NATO needs stout US support

Once again it is open season for American political leaders as diverse as Henry Kissinger and the Rev. Jesse Jackson to attack our conventional-force commitment and costs associated with the Atlantic Alliance. We've recently witnessed the congressional defense expert, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, introduce debate for legislation that would withdraw 90,000 American troops from Europe by 1990 if our NATO allies do not increase their defense spending.

Those who advocate a withdrawal of American forces are overlooking a few basic facts of our commitment to and presence in NATO Europe. Without a presence in Europe, the United States is not a global power, but a regional power. If our troops were removed or forced from Europe, there would be exactly one division of soldiers in South Korea representing the entire US military presence on the Euro-Asian landmass. Moreover, if withdrawn, where would they go? Bases in Europe are rent-free, as our allies bear the costs. In the Philippines, by contrast, our bases will cost almost $1 billion over the next five years. If the 330,000 soldiers in Europe are demobilized, we will have taken out of commission almost 30 percent of our troops without any corresponding Soviet cutbacks. When deployed in Europe, our forces are thousands of miles closer to the sites of potential conflict, such as the Middle East, than they would be if based in the States.

At this time, our NATO allies, not including France, provide about 90 percent of the ground forces and armored divisions and about 80 percent of the combat-ready tanks and warplanes in Europe. More important, if war comes they will provide the battlefield and the bulk of the casualties. During the 1970s, while real US defense spending declined 1 percent annually, our allies were increasing real defense spending at a 2 percent yearly rate. Viewed in this context, it is manifest how our European allies help maintain our superpower status.

But conventional forces alone do not constitute the defense of the Atlantic Alliance. Conventional war would devastate Europe while inflicting little damage on the Soviet Union. NATO is a defensive alliance wholly committed to deterring a Warsaw Pact attack. For this reason, Britain and France will expend over $50 billion to increase their nuclear arsenals from around 300 weapons to over 1,700 during the next decade. From the eyes of our allies in Europe, the $3 billion that it costs to field a single infantry division will purchase a Trident missile-firing submarine, with the capability to attack every major Soviet city. But the $800 billion-plus to be spent by the US, Britain, and France on nuclear forces over the next decade are not the answer to problems within the alliance and its deterrence capabilities.

The next decade will be the test of the Atlantic Alliance. It will face a Soviet Union beset by economic, demographic, and alliance problems that might strike outward. Against this, Western alliance nations must draw and retain soldiers from a dwindling manpower base and support these forces despite a gloomy economic outlook. The preservation of the Atlantic Alliance will rest not in drastic measures such as wide-scale withdrawal of units or almost $1 trillion for nuclear weapons; rather, in the continuation of American support in the form of a substantial conventional commitment and the integration of the improving and expanding British and French nuclear forces in the alliance's defense and deterrence posture. The presence of the American Seventh Army ''couples'' the defense of Europe to the US, while credible British and French nuclear forces will reinforce the overall deterrence of the alliance.

A powerful Atlantic Alliance is fundamental to the continuation of the US as a superpower. Moscow realizes this and seizes upon every opportunity to weaken the alliance bonds with actions such as the SS-20 deployment and supporting opposition movements within NATO countries. It is counterproductive for US leaders to aid these Soviet efforts to fragment Western Europe with easily avoided actions such as the neutron-bomb debacle and threats to withdraw our forces. Rather than attacking and needlessly straining the alliance, leaders in the US should do more to buffer NATO with multilateral arms control negotiations , the cessation of senseless political rhetoric, and increased cooperation and consultation on appropriate matters. If the US is willing to risk nuclear war to defend NATO, then surely its European allies are worthy of measures to strengthen the alliance and deter the Warsaw Pact.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.