Air University Review, March-April 1967
First Lieutenant John B. Kotch
Most significant among recent articles to appear in the Air University
Review on the subject of NATO nuclear arrangements is the timely and
enlightening examination, “Nuclear Forces and the Future of NATO,” by Brigadier
General E. Vandevanter, Jr., USAF (Ret), in the July-August 1964 issue. At that
time the American-sponsored multilateral nuclear force (MLF) was uppermost in
the minds of most policy-makers on both sides of the
In these circumstances, while a pressing need exists to formulate new policy alternatives, constraints similar to those imposed on the MLF are likely to impinge upon future policy initiatives and thus narrow the area of choice. These constraints would include, most importantly, the continuing requirement for unity of command and control and for the nonproliferation of strategic operational hardware among NATO members. The purpose of this article is to explore possible avenues of accommodation between the alliance’s chief protagonists in the light of existing policy constraints, by engaging in a renewed airing of the potentially divisive domain of shared strategic decision-making when viewed from a NATO perspective. In approaching this subject I share the conviction of most serious scholars of NATO affairs that only an accurate, balanced, and objective assessment of existing politico-military conditions can insure that potential areas of common agreement are fully, forcefully, and fruitfully explored.
Broadly speaking, shared strategic decision-making encompasses decision-making relative to the deployment of strategic weapon systems, development of targeting and attack plans, and finally some form of viable mechanism for the execution of such plans (to include go/no-go type of decisions). That we are at present very far from such a state of affairs within the Atlantic alliance need not deter us from a consideration of the possible benefits to be derived from future movement in this direction. Viewed in this context, the burden of this article is, in effect, to make a case for the feasibility and desirability of replacing the current European sense of under-participation in strategic planning and decision-making with a sense of positive and meaningful contribution. It should be clear that, unless we can demonstrate convincingly to our NATO allies a continued determination to move forward in exploring new ways and means of achieving a more equitable distribution of strategic decision-making responsibilities, we run the increased risk of further weakening the entire integrated NATO command structure. Substantively, it is argued that shared strategic planning on a multinational basis within the framework of the Special Committee of NATO Defense Ministers, together with close coordination of strategic operational forces among those NATO members now possessing them (the British and French in addition to the U.S.), offers at present the best available method for expanding and deepening allied participation in strategic decision-making.2
Finally, in our inquiry we must consider the nature of the existing military
hardware underlying the political and strategic dimensions of nuclear
deterrence. Today the mainstay of Western strategic nuclear deterrence,3
approximately 96 percent of the Free World’s total megatonnage,4 is
provided by the
the multilateral nuclear force
The MLF provides us with the most useful point of departure in our review in depth of NATO nuclear arrangements. Briefly, the MLF scheme for a nuclear-armed, mixed-manned and collectively owned surface fleet was conceived by a number of policy planners, most notably by Robert Bowie,5 as a means of preserving U.S. operational control over nuclear weapon systems while simultaneously enabling European NATO allies to participate meaningfully in the management of a Western nuclear deterrent assigned to NATO.6 It subsequently received the support and encouragement of the Kennedy Administration, principally because it seemed to point the way toward a reasonable solution to a problem of monumental complexity. Among other advantages, MLF presented the French with an alternate to an independent deterrent of their own, allowed for the eventual deployment of British nuclear submarines under the aegis of NATO,7 granted the West Germans a larger voice in alliance nuclear policy-making, and, by preserving ultimate U.S. operational control in the form of a Presidential veto, furthered the twin objectives of nonproliferation and single unified command and control.
It was recognized by the preceding as well as the present Administration
that MLF, while representing a worthwhile political gamble, a point of
departure, was in no sense a final solution. In sum, multinational control
could never convince the French of meaningful multinational management, and
joint financing could not persuade the British that their sagging economy could
afford the additional burden of cost stemming from the project. As for the
Germans, their strong enthusiasm and early endorsement only served to make the
product less “saleable” in the eyes of several of the smaller NATO members, in
In retrospect, MLF was probably doomed from the outset, but like many other attempts at resolving the complex political problems of the nuclear age, it had to be tried. It is probably fair to say that MLF’s greatest shortcoming was the attempt to accommodate too many conflicting requirements within a delicate and fragile framework; and in raising more questions than it could effectively resolve, it stretched the fabric of alliance beyond a realistic level of expectation. In any case, it is to the credit of the Johnson Administration that what began as a worthwhile political gamble did not end up a binding commitment to an ill-fated diplomatic enterprise.
The desire of our European NATO allies to play a larger role in strategic
decision-making stems less from any real fear of inadequacy of the American
deterrent or resolute determination to employ it 8 than from a sense
of underparticipation in the strategic decision-making process. Following the
development of ICBM’s by the Soviet Union in the late 1950’s, some Europeans
feared that the
Of more immediate concern, however, is the European sense of underparticipation in the strategic decision-making process, a mood cogently captured by former British Defence Minister Duncan Sandys:
Apart from differences of view about the
organizational structure of NATO, there is a feeling among certain of the
member governments that the
Similarly, from the American dialogue over future NATO nuclear arrangements
has come the admonition from Robert Bowie that the United States could
doubtless be more alert to allied sensibilities than it has been sometimes in
the past.11 MLF, if it accomplished nothing else, confirmed the
reality of European underparticipation in nuclear policy-making and legitimized
the search for a new strategic balance within the NATO framework. However,
before passing on to a discussion of future alternatives to MLF, let us briefly
Over the past 10 to 15 years,
It is not here suggested that nonproliferation be totally discarded as a worthy goal of policy. However, its continued applicability to an allied power that has already achieved nuclear power status must be seriously questioned.12 In doing so, one should recognize that nonproliferation is at the bedrock of the present Franco-American impasse. In my view, changed conditions in the form of a French force de frappe argue persuasively for a more consistent policy with respect to both the British and the French national nuclear deterrents.13 The long-term deleterious effect of present policy on Franco-American relations has already been considerable, and nonadjustment to this new reality would appear to put into question the entire concept of Atlantic security arrangements with France as an active participant.
If we can agree that the objective of translatingcurrent European underparticipation in the strategic decision-making process into a more meaningful contribution is an urgent and necessary one, our inquiry is reduced to a search for ways and means of achieving this goal. In seeking a less ambitious but more productive gambit than MLF, U.S. policy should be influenced by careful attention to the following considerations: British willingness to place important elements of her strategic force under an Atlantic Nuclear Force (ANF)14 provided the U.S. and France make a similar commitment; the existence of the French force de frappe as a potentially significant and useful contribution to future alliance sharing schemes15 (here the present Anglo-American special relationship in nuclear affairs, including the close coordination between SAC and the RAF, could serve as a model); and a strong desire on the part of West Germany for a larger voice in strategic decision-making.
Strictly speaking, there are at present two principal directions of policy
flow which might be envisaged with respect to a more equitable distribution of
nuclear responsibilities within the NATO framework. One would be to work toward
the establishment of a multilateral force within the existing NATO framework,
similar to MLF but less subject to an ultimate American veto. It would of
necessity involve strategic operational hardware and could, for example, take
the form of the British-backed Atlantic Nuclear Force or that of a future
European regional deterrent.16 The other avenue would be to pursue,
as the major thrust of American policy, some form of nuclear accommodation or
adjustment within the planning sector and simultaneously promote the greatest
possible coordination among the three existing national nuclear deterrents
(U.S., British, French). Here, those NATO powers with a vital interest in
nuclear policy-making (generally conceded to be the
In my view, it would at present be a mistake to push boldly ahead on the heels of MLF’s scuttling with the kind of broad and sweeping plans which an ANF successor would require. It would, moreover, be counterproductive inasmuch as the result would almost surely be a series of long, drawn-out negotiations over the nuclear control issue which could only serve to further alienate the French and thereby exacerbate existing alliance tensions.
Similarly, a European Community deterrent, as some students of NATO affairs
have urged, would represent a highly probabilistic venture. Prospects for the
requisite European political integration appear extremely dim, especially in
the wake of the obvious disharmony evinced at recent Common Market parleys.
Furthermore, De Gaulle, who prefers to speak for Europe rather than about
Europe, is unlikely to offer to merge the French and British deterrents or
In the main, our principal objective in future NATO nuclear arrangements
must be to preserve a strategic posture of graduated deterrence permitting
measured and flexible response to potential aggression. The instrumentality
designed to achieve such an objective can only be a unified nuclear deterrent,
which means, in essence, continued reliance upon existing strategic operational
hardware (SAC) as the mainstay of our deterrent force. Further, because a
complementary objective of
General de Gaulle’s recent public statements on the future extent of French
participation in NATO’s integrated defense structure represent a disappointing
step backward in “rethinking” NATO nuclear arrangements, particularly in
finding ways and means of effecting close coordination between the French force
de frappe and the
. . . we cannot deny that in a world that is terrified at the prospect of nuclear war the ability to use nuclear weapons in however small a way is a most potent threat vis-á-vis even the most powerful of nations. It must at least ensure that very serious notice is taken of the holder’s rights and wishes.19
Thus the real value of the French deterrent may turn on its ability to persuade American policy-makers to broaden the base of strategic decision-making.20
This fact has serious implications for future
At the same time, two central questions with respect to ultimate Gaullist
intentions must be taken into account in planning and pursuing a flexible and
productive NATO nuclear policy. First, if we were to make substantive
concessions to De Gaulle on the issue of nuclear control, would the French
leader, in return, forego a diplomacy which, while paying lip service to the
need for an Atlantic alliance (though without a NATO military apparatus),
continues to be conducted without regard for the purposes of the alliance?21
Second, if De Gaulle is really prepared to remove himself from the
shelter of Atlantic security arrangements as presently constituted in NATO (and
we must assume from past actions. That this is well within the realm of
possibility), what would such a move mean in terms of future
Some have maintained that in his relations with the U.S. De Gaulle’s primary
objective has always been and remains not nuclear assistance for its own sake
but policy coordination that would enhance French and European influence
throughout the world.22 For this school of thought the 1958 De
Gaulle memorandum to the British and American leadership indicated a
willingness to reorganize NATO to deal with political and strategic problems on
a worldwide basis and to set in motion machinery that would permit shared
strategic decision-making. The self-appointed alliance “Big Three” (U.S., U.K.,
and France) would have, in effect, consolidated NATO planning and policy-making
functions, thus eliminating the need for SHAPE; and for this reason the De
Gaulle proposal was deemed unacceptable. The essence of the 1958 memorandum was
the acceptance in principle of future American hegemony with
respect to strategic operational hardware provided that the suitable
consultative machinery could be set in motion. In truth, with the French force
de frappe a reality, the General has less reason to fear arbitrary American
action in the nuclear domain; given the emergence of a favorable political
climate, now very much lacking, the kind of intimate allied coordination he
envisaged becomes a more distinct possibility. In practice, however, De Gaulle
continues to regard SHAPE as the creature of the Pentagon and responsive solely
to American initiative. This fact is clearly reflected in the following actions
· Withdrew its
only a small part of its Air Force to the integrated air defense of
only a small part of its land forces to NATO
an isolated position within the alliance on strategy
· Did not
allow non-French nuclear weapons on French territory
· Did not
participate in the studies for a multilateral force (MLF)
· Was the only
country not to accept the 1962
· Refused to
sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
· Did not
participate (although it is a member) in the 18-nation Disarmament Conference
In the light of the preceding considerations, the argument that De Gaulle
could probably be placated by substantive American concessions in the area of
nuclear policymaking is far from convincing. The dilemma is that such
concessions represent the only basis on which De Gaulle would allow
The unsolved problem of European security in the twentieth century has been
German security, now temporarily accommodated within the present NATO
framework. From a Gaullist perspective, this is most likely NATO’s greatest
utility and certainly a strong reason not to wreck entirely NATO’s military
structure. At the same time, the great danger from the
On balance, therefore, the risks with respect to future NATO nuclear arrangements are too great to allow for a policy of drift. Inasmuch as these arrangements will largely hinge on the future state of Franco-American relations, we must, as a minimum, keep open the Franco-American dialogue in nuclear affairs. As we do so, the vital thing, as Robert Bowie suggests, “is to see that our actions do not enhance, but erode the leverage of De Gaulle. We must fully recognize the reality of the European feelings which he seeks to exploit and the effect of our attitude on his ability to do so.”25 A policy that does not succeed in this sense can only be counterproductive.
We must either be prepared to coordinate operational and strategic planning
activities at the highest levels with the French or run the risk of forcing De
Gaulle or a successor government into some form of accommodation with the
Soviets from which could spring a future European regional security arrangement
without U.S. participation. The heart of the matter, therefore, is to bring the
French—and necessarily to a lesser extent the Germans—into the same special
relationship we have entered into with the British in the domain of nuclear
policy-making. (Inasmuch as
In the discharge of NATO requirements and responsibilities in the nuclear domain on a more equitable basis, the following recommendations constitute a fundamental and necessary point of departure. While they will not resolve the problem of control or effectively grapple with the question of “who will pull the trigger” and “who will guard the safety catch,” which in the final analysis is dependent upon progress in the more limited sphere of planning and coordination, they do perform a valuable service by preserving the alliance as a “medium for consultation, negotiation, and reconciliation.”26 In seeking to put the alliance back on the road toward building a viable Atlantic partnership, they may be looked upon as a first step toward the partial solution of a continuing dilemma.
the planning sector
(1) The Special Committee, presently an ad hoc Defense Ministers group, should be organized into a permanent body with an extended mandate to consider questions relating to nuclear sharing within the alliance.
(2) In the past, combined training programs carried out in conjunction with allied air forces have been highly effective in providing NATO forces with skilled and competent pilots. Such programs should now be broadened to include NATO strategic planning officers, thus forming a pool of qualified NATO officers available for assignment to SACEUR’s newly established Deputy for Nuclear Affairs.
(3) Selected Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff (JSTPS) officers with experience in strategic planning should be made available to SACEUR’s Deputy for Nuclear Affairs for tours of two to three years. Such officers, drawn primarily from field-grade ranks, would be designated by the Director of JSTPS and approved by SACEUR or their delegated representatives.
(4) Implementation of the above could be accomplished within the framework
of suitably modified security procedures, which would allow for the free
exchange of nuclear planning and targeting information among the “Big Three”
NATO nuclear powers together with West Germany. This would in no way constitute
proliferation inasmuch as each possesses the requisite information relating to
nuclear weapons development and
the operational sector
(1) Close coordination between the French force de frappe and the U.S. Strategic Air Command should constitute the major thrust of American policy in the operational sector.
(2) As a first step toward improving the political climate, the feasibility of instituting a “hot line” between the SAC and French command posts should be carefully examined. This communication link would serve a useful purpose in coordinating routine operational exercises and as a means of effecting secure communications during periods of heightened international tension.
The preceding recommendations should be undertaken through “quiet diplomacy,”
away from the glare of publicity and concomitant national prestige.
Considerable progress in NATO nuclear sharing has already been made on the
tactical level, with General Lemnitzer, in his dual capacity as NATO and U.S.
European Commander (CINCEUR), acting as the administrator of
Our efforts should now be directed toward achieving this same objective on the level of strategic decision-making. While there is no magic formula, convenient technical device, or other panacea to cure NATO’s most serious ailment, the overall picture is not entirely gloomy, and there is room for measured optimism. Most important in this pursuit, our course of action must make a positive contribution to the twin goals of closer participation in strategic decision-making on the part of our NATO allies and simultaneous discouragement of further proliferation within the alliance.
In the planning sector, the Nuclear Planning Working Group of the Special Committee represents a promising vehicle for more broadly based allied participation in strategic planning than has hitherto been possible. 28 Although the French continue to boycott this group, substantive concessions in the form of meaningful nuclear sharing arrangements (as outlined at the beginning of this section) would be a strong inducement to alter present policy. Furthermore, and of equal importance, by offering the moderate and less nationalistic public in French political life a choice rather than an echo in nuclear policy-making, and by communicating this offer persuasively, we can draw upon a potentially important source of political support redeemable in the post De Gaulle era.
While fuller participation in shared strategic planning is one of the principal tasks to which the Special Committee is addressing itself,29 no provisions appear likely in the near term for combined control over existing strategic operational hardware within the committee framework. In the long term, however, we can attempt to reach that distant goal by broadening and building upon an enlarged multinational effort in the planning sector30 and by according our NATO allies increased participation in the conception and formulation of strategic planning requirements.
The contribution of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command to overall Western deterrence has been both significant and salutary and should serve as a useful model in exploring ways and means of increasing French participation in the operational sector. The French, for their part, have already indicated a willingness to embark upon joint targeting between their force de frappe and SAC as a prelude to more intimate forms of coordination.31 This would represent an important first step inasmuch as experience culled from years of war planning has highlighted the importance of joint targeting to overall strategic planning. In point of fact, the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff at SAC headquarters was created in 1960 to fulfill this very requirement with respect to U.S. Air Force and Navy strategic strike forces. 32
The Germans could probably be counted on to support
In conclusion, however, we should not harbor illusions with respect to
the underlying reality of the “NATO nuclear dilemma,” as some have called it.34
In the absence of a political or defense community in the North Atlantic
area which would exercise ultimate authority over nuclear weapon systems, the
nation-state members of the alliance continue to regard the NATO system
instrumentally and accord priority to individual national security,
requirements. MLF was an attempt to resolve this dilemma; however, because MLF
bypassed the critical issue of nuclear control and dealt exclusively with
mixed-manning and ownership, it could never be brought safely home to port.
Thus we may expect that future nuclear control arrangements in NATO will
continue to be one of the most intractable problems facing
In the present, continuing security restrictions with respect to the flow of
atomic information among NATO allies do represent a final significant barrier
to be surmounted in achieving meaningful and productive nuclear sharing within
the alliance. In the long run, however, the political will to do so, rather
than technical limitations, is likely to prove the more important and the most
important determinant of real progress. The question then becomes whether or
not it is in the national interest to pursue a policy of nuclear sharing. In
this article I have sought to establish that the long-term security of the
Hq Strategic Air Command
Author’s Note: The first draft of this article preceded by several months the French withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military command. This unanticipated and highly regrettable action has, in my view, made the arguments contained herein more rather than less valid.
1. See especially Max Frankel, “MLF: An Obituary,” New York Times, 22
December 1965, in which the author asserts that the idea of a mixed-manned
fleet has died quietly after five years of debate. Also, Jack Raymond, “Pentagon
2. The terms “strategic decision-making” and “nuclear policy-making” are used interchangeably throughout this article.
3. Strategic deterrence must be distinguished from the tactical deterrence
function which falls within the purview of
4. The contribution of the British Bomber Command and the French force de frappe represents 3 percent and 1 percent respectively.—François Duchene, Beyond Alliance, L’Institut Atlantique, Boulogne-sur-Seine, p. 25.
5. Robert R. Bowie, a former Assistant Secretary of State, is currently
Director of Harvard’s
6. Ultimately, the MLF was to include a fleet of 25 surface ships bearing 200 Polaris missiles at a cost of $5 billion. It was to be jointly manned by multinational crews.
7. Polaris-type submarines built with the aid of
8. Initial fear of
9. For example, President Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” discourse.
10. NATO News Letter, NATO Information Service,
11. Robert R. Bowie, Shaping the Future—Foreign Policy in an Age of Transition (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1964), p. 51.
12. See especially David Robison, “Learning to Live with Nuclear Spread,” Air Force and Space Digest, August 1966, pp. 56-65, in which the author makes a convincing case for the inevitability of nuclear spread and for a policy which allows us to adapt to this eventuality by learning to live in a multipolar, multinuclear world.
13. General de Gaulle’s recent obiter dictum regarding future French participation in NATO’s integrated command structure will greatly handicap efforts to rethink NATO nuclear-sharing arrangements.
14. Part of the conditions agreed to at
15. Timothy W. Stanley in his recent book, NATO in Transition: The Future
of the Atlantic Alliance (New York and London: Praeger, 1965), notes that “soon
there will be the French force de frappe, which though proudly
proclaimed as an independent force, will serve at least one member of the
16. Professor Philip Mosely of Columbia University has imaginatively outlined the requirements of a European regional deterrent in the 1970’s which, he believes, would provide the most constructive solution to the problem of NATO’s current imbalance in nuclear responsibilities.—Karl H. Cerney and Henry W. Briefs (eds.), NATO in Quest of Cohesion (New York: Praeger, 1965), pp. 257-70.
17. In a statement before the House Armed Services Committee on 18 February
1965 Secretary McNamara urged that “any strategic nuclear force in
18. Soviet bombers or medium-range missiles could wipe out most of the current Mirage IV fleet, and the few remaining would have little chance of penetrating fully alerted Soviet defenses.
20. Raymond Aron has suggested that influence and autonomy in the area of
nuclear control do not necessarily go together. Thus
22. Cerney and Briefs, p. 451.
23. The Atlantic
24. Such a possibility was very much in the minds of political observers of
the De Gaulle visit to the
26. This concept of NATO’s primary function is General Vandevanter’s (pp. 4-5).
27. Such “permissive action links” are currently installed on allied weapon
systems, including aircraft and tactical missiles, in the following NATO
28. Its present membership includes the
29. The two other tasks of the Special Committee are communications and data exchange. Working groups have been established in these areas.
30. Recommendations 2 and 3 would figure importantly in this connection.
31. Cerney and Briefs, p. 450.
32. In 1963, representation on the JSTPS was extended to include a NATO contingent headed by a general officer (currently Brigadier General Richard Kight, USAF). However, it is important to note that this group does not enjoy access to the full scope of strategic planning and targeting; only to those targets failing under SACEUR’s command area.
33. Here the Germans entertain great expectations with respect to the Special Committee.
34. Henry Kissinger, The Troubled Partnership (New York: Macmillan, 1964), pp. 117-25.
35. The 1958 amendment to the Atomic Energy (McMahon) Act permits the
First Lieutenant John B. Kotch
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this
document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression,
academic environment of
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