and 5. The briefers were pessimitic about the possibilities, however, since Moscow already has rejected two US offers to negotiate the issue.
As usual at the biannual NPG meetings, very little information was given to the pass, which was kept a good distance away from the NATO meeting site on Bodo Air Base. The sessions, which included the usual review of the strategic balance and targeting by US Defense Secretary Harold brown, were presented as a routine monitoring of the progress being made in implementing last December's major NATO decision.
This progress in expected to include announcement of British and Italian siting plans within two months for the new 2,200-mile-range cruise missiles. No similar public announcement will be made for siting of the new 1,200-mile range Pershing II missiles in West Germany, since these will simply replace the old 400-mile-range Pershing I's.
A total of 108 Pershing II's and 116 ground-launched cruise missiles launchers with a total of 464 cruise missilers are to be deployed in Europe starting in late 1983, according to the December NATO decision. All will be under total American control. They are intended to counter the more than 120 three-warhead mobile SS-20s recently deployed by the Soviet Union against European and Asian targets.
The Soviet Union continues to deploy the 3,000-mile SS-20 at the rate of about one a week. It also is supplementing its current squadron of more than 160 March 2.5 Bacfire bombers at the rate of 30 a year. The Backfire has a range of 5,500 miles.
So far progress in implementation does not include any binding decision by Belgium to accept deployment of the 48 missiles originally planned for placement in Belgium. Belgian participants at the NPG meeting told their allies according to briefers, that their government would take a "positive attitude" on the issue but could not guarantee parliamentary approval. Because of domestic opposition Belgium suddendly declared at the December NATO meeting that it would have to wait six months before declaring its position. The six months have almost expired now, but a final Belgian decision has been delayed by political turmoil in Brussels. Belgian sources differ in their estimates of how soon a parliamentary decision might be reached, given the unpredictable future of Belgian politics.
If Belgium should prove unable to accept the new missiles, this would leave Italy as the only continental country other than West Germany willing to accept deployment on its soil. This in turn could embarrass West Germany, which has insisted that the risks of deployment be shared.
The Netherlands has reserved its position on the new nuclear weapons until the end of 1981.
Twelve nations out of NATO's 15 participated in the Bodo NPG meeting. They included Portugal for the first time in recent years but they did not include France, Iceland, and Luxembourg.