Volker R"uhe is worried about losing the West German consensus for nuclear deterrence. The deputy Christian Democratic parliamentary leader, who specializes in security issues, led the unsuccessful West German fight against the Soviet-American arms control deal that is now shaping up on removing intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) from Europe. He says, ``I think this is the end of land-based [nuclear] systems in Europe. We will not be able to deploy any more land-based missiles in Europe after this experience. If that is true, it has far-reaching consequences.''
The INF, or Euromissile, deal would leave NATO relying mainly on those land-based missiles with a reach of under 500 kilometers (300 miles), a range of weapon that would devastate only East and West Germany, while sparing neighboring countries and the Soviet Union.
This reliance on very short-range weapons, Mr. R"uhe maintains, puts at risk NATO's ability to deter the outbreak of any war, nuclear or conventional, by the threat of nuclear use. And it would ``singularize'' West Germany by putting it under greater threat than its allies, R"uhe and many fellow conservative politicians believe.
The whole shift, R"uhe contended in a recent Monitor interview, will build public pressure in West Germany to reduce or eliminate not only those missiles above 500 km, but also below 500 km - despite the American, British, and French hope of setting a ``firebreak'' at that level. The allies do not want to give up the few NATO systems below that level, even in a trade against the Soviets' nine-fold more missiles in that range.
Anticipating a public outcry against a firebreak that would leave West Germany specially threatened, the Bonn government insisted at the mid-June meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Iceland that the door to nuclear reductions below 500 km must be left open.
R"uhe emphatically endorses the premise of the NATO alliance that the West must preserve the option of escalating to the nuclear level any conventional war it might be losing to superior Soviet-bloc conventional forces. This threat is meant to deter Moscow from ever launching a conventional attack in the first place, or seeking to intimidate Bonn on the basis of its conventional superiority.
But R"uhe perceives the combination of public revulsion at nuclear weapons, dulled public awareness of the Soviet threat after 40 years of peace, scars remaining from the fight to deploy new NATO missiles in the early '80s - and now forfeiture of these weapons in imminent superpower arms control - as eroding public support for nuclear deterrence.
R"uhe's concern is especially significant in that it comes from a staunchly pro-American moderate, and not from the kind of conservative who might like to revive the right wing's old Gaullist hankerings of the 1960s.
``What I was always worried about was that the consensus for nuclear deterrence is already weak and would become much weaker when 100 percent of the land-based systems of one's own alliance have a range that can only reach Germans,'' he explains.
``I was trying to find out if people in a number of years will [still] be ready to accept nuclear deterrence. The Social Democrats seem not [ready to accept it]. The question is: Do we weaken the legitimacy and acceptance of nuclear deterrence with what we are doing now'' in Euromissile arms control?
Going to the heart of his dispute with the British and US governments, R"uhe adds, `` I think it's very naive for the British and also the Americans to hold this firebreak idea. I think also that not many people have understood that among the supporters of the `second zero' [option] there are very different bedfellows who only on the surface are voting for the same thing: [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev wants to get down all the way to denuclearize Europe,'' and so do East German leader Erich Honecker and even ``to some extent'' the West German Social Democrats.
``With Britian and France it's almost the other way around. [Their] idea ... is to get public acceptance for a firebreak by throwing to the public the second zero.'' R"uhe says he told the British that instead of establishing a firebreak, they would accomplish just the opposite: ``You will start a fire. And we [West Germans] will not accept it.''
The ``second zero'' refers to eliminating from Europe all 500-to-1,000-km as well as, in the ``first zero,'' all 1,000-to-5,500 km range missiles. R"uhe was also unhappy about the first zero, but since NATO governments themselves had offered this in 1981, he thought they had to go through with it when Gorbachev finally accepted the West's proposal.
When Gorbachev floated the second zero option two months ago, however, R"uhe thought the West should reject the idea. In the end, the West is insisting only on maintaining West Germany's 720-km range Pershing 1-A missiles (with their nuclear warheads held by US forces), on the grounds that the West German missiles are ``third country'' weapons, and the superpower negotiations deal only with Soviet and US systems.
It has been widely observed, however, that the Pershing 1-A will be obsolescent by the early 1990s, and so far the Bonn government shows no disposition to open the bruising political fight to convince the public that their replacement with modern Pershing 1-Bs will be necessary.
Hence R"uhe's worry that the public may no longer tolerate land-based missiles in West Germany. He thinks it may even be difficult to modernize the 115-km Lance and extend its range to 250 km as already agreed at the 1983 meeting of NATO defense ministers in Montebello, Canada.
It was because R"uhe saw this coming that he considered naive the British and French idea of throwing the 500-to-1,000 km range missiles to an antinuclear public, and then expecting to establish a firebreak at 500 km to prevent sliding into a denuclearized Europe and making the Continent safe for conventional war. If the line had been drawn at 1,000 km, there might have been a possibility of halting the slide in public opinion, R"uhe believes. But not at 500 kilometers.
R"uhe, a young and rising star in his party, is getting used to delivering unwelcome news to unreceptive audiences. Besides telling Washington and London things they would rather not have heard in the past two months, he has also been virtually unique among conservative politicians in appearing before strongly antinuclear domestic audiences - such as the Protestant biennial layman's meeting and various Protestant Academy peace conferences - and telling listeners bluntly that nuclear weapons are essential for keeping the peace in Europe.
Similarly, two years ago, R"uhe declared publicly - to the considerable irritation of the conservative right wing - that West German recognition of Poland's present borders is politically irrevocable and not just a provisional acceptance of the status quo pending future German reunification and claims on former German territory in western Poland.