31 March 1990


A version of this paper was presented as part of a Joint Research Project by the Istituto Affari Internazionali, Rome, and the Institute for the World Economy and International Relations, Moscow, March 1990

This paper will deal with the implications for security in South-Eastern Europe of those NATO and WTO forces which are excluded from the current CFE talks in Vienna. It will concentrate on two types of forces, namely naval and nuclear weapons. While not all air-forces are formally included in the CFE talks, for purposes of this project will be treated in the paper dealing with those negotiations.
The main thesis argued here is that, while negotiations on both categories of weapons would be advisable and should be encouraged, nuclear and naval weapons serve important strategic and political purposes in Europe which require their continued presence for the foreseeable future.

Nuclear forces are not formally part of CFE negotiations. "Dual capable" forces, however, have not been excluded. This is a compromise formula which was reached in order to reconcile on the one hand NATO's insistence not to initiate, after the INF treaty, a new formal negotiation on nuclear weapons before substantial results are achieved with conventional force reductions; and on the other hand, the desire of the Warsaw Pact not to exclude what is left of nuclear forces of the two alliances in Europe. The Pact did not, moreover, accept to exclude "dual capable" systems only because they had a nuclear role, among other reasons because the Soviets argue NATO has a marked superiority in this field.

This paper starts from the premise that the nuclear problem of South-Eastern Europe is not divisible from that of the rest of Europe. Because of the nature of the weapons, it does not make any strategic sense to try and devise nuclear-tight compartments among the various sub-regions of Europe. Therefore, as far as nuclear weapons are concerned, the reasoning proposed here applies to the East-West military relationship in Europe as a whole as much as to the South-Eastern region.

Nuclear weapons can be seen as accomplishing a purely deterrent or also one of warfighting in case of failure of the deterrent. The following paragraphs will briefly overview of the evolution of Soviet and NATO thinking on matter. Western (and particularly US) thinking has followed a circular development; Soviet thinking has, roughly speaking, followed in its wake, lagging behind of several years. At the beginning of the nuclear era, deterrence and warfighting were seen as strictly connected. Nuclear weapons were seen as simply the most potent explosive to be employed in otherwise conventional operations.

No later than the first studies revealed the enormity of the collateral damage that any nuclear use, even the most limited, would have caused, doctrine began to move toward a conception of nuclear war as a total war. Under this assumption, nuclear use should not so much influence the development of the battle in the field, but should have primarily served the purpose of inflicting unacceptable damage on the enemy, and thus dissuade him form attack in the first place.
Subsequently, there emerged a problem of credibility with this supreme threat against offenses which might have been serious but not threatening of the vital interests of the attackes party. Strategists returned therefore to think about ways to utilize nuclear weapons in ways somehow proportional to the possible kinds of offences, even just conventional ones. Around the middle of the sixties, both NATO and, a few years later, the USSR, moved to re-couple theater nuclear concepts to the conventional correlation of forces by introducing ever greater flexibility and selectivity in their respective doctrines and operational plans.
The main thesis argued here is that, contrary to these tendencies, it is in the interest of all Europeans to maintain, and possibly to strengthen, a conceptual as well as operational distinction between nuclear and conventional forces. The goal of this should be to retain a high degree of deterrence of any type of conflict, and that can only be associated to the risk of nuclear escalation. This distinction is coherently maintained only by the UK and France. That the US has moved to more flexible options should not come as a surprise: it has tried to minimize the dangers to its own homeland in case of war. But Europeans, including the Soviets, can not make any use of such a distinction: every war in Europe would be "strategic", even if it were not nuclear. Nuclear weapons must be seen only as an instrument to prevent it.

Yet, in an era of rapid political change in Eastern Europe, with the Soviet Union retreating politically and militarily and the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) collapsing, perhaps a few words should be said to justify the need for a nuclear deterrent within NATO. The military threat to peace in Europe is not withering away with the disgregation of the Soviet bloc. As one authoritative analyst recently put it, the capability to attack would "vanish only if weapons and soldiers ceased to exist", which is not likely to be the case for a long time indeed. In all other conceivable scenarios, the ability of nuclear weapons to make war unusable as an instrument of policy can not be replaced.

This rather simple concept, which is the basis for nuclear deterrence, has not always received the attention it deserves. Recent changes in the Warsaw Pact have highlighted the three serious mistakes which NATO has made in justifying the maintenance of nuclear arsenals in the past. At times these mistakes have been nothing but a mere bluff. First, NATO has often tied the need for nuclear weapons to the threat of Soviet nuclear weapons, e.g. during the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) debate in the late seventies and early eighties, when these systems were presented as a counter to the Soviet SS-20. Gorbachev disposed of this rationale with relatively little effort by agreeing to sign the INF treaty. A plethora of Soviet nuclear weapons, however, continues to be capable of hitting Western Europe.

Second, NATO has long tied the need for a nuclear deterrent to the unfavorable correlation of conventional forces in Europe. Pointing to the conventional imbalance was the easiest way to win the necessary public support for nuclear weapons. However, both on-going negotiations and budgetary pressures in many countries might soon eliminate this justification as well. NATO must therefore now prepare to argue the nuclear case differently. At lower force levels, it can be argued, force-to-space ratio problems will make the need for a nuclear deterrent more and not less important.

Third, the necessity for a nuclear deterrent has been tied to the political character of the governments in the WTO. Nuclear weapons were often presented as a tool to contain otherwise unmanageable communist expansionism. The logical conclusion is that since these societies are now more pluralistic and open, they will be more peace-loving, and that therefore the West no longer needs military precautions. To varying degrees, all WTO governments are now moving away from orthodox communism toward more pluralistic forms of polities. But it is far from clear that communist ideology, and not the geopolitical preeminence of the USSR in Europe, whatever its system of government, has been the main threat to the security of post-war Western Europe. In addition, rising nationalism and resulting risks to international stability constitute a new and still imponderable menace to peace in Europe.

Unlike nuclear forces, the study of naval forces in the South-Eastern Europe can and must be considered separately from rest of continent. This is because of the peculiar situation which characterizes that theater of operations, the actors involves and the nature of naval forces themselves.

The Soviet Union vigorously insists that NATO--and particularly US--naval forces in the Mediterranean constitute a threat to its homeland which it can not afford not to address in the process of arms control. In addition, Moscow argues that, just as it gave in to Western requests for asymmetrical cuts on land forces where it was clearly superior, NATO should now accept asymmetrical cuts of naval forces, where the East is qualitatively and quantitatively outdone. Marshall Akhromeev, personal adviser to Gorbaciov, in a testimony to the US Congress in 1989 has even explicitely stated that the successful conclusion of the CFE talks depends upon their expansion to naval forces. It remains to be seen whether the Soviets will be so inflexible after all, but it is likely that it will be necessary to deal with the issue in the future.

The West, however, still refuses to include naval forces in any formal negotiation. As will be discussed below, this stance stems from both military and political considerations. Nonetheless, both formal and informal discussions about the issue continue, both between East and West and within the Western Alliance. It must not be forgotten that some measures of naval arms control have already been implemented for a long time (as in the case of the US-USSR agreement on the prevention of incidents at sea and, more recently, of the analogous Soviet-French and Italian-French treaties).

Aside from the two superpowers, it hardly needs to be said that naval arms control is particularly relevant for the countries at the flanks of NATO. Inasmuch as naval arms influence the conventional balance on land, they affect the riparian regions more directly. This is particularly true at the conventional level, since naval nuclear arms tend to have a longer range and are therefore less restricted to operate at the rims of the European landmass.

It is also immediately apparent that the problem of naval arms control presents not only military but also political aspects, particularly in a region like the Mediterranean where the East-West confrontation is intermingled with several other conflictual relationship between riparian and adjacent countries and where the superpowers are involved as well. In addition, the political role of the US naval presence in the Mediterranean can hardly be overemphasized.

It is less often considered, moreover, that naval arms control in the Mediterranean involves important legal aspects which stem from the fact that the jurisdiction over the seas is much more subject to controversy than the land areas which are involved in current arms control negotiations in Europe.

In light of the complex issued outlined above, the paper purports to do the following. First, it will explore the potential of naval arms control in the Mediterranean for improving military security in Europe, and particularly in Southern Europe. It will do so by assessing the naval military balance in the region and how it affects the correlation of forces on land.

Second, it will explore alternative negotiating scenarios. Should naval issues be included in the CFE talks at all? Should progress in one area be made contingent on progress on other areas of arms control?

Third, it will assess the political implications of possible East-West naval agreements for East-West relations, inter-allied relations in NATO, and relations of the members of the two alliances with other states in the Mediterranean region.

Finally, it will analyze the legal implications of possible naval arms control regimes with reference to their infringement on international customary law regarding access to and navigation through Mediterranean waters.

Military Significance Because of the inherent flexibility which stems out of fleet mobility, superpower negotiations on levels of naval weapons will necessarily have to be conducted on a global scale, though regional sub-ceilings are also conceivable. The Mediterranean region could be one of these. Regional sub-ceilings would entail negotiated limitation to fleet mobility in the region covered by the talks. This issue is particularly complicated in the Mediterranean due to the non-homogeneous claims of riparian states. Several factors contribute to make naval arms control a more complex and delicate issue when compared to other conventional arms control negotiations.

One important factor which would make any East-West naval negotiations intrinsically difficult is that the importance of naval forces for NATO is far greater than it is for the Warsaw Pact, and it is much greater for the US than it is for the USSR. This is not only a matter of force or deployment asymmetry, as for the land and air forces, but also of grand strategy. NATO is an alliance divided between two continents with many insular or peninsular member states. On the contrary, the Warsaw Pact is a geographically solid bloc of contiguous states. In addition, the US is a maritime power with vital sea lines of communication, while the USSR is a continental power with no such maritime interests. Moreover, US naval forces in the Mediterranean constitute the only effective link among the several NATO operational theaters and the bulk of time-urgent reinforcements. These forces also perform a crucial intelligence and communication mission for the whole Southern region of the alliance. This is not the case for the Warsaw Pact, which performs these same missions with land-based systems.

A paramount aim of the study should therefore be to define possible alternative goals of future naval negotiations, if any. Aside from the classical goals of arms control--save economic resources, improve crisis and arms race stability, reduce tensions--it is important to assess whether and to what extent the grand strategies of the two alliances, and of the two superpowers in particular, could adjust to possible negotiating scenarios.

A second complicating factor of naval arms control is the difficulty of verification. In order to be effective, any verification scheme would have to be extremely intrusive, much more so than either East or West would probably be willing to accept. While remote sensing might play a role as far as nuclear weapons are concerned, conventional limitations would have to be conducted through painstakingly complex fine-combing of the vessels involved.

There is also a special problem for submarines, which could easily hide in the unevenly warm, shallow and salty waters of the Mediterranean, where they can mask their sound emissions more easily than in blue-water oceans.

Another important factor of complexity is that the role of third countries in the East-West correlation of forces is more pronounced for naval forces than it is for land forces in Europe. Several Arab states possess significant naval--including submarine--forces, and so does Israel, and their weight would be significantly increased should the US and Soviet fleets in the region be substantially reduced or withdrawn altogether. In fact, naval forces in the Mediterranean are not solely oriented toward East-West missions, but also perform important crisis-management and peace-making missions.

In light of these complexities, naval arms control might initially achieve more rapid results in the field of Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs) than through actual force reductions. Naval CSBMs might differ from analogous land measures because they would have to take into account both the inherently greater mobility of naval forces and the difficulty of establishing clear-cut limits in terms of force levels participating in maneuvers and force movements.

Nonetheless, because of their lesser political sensitivity, naval CSBMs clearly represent the path of least resistance toward militarily significant naval arms control in the Mediterranean. After the US-Soviet agreement on the prevention of incidents at sea of 1972, France and Italy concluded their own agreements with the Soviet Union. This study will explore the hypothesis of making these treaties into a multilateral and homogeneous agreement, involving the largest possible number of participants.