Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney; drawing by David Levine


Beneath its bureaucratic skin NATO is being eaten away by conflict, divided by issues that have haunted it throughout the 1980s. At the end of the decade, as at the beginning, the NATO alliance finds itself burdened with unsolved questions about nuclear weapons. What part should nuclear weapons have in NATO strategy? Does NATO need more than four thousand nuclear weapons in Europe, and, if not, how far can this nuclear inventory be cut? One faction within NATO, led by the US and Britain, is pushing for a major program of nuclear rearmament in Europe. This faction wants to install more powerful “modernized” nuclear missiles in Europe to compensate for those lost or foregone under the terms of the INF Treaty signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in December 1987. A second faction, led by West Germany, is resisting this “modernization,” claiming that it is unnecessary, dangerous, and provocative. These differences are in turn linked to more basic disagreements about how the West should respond to Gorbachev.

Until very recently NATO managed to keep these disagreements bottled up within its own headquarters, but this private phase of the conflict is coming to an end. The two sides are now criticizing each other in public, and one of the earliest casualties of this squabbling was James Baker’s first European tour in February. In the past, as part of the NATO routine, a new secretary of state would visit the European capitals and get to know his NATO counterparts. But last February Baker found himself being treated not simply as a visiting grandee, but as a representative of one of the contending factions. Challenged by the West Germans and the Scandinavians to justify “modernization,” Baker had to start talking more like a general than a diplomat.

This new and more open phase of NATO’s dispute began when Mikhail Gorbachev announced at the UN last December that he would unilaterally withdraw six tank divisions from Eastern Europe. Forced to respond to Gorbachev’s speech, NATO divided along factional lines. General John Galvin, the supreme allied commander and a leading military supporter of the rearmament program, argued that the Soviet Union’s superiority in conventional forces would survive the Gorbachev cuts, and insisted that NATO had to proceed with its plans to install more powerful nuclear missiles. John Tower, still expecting to become secretary of defense, warned of the “new sophistication” of the Soviet threat, against which NATO’s nuclear program was a “trump card.” General Brent Scowcroft, again with the nuclear issue in mind, warned that Gorbachev was interested in “making trouble” for NATO, and that the cold war was therefore far from over. Secretary of Defense Cheney has said that he too favors nuclear “modernization.” (At the beginning of April, Hans-Jochen Vogel, chairman of the German Social Democratic party [SPD], after meeting with Cheney, said he was surprised at the “firmness” [Deutlichkeit] with which Cheney had insisted that modernization must take place.)1

But Gorbachev’s speech also strengthened the West Germans in their opposition to nuclear “modernization.” Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister, claimed that the Gorbachev cuts made talk about “modernization” of marginal importance. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, after months of hesitation about “modernization,” joined Genscher in saying that no decisions about the future of one of the principal weapons to be modernized, the Lance missile, need be taken for at least two years. Kohl even refused to rule out the possibility that both sides would eventually get rid of all their remaining tactical missiles—a third “zero option” following the elimination of all the long- and short-range INF missiles in Europe.2 Although the French, the Norwegians, and the Danes are also opposed to “modernization,” the West Germans will decide the program’s future. Since most of the more powerful nuclear weapons to be introduced under “modernization” will be stationed on their soil, without their agreement the program cannot proceed.

NATO’s dominant faction, led by the US and Britain, claims that the INF Treaty has weakened NATO’s nuclear deterrent and that NATO must now, in the words of General John T. Chain, commander of Strategic Air Command, “beef up” its remaining nuclear forces.3 They want more long-range bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons; new shells for NATO’s nuclear artillery (once modernized, their number could be reduced); a new ground-launched tactical missile with a maximum range of about 450 kilometers, over four times the range of the existing Lance missile now installed mainly in West Germany; and a new air-launched nuclear missile for the NATO air forces. The successor to the ground-launched Lance missile has yet to be chosen; but the new air-launched missile, a type of weapon NATO does not possess, would be a variant of the Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM-2) now being developed for the US strategic bomber force. It too will have a range of just under 500 kilometers. If NATO decides this year to go ahead with modernization, it will spend the next four or five years testing and developing these new weapons. If all goes according to plan the weapons will begin to be installed in Central Europe in the mid-Nineties.


The determination of the US and British governments to deploy new short-range missiles in Western Europe is matched by an equally strong determination to avoid negotiations with the Soviet side that might oblige NATO to reduce their numbers. While flying to a meeting of NATO defense ministers held in Brussels on April 19, Secretary of Defense Cheney told The New York Times that he was “strenuously” opposed to any negotiations on the short-range weapons. The US and Britain would like to put off such talks until the distant day when a balance of conventional forces in Europe is established. The US and British aversion to negotiations reflects the fear that the process of nuclear disarmament in Europe set in motion by Mikhail Gorbachev will, unless checked, lead rapidly to the “denuclearization” of the entire continent and to the collapse of NATO strategy as it has existed for forty years.

The new, “modernized” missiles that the US and Britain want to deploy would not violate the letter of the INF Treaty, but they would certainly violate its spirit. The new bombers and air-launched missiles could threaten the same targets as did the Pershing and Cruise missiles withdrawn under the treaty’s first “zero option” agreement (which applied to weapons with a range of 1,000 to 5,000 kilometers). The new, improved Lance missile would have almost the same range as the shorter-range INF that NATO agreed not to deploy under the treaty’s second “zero option,” which applied to weapons with a range of 500 to 1,000 kilometers. Since the US government signed the INF Treaty, and the British government endorsed it, their support for “modernization” raises an obvious question. Why are they now trying to retrieve through “modernization” what only recently they agreed should be given up through diplomacy? One possible answer is provided by the military leaders themselves.

From the beginning the strongest supporters of “modernization” have been the NATO military commanders. General Bernard Rogers, who retired in 1987 as supreme allied commander, made the most forthright statement of the military point of view.4 Rogers was a fierce opponent of the INF Treaty, claiming that it undermined NATO’s ability to defend Western Europe against Soviet invasion. For Rogers the nuclear weapons withdrawn under the terms of the treaty, the Pershing and Cruise missiles, were not simply bargaining chips to be traded away for parallel withdrawals on the Soviet side. They were an indispensable element of NATO’s nuclear inventory. Like his predecessors of the previous forty years Rogers did not believe that a purely conventional defense of Western Europe was possible. So great, he argued, was the conventional superiority of the troops and tanks of the Warsaw Pact that only NATO’s threat to use nuclear weapons against its invading armies could guarantee deterrence.

For this nuclear defense to be credible, NATO had to equip itself with an elaborate hierarchy of nuclear weapons, with each weapon performing its assigned “war fighting” role. Rogers’s views about the composition of this nuclear “mix” were shaped by the prevailing NATO doctrine of “flexible response.” Under “flexible response,” NATO must be able to respond to a Soviet invasion of Western Europe with nuclear strikes that, in scale and ferocity, fall well short of an all-out strike against the territory of the USSR itself. Without such an ability to wage nuclear war well below the threshold of global annihilation, NATO’s deterrent is no longer credible. For in the age of nuclear equality the threat of all-out retaliation is no longer persuasive. No US president would dare respond to a Soviet invasion of Western Europe with a nuclear strike that would risk the immediate and total destruction of his own country. This aspect of flexible response has obliged the US to supplement its strategic nuclear arsenal with various shorter-range weapons deployed in Western Europe itself.

To carry out the doctrine of “flexible response” NATO must also be able to hit thousands of Soviet military targets within a vast region stretching from the Elbe to the gates of Moscow. Short-range nuclear artillery could destroy the Soviet tanks actually carrying out an invasion. Tactical missiles could attack Soviet divisions assembling in the rear. Aircraft equipped with nuclear bombers could reach targets located even further behind enemy lines.

Throughout the 1970s this “spectrum of deterrence” had, according to Rogers, been weakened by the existence of a gap—NATO’s ability, in Rogers’s words, “to strike with certainty targets deep in the Soviet heartland.” NATO needed to strike these targets not only because they might be of military value to the Soviet side, but also because, in destroying them, NATO would be making the Soviets pay for their aggression against Western Europe (though presumably not on a scale that would provoke an all-out Soviet strike against the US itself). The key words here are “with certainty,” because, long before the appearance of Pershing and Cruise missiles, the NATO command disposed of submarines and bombers whose nuclear weapons could easily reach Soviet territory. But for Rogers and the rest of the NATO military hierarchy these weapons could not strike targets “deep in the Soviet homeland” with sufficient “certainty.” Aircraft might be detected by Soviet radar and be shot down. Ballistic missiles fired from submarines would be too inaccurate and powerful to be agents of “flexible response.” Their use would carry too high a risk of Soviet retaliation against the US itself and therefore the Soviets might doubt that the President, in the heat of a crisis, would launch them.


Thus, according to some Western military strategists, a European “missile gap” opened up, one that Pershing and Cruise, with their range, accuracy, and relative invulnerability could close. By agreeing to withdraw Pershing and Cruise under the terms of the INF Treaty’s first “zero option,” the Reagan administration, Rogers claimed, foolishly reopened the gap.

Rogers was also unhappy about the treaty’s second “zero option,” which prohibited the deployment of INF with a range of between 500 and 1,000 kilometers. Here too Rogers felt that NATO was depriving itself of “valuable escalatory options” against Soviet military targets in Central and Eastern Europe. But although General Rogers was strongly opposed to the INF Treaty, he also knew that it would likely be ratified. He therefore pointed to various weapons programs that he had first proposed in 1985 and that now could be used to “bolster” NATO’s deterrence, once the Pershing and Cruise missiles had been withdrawn. The reemerging missile gap could, at least partially, be closed.

The measures advocated by the now retired General Rogers are exactly the same as those now being proposed by the US and British governments as a means of compensating for the INF Treaty. If General Rogers was the only senior US officer to openly oppose the INF Treaty, he had silent allies among other senior US officers and his analysis of the treaty’s effects and of the need to compensate for it are widely shared within the US military establishment. His successor as supreme allied commander, General John R. Galvin, has argued like him that the effect of the “zero option” on INF is to “reduce significantly the military capabilities that are part of the foundation of NATO’s deterrent strategy.” General Galvin was nonetheless prepared to accept the treaty, provided that the need for a compensatory buildup was accepted. For he said, “in buttressing the mix of remaining weapons we will have kept our deterrent capability and also our capacity to fight using nuclear weapons.”5

Similarly, at the end of 1987 General John T. Chain told The New York Times that withdrawing INF was going to remove a key element of NATO strategy and that therefore NATO was “going to have to do something to beef up that second [nuclear] leg of its strategy.”6

Although all three generals managed to avoid using the word “compensate,” nonetheless words like “bolster,” “buttress,” and “beef up” reveal that compensation is indeed what they had in mind. In testifying before Congress, Admiral Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has talked only of the need to “modernize” NATO’s nuclear weapons, but he has been asking for precisely the same new weapons as did the generals. Among civilian supporters of the program, such as Mrs. Thatcher, “modernization” is the code word that has caught on.7

“Modernization,” or the Rogers plan as I will call it, has also attracted powerful civilian support from the Reagan and Bush administrations. In Washington the program has been sustained by a political strategy whose origins go back to the beginnings of NATO. This strategy is based on the idea that there is a firm, unbreakable connection between the perceived toughness of NATO policy on the one hand and Soviet planning on the other. If NATO demonstrates strength and political will, then the hostile intentions that lurk just beneath the surface of Soviet diplomacy can be kept at bay. But if NATO seems to falter, if it abandons the Rogers plan in the face of Gorbachev’s opposition, then the Soviets could quickly go over to the offensive, and expansionism could once again become the driving force of Soviet diplomacy. In James Baker’s words, “where we have not raised the cost of adventure or aggression, we see little evidence of change.”8 This attitude, deeply ingrained within NATO for forty years, accounts for former Secretary of Defense Carlucci’s grim warning about the Rogers plan; if it is abandoned NATO “would invite Soviet domination of Western Europe.”9

Despite the weight of opinion now lined up behind it, the Rogers plan is, from a military point of view, among the more ill-conceived projects to be endorsed by any postwar US or British government. Even with the withdrawal of Pershing II and Cruise missiles, NATO will still dispose of over four thousand nuclear weapons in Europe, and this huge arsenal includes virtually every conceivable type of nuclear weapon: nuclear shells fired from guns, bombers and fighter bombers equipped with nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles fired from submarines. With so many nuclear weapons at their disposal, all talk by the Bush and Thatcher administrations of an impending “denuclearization” of Europe seems absurd. This arsenal moreover can carry out every aspect of NATO strategy, including General Rogers’s cherished goal of hitting Soviet targets from the European theater. For this task NATO can draw on aircraft such as the F-111 and the Tornado, sea-launched cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles fired from submarines. NATO is already strengthening these nuclear forces, and this upgrading should dispel any doubts its generals may have about its ability to hit targets in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

For example, US warships and submarines in European waters now carry sea-launched Cruise missiles and these weapons, like their ground-launched counterparts, have the range and accuracy to threaten military targets on Soviet soil. Aircraft such as the Tornado, the F-15, and the F-16, introduced into NATO air forces during the 1980s, can penetrate Soviet airspace more effectively than their predecessors. In the early 1990s, NATO will also be getting the Trident D-5 ballistic missile, installed in US submarines assigned to NATO. One of the purposes of the Trident program has been to produce a sea-launched ballistic missile accurate enough to destroy hardened military targets. The advent of the D-5 ought therefore to lessen the anxieties of NATO commanders about the role of such missiles in “flexible response.” The military targets in the western USSR, which General Rogers fears can no longer reliably be hit because of the loss of INF, are precisely the kind of targets which the D-5 with its high accuracy should be able to destroy. No Soviet leader calculating the risks of aggression could afford to ignore this weapon. He would have to reckon that his US adversary, faced with the loss of the US Army in Europe, indeed of Europe itself, could retaliate by launching the D-5 against Soviet military targets on Soviet soil. The Trident D-5 will therefore be a powerful addition to NATO’s deterrent.


Much has been made of the future obsolescence of NATO’s ground-launched missile, the Lance, and of the need to “modernize” it. The Lance, launched from motorized vehicles, was first test-fired in 1965 and deployed in 1972. Without modernization the aging Lance will, according to NATO experts, deteriorate to the point where it will be unreliable by 1995. The present Lance has a range of 110 kilometers and a yield of up to 100 kilotons—or over six times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb, as Lord Zuckerman recently pointed out in these pages. Lance is therefore no “mini nuke.” At present about seven hundred Lance missiles are deployed in Europe along with eighty-eight missile launchers. US officials have talked of increasing the number of missiles deployed to one thousand, as part of the plans for modernization, and of increasing the number of launchers as well.

A modernization of the Lance which replaced the present missile with a successor having roughly the same range would not be strongly opposed in Western Europe—particularly if the US were willing to negotiate reductions in the number of Lance missiles, something it now “strenuously” opposes. The Soviet Union has already modernized some of its tactical missiles along these lines, replacing the Frog-7 (range 40 miles) with the SS-21 (range 75 miles). Even so strong an opponent of the Rogers plan as Egon Bahr, the West German SPD’s chief disarmament spokesman, has said he could accept some form of modernization of Lance.10 What provokes fierce opposition in West Germany is the American and British proposal to replace the Lance with a new missile having more than four times its range, making it almost as powerful as the shorter-range INF renounced under the treaty.

While the Rogers plan may serve no legitimate military purpose, its military and political consequences are likely to be disastrous. No better way could be found to stimulate the nuclear arms race in Europe and to damage the prospects for future disarmament opened up by Gorbachev’s initiative. Gorbachev and Shevardnadze have warned the US and British governments about the likely Soviet response to the buildup of NATO forces. A year ago Gorbachev told George Shultz that the Rogers plan would “devalue the INF Treaty and everything that has been achieved in the interests of international security.”11 Shevardnadze told Sir Geoffrey Howe, the British foreign secretary, that the plan was “fraught with destabilization…and a new spiral in the arms race.”12 Gorbachev and Shevardnadze have repeated these warnings throughout 1988 and the early months of 1989.13

Among the objectives of the Rogers plan, the deployment of a new air-launched missile is most likely to provoke a Soviet response. For with this missile NATO can again threaten targets in the western USSR that it largely ceased to threaten as a result of the INF Treaty. If NATO persists with the Rogers plan it is therefore very probable that the Soviets will respond by installing additional missiles and a new European arms race will be underway. The prospects for conventional arms reductions would also be undermined. At the Vienna negotiations the Soviets have agreed in principle that reduction of conventional Warsaw Pact forces should outnumber NATO’s by a ratio of up to five to one. But it is difficult to see how the Soviets can fulfull this commitment if NATO persists with the Rogers plan. During his recent visit to London Gorbachev warned: “If NATO goes ahead with the program of ‘modernizing’ its tactical nuclear weapons, this is bound to effect the Vienna talks…and the situation in Europe in general.”

In Europe the chief opponent of the Rogers plan is Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister, vice-chancellor, and for twenty years a leading figure in the Free Democratic (Liberal) party. Although the Free Democrats control only forty-six of the 497 seats in the Bundestag, these FDP votes keep Helmut Kohl and the conservative Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union in power, just as they once kept Helmut Schmidt and the SPD in power. Genscher, a lawyer by training, is quite openly trying to prevent the Rogers plan from being carried out. He is also insisting that negotiations with the Soviet Union to reduce the number of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe must soon take place, a demand that also places him in direct opposition to US and British policy. Helmut Kohl supports Genscher in this demand. Genscher has therefore become the favorite villain of the NATO defense establishment. He is opposing the plan on two fronts. On one side he has become more and more outspoken in his criticism of US and British policy.14 But he is also taking on the supporters of the Rogers plan within his own government. These are mostly to be found within the West German Defense Ministry and, to a diminishing degree, within the conservative parties of the Bonn coalition, the CDU/CSU.

In this domestic battle Genscher has one big advantage. All but a very small proportion of West German voters support his position. Last July for example the West German polling organization, the Allensbacher Archiv, posed two questions that revealed the degree of public skepticism toward the Rogers plan.15 Voters were asked whether the INF Treaty had weakened NATO’s deterrent and whether, as a result, the nuclear deterrent needed to be strengthened. Six percent answered yes. When voters were asked directly whether tactical nuclear weapons such as the Lance missile needed to be “modernized,” 14 percent were in favor. For the West German public the chief symbol of “modernization” and the Rogers plan has become the Lance missile. Deployed mostly in West Germany, the present Lance has a range of 110 kilometers, so most of the targets it can reach are on German soil. (A few Lance missiles are also deployed in Italy.) The effect of replacing Lance with a longer-range successor would be to shift these German targets a few hundred kilometers further eastward in East Germany and in Poland. The prospect of a modern, powerful Lance arouses deep resentments.

Two years ago the CDU’s chief defense expert, Volker Rühe, coined a slogan that touched upon all the fears and resentments surrounding Lance and its modernization: “The shorter the range of the weapon, the more Germans killed.” Rühe’s bleak slogan evoking visions of a war fought with tactical nuclear weapons on German soil was taken up by many Germans who believed that the Federal Republic, with thousands of tactical nuclear weapons on its soil, bears too great a share of NATO’s nuclear burden. US and British insistence on the Rogers plan during the last year only added to the resentment felt throughout West Germany. From the West German point of view, the British, the Dutch, and Germans themselves all benefit from the INF Treaty and the removal of the INF missiles. All are being relieved of weapons that, once used, would invite retaliation against their territory. But the West Germans would lose most of this benefit by having to play host to a new and more powerful missile, the modernized Lance, whose use would still provoke retaliation against their territory.

These German perceptions explain why Hans-Dietrich Genscher has kept the initiative in Bonn on the nuclear question, and why leading conservative politicians in West Germany have been extremely reluctant to commit themselves to the Rogers plan. In February 1988, for example, the late Franz-Josef Strauss warned Secretary of Defense Carlucci that the Rogers plan had very little chance of getting through the Bundestag.16 For Chancellor Helmut Kohl domestic political considerations have always been paramount. Kohl had long been vague and evasive about the Rogers plan. But with the very poor performance of the CDU in the recent West Berlin and Frankfurt elections, in which its share of the vote declined by 9 percent and 13 percent, Kohl has put much greater distance between himself and the US and Britain. His announcement in February that no decision about the future Lance need be made until 1991 shows the direction in which he is now moving.17

One of Genscher’s greatest diplomatic assets in fighting the Rogers plan has been the support of the French government. Without the support of President Mitterrand, Genscher might have been less energetic in opposing the US and Britain on a central issue of NATO strategy. The French approach to European nuclear issues is, on its face, contradictory. Though Mitterrand has come out against the Rogers plan, he is also presiding over an extensive modernization of France’s own nuclear forces. For the moment, however, the West Germans are less concerned about what the French propose to do with their own nuclear weapons than about the view the French take about NATO’s weapons. On that issue Mitterrand has been opposed to Bush and Thatcher. During the NATO summit of March 1988 he condemned the proposed successor to Lance as “more dangerous, more deadly” than its predecessor. It was folly, he said, to propose nuclear rearmament just when the INF Treaty had, for the first time since World War II, achieved real nuclear disarmament.18

For the past year Genscher has been arguing the military case against the Rogers plan, criticizing those who believe that “the elimination of INF is less an opportunity than a threat to European security, which must be offset by armaments in other fields.”19 But Genscher has broadened his attack to include not just the military aspects of the plan but also the political and diplomatic calculations that underlie it. In doing this he has transformed the debate within NATO from a dispute about nuclear weapons into a deeper dispute about how the West should respond to Gorbachev.

Genscher believes that unprecedented diplomatic opportunities have been opening up to the West. But he also believes that these opportunities could easily be squandered by error and misjudgment. In his analysis of Gorbachev’s diplomacy Genscher has stressed the domestic roots of Soviet conduct:

The concentration of the country’s energies on armaments and the expansionist foreign policy of the pre-Gorbachev period overtaxed the Soviet economy and society. In order to overcome the backwardness of the economy, Mr. Gorbachev needs a new foreign policy.

Consequently “the cost of an expansionist foreign policy is to be reduced, the arms burden lightened.”20 Implicit in Genscher’s analysis is a rejection of the deeply engrained NATO thinking that underlies the Rogers plan. With Soviet diplomacy now subject to domestic pressures, and with the thousands of weapons it has in place, NATO, he implies, no longer needs to impress the Soviet leadership with periodic demonstrations of strength and will.

Genscher’s own thinking finds expression in a new phase of Ostpolitik—the German diplomacy of reconciliation with the East. Genscher was, with Helmut Schmidt, a practitioner of Ostpolitik from the moment he became foreign minister in 1974; and during the early 1980s Genscher tried to limit the damage to German–Soviet relations caused by NATO’s decision—which he supported—to deploy the INF. The development of this new phase of Ostpolitik can be measured in the growing list of joint ventures agreed to or under negotiation between the USSR and West German companies. These include the construction of a 200-megawatt thermal reactor at Dmitrovgrad, five hundred miles east of Moscow; a DM 3 billion credit from the Deutsche Bank to finance West German capital investment in the Soviet food and consumer goods industries; the joint Soviet–West German exploitation of the mineral resources of the Kola peninsula; and the modernization of Moscow’s four airports by Lufthansa. The West Germans are also far ahead of any other Western country in setting up joint ventures in Eastern Europe. In Hungary, for example, West German companies have already established nearly two hundred joint ventures compared with thirty-eight for France, Japan, and the US combined.21

West Germany has also negotiated with Communist governments on such matters as freedom of movement. In 1988, for example, the number of ethnic Germans permitted to leave the Warsaw Pact countries (not including the German Democratic Republic) was over 200,000, compared with 43,000 in 1986.22 Similarly, in 1987 East German citizens were allowed to make around four million visits to West Germany and West Berlin, more than double the figure for 1986.23

For West Germans, Ostpolitik is a leading issue of domestic as well as foreign policy. It is a means of lessening the pain of national division. It can lighten the military burden that weighs upon their country. The current revival of Ostpolitik therefore dramatically raises the stakes in the dispute about nuclear weapons. For in Genscher’s mind, and the minds of many Germans, the two are linked. In his view the Rogers plan jeopardizes the future of Ostpolitik: “If today, after decades of East–West confrontation, a turning point is attainable, it would be a mistake of historic dimensions if the West were to miss the opportunity.”24 Genscher has made it clear that the advocates of the Rogers plan jeopardize this “historic opportunity.” For him they are the leaders who “at this historic moment place more faith in the interactions of the arms race than in the search for arms control,” who “take refuge in regional nuclear scenarios instead of striving for negotiation.”25

These primordial German concerns weigh heavily on NATO’s present dispute. If a convincing case for the Rogers plan could be made, then NATO should agree to carry the plan out, whatever the consequences for Ostpolitik. But today’s circumstances are different from those of the early 1980s when Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl, and Hans-Dietrich Genscher himself made the case for installing the Pershing and Cruise missiles, and the balance of West German and European opinion swung in their favor. Today there is no Soviet SS20 to justify NATO’s new deployments, only the same impulses that, on the Western side, have stimulated the arms race in the past: the demands of the NATO military leaders for new types of nuclear weapons, the ingenuity of civilian strategists in thinking up justifications for them, and the insistence of both that a failure to carry out announced military plans will convey a message of weakness to the USSR. By pushing for the Rogers plan Britain and the US are therefore putting the West Germans in an impossible position. They are asking West Germans to place their most vital interests at risk for the sake of a military program for which they have not made a coherent case.

Faced with West German opposition, the US and Britain are now searching for a diplomatic formula that will both keep the Rogers plan alive and keep the West Germans “on board.” The British and the Americans are trying to find a compromise that would enable the Pentagon to continue developing and testing the new missiles but would postpone a final decision on their deployment for two years. They are also suggesting that, with modernization, the number of nuclear shells fired from artillery could be unilaterally reduced. Such formulas are designed to relieve pressure on Helmut Kohl, who faces elections in December 1990. He could avoid being associated with the Rogers plan during the campaign itself, and then embrace the plan once he was safely reelected. A proposal along these lines is likely to be presented at NATO’s fortieth anniversary summit in Brussels at the end of May.

Such proposals, however, are unlikely to smooth over the present crisis. For the West German and Anglo-American positions are not so easily reconciled. The proposal to reduce the number of nuclear artillery shells will not appease the growing number of German politicians on the left and right who now are calling for their complete removal. The plan allowing the US to continue developing and testing the new missiles is equally flawed. It would leave Kohl open to the charge that he had agreed de facto to the Rogers plan, whatever the small print of the Brussels communiqué might say. Indeed Egon Bahr, for the SPD, has already warned Kohl that he would bring just such a charge.26 Both at the Brussels summit in May and during the period of intense political activity leading to the West German election in December 1990, Kohl and Genscher will keep telling the German voters that they have not agreed to the Rogers plan. They will also continue to press the US to open negotiations with the USSR on short-range nuclear weapons. This approach will be unacceptable to the NATO hawks. Not only will they say that German policy endangers NATO’s deterrent; they will also claim that a failure to follow through on an agreed military plan will be seen as a loss of will and of political unity that will encourage Soviet aggressiveness.

But the reality is that the Rogers plan itself has already been damaging to NATO, and to relations between the US and West Germany; and within West Germany itself the plan is fast eroding public support for any strategy based on the presence of nuclear weapons. As long as the dispute festers, moreover, NATO yields the diplomatic initiative to Gorbachev, allowing him to make one disarmament proposal after another while the NATO powers are bogged down in the dispute over the Rogers plan.

The Bush administration, if it wanted to do so, would have no difficulty confirming that NATO’s present nuclear arsenal can ensure deterrence now and in the future. To those who raise the alarm about “denuclearization,” Bush can point to the ways in which NATO’s nuclear forces are already being strengthened. The Lance missile would no longer be a point of contention if the US announced that any new version of it would have the same range as its predecessor and that the US was willing to negotiate some reductions in the number of missiles deployed. The attempt to get around the INF Treaty by upgrading Lance would thus be abandoned. By following such policies the US could avoid the outcome it particularly fears: a united West German demand that all short-range nuclear missiles be removed. As for the Rogers plan, the administration has much to gain if it can quietly bury it, along with other follies of the Reagan administration.

April 20, 1989

This Issue

May 18, 1989