Why NATO Needs a Conventional Defense

Aug. 1, 1987

For the past decade, no speech about NATO by a Western politician has been complete without a fervent appeal for nuclear arms con­trol. There was great consternation in the 1970s when the Soviet Union targeted Europe with the new nu­clear threat of its mobile SS-20 mis­siles. And in 1983, protesters took to the streets when the US, on be­half of the Alliance, started deploy­ing intermediate-range missiles in response to the SS-20s.

NATO’s other problem—its lim­ited ability to mount a conventional defense of Europe—simmered in the background while most Ameri­cans and Europeans worried exclu­sively about nuclear weapons.

Now, however, NATO’s under-supported conventional forces may get more attention for the most iron­ic of reasons. To the surprise of al­most everybody, the United States and the Soviet Union have begun to talk seriously about removing entire categories of nuclear weapons from Europe.

The total denuclearization of Eu­rope is not in prospect, but the “Double Zero” arms-control option would remove two complete catego­ries of nuclear missiles, banning all those with ranges of between 300 and 3,000 miles. Both sides would still have nuclear weapons in the theater that they could deliver by aircraft, artillery, or missiles with “battlefield” range. When the NATO defense ministers met in May at Stavanger, Norway, the West Germans opposed the Double Zero option. They felt that it would leave their country, which has a long com­mon border with the Warsaw Pact, uniquely exposed. Germany held out for a couple of weeks against political pressures from within and without and then agreed to go along with the Double Zero proposal.

Any nuclear drawdown would al­ter the balance of power in Europe to some extent. A growing number of Westerners believes that the su­periority of the Warsaw Pact in con­ventional firepower would then be­come even more of an advantage than it is already. If so, NATO will have to find time to attend to one of its oldest problems at the same time it adjusts to the fast-developing op­portunities for arms control.

“Disarray” Is Not New

The Stavanger conference was scarcely ended before press ac­counts were reporting NATO “in disarray” on arms-control policy. That phraseology had a familiar ring. According to a study done by a former US permanent representa­tive to NATO, the Alliance has been declared “in disarray” for one rea­son or another on the average of once every fourteen months since its founding in 1949.

NATO will probably weather its current disarray, too, but 1987 may be remembered as one of the shakier years in its history. An ex­traordinary number of problems and concerns—some old, some new—have converged on the allied nations more or less simultaneous­ly.

In addition to the turbulence on arms control, there are frictions within NATO about trade protec­tionism, continuing accusations that some allies are not paying their “fair share” of defense costs, and periodic calls to pull 100,000 or more US troops out of Europe. America’s Strategic Defense Initiative, which promises security from ballistic missiles, has stirred fears that the US might “decouple” its own defense—and especially the extended protection of its strategic nuclear arsenal—from the defense of Europe. The allies complain that the US is eager to sell military goods to them, but is reluctant to buy anything of consequence in re­turn. Nearly everyone admits that billions are wasted by duplication of effort in military R&D.

Anti-Americanism has been gath­ering steam in Europe for some time, and substantial numbers of Europeans profess to see little mor­al difference between the Soviet Union and the United States. The US is faulted for arrogance, reck­lessness in foreign affairs, and failure to consult fully with its allies before it acts. Opinion polls find a weakening of support for NATO. On the other hand, British voters stuck with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Par­ty in the June elections, and the rad­icals in West Germany have not yet managed to unhorse Helmut Kohl and his center-right coalition.

Thatcher and Kohl have stood staunchly with the United States on NATO military policy.

The United States has always been the dominant partner in NATO, partly because it is the strongest of the allies and partly be­cause testiness between the Euro­pean nations would deny the leader­ship role to any of them. Americans realize that a certain amount of the resentment that Europeans ex­press, often caustically, goes along with such a relationship, but they are stung by it nevertheless.

Most Europeans disapproved of the 1986 US action against Libya. Their disapproval angered a good many Americans who figured the Europeans should have been help­ing instead of sniping from the side­lines. Europe’s inclination to deal itself out of responsibility for de­fending Western interests around the world is a further cause of irrita­tion.

The Europeans, chafed by Rea­gan Administration lectures on the evils of buying natural gas from the Russians and on the need for stand­ing tough against terrorist states, took a dim view of the subsidized sale of US wheat to the Soviet Union and of America’s covert arms sale to Iran. The Iran-Contra affair has also undercut the prestige of the United States in the eyes of the al­lies just when NATO is most in need of US leadership.

The most frequent source of ten­sion, though, is disagreement about the size, upkeep, and relative re­sponsibility for NATO’s conven­tional force. The allies have been wrestling with this one for a while.

Holes in Flexible Response

In 1967, concerned that it had grown too reliant on nuclear weap­ons, NATO adopted a new strategy called “Flexible Response.” In the­ory, Flexible Response should en­able the Alliance to defend itself by conventional means, at least in the early stages of an attack on NATO. The next option, to be taken only after the most careful deliberation, is escalation to theater nuclear weapons. The ultimate backup is the strategic nuclear force of the United States, which is pledged to the defense of NATO.

For a variety of reasons, the allied nations have never fielded the army divisions, tactical fighter squad­rons, or combat sustainability that a true Flexible Response strategy would require. NATO continues to rely almost as heavily as ever on nuclear weapons, which are sup­posed to be the fallback element in the strategy.

This is the cheaper approach, al­though it keeps the nuclear thresh­old dangerously low. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, in the meantime, have built up their own conventional forces to unprece­dented levels.

The Pact has enough spare parts and supplies deployed forward in Central Europe to sustain combat for sixty to ninety days. By con­trast, some of the NATO nations have only a few days’ worth of crit­ical supplies. The highly developed Soviet capability to wage chemical warfare would force NATO troops into protective suits, the best of which reduce their efficiency by thirty percent. NATO’s obsolescing chemical weapons impose no sim­ilar burden on the enemy.

One of the clearest voices of warning has been that of Gen. Ber­nard W. Rogers, who retired in June after eight years as Commander in Chief of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He says that the readiness and sustainability of US forces in Europe are better now than at any time since NATO was formed thir­ty-eight years ago—but that even so, the allied conventional forces would not be able to hold out for long against the Pact’s tank armies, operational maneuver groups, and fighter-bombers.

Escalation or Capitulation

“If attacked conventionally to­day, NATO would face fairly quick­ly the decision to escalate to a nu­clear response in order to try to cause the aggressor to halt its ad­vance,” General Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. “We are in such a posture for several reasons, but primarily it results from NATO’s inability to sustain its forces adequately with trained manpower, ammunition, and war reserve materiel.”

General Rogers does not believe that NATO’s military situation is be­yond repair. “By improving our con­ventional forces, we would move away from a posture in which capit­ulation might be viewed as the most credible choice facing NATO,” he told the Senate.

Nor does he think the Soviet Union will launch a direct attack on the West. The Soviet objective in Europe, he says, is to “have the fruits of victory without the pain of war.”

His fear is “that the day will arrive when the military situation for our defensive alliance is beyond all res­toration. We will know it, and the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact will know it. With the backdrop of that massive conventional force they have in the East, a force that threat­ens the taking and holding of territo­ry, we’ll find ourselves being sub­ject to intimidation, coercion, blackmail, and accommodation with the East.”

The situation is all the more dis­tressing in view of the major im­provements made in NATO conven­tional forces, the US components in particular. Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Craig, USAF Director of Plans Pol­icy for US European Command, ticks off a list of gains achieved by USEUCOM between 1981 and 1986. Virtually every major land and air combat system in the theater has been modernized. Reserve stocks of Army munitions are up twenty percent. Spare parts to sup­port fighter sorties have increased by eighty-three percent. The back­log of Army maintenance and repair is down by half. Stocks of “select­ed” modern air-to-air missiles in­creased by sixty-eight percent. Air Force in-flight refueling capacity is up by eighty-four percent. Strategic airlifters can deliver fifty percent more tonnage than before.

Deficiencies All Over

Despite this, NATO remains defi­cient in troop numbers, equipment, munitions, support structure, and more.

The US is short 100,000 troops in Europe for meeting its M-Day com­mitments. The Army support struc­ture could not handle the arriving augmentation forces, so many of the mobilized units would stay at home awaiting support. The Air Force is better off, General Rogers says, but minimum essential facilities are available for only twenty percent of the deploying aircraft that plan to work out of collocated operating bases.

“Mobilizable forces vary consid­erably in levels of training, equip­ment, manning, and availability,” General Rogers told the Senate. “Many, including some US forces, are inadequate for their tasks.”

NATO, he continued, lacks ade­quate numbers of suitable aircraft and the modern munitions with which to arm them. Standing Army forces are insufficient in numbers and must depend on timely rein­forcement. This limits their ability to defeat the Soviet lead echelons and prevent a breakthrough of the forward lines.

Stocks of the following items are below a five-day supply or at less than thirty percent of the level required to counter specific threats: modern artillery munitions, five-ton trucks, drive-train components for wheeled vehicles and tanks, air-to-air missiles, air-to-ship missiles, antiradiation missiles for attack of enemy radars, and antirunway mu­nitions. The allies generally have less sustainability than does the US.

It sounds grim, but NATO isn’t done for just yet. Events of the next few years will play out in the com­plicated crossing of strategies, re­quirements, political machinations, and perceptions of what claim de­fense should have on the economic resources of the allied nations.

Sticking With the Strategy

The Warsaw Pact, too, would have some disadvantages in a Euro­pean war. Strategists from Clause­witz on have contended that it re­quires greater military strength to attack than to defend. And above all else, NATO is committed to the de­fense.

The reliability of Soviet allies is open to question. The Russians have had to use the threat—and sometimes the exercise—of military force to keep their East European empire in line. The allegiance to the Soviet Union of some Warsaw Pact nations is weaker than that of oth­ers, and the Soviets cannot be cer­tain they would fight with total de­termination.

Soviet doctrine is inflexible and tied to centralized command and control. The Soviets made this same strategy work in previous wars, but they often took horren­dous casualties because of their rigid stubbornness. Their depen­dence on an unbroken chain of com­mand is a vulnerability that NATO might exploit.

Although NATO’s lead in tech­nology has narrowed, it is still ahead, and with improved defense funding its chances for stretching that lead out again are excellent. The quality of NATO military man­power is also judged to be better than that in Soviet and Warsaw Pact units.

Much depends on how long the Pact would take to prepare for an attack. Gen. Charles L. Donnelly, then Commander in Chief of US Air Forces in Europe, told an Air Force Association audience earlier this year that if the Soviets give NATO time to bring in its full complement of reinforcements, “we’re going to crack ’em good.” (See “Thirty-Seven Wings of the Best,” April ’87 issue.)

NATO plans to stick with its Flex­ible Response strategy, including the controversial option for first use of nuclear weapons. Former US Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara is one of many worried Westerners who argue that NATO should renounce the use of nuclear weapons unless the enemy uses them first. (McNamara, like most others offering alternative strategies, assumes a corresponding buildup of NATO’s conventional forces.)

General Rogers has insisted that the first-use option is a key element in NATO’s ability to deter an attack and that the West must never allow the Soviet Union to suspect that war without the potential use of nuclear weapons might be possible. How­ever much the Soviets doubt that NATO would invoke the first-use option, they could never be sure.

“In essence,” General Rogers says, “a no-first-use doctrine would make it appear that NATO would rather accept a conventional defeat than resort to nuclear weapons.

The answer to preventing nuclear war is not a no-first-use declaration. We cannot create an artificial fire­break between conventional and nuclear war where a natural one does not exist. . . . The only dura­ble and meaningful firebreak is the one between peace and any kind of war.”

Radical Strategies

The conventional-arms portion of NATO strategy is under challenge as well, especially that aspect of it that calls for a forward defense. Thirty percent of the West German population and industry is situated within 100 kilometers of the Warsaw Pact border. The Germans, under­standably, insist that this area be defended.

Critics say that this strategy is unrealistic and that a determined at­tack will punch through the line. They call, variously, for defense in depth, fortifications, or some sort of maneuver strategy. (See Trevor N. Dupuy’s “Strategy for Victory or Defeat?” April ’83 issue.)

There is no chance that NATO will abandon the forward defense, because the Germans would never stand for that. From a military per­spective, General Rogers has said that he sees no point in conceding territory that will have to be retaken later. “Despite what many have been led to believe, we do not en­visage deploying our forces in a thin defensive line along the border markers,” he says. “Rather, com­manders are expected to deploy their forces on the best defensible terrain near the border and to place covering forces between their de­fensive position and the border.”

The most radical of the alter­native strategies, appealing mostly to the pacifist-left in Europe, is the “defensive defense.” It would do away with “offensive” forces and put large numbers of civilian reserv­ists armed with antitank and air de­fense weapons in the path of the invaders. This approach has been ridiculed as the “defenseless de­fense.” It might annoy the Russians or perhaps slow them down, but it would not stop them.

General Rogers observes that this strategy does not hold Warsaw Pact territory at risk in the event of at­tack. There would be no weapons that could reach their territory. “Further,” he says, “the last thing we want to do is have our reinforce­ments have to fight their way ashore or into the nations they’re supposed to reinforce.”

Yet another group of alternative strategists wants NATO to be more aggressive. Their idea is “offensive retaliation,” which would throw a conventional ground counterattack against Eastern Europe. General Rogers says that retaliatory inva­sion is not politically acceptable to some of the allies—and that NATO does not have enough conventional forces to hold its general position, defend its rear areas, and strike on the ground at the enemy second echelon all at the same time. If it did, he says, “defense and deter­rence would be assured without the need to endorse a politically and op­erationally risky course.”

This does not mean that NATO would not go after the enemy’s sec­ond and third echelons with tactical airpower and long-shooting ground weapons. It would strike in both of these ways as part of the Follow-On Forces Attack (FOFA) concept, which the Alliance adopted in 1984.

NATO’s first battle priority would be to block the enemy’s initial air and ground attack. This includes disrupting the lead echelons of mechanized forces and destroying them if possible. Penetrating air­craft would pound Pact airfields and command and control centers. The forthcoming capability to operate at night and in bad weather will enable fighter and attack aircrews to find the Soviet lead echelons at any hour and to hit force concentrations or complicate their movement and supply.

Soviet follow-on forces are the second priority Special operations forces, along with fighter squad­rons, would try to prevent enemy reinforcements from reaching the battlefront. The objective of FOFA is to reduce to manageable propor­tions the attacking elements against which NATO must defend at its for­ward positions.

FOFA does not replace the nu­clear option, but it does reduce NATO’s early reliance on it. Gener­al Rogers has an answer for those who ask what conventional force is required to carry out allied strategy. Enough, he says, to “be perceived by the Soviet Union as having a rea­sonable prospect of frustrating a conventional attack by the Warsaw Pact. . . . The minimum required is [that] sufficient to ensure that when and if the time comes, political au­thorities do not have to react in pan­ic with respect to the use of nuclear weapons, but can make a very de­termined and deliberate decision. And secondly, sufficient conven­tional forces [are required] to en­sure that our nuclear assets are there when the time comes that we have to use them.”

The Next Steps

In 1982, General Rogers told the NATO nations that they could have a good conventional capability by the end of the decade if they in­creased their defense budgets by an average of four percent. The allies soon concluded that such a program of growth was beyond their means. The prevailing trend is toward cut­ting defense budgets rather than raising them.

There are signs of promise, how­ever, in the Conventional Defense Improvements (CDI) plan approved by NATO defense ministers in 1985. “The main focus of the CDI effort is on specific critical munitions that are identified, item by item, for each nation,” Richard N. Perle, then As­sistant Secretary of Defense for In­ternational Security Policy, said in March. “Among the objectives for all of these items for non-US NATO nations, roughly one-half will be fully implemented or virtually fully implemented within the current five-year planning period.”

Another CDI objective is to in­crease cooperation in armaments. NATO spends more on defense than the Warsaw Pact does (although the USSR outspends the US by a con­siderable margin), but loses much of the benefit by wasteful duplication. The US is already working on a number of programs in partnership with allies, and the allies are work-mg with each other on multinational developments. For example, Ger­many, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom have joined together to field a European Fighter Aircraft for the 1990s.

Congress voted $125 million in FY ’86 and $190 million in FY ’87 as venture capital for cooperative R&D. But legislators are ever watchful for international deals that might take business away from their districts. Some congressmen com­plained that the award of $9 billion in military contracts to foreign com­panies in 1986 both contributed to the trade deficit and hurt American companies that might have done the work.

In reply, Deputy Secretary of De­fense William H. Taft IV pointed out that the military trade balance with industrialized NATO nations favors the US by about two to one. “The broad benefits of cooperation can­not be achieved if the United States, for domestic reasons, insists on de­fining cooperation as buy Ameri­can,” Mr. Taft said.

CDI technological initiatives emphasize the “capability to both see and strike deep regardless of weather or lighting conditions,” says Donald N. Fredericksen, Dep­uty Under Secretary of Defense for Tactical Warfare Programs. Leading requirements include “low-observ­able technology, smart munitions for top attack of armored vehicles, new all-weather real-time target ac­quisition, and microprocessing for improved data handling,” he says. Mr. Fredericksen identifies five ma­jor US programs in this category: the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS), the Army’s Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), the Army Tactical Missile System (TACMS), the Joint Tactical Cruise Missile System (JTACMS), and the Tacit Rainbow loitering drone for engaging enemy radar emitters.

The Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LAN­TIRN) system, now in production, will provide unprecedented capabil­ities for air operations in darkness and bad weather. And the Mark XV Combat Identification System, a joint-service US development in co­operation with the allies, will soon begin relieving the problem of cum­bersome and often ineffective pro­cedures for distinguishing friends from foes.

Among the steps to improve coor­dination is the NATO decision to adopt JP-8 as the standard aviation fuel for ground-based aircraft in Eu­rope. Conversion from JP-4 is in progress.

Nunn’s Prescription

NATO has few supporters as sup­portive or critics as tough as Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In 1984, he sponsored a legislative amendment—subsequently defeat­ed—that would have pulled large numbers of US troops out of Europe unless the allies began spending more on combat sustainability. (Eu­ropeans refer to that one as the “bad” Nunn Amendment. A differ­ent Nunn Amendment in 1985 ear­marked $200 million for NATO co­operative R&D.)

“America should not plan and pay for a robust conventional defense when our allies are planning and paying for a tripwire strategy,” Sen­ator Nunn says. He is encouraged by NATO’s improvement efforts since 1984, but is far from satisfied with the Alliance’s present conven­tional posture. NATO’s nuclear-conventional dilemma is profound, he says, but not new: “We have de­pended on nuclear weapons to basi­cally deter not only nuclear war but also to deter conventional war since the end of World War II.”

Senator Nunn accuses Western politicians of mincing their words about the realities of allied defense. “Why should our citizens be con­scious of conventional deficiencies when our political leaders and the news media spend ninety-five per­cent of their time talking about nu­clear weapons?” he asks. “Why should our citizens believe there is a link between nuclear weapons and conventional weakness when NATO has not made bold arms-con­trol proposals [that] require mean­ingful reduction in Soviet conven­tional power? And why should our citizens not be increasingly at­tracted to the Soviets’ call for no first use of nuclear weapons when they have not been clearly told that the West’s first-use threat prevents the Soviets from massing their over­whelming tank forces in a threaten­ing and destabilizing fashion?”

His prescription calls for explain­ing these things clearly to the public and addressing the problems he de­scribes as “automatic escalators” and “structural disarmament.”

Automatic escalators are shortcomings in the conventional force that would predestine NATO to ear­ly use of nuclear weapons to meet an attack. One such automatic esca­lator is the ammunition supply. “The European allies give out of ammunition in Europe about the time our forces—that we pay for over here—arrive on the shores of Europe,” Senator Nunn says. “When the European allies give out of ammunition, the conventional side of the war is over.” He intended his 1984 amendment, he says, to send a strong message that “unless the allies agreed to eliminate these critical deficiencies, NATO’s Flexi­ble Response strategy was neither viable nor credible.”

By “structural disarmament” Senator Nunn means the overlaps and inefficiencies that keep NATO from getting all the weapons it should from its defense procure­ments. A related consequence is that while the Warsaw Pact has a common range of equipment, allied forces have interoperability prob­lems. “We all as sovereign, indepen­dent nations in NATO insist on building our own weapon system of every type,” Senator Nunn says. “We have something like eleven or twelve antitank weapons being built in seven countries. Lord [Peter] Carrington [NATO Secretary Gen­eral] summarized it well when he said that the only thing NATO allies have in common is the air in the tires of the jeeps. Now that’s why it costs so much” and why the Western na­tions “get outproduced each and every year by the Warsaw Pact, a totalitarian system that supposedly doesn’t have much efficiency in their overall industry.”

Leapfrogging the Tank Armies

Senator Nunn wants NATO to pursue revolutionary—not gradu­al—technologies that might leap­frog areas of Soviet advantage. This would not only improve the conven­tional balance but also compel the Soviets to spend considerable time and money in countering the leap. In doing so, the Soviets would have to rechannel into defensive efforts some of the resources that might otherwise go to furthering their of­fensive capability. Senator Nunn, along with Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.), sponsored the Balanced Technology Initiative (BTI) to ex­plore ways to increase the rate of obsolesence of the equipment, doc­trine, and tactics of Soviet tank ar­mies.

“We need to have a declared goal in our technological research to ren­der tanks obsolete,” Senator Nunn says. “This is an achievable goal in my view, but it will take an all-out, dedicated effort. If you could render tanks obsolete, you would do as much to change the balance of power in the world and you would do as much for your world peace, in my opinion, if not more than you would if you rendered missiles ob­solete, because Soviet tank forces in Europe are the most destabilizing part of the overall operation.”

Finally, Senator Nunn contends, the West ought to seek arms-control agreements that would remove the Warsaw Pact’s capacity for a poten­tially decisive short-warning attack on NATO. Force reductions would have to be asymmetrical, he says, because the Pact begins so far ahead in conventional forces: “We cannot reduce equally with the Soviets. If we do, we’ll end up with zero, and they’ll end up with an overwhelm­ing advantage.”

The agreement he has in mind might require the Soviets to remove thirteen divisions—tanks, man­power, and artillery tubes—to every two removed by the United States. In addition, both superpowers would have to pull their divisions far enough back so that they would need equal time to redeploy to for­ward positions in Europe.

What’s in it for the Soviets? First, Senator Nunn says, the benefits of a more stable peace. And second, an opportunity to reduce defense costs and reallocate the savings to im­provement of the Soviet economy. This is consistent with what Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev has said he wants from his reform pro­gram. NATO should find out how serious he is.

As NATO ponders the other pos­sibilities for arms control, Senator Nunn urges the West to remember that there is a connection between nuclear forces and conventional forces. He does not suggest trying to wrap conventional arms into agreements currently pending, but he does believe there should be a “supreme national interest” escape clause. Before withdrawing the final twenty or twenty-five percent of the missiles, NATO could look again at the conventional force balance and decide then how to proceed.

In his speeches, Senator Nunn re­calls a particularly relevant piece of advice from Winston Churchill: “Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure, and more than sure, the other means of preserving the peace are in your hand.”

The Imbalance in Airpower

Force comparisons are never easy As the arms-control pro­cess demonstrates regularly, the decision about what to count is inherently subjective when the contending forces are not identical. Estimates of the NATO-Warsaw Pact military balance often seem to contradict each other unless one is careful to check the assumptions and footnotes.

In his annual report to Congress last January, for example, US Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger said that the Pact outnumbers NATO by two to one in tanks and combat aircraft and by three to one in artillery, combat helicopters, and surface-to-air missiles. When both quality and quantity are considered, he said, the Pacts advantage in ground combat power is 2.3 to one, and in tactical airpower, 1.7 to one. It is easy to overlook his short qualifier, “within the NATO guidelines area,” which means that these ratios depict only those forces facing each other in the central European zone—the two Ger­manies, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Benelux nations.

The airpower comparison in the chart above is based on the most detailed breakout the Pentagon has published, but even this is fuzzy around the edges. For example, it leaves out sev­eral air armies that are controlled by the Soviet Supreme High Command, but which would be available for combat in a Euro­pean war. It does not count 900 French and Spanish aircraft, since those nations do not participate in the integrated NATO military structure. It also excludes Soviet strategic intercep­tors, 4,000 Soviet trainer aircraft that would be available, and Soviet transport helicopters that can be configured for attack roles.

The Military Balance 1986-87, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, computes the balance at 5,299 combat aircraft for the Pact and 3,243 for NATO (helicopters not included). It concludes that the Pact has an advantage in every category of theater airpower, with the margin widest in inter­ceptors and fighters.

Both NATO and the Warsaw Pact have improved the quality of their air forces. The US is further along with its modernization program than its allies are. Today, forty-five percent of USAF’s tactical combat fleet is new generation aircraft, and fifty-five percent is current generation. The allies field twenty-five per­cent new generation, sixty-five percent current generation, and ten percent older aircraft. By the end of the decade, new gener­ation aircraft will be a sizable part of the allied inventory, with few older model aircraft in service except in the Southern Region countries.

USAF squadrons in Europe are achieving remarkable read­iness rates with their F-15s and F-16s. The Panavia Tornado is in service with the British, the Germans, and the Italians. Canada and Spain are converting to variants of the F/A-18 Hornet. Five NATO nations—the US, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands—fly F-1 6s. Greece and Turkey are acquiring F-1 6s. The NATO E-3 AWACS, operating with international crews, has added considerably to the Alliance’s battle management.

On the other side, the Soviet Su-24 Fencer is a first-rate interdiction aircraft and can strike deep. The Su-27 Flanker has been compared to the US F-15 and would provide long-range escort. The shorter-range MiG-29 Fulcrum is replacing the Flogger series of air-superiority fighters. For the past ten years, the Soviet tactical air forces have emphasized ground attack in their modernization plans.


Warsaw Pact

In Place


In Place


Fighter-bomber/Ground attack




















Attack helicopters





Source Soviet Military Power 1987

The Transatlantic Link

The primary US national interests are peace, freedom, and prosperity for our­selves and our friends around the world. The continued freedom of Western Europe from Warsaw Pact/Soviet aggression and intimidation coercion is crucial to these interests. Currently, US defense policy places the defense of Western Europe as second only to the defense of North America itself. This is appropriate because the defense of North America begins not on the beaches of the Eastern seaboard, but at the . . . border [between the two Germanies]. Any other approach only makes it more likely that we will someday have to defend those beaches.

Our European allies are of strategic importance because without them the global balance of power would shift alarmingly in favor of the Soviet Union. Our NATO allies are strong and capable militarily, more so than the allies of the Soviet Union, and they contribute significantly to the global military balance so vital to American security. Control over Western Europe would take the Soviets a giant step along the path toward their goals of isolating the United States and eventually dominating the world.

In addition to the strategic importance of our NATO allies, we cannot forget the economic importance of Western Europe to our continued prosperity. Trade with our NATO partners in 1985 constituted more than twenty percent of the total US foreign commerce, totaling more than $120 billion, almost twice the amount traded with the Orient.

In addition, two-way investment between the US and Western Europe exceeds $830 billion, approximately forty percent of the US total. Europe has become even more important to our well-being in the past forty years as our economies have become increasingly interdependent. The combined economic power of the NATO nations is more than double that of the Warsaw Pact. If Europe were brought into the Soviet orbit, the balance would shift to the Soviets, to the great detriment of US interests. In addition to military and economic interests, there are the deep-seated political and cultural ties we have with our NATO partners. To allow the neutraliza­tion or domination of these democracies by the Soviet Union would call into question our commitment to freedom around the world and would isolate the US from potential friends and allies everywhere. As we examine US objectives, strategy, and forces, we must remember that our commitments as a member of NATO contribute directly and centrally to our own vital national interests. We are not in Europe solely because of an altruistic concern for their security: we are there because of a pragmatic concern for our own welfare as well as theirs.

—Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, SACEUR,

in testimony to the

Senate Armed Services Committee

March 25, 1987

What’s a Fair Share

Burden sharing—the question of who’s paying a “fair share” of the cost and who isn’t—has become such a contentious issue that the Secretary of Defense is re­quired by law to give Congress an accounting each year. The 1987 ‘Report on Allied Contributions to the Common Defense” is chock-full of tables and data and, among other things, demonstrates how difficult it is to establish what a nation’s “fair share” actually is.

No single criterion is adequate, but on balance, the Defense Department and senior US military spokesmen say that the NATO allies contribute more than they usually get credit for. Prior to mobilization, Europe provides ninety percent of NATO’s land forces and seventy-five percent of the air and naval forces After mobilization, the Europeans still supply seventy-five percent of the land forces, fifty percent of the air forces, and thirty percent of the naval forces.

The most popular index of a “fair share” is the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) a nation allocates to defense. In 1985, the most recent year for which the Secretary’s report had data, Greece led the NATO list with defense expenditures equal to 7.1 percent of its GDP. The US was second with 6.9 percent, followed by the UK (5.2), Turkey, (4.5), and France, (4.1). All others—including Germany—allocated 3.3 percent or less.

The Germans would appear as slackers by that measure alone, but as the report says, GOP doesn’t tell the whole story. Germany, a nation geographically about the size of Oregon, hosts 400,000 foreign troops. Five thousand military exercises and maneuvers are conducted there each year, with damages to land and the surround­ings amounting to about $100 million. Some 580,000 sorties a year-100,000 of them at low level—are flown in German airspace. The Germans register civil assets, such as trucks, that would be used for military purposes in an emergency, and Germany has 93,000 reservists standing by to provide logistics support for US forces in wartime.

Only four NATO nations—the US, the UK, Canada, and Luxembourg—rely on volunteer forces. The others pay a political price to maintain a military draft, and their conscripted manpower generally costs less than volunteers do.

The allied nations field about the same active-duty military manpower levels as a percentage of their populations as the US does—and their contributions of divi­sion-equivalent firepower and tactical airpower in relation to their economic strengths exceed those of the United States. Furthermore, there are more than 900 US installations in Europe provided by host nations that get no return in the form of taxes or rent. The value of such real estate in Germany and Britain exceeds $20 billion.

Cooperation in Arms

The US and its NATO allies are pursuing arms cooperation with unprecedented intensity. Formal agreements have been signed and developments have begun on eight projects. Funding for each is included in the budgets of the US and the allie4 partners. Agreement is near on still other projects.

• Ada Project Support Environments. Joint effort with six other nations to develop a common, NATO-wide programming support system for development and reuse of military systems software.

• Enhanced Fighter Maneuverability. Bilateral effort with Germany to build a technology demonstrator aircraft for advanced fighter maneuver technology. This aircraft has been designated as the X-31A.

• Advanced Short Takeoff/ Vertical Landing Systems. Bilateral effort with the UK for STOL engine and vectored-thrust engine enhancements.

• 155-mm Autonomous Precision Guided Munition. Joint effort with eight other nations to develop an artillery-delivered “smart” munition.

• Standoff Airborne Radar Demonstrator System. Interoperability effort with the UK and France to link the US Joint STARS ground station with airborne radars of the UK and France.

• Advanced Sea Mine. Bilateral effort with the UK to develop a bottom-sitting (Continental Shelf) mine for use against both submarine and surface ship targets.

• Modular Standoff Weapon. Joint development with six other nations to develop an air-delivered “smart’ standoff weapon for use primarily against ground targets;

• Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS). Joint effort with four other nations to develop a low-volume “downsized’ Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) terminal for use in such smaller aircraft as the F-16 and European Fighter Aircraft.

Bringing Home the Troops

The threat that some sizable contingent of US troops-100,000 is the number mentioned most often—might be withdrawn from Europe has loomed as a possibili­ty for the past several years. Some calls for withdrawal have been based on the perception that the US was carrying an excessive share of the NATO cost load already, but other proposals have been for different reasons.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example, say that US troop strength in Europe should be drawn down to create a force held in reserve for crises elsewhere in the world. The Pentagon would like the allies to help more with the global defense of Western interests, and it certainly needs resources for worldwide contingency, but defense leaders are dug in hard against troop withdrawals from Europe.

The Defense Department claims that its present troop strength of 326.000 in Europe is insufficient for the US to meet all of its obligations there and has been seeking relief from congressionally imposed manpower ceilings for years. The economics of troop withdrawal are wrong, too.

One-time cost of transporting 100,000 troops home and rebasing them in the US would be $5 billion, according to official estimates. Procurement of airlift for their rapid deployment in case of crisis or war would be another $40 billion, with recur­ring annual operating and support costs of $3.5 billion.

A Split of Opinions

A public opinion poll of Britons, Germans. Italians, and French reported earlier this year illustrates Senator Nunn’s point that citizens do not understand the rela­tionship of nuclear weapons, conventional forces, and defense costs.

A majority of the Britons and Germans polled disapproved of US nuclear weapons on their soil. In fact—in contrast to previous indications of opinion—many Europe­ans disapprove of an American military presence on their soil, period. Only in Germany did the poll find a majority in favor of a continued US participation in NATO. The British (forty-nine percent to forty-one percent), French (fifty-five to twenty-six), and Italians (sixty-nine to nineteen) preferred some sort of Europeans-only arrangement. Of those who wanted Europe to go it alone, many (ranging from twenty-five percent of the French to seventy percent of the Italians) thought defense should be accomplished by nonnuclear means.

Apparently unaware of the military and economic consequences of their atti­tudes, most Germans and Italians wanted to cut their defense budgets as well. The British and French publics were inclined to hold their defense spending at about the present levels.

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll conducted for the Chicago Council on Foreign Rela­tions and published in March 1987 was finding the American public rather favorably disposed toward the defense of Europe. Of those surveyed, sixty-four percent said the US should play a more active role in the world, seventy percent were for holding the line on or increasing support to NATO. and sixty-eight percent said the US should use its troops if the Soviet Union invaded Western Europe. (Only fifty-three percent favored defense of Japan, although seventy-eight percent agreed that the US has vital interests there.) At the same time, seventy-eight percent of those polled said that the top US foreign policy goal should be protection of American jobs.