NATO chief cites improvements as reducing threat from Soviets

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:

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.

He declines to tip his hand before next week and say if he still deems this a high risk -- but the tenor of his words is that he does not. He noted that the operational requirements for numbers and types of nuclear weapons depend very much on the ``probability of reaching target'' derived from such factors as ``pre-launch survivability, weapons-system reliability, and probability to penetrate.'' When these factors are improved, as they have been with the introduction of Pershing II and cruise missiles in the past 15 months, the overall stockpile as well as the yields can be reduced.

Rogers explained, ``We started out with a clean sheet of paper in 1980 and said, `Let's start all over again with a rationale and methodology from which we develop our requirements.' That took us two years. It's a complex subject. There's no empirical data on which to base such studies. . . . We finally have now pulled it all together, and we have a methodology, a rationale which is based on logic, and we have now applied it. Major subordinate commanders were fully involved and fully agree with what we're doing. So as I said, color me comfortable.''

NATO's effort to make a similar rational analysis of conventional needs, he said, goes back to a suggestion by West German Defense Minister Manfred W"orner. Rogers set his staff and NATO's International Military Staff to work in September 1983 on a ``conceptual military framework'' to look ahead to the turn of the century. The study has gone out to the governments of NATO countries for final comments before adoption by the end of April.

The object is to spotlight priority needs in the next century for the missions of deterring or defending, including crisis management, assuring a ``favorable air situation, defeating the lead-echelon.'' NATO must be able to perform the functions of ``attack of `follow-on' forces, interdiction -- you knock out bridges and so on -- neutralization of the forces choked up behind interdicted spots, tunnels and so on, then attack of enemy airfields, electronic warfare, suppression of enemy air defense.''

Once generalized functions and capabilities have been agreed on, these will be translated into ``mission need documents'' specifying hardware requirements. Then NATO will ``try to apply more efficiently the resources that are made available to us.''

The final improvement in NATO that Rogers finds ``very encouraging'' was the presentation in the NATO ministerial meeting last December of several national plans for increasing ammunition stocks to 30-day levels and for constructing aircraft shelters.

Also that month, NATO as a whole approved 3 billion ``infrastructure accounting units'' ($7.9 billion, with the United States and West Germany each providing a little more than one-quarter of this amount) for crucial infrastructure programs in the next few years. ``That means that we can program in this slice group [1985] almost all of [our priority] projects.'' These priorities include constructing aircraft shelters by 1987 to accommodate US squadrons at European air bases in an emergency. -- 30 -- {et

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