15 October 1990

A European nuclear force in NATO

The control of the use of nuclear weapons in Europe has long been a subject of extensive debate in NATO.1 Ultimately, however, the US has retained both absolute negative control over allied dual-key forces and virtually absolute positive control over its own forces deployed in and around Europe. This arrangement, adopted in the fifties, has arguably yielded considerable advantages to the non-nuclear members of NATO Europe. The most important of these is that it has provided at least some degree of coupling with the US central nuclear deterrent. Second, reliance on the US extended deterrent has probably prevented a proliferation of national nuclear arsenals in NATO Europe.

However, at least since the Athens and Ann Arbor speeches of 1962 by then US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, NATO has witnessed a gradual decrease in the emphasis that was put by the US on the use of nuclear weapons for the defense of Western Europe. This trend has progressively eroded the credibility of the extended nuclear deterrent of the US and poses fundamental challenges for the future of deterrence in Europe. This paper argues that this trend is not acceptable for NATO Europe; that it is nonetheless continuing; and that, if NATO Europeans wish to continue to rely on nuclear deterrence for the maintenance of peace in Europe--as it is argued here they should--they will have to assume greater nuclear use control responsibility. I will first analyze the requirements that would have to be fulfilled for the achievement of this goal and then propose an option for the future.

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, one could wonder whether a nuclear deterrent continues to make sense in the first place. The fact is that 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",2 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. Even after all on-going and projected nuclear reductions in Europe, the Soviet Union will retain a plethora of land-, air-, and sea-based systems with which to inflict a holocaust on Western Europe. While that intention seems to be a remote one indeed in the minds of the Soviet leadership today, the capability is there, and the wholly unpredictable character of future political developments in that country warrants an insurance policy against it.

In addition, rising nationalism throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union raises the possibility that, at some yet indefinite point in the future, one or more of the newly emerging national actors might decide that nuclear weapons are necessary to its security, and may well have the capability to make them. This might be the case, for instance, either with an independent but politically isolated Ukraine or with a fiercely nationalistic, undemocratic and ostracized Romania.

In sum, while the security scene in Europe is changing in ways that are certainly welcome inasmuch as they reduce Cold War vintage tensions, uncertainty and instability are increasing. It would be imprudent to assume that the on-going dramatic geopolitical reshuffle will produce a new static order that is both Western-friendly and long-lasting. In the absence of moderating hegemonic spheres of influence, these may more easily degenerate in armed conflict.

Therefore, while the US extended deterrent has been eroded, the need for war-preventing nuclear deterrence has not lessened in Western Europe, despite current military and political changes in Eastern Europe and in the USSR. However, all traditionally solid justifications for keeping US nuclear weapons in Europe (offsetting Soviet conventional superiority and nuclear forces as well as the ideologically offensive character of the Soviet state) might soon be invalidated by the enthusiasm over Gorbachevism. That the US nuclear presence in Europe will decrease is an ascertained fact. Therefore, NATO Europe urgently needs to take greater nuclear respon­sibility off US shoulders. The thesis of this article is that if NATO Europeans wish to continue to rely on a nuclear deterrent to guarantee their security, they must begin to reconsider options for increasing their own nuclear control responsibilities. This would be a far from uncontroversial process, and the proposal put forward in this paper would certainly attract much opposition. But the issues which it raises are the kinds of questions that Europeans must answer lest they throw up their hands and just hope that the end of the Cold War is also the end of all their security concerns. This paper will have served its purpose if it contributes to generate further debate on the question of the Europeans' nuclear responsibilities after the Cold War.

The option proposed here is the establishment of a NATO European Nuclear Force (NEF) within the integrated military structure of the Alliance. A small survivable force could be constituted as a separate Major NATO Command, equivalent in rank to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) and to the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT), and to be headed by a European general, who would be either French or British for the time being, but whose nationality could later be chosen on a rotational basis if greater European political unity will make it feasible to do so. This post would be assigned solely nuclear retaliatory missions. In case of confirmed Soviet nuclear attack against NATO ter­ritory, the commander would have the pre-delegated authority to fire, at his discretion.

Pre-requisites for a NEF

Several conditions would have to be met to make a NEF a workable political, military and economic proposition: (i) the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), or a united Germany, would have to be involved but, for political reasons, at this time it would not desire--and should not be given--an independent nuclear trigger; (ii) the Nonproliferation Treaty regime should not be weakened; (iii) the cost of any nuclear control rearrangement should be acceptable to those concerned; (iv) such rearrange­ment does not need to be an alternative to the European-North American alliance or even to just the US military presence in Europe, and should therefore be acceptable to the US; (v) nuclear responsibility rearrange­ments in NATO should not be seen by the Soviets to be deliberately provoca­tive; (vi) the force should be acceptable at the domestic political level in the countries involved.

The issue of German nuclear control is a contradictory one in NATO. On the one hand, few Europeans, Eastern or Western, not to mention the two superpowers, are eager to see a German national trigger for nuclear weapons. As of 1990, few have that desire in Germany as well. But the geopolitical equilibria in Europe are changing as a result of both politi­cal transformations in Eastern Europe and continued US nuclear withdrawal from NATO Europe. The new Germany which is emerging as an economic and political superpower in Europe might one day decide to develop a national nuclear arsenal. Should they do so, they would ultimately be able to withstand foreign opposition: therefore, the task for the West is to prevent any development in this direction.3

On the other hand, it would be politically and militarily inconceiv­able to structure any nuclear deterrent in Europe without some kind of prominent German participation, since the central front remains the crucial area of the East-West military equilibrium. For this reason, most West Europeans who believe in nuclear deterrence as an element of their security have been concerned by the growing sentiment in some sectors of the German polity against the presence of US nuclear weapons in Germany. It is difficult to determine exactly to what extent this sentiment is anti-nuclear per se or is just resentment against the US ability to wage nuclear war in Germany. It is certainly a combination of the two. In any case, any measure intended to take some nuclear responsibility away from the US and into Europe--including Germany--should help contain it.

Put another way, most West Europeans and Americans fear both the prospect of a fully nuclear Germany (a traditional concern which may be raised anew by a reunified Germany) and that of a denuclearized one (a relatively new concern).4 A NEF would have to balance these two contradictory aspects.

The second problem is constituted by the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). With the recent accession of Spain, all non-nuclear European NATO members are parties to the NPT. The treaty has long performed an important role in stabilizing the military situation in Europe and elsewhere. It would be a mistake to weaken it, perhaps decisively, as the withdrawal of some NATO Europeans in the pursuit of a European deterrent most likely would.

Yet, the creation of the NEF would not require the withdrawal from the treaty by countries participating in the proposed new forces. Italy and the FRG, for example, introduced reservation clauses at the time of signing to the effect that their participation in a European nuclear force created as a follow-on to the current French and British national forces would not be prejudiced by the treaty.5 Hence, an integrated NEF would not be incompatible with the NPT if it is created as a successor, albeit a partial one, to the current French and British national arsenals.

While such a succession will obviously not be easy to work out politically, recent renewed political emphasis on European defence coopera­tion (and particularly Franco-German and Franco-British initiatives) are encouraging. A greater degree of joint nuclear control need not be the result of full European political unification and defence integration, but, rather, could act as a catalyst for it. A good, if limited, precedent is set by the gradual turn-over of economic sovereignty with the Single Act, which will produce a united market by 1993. After all, European unification will not be born overnight, but must go forward in steps, and there is no reason not to gradually pursue incremen­tal steps in the defence realm as well.

Threshold countries outside Europe can be expected to seize on the issue to restate the discriminatory character of the NPT, particularly in light of the upcoming 1995 debate over the extension of the treaty, but there is little reason to think they would change their nuclear policies as a result. In the past, the history of the nonproliferation regime shows that nuclear weapon decisions have consistently been taken on the basis of perceived national security interests, and not simply by following the example of other distant states. The NEF would not influence the security environment of any nuclear weapon threshold state such as Argentina, Pakistan, South Korea or South Africa. Consequently, no major change in the nuclear weapon choices of these countries as a result of its creation is to be expected.

At a time of severe budget constraints for all Western governments, the cost of a NEF would have to be low to be acceptable. Yet, since the force could be small in size and might utilize in large part the existing logistical infrastructure and weapons of NATO, this requirement should not be prohibitive.

The force should not be seen as an alternative to the overall US security tie to Western Europe. In particular, it would have to be com­patible with a continued US nuclear presence in Europe. In fact, a con­tinued US conventional and nuclear presence in Europe would be essential to the feasibility of the NEF. As will be shown below, the NEF proposed in this paper must be backed by conventional and short-range nuclear forces, under the existing NATO commands, which can be guaranteed only by a continued US contribution. In addition, the US military presence in Europe serves a political purpose which still retains the support of the over­whelming majority of Europeans. Finally, US technical cooperation and targeting coordination, while probably not essential--much as it is not essential today for the French and the British--would be advisable. Even if the strategic rationales of the new force would be different from those of US forces, a minimum of coordination would be desirable to avoid both fratricide and operations at cross purposes. Therefore, a NEF would not require, nor should it encourage, an erosion of the European-American security partnership in NATO. Indeed, one of its purposes would be to reinforce the partnership by avoiding false illusions on each side about what such a partnership can and can not provide to its participants.

A NEF would have to be structured in such a way that it is not regarded as unduly provocative by the Soviets. Several problems might arise in this regard. The USSR has traditionally been very sensitive to the idea of West European, and particularly German, nuclear use control. Several Soviet strategic analysts6 emphasize that Moscow can not but be concerned about any type of West European defence cooperation because, in their view, it would be directed mainly or even, arguably, solely against the USSR. This is all the more worrisome, from the Soviet point of view, when nuclear weapons are involved. But the argument for greater European nuclear control, presented here, would not be to increase the offensive capability of NATO against the Warsaw Pact--or whatever will be left of it. Indeed, given its small size, the warfighting value of the NEF would and should be negligible.

The Soviets could see a NEF as a disruption of the current rather stable bilateral nuclear relationship with the US. Yet, Moscow should realize that any move toward a Europeanization of the British and French national deterrents, to the extent that it would prepare the way for the eventual renunciation of their national trigger (to be achieved when a true West European political entity is created) could, in time, simplify rather than complicate the Soviet nuclear problem in Europe.

Finally, it has been pointed out that a greater West European nuclear role may pose political problems because the Soviets could not match it with an organization of their own among their Eastern European allies.7 Traditionally, the USSR has never shared nuclear use control with its allies. With the current de facto dissolution of the Pact this has become a mute question.

On the other hand, there are several reasons to believe that the Soviets might, in time, perceive some benefits in the creation of an integrated NATO-European nuclear force. It would not be the first time that the Soviets belatedly recognize that there is something to be gained from policies they have long opposed on political grounds. This has been the case with recent shifts in Soviet in arms control positions and with their official recognition that a free Eastern Europe, anathema until recently and accepted by default, actually contributes to enhance their security.

First, a long-range NEF would reduce, though not eliminate, current NATO reliance on US Short Range nuclear forces (SNF) for battlefield use, thereby reducing the incentives to hasty action in a crisis and enhancing strategic and crisis stability. The latter is a declared Soviet goal as it is for the West, and there is no reason to think it will change. As a gesture to prove its genuine interests in common security and stability, parallel to the creation of the NEF NATO could continue to reduce its reliance in SNF.

Second, a NEF, with its renewed emphasis on nuclear deterrence, would reduce pressures for costly conventional improvements in NATO. One should keep in mind that, despite the recent reduction of defense budgets and deployed in both NATO and in the Soviet Union, the latter in still pursuing vigorous technological upgrading of its conventional forces. A marked NATO shift away from conventional improvements would further reduce the likeli­hood of a continu­ing expensive investment in conventional forces on the part of the Soviets, thus freeing precious resources for their domestic economic needs. In particular, a NEF would, ceteris paribus, reduce pressure on defence-related technological improve­ments by NATO, particular­ly as pertains to conventional forces. In fact, there is current­ly a tendency to improve NATO's technological edge in the conventional sphere so as to strengthen conventional capabilities in light of the declining credibility of its nuclear deterrent. While the NEF would hardly stop the momentum of defence technology research, it would only need to slow it down to be beneficial for the Soviets. This might relieve them from a technological competition to some extent, and particularly in Emerging Technologies (ET), which would drain their R&D resources and which they would probably lose.

Third, the NEF could serve to bring the French and British arsenals into the arms control process. Along with its creation, NATO might propose to set alliance-to-alliance limits on all INF--including also air-borne and sea-based systems in and around Europe capable of hitting Soviet territory. In practice, this would mean a NATO-USSR deal, since Eastern Europeans are hardly likely to have any role in nuclear control in the WTO. If anything, current developments make one wonder whether the WTO will even continue to exist as a viable military entity. Such a NATO-WTO deal would, however, thwart a traditional Soviet objection, namely that NATO third country forces (i.e. the UK and France) unrestrained by arms control agreements, circumvent the INF treaty.

Finally, a NEF would further strengthen the integration of the FRG into NATO nuclear affairs, thus repressing potential future stimuli toward an independent German nuclear force. The latter has been a most serious Soviet concern in the nuclear field over the years. As mentioned above, while the issue is simply not topical in the FRG at this time, it might become so in the not so distant future. The resur­gence of a German political and economic superpower could make such a prospect a more concrete one in this decade. The Soviets would certainly feel particularly threatened should the Germans decide to proceed with a national nuclear option; they would be likely to exert strong pressure to prevent it, but they would probably be unable to impede its creation.

Quite aside from the strategic merits of the NEF which will be discussed in this article, two further kinds of preliminary political objections might be raised against the case for increasing European nuclear responsibility in NATO. One possible political problem with respect to the broader implications of greater European nuclear control responsibility is that it might fuel renewed global geopolitical ambitions for Western Europeans, which might be destabilizing and should be avoided.8 However, increasing European nuclear decision-making power according to a scheme such as that proposed in this study does not need to involve greater geopolitical ambitions. In fact, in no way would NATO Europe need to redefine its global political or military role in order to provide for a more autonomous nuclear deterrent. The only purpose of such greater nuclear responsibility should be to provide a nuclear deterrent against any kind of war in Europe, which the US guarantee is increasingly failing to provide.

Another political problem would be to make the proposal acceptable at the domestic political level in the various countries concerned. The domestic political acceptability would depend on many factors which are difficult to estimate, such as the perception of the Soviet threat, the status of West European integration, and the costs involved. This paper will not speculate in depth on each of these; the main purpose of this study is to suggest a possible solution to the strategic and military aspect of NATO's nuclear deterrent problem. This is the fundamental security problem in NATO Europe. Should Europeans agree on how to solve it, their governments should then fit the solution into the more general framework of European defence cooperation which is taking shape today. West European establishments are moving toward a consensus on the desirability for greater cooperation in defence matters. For the first time since its withdrawal from the NATO integrated military structure, this trend involves France as well.9

To make it politically acceptable to the European public, the NEF arrangement proposed here should be presented as the Europeanization of the existing French and British forces. NATO should point out that this would not mean their proliferation but rather their harmonization into the more general new East-West security architecture of Europe. In time, this may also mean bringing these forces into the arms control process, though at a date which might indeed be far into the future.

In addition, it should be pointed out that one of the main reasons for public uneasiness with nuclear weapons in Europe has been that they are American-controlled. In France, national control has historically con­tributed to shaping and consolidating a strong national consensus for nuclear weapons, and to a large extent the same has been true for the UK. In the rest of NATO Europe, the INF debate in the early eighties showed how popular opposition to their deployment was in large measure opposition to giving the US the ability to unleash nuclear war in Europe.

A NATO-European Nuclear Force (NEF): A Proposal

Many proposals for increased NATO European nuclear control have been discussed in the past, either officially (such as the European Defense Community and the Multilateral Force) or in the strategic literature.10 For different reasons, they all failed to be adopted by NATO. The remainder of this paper will explore a possible structure for a NATO European nuclear force. The following paragraphs do not purport to provide a detailed operational proposition. They do intend to outline the broad contours of a possible arrangement which would satisfy the widely perceived necessity for NATO Europeans to acquire greater responsibility for their defence while maintaining both a nuclear deterrent and an American presence in Europe.

A NATO-European Nucleaer Forces (NEF) should be organized as a separate Major NATO Command (MNC), headed by a Supreme Allied Commander, Nuclear European Force (SACNEF), who would be equivalent in rank to SACEUR (the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe) and SACLANT (the Supreme Allied Commander in the Atlantic). SACNEF would command exclusively nuclear forces and would be assigned a purely deterrent, second-strike mission. Because its mission would be to deter attack against all allies, SACNEF would not be assigned to any specific geographic area of responsibility.11

Forces and Costs In light of the simplicity of its strategy (see below) the size of the NEF would be small. The purpose of the force would be neither to survive nor to fight any kind of war, but to deter it by being able to add credibility to NATO's willingness to ignite strategic nuclear escalation against an aggressor. For this, some two hundred survivable warheads (approximately equivalent to the currently programmed combined French and British SSBN arsenals) would be sufficient.12 While this number is obviously arbitrary, it should be underlined that the purpose of the NEF would be far less ambitious than flexible response today. The NEF should only be capable of bringing escalation to the territory of the USSR, thus making it more credible that in case of war NATO's deterrent would be involved as a whole.

Submarines would be the most appropriate systems for the NEF in that they are invulnerable and the most penetrating of all French and British forces. Their major shortcoming, i.e. detectability after the first launch, would not be a problem in light of the extreme circumstance under which they would be used--see below. They would also avoid, at least in part, the political problems connected with the visibility of any land-basing decision in NATO.

France and Britain would not necessarily have to turn in all of their national nuclear arsenals to SACNEF. They could still retain a portion of it (perhaps the air-borne and land-based legs of their triads) under exclusively national control. French and British nuclear forces could thus be developed as a basis for a future European Community nuclear deterrent, the exact form of which we can not yet be defined. In this way, while the discussion of Franco-British cooperation has usually been limited to development and procurement--such as with the recent case of negotiations over the Long-range Air-to-Surface missile--it would be aimed at ensuring the triggering of nuclear escalation in case of Soviet attack in the continent.13

The UK and France would benefit from this change in several ways. First, the credibility of their deterrents would increase because their launch would automatically involve other allies. Knowing this in a crisis, the Soviets would be deterred from attacking all NATO states participating in the NEF at least as much as they are from attacking the UK and France today. If the Soviets could not ascertain that NEF had executed the attack, they would have to assume that the US were involved, with the obvious, and welcome, coupling effect of that.

Second, the UK and France would be able to save financial resources, since part of their current expenditures on nuclear weapons could and should be shifted toward the allies participating in the NEF. While in the past both France and Britain have enjoyed a strong national consensus on the need to pay for national nuclear forces, current budgetary pressures, particularly in the UK, may put it in doubt in the future.

There would also be other major advantages for the Alliance as a whole in utilizing the French and British arsenals. One would be to allow for the creation of a European nuclear force without violating the NPT.14 Another would be that if France and Britain coordinated the patrols of a joint submarine force, much higher patrol ratios could be obtained than the two countries combined can achieve now separately.15 Joint targeting could offer attractive returns to scale. Coordinated deployments would help to maximize survivability.16 Finally, the NEF would prevent France and the UK from being "singularized" as the sole nuclear powers in Europe in case of substantial US SNF withdrawals from the continent.

The NEF would also contribute to stabilizing the nuclear situation in Germany, since any German national nuclear ambitions could be more solidly frozen by the additional margin of security it could provide. After being integrated into the NEF, the Germans would have a more direct role in the security destiny of their own country than they do now under the US umbrella. At a time of increasing German uneasiness about the presence of US nuclear forces on their territory, the NEF might allay at least some anti-nuclear sentiments in the country. On the other hand, the NEF would prevent the possible denuclearization of Germany which might result from future short-range nuclear arms control agreements between the superpowers.

A NATO-Europe nuclear force would also be a logical and essential step forward in the currently on-going process of increased defence cooperation among Western Europeans, and notably France and Germany. Otherwise, their bilateral efforts, of which the joint Franco-German brigade created in 1987 is a symbolic prototype, are bound to hit a dead end. As the size and scope of such joint forces are expanded, the issue of nuclear weapons will inevitab­ly arise. The question of who will ultimately control those joint forces will then be increasingly difficult to avoid.

SACNEF would command exclusively nuclear forces. This would allow him to concentrate attention on the manage­ment of a purely retaliatory mission, which would greatly simplify the nuclear decision-execution process. It would also relieve dual-capable commanders from the burden of having to worry about the cumbersome security and safety regulations that come with nuclear missions.17 Nuclear-conventional separation would also make it possible for the NEF not be integrated with the military structure of NATO's other supreme commands,18 which would make it easier for the French to participate without renouncing their prerogative of remaining outside the NATO structure.

The range of NEF systems should also be sufficient to reach Soviet territory, so as to reduce the perceptions of "calculability" of a war in Europe, thus providing additional coupling between the US and NATO-Europe. In order to avoid an unacceptable return to a trip-wire strategy, however, SACNEF would best be backed by conventional forces under SACEUR's command, sufficient to hold the line long enough until negotiations could terminate hostilities. Thirty days has been suggested as a desirata for NATO's conven­tional defensive capabilities for this purpose.19

The question of the relationship of the NEF to the US interests and nuclear posture in NATO Europe is a delicate one. The former might worry that the latter was prepar­ing a scheme to draw it into nuclear escalation against its will. This would not be the case; to avoid misunderstandings, the strategy of the NEF would leave it to the US to shoot the first nuclear strike on the NATO side, without which SACNEF could not launch. Secondly, it would be rather odd, and politically difficult, to create a NATO command without any participation of US forces; but the NEF, by definition, would include no US nuclear warheads. Should the US so desire, some American manned delivery systems could be assigned for European warheads in the NEF--a reversed "dual-key" arrangement.

Third, the command and control network of the NEF should remain tied to the current US/NATO apparatus. This would preclude unnecessary duplica­tions and expenses and, what is most important, the network's vulnerability would strengthen the coupling of the force with the rest of the NATO forces and the national forces of the US, whose central C3I is dependent on numerous facilities either located in Europe or dedicated to NATO.20 However, since the Europeans would be using an increased part of the system's capability, it would be fair for them to contribute a larger share of its cost. A necessary addition might include a survivable, perhaps airborne, command post, from which SACNEF would be able to order the launch of the force.

The Seat of Authority Perhaps the most contentious issue in the creation of the NEF would be to decide who would command it and with what powers. The nationality of SACNEF could be rotated among generals from several of the European allies who would express an interest in the position. France and the UK would be the most obvious candidates, at least in the initial years, for their holding the top post would be essential to make the whole idea acceptable in the domestic political scene of those countries. The subordinate commanders to SACNEF would be from interested countries, including the US and Canada, as would the personnel manning the nuclear delivery vehicles. This would ensure that no country in addition to the current nuclear-weapon states would, under any circumstances, acquire the capability to unilaterally use the force without the active cooperation of the others.

SACNEF, more than SACEUR today, should have day-to-day authority to mobilize and alert forces, but not to launch them. This would simplify decision-making in times of crisis, and help overcome likely initial political hesitancies among some of the allies, without however raising the prospect of politically unauthorized nuclear use. Mobilization during crises could be a problem if the opponent should perceive it as a step toward war. However, in the case of the submerged and undetected NEF, mobilization would entail virtually no visibility, and should not therefore precipitate Soviet reactions. In order to make this possible, NEF person­nel, much like today's Allied Mobile Force is for SACEUR, should be permanently assigned to SACNEF's command.

Needless to say, it would be extremely damaging if the US should perceive that the Europeans wanted to manipulate the possibility of unauthorized use as a means to increase the probability of nuclear escala­tion in a conventional war. However, SACNEF would be delegated authority to use forces only in all cases of confirmed nuclear strikes, even the most limited one, against any of NATO's members. That such confirmation would come through the NATO-wide warning system, of which the US and Canada are also a part, would be at the same time both a further instrument of transatlantic coupling and a way to reassure the US (and Canada) that they would not be drawn into nuclear escalation in Europe against their will.

Similarly to what happens in NATO's European Command today, the capability to activate the forces, i.e. the warhead release codes, would be in the custody of SACNEF at all times,21 both to ensure delivery in case of incapacitation of the relevant NCAs and to smooth execution procedures. The custodial units of the NEF would be vertically integrated with the force (i.e. it would be completely separated from other NATO nuclear custodial units) and they would be internationally manned as well, so that there would be no danger of any single alliance member acting unilaterally.

Strategy The main goal of the NEF should be to strengthen the deterrent role of nuclear weapons in an evolving strategic situation in Europe in which the threat of massive Soviet attack is giving way to that of more limited wars. In brief, the purpose of the NEF, in an era of arms reductions and politi­cal instability in Eastern Europe, would be to add credibility to the NATO deterrent and thus stress the unusability of war as an instrument of policy in Europe.

The doctrine and operational strategy of the NEF should be drawn somewhat along the lines of the "inflexible response" suggested by François de Rose. He suggested that NATO build its conventional forces to withstand an attack only for a period--perhaps several weeks--sufficient to explore possibilities to terminate the war without returning to a trip-wire strategy. Failing that, NATO should use nuclear forces in a strictly tactical fashion, against Soviet forces either on or near NATO territory. However, if the Soviets still not stop aggression and respond instead with their own nuclear weapons, then NATO should escalate to nuclear strikes against Soviet territory itself, thus bringing the risks and costs of war to the homeland of the aggressor. de Rose proposes that the final escalatory step against the USSR should be taken by the US.22

The well-known problem here is that, while a US tactical use of nuclear weapons in the battle areas of Europe might be credible, US control would likely prevent NATO from escalating to the point that the USSR would no longer have any incentive for refraining from striking the US itself. If it is to be a credible NATO doctrine, therefore, inflexible response would have to be backed by European control of forces capable of reach­ing the USSR, as only Europeans might credibly risk Soviet strategic responses even after Soviet limited nuclear strikes against their territory. Therefore, the European SACNEF should be authorized to launch, though only after confirmed Soviet nuclear attack against NATO territory.

That SACNEF should not launch his forces until after the Soviets have in no way implies a "No-First-Use" pledge. But it does mean that the decision of NATO's first nuclear use would be left to the present-day nuclear powers, and not to SACNEF. This would guarantee that no new peacetime nuclear triggers would be created in Europe. In the end, the threat of US tactical nuclear first use against advancing Soviet forces--a relatively credible one--should be maintained. In addition, the Soviets would have to account for a pan-European strategic response if they in turn use nuclear weapons.


Increased European nuclear use control within the integrated military structure of NATO in the form presented in this study would have several positive consequences. First, it would strengthen and stabilize deterrence of any war in Europe providing for a nuclear force which would ensure a high likelihood of escalation, and hence a credible deterrent, even against limited aggression. By increasing the credibility of NATO's deterrent, it would strengthen the case for caution in any potential future crisis. In doing so, the NEF would reverse the trend toward NATO's conven­tionalization of its defense posture, which is leading toward a greater degree of warfighting options in Europe. To this end, the doctrinal rationale behind NEF should be made clear to all allies and potential adversaries alike: keeping it secret or ambiguous would defeat its pur­pose. NATO has often argued that doctrinal ambiguity is useful in that it increases uncertainty, but this justification is not a logical one. Ambiguity is useful only when clarification reveals either indecision or disagree­ment over diverging strategic interests. Otherwise, it can be argued that certainty of unacceptable costs would deter more. The NEF would not achieve deterrent certainty; nothing could. But it would come closer to it than today's arrangements.

Second, an NEF would put one more bridle on the potential resurgence of national nuclear weapon ambitions in Europe and reduce the pressure which might mount against the nonproliferation regime in the face of gradually decreasing US nuclear commitment in Europe. The non-nuclear nations of NATO Europe have long disappeared from the list of the so-called "threshold" countries which threaten the current nonproliferation regime, but they might join that list again if they should perceive that the US continues to decrease the nuclear emphasis of its commitment in Europe in a situation of growing political instability around the continent.

In conclusion, a NEF, while not a panacea for the problems of nuclear deterrence in Europe, would address all of the traditional main European concerns about nuclear deterrence--with respect to strategy, organization, coupling and cost. At the same time, it would not pose any provocative threat of aggression to the Soviets, and thus it would not be a cause for a deterioration of East-West relations.

The most important aspect of the NEF is that it would respond to the numerous US calls for NATO Europeans to assume greater responsibility for the defence of their own territories. While the US has usually referred to the need for greater European defence expenditures, Washington must realize that as the post-war scenario of a Europe in ruins, completely dependent on the US for its security fades definitively away, Europeans also need to acquire greater responsibilities for their own defence. On their part, and for the same reason, Europeans must realize that the strategic sustainabil­ity of nuclear free-riding has gradually but steadily been fading for many years now. In fact, it began to wither away almost immediately after it was instituted.

In the post-Cold War era Europeans must still grapple with the issue of a nuclear USSR at their side. The eventual inclusion of former Easter European satellites in Western European political and economic mechanisms might actually contribute to bring the Western-USSR border closer to the West. If both nuclear proliferation and denuclearization are to be avoided, NATO Europeans must now make a new concerted effort to assume greater nuclear responsibilities.


1This paper is a revised version of a chapter of the author's Ph.D. dissertation, completed at the Center for International Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1989. For useful comments and criticism on earlier drafts of this paper, the author is indebted to George Rathjens, William Griffith, Jack Ruina, Carlo Jean, Stefano Silvestri, Trevor Taylor, Harald Müller, Sean Lynn-Jones, Guido Lenzi, Roberto Zadra, Ettore Greco and Guido Venturoni.

2Kaiser, Karl: "Why Nuclear Weapons in Times of Disarmament?", in The World Today, Vol. 45, No. 8-9, August/September 1989, p. 136.

3Yet, there are some analysts who argue that German control is needed for an effective deterrent. See Treverton, Gregory: Making the Alliance Work (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), p.158. Others take an even more extreme view and argue that not only is German control necessary, but it is necessary outside of the current alliance framework. One analyst suggests that it would be advisable to give nuclear weapons to the FRG after dissolving the alliance so as to push Bonn, Paris and London closer into nuclear cooperation arrangements. See Layne, Christopher: "Atlanticism Without NATO", in Foreign Policy, No. 67, Summer 1987. Another, less extreme, proposal is outlined in Garnham, David: "Extending Deterrence With German Nuclear Weapons", in International Security, Vol. 10, No. 1, Summer 1985, p.108. These views, however, are rare, at least for the time being. Their adoption, at present highly unlikely, might have major destructive repercussions on the political cohesion among the allies.

4In recent years, the anti-nuclearism of the Social Democrats seems to have somewhat softened. While still advocating nuclear disarmament in the long term, they would support, for example, a shift to a sea-based deterrent in the shiort term. See Asmus, Ronald D.: "West Germany Faces Nuclear Modernizat­ion", in Survival, Vol. XXX, No.6, November-December 1988, p.508.

5Stockholm International Peace Research Institute: Yearbook of World Armament and Disarmament 1968/69 (London: Taylor & Francis, 1978), p. 160. For the text of the Italian reservation, see Text of the Italian Declara­tion to the UN General Assembly, 12 June 1968, reprinted in Bettini, Emilio (Ed.): Il Trattato Contro la Proliferazione Nucleare (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1968), p.129. For an Italian parliamentary resolution which explicitly underlined "the necessity that [with Italy's accession to the Treaty] the possibility for collective control of nuclear weapons [among members of the European Community] should be guaranteed", see the Text on the Non­proliferat­ion Treaty approved by the Italian Chamber of Deputies on 26 July 1968, reprinted in Bettini (Ed.): op. cit., p.139.

6Personal communications.

7Burrows, Bernard and Geoffrey Edwards: The Defence of Western Europe, (London: Butterworth, 1982), p.76.

8Bull, Hedley: "European Self-Reliance and the Reform of NATO", in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 61, No.4, Spring 1983, p. 848.

9At least since 1976 France has begun talking about an "enlarged sanctuary", which erodes the originally purely national rationale for the force de frappe. See Lellouche, Pierre: "The Transformation of NATO: Parallel European Cooperation" in Broadhurst, Arlene I. (Ed.): The Future of European Alliance Systems, (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1982), p.100. This is now a matter of consensus in France. The consensus has consolidated itself also at the government level, as demonstrated by Defense Minister Chevènement's declaration, in January 1990, that with greater European political unity the "vital interests" of France will cover an expanded geographical area beyond its borders. See "Non-accès de l'Allemagne aux armes nucléaires", Le Point, 8 January 1990. The author is indebted to an anonymous reviewer for pointing this out to him.

10For example, see Gliksman, Alex: "Three Keys for Europe's Bombs" in Foreign Policy, No. 39, Summer 1980, for a proposal to establish a "triple-key" arrangement involving both nuclear and non nuclear allies; an idea for a multilateral force with majority voting for launch is proposed by Robinson, David: "A European Coordinated Force", in Orbis, vol. IX, No.3, Fall 1965.

11Thus, in addition to its primary mission of increasing the credibi­lity of the NATO nuclear deterrent in Europe, the NEF would provide a kind of reverse extended deterrence for the US and Canada as well. While the size of the US arsenal would make this European guarantee little more than a merely symbolic measure, it would nonetheless be an important one, for two reasons. First, it would underline the basic principle of collective security in NATO at a time when the creation of the NEF would put it under questioning. Second, it would likely serve to buy some public and congres­sional support for the NEF in the US.

12One possibility would be to have a force of, say, six submarines, at least two of which would be at sea at all times with sixteen missiles each. Assuming an average of six warheads for each missile, this would result in one-hundred and ninety-two warheads. Subtracting an average twenty percent failure rate, about one-hundred and fifty warheads would reach their targets. (2 on-station-subs x 16 missiles x 6 warheads - 20% failure = 150 warheads.) I am indebted to Dr. Trevor Taylor for this calculation.

13Lellouche, Pierre: "The Transformation of NATO: Parallel European Cooperation" in Broadhurst, Arlene I.: The Future of European Alliance Systems, op. cit., p.108.

14Several European NATO members, upon acceding to the treaty, reserved the right to participate in a European nuclear force should one be created in the future as a step toward the creation of a West European political entity as a successor to the French and British national forces. See Ducci, Roberto: "Tentativi e Speranze di Una Forza di Dissuasione Europea", in Affari Esteri, Anno XIII, No.52.

15Smart, Ian: Future Conditional: The Prospect for Anglo-French Nuclear Cooperation, Adelphi Paper No. 78, (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1971), p. 15-16.

16Joshua, Wynfred and Walter F. Hahn: Nuclear Politics: America, France and Britain, The Washington Papers, No. 9, (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1973), p.67.

17Sandoval, Robert: Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Dilemmas and Illusions, unpublished manuscript, 1985, p.292; Kaufmann, William W.: "Nuclear Deterrence in Central Europe", in Steinbruner, John D. and Leon V. Sigal: Alliance Security: NATO and the No-First-use Question (Washington, DC: Brookings Institutions, 1983), pp.41-42; interest­ingly, this thesis is supported also by some analysts who do not favor relying on nuclear weapons. See for example Halperin, Morton: "Deterrence Cannot Rely on Nuclear Arms", in International Herald Tribune, 29 June 1987.

18The only exception might be a common early-warning system and some common communication facilities. In this case, economies of scale would probably make the cost of dedicated systems a prohibitive one.

19Senator Sam Nunn, Chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Commit­tee, has suggested that if conventional forces were able to hold the line for a period of thirty days this would be an adequate time buffer to avoid using nuclear weapons too early. See interview in The International Herald Tribune, 15 February 1988, p.2. The same parameter value could be agreed to by the Europeans to be a reasonable nuclear threshold for SACNEF as well.

20In fact, it has been argued that the chances of escalation to all-out war of a war in Europe might be reduced by separating to the extent possible the US C3I network from NATO's. On the other hand, keeping the integration of the NATO European C3I network with that of the US will increase the likelihood of such escalation and therefore improve coupling. See Ball, Desmond: Controlling Theater Nuclear War, Working Paper # 138, Strategic and Defence Studies Center (Canberra: Australian National University, October 1987), p.37.

21Neither NATO nor the US have officially confirmed that US warhead release codes are under US custody in Europe, but this was the unanimous opinion among a number of current and former NATO officers interviewed by the author.

22de Rose, François: "Inflexible Response", in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 61, No.1, Fall 1982, passim; see especially p. 143ff.

This article was first published in "Orbis" in 1990.