A "Maginot Line of the Twenty-first Century"?
SDI and the Western Alliance
Although the initial announcement of SDI came as an unwelcome surprise to the European allies of the United States, the project has so far not caused unmanageable difficulties for the Western alliance. Defense specialists in the European countries, who are as doubtful of the prospects for comprehensive defenses as most of their U.S. counterparts, discount the likelihood that SDI will have radical consequences for strategy and force structure in the near future. While the program remains in the research phase, they can be content to keep a watchful eye on its progress. As long as the United States continues to abide by the traditional interpretation of the ABM Treaty, the Soviets have no excuse to break out of it by deploying additional defenses that might diminish the credibility of the relatively small deterrent forces of Great Britain and France. Because SDI did not prevent the conclusion of the INF Treaty or hinder a resumption of negotiations to reduce strategic arsenals, it has not proved to be the obstacle to arms control that allied leaders feared it would become. Finally, the SDI budget has fallen far short of the levels initially called for, so it represents neither the major commitment of military R & D resources nor the economic challenge the allies feared.
There are nevertheless at least three foreseeable contingencies in which SDI could still have considerable effects on the alliance. One would arise if and when the United States were to decide to deploy on its own soil a first-phase defense system designed to protect military assets and to provide some marginal degree of population protection. Even if this decision were taken after consultation with the allies (but especially if taken unilaterally), many Western Europeans would regard it as a significant
departure from the acceptance of shared risk of nuclear war. Until now, shared risk has been considered an essential guarantee of alliance solidarity. Apprehensions in the alliance that the United States is backing away from a commitment to the defense of Western Europe—already aroused by the loss of U.S. nuclear superiority vis-à-vis the Soviet Union—would be further reinforced.
The second contingency involves the link between SDI and NATO's interest in improving defenses against attacks from aircraft and short-range tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs). Although the INF Treaty has alleviated that concern, especially with respect to the highly threatening Soviet intermediate-range SS-20s, it has by no means been completely removed. Faced with improvements in Soviet attack aircraft and tactical missiles (carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads), NATO is actively pursuing "extended air defense." This rubric comprises efforts to develop better defenses against bombers, air-launched cruise missiles, and standoff weapons, as well as defenses against TBMs. An understanding has developed between the United States and its European allies whereby their military establishments and defense contractors will cooperate in the general program of SDI research while giving particular attention to (1) devising a "European architecture" for strategic defense and (2) integrating strategic defense with tactical defense for the European theater. If this cooperation results in deployable defenses (which would in all probability be ground-based), they could be viewed as a first step toward the deployment of comprehensive defenses. Their association with SDI, however, could well make a proposal to deploy active extended air defenses in Europe more controversial than it might otherwise be, if it was understood solely as a more to stabilize the existing form of deterrence.
A third contingency would arise if the United States' commitment to the pursuit of SDI should become the only obstacle to strategic arms reductions. So long as other obstacles remain, notably the difficulties surrounding verification, Western European concern over SDI will remain muted. If it should become the sole remaining obstacle, however, the West Europeans' keen interest in transcending the tensions of the cold war could easily revive and intensify the opposition aroused when SDI was first announced.
The Initial Shock
When SDI was first announced in March 1983, allied reaction was almost uniformly negative. Support came from "High Frontier Europe,"
newly founded by such leading conservatives as Kai-Uwe von Hassel, former defense minister of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG); Pierre Gallois, the French air force general who was instrumental in developing the rationale for France's nuclear forces; Robert Close, a retired Belgian general; and Air Vice-Marshal Stewart Menaul of Great Britain. In London, the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies, a newly created organization affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, opened its offices with the aim of promoting European cooperation with SDI. Otherwise, the major political leaders and military and scientific specialists were critical. President Reagan's closest political allies in Europe, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, were embarrassed that they were not consulted prior to the announcement of such a far-reaching departure from settled NATO policy. The United States' sudden rejection of continued reliance on nuclear deterrence struck Michael Howard, a highly regarded British writer on strategic issues, as altogether startling: "It's as if the pope announced that he no longer believed in original sin."
In general, West Europeans were troubled by the strategic and economic implications they saw in SDI. Although the president might claim that its objective was to protect the allies as well as the North American continent, West Europeans reasoned that even a successful space shield could not protect them against the kind of attack with which they would continue to be threatened—from tactical nuclear missiles, aircraft, and conventional ground forces. A U.S. space shield would have about thirty minutes in which to intercept an attack, but a Western European defense would have barely a few minutes to respond to launchings of Soviet short-range and intermediate-range missiles deployed in Eastern Europe. If the U.S. homeland were protected against Soviet ICBMs, then the United States' security would become even more "decoupled" from the defense of Europe than it had already become since the Soviets achieved strategic parity with the West. If the Soviets should respond to SDI by developing a more capable defense system of their own, the relatively small, independent nuclear deterrent forces of Great Britain and France, developed and maintained at considerable political and economic cost, might lose their credibility. As Trevor Taylor has pointed out, the governments of Great Britain and France "see nuclear weapons as the central element in their countries' defenses and allocate funds accordingly." Great Britain is currently procuring the Trident D-5 missile from the United States and building its own submarines and warheads for the system at a projected cost of almost $10 billion (in 1985–86 prices), an amount that will account for roughly 10 percent of
the budget for new military equipment for several years. France spends even more on its nuclear force de frappe , which currently accounts for 30 percent of planned spending on new military equipment. Although not a member of NATO, France coordinates its strategy and conventional deployments with NATO while maintaining an independent ground-based, long-range nuclear missile force on the Plateau d'Albion, as well as eighteen Mirage IV aircraft equipped with standoff nuclear missiles, and six submarines armed with nuclear missiles, with a seventh on the way.
A report prepared for the Assembly of the West European Union (WEU) expressed the concern of these and other West European governments: "If the idea spreads that the future depends on defensive weapons and that in the long run offensive weapons are destined to be relegated to the arsenal of obsolescent weapons, it is likely to become increasingly difficult to make an already hesitant public opinion accept the financial and other efforts necessary for the maintenance and development of nuclear weapons."
The West European left was hardly ready to accept the Reagan administration's assurance that SDI would lead to nuclear disarmament. Moderate Socialists who accept the need for offensive deterrence saw it as a blow to the ABM Treaty and therefore to prospects for détente with the Soviet Union, as well as an effort to restore U.S. superiority over the U.S.S.R. in line with a dangerous commitment to a war-fighting policy. The views of more radical advocates of nuclear disarmament were reflected in the reaction of the historian E. P. Thompson, who heaped scorn on the Atlanticists in the European defense establishment for refusing to admit that SDI had revealed the glaring weaknesses of reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella:
Star Wars made monkeys of the loyal NATO governments and their attendant defence experts. As Colonel Alford, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The New York Times: "Europeans actually tend to like nuclear weapons." By this we must suppose that the good colonel did not refer to those Europeans who demonstrate against missiles or who answer opinion polls, but to another species of loyal Europeans—Homo europus philatlanticus —who staff the military services, defence ministries and the institutes for strategic research. This species really does like the Bomb. They have persuaded themselves that "the deterrent" truly is the only thing that prevents a major European war.
The belief in "deterrence" is not dishonorable. … But the True Believers, who were the chorus who welcomed in cruise [missiles], were utterly confounded by Star Wars. They suspected that SDI signaled a strategic retreat which could de-couple Europe from Fortress America. If America alone had
an SDI shield, and could launch its missiles with impunity, they feared this might encourage American adventurism or could lead to a "limited" nuclear war being fought in Europe. Or if the Soviet Union built a shield also, then Europe would be left as a no-man's-land between the superpowers, with the laser-zapped nukes of both sides falling on its head.
Thompson took pains, however, to distinguish his opposition to SDI from that of the Atlanticists: "The real message of Star Wars to west Europe is to get out from under America's hegemony—and umbrella—as soon as we can."
Industrialists and economic policymakers saw SDI as another "American challenge" to Western Europe—a thinly disguised effort to subsidize U.S. high-technology industry that was bound to leave its competitors at a disadvantage. They feared SDI would enable U.S. high-technology companies to extend their dominance in major areas of civil as well as military technology, including computers, aerospace, lasers, and new materials.
Even after Thatcher had become reconciled to SDI, her foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, was particularly forthright in criticizing the program. Although he sought to present a balanced response to the initiative by highlighting certain aspects of the projects he found attractive, Howe put far more emphasis on potentially negative consequences. On the positive side, he pointed out that the announcement had been useful in calling attention to the Soviet Union's "very considerable" investments in a range of defensive activities, in view of which it was sheer hypocrisy for the Soviets to call for the "demilitarization of space." Howe also suggested that in light of Soviet ASAT testing, a matching U.S. effort in space was "logical and prudent." But he said strategic defenses were another matter because the very effort to develop them would encourage the false view that the defense of the West need no longer rely on the traditional form of deterrence, even though the necessary technologies might not prove feasible or cost-effective against offensive countermeasures. "There could be no advantage," Howe said pointedly, "in creating a new Maginot Line of the twenty-first century, liable to be outflanked by relatively simpler and demonstrably cheaper counter-measures."
Like critics in the United States, Howe noted that SDI raised new, disquieting problems for defense policy. Would the technology permit adequate political control, or would it lead to "a situation in which the peace of the world rested solely upon computers and automatic decisionmaking"? How would the costs be borne—costs that might run into
"many hundreds of billions of dollars"? This was an issue, he noted, not only of whether the West could afford the costs of designing defenses but also of whether the "enormous funds might be better employed" in maintaining a "credible, sustainable and controllable mix of conventional and nuclear forces." In view of the dependence of both sides on satellites to gather intelligence, especially heavy in the case of the West, did it make sense to put those assets in jeopardy so that in a time of crisis either side might be "faced with the loss of its strategic eyes and ears"? Because such a development would be "gravely destabilizing," the British government's view was that negotiations for mutual constraint on ASATs would be preferable. Howe's fundamental concern was that the United States might be tempted to rely too much on technology and too little on negotiations. He feared that "research may acquire an unstoppable momentum of its own, even though the case for stopping may strengthen with the passage of years. … We must take care that political decisions are not pre-empted by the march of technology, still less by premature efforts to predict the line of march." The West must convince the Soviet Union that it is serious in wanting arms control, and the alliance must be sure that "the U.S. nuclear guarantee to Europe would indeed be enhanced as a result of defensive deployments." Although any cost-effective enhancements of defense would be welcome, Howe cautioned that these might be offset by Soviet moves "if unrestrained competition in ballistic missile defenses beyond the ABM Treaty limits were to be provoked."
The reaction in France was somewhat different. President François Mitterrand accepted the idea that eventually warfare would become "spatial" and called upon Europe "to look beyond the nuclear era." But Mitterrand was as skeptical as the other European political leaders that the U.S. program would actually lead to a defense transition. A senior official in the French Foreign Ministry, requesting anonymity, told a reporter that the idea behind SDI "absolutely stood the classical concept of nuclear deterrence on its head" and therefore undermined the effort of West European political leaders to rally support for the view that "nuclear weapons were a necessary cost." For the president of the United States to say suddenly that it is possible to get rid of the weapons altogether, he said, "is a very dangerous and unsettling notion, given the fragile public opinion outside of France on the nuclear issue." On June 12, 1984, at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, France took a position independent of the United States, at least implicitly in opposition to SDI, by calling for an international conference
to work out a ban, for a renewable five-year period, on the testing and development of directed-energy ABM systems, also proposing steps to ban ASATs and to guarantee the inviolability of the reconnaissance satellites of other nations in addition to those of the superpowers, which were covered by the ABM Treaty.
Mitterrand initially responded to SDI by calling for European cooperation in a new high-technology research program. The proposal for a European Research and Coordinating Agency (EUREKA) was based on an analysis prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that concluded that European participation in SDI-related R & D would not have significant short-term benefits in nonmilitary applications, whereas in the longer run the inevitable favoritism of SDI contracting for U.S. firms would put Western Europe at a competitive disadvantage. EUREKA would allow for the pooling of resources in order to strengthen West European capabilities both in defense and civil technology, but the main emphasis would be in civil applications. The goal of EUREKA is to promote activities in a variety of fields, including computers, telecommunications, industrial lasers, robotics, new materials, and biotechnology. By the end of 1986, nineteen countries had agreed to participate in the venture (including four neutrals, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, and Austria), which listed more than one hundred projects with total public and private funding of $4 billion. EUREKA is designed to complement similar programs such as the European Strategic Program of Research in Information Technology (ESPRIT)—established in 1983 among universities, research institutes, and industries—and Research in Advanced Communication in Europe (RACE), established in 1985.
SDI aroused no greater enthusiasm in the Federal Republic. Chancellor Kohl was skeptical but eager above all to preserve good relations with the United States. Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the leader of Kohl's coalition partner, the Free Democratic party, was openly critical of SDI, as was Finance Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg. Defense Minister Manfred Wörner was plainly less interested in SDI than he was in promoting initiatives aimed at providing defenses for Western Europe. Hans Rühle, director of the planning staff in the Ministry of Defense, expressed a view widely held among FRG defense planners and military officers when he pointed out that even if SDI were to succeed, Western Europe would remain vulnerable to a nuclear threat and to an intensified conventional threat:
Should, as may be assumed, both superpowers follow the road charter by Reagan, their territories would become invulnerable sanctuaries, while Europe,
even if it deployed a corresponding defense system, would be rid of few of its security policy concerns. Although in such a case protection from the Soviet Ballistic missiles … [would be] guaranteed, Soviet cruise missiles, short-range missiles low-flying bombers could not be prevented from penetrating into western Europe. What is worse, all conventional arms systems would regain in importance, recalling prenuclear times—not a particularly pleasant perspective in view of the existing conventional imbalance in favor of the Soviet Union.
Some conservative West German political and military leaders—notably Franz-Josef Strauss and Alfred Dregger, both prominent in the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union ruling coalition, along with colleagues in other West European nations—were at first more inclined to favor the pursuit of a separate "European Defense Initiative" (EDI) that would complement SDI but would be under the direct sponsorship and control of the European governments, would be solely addressed to European vulnerability, and in some versions might enable Western Europe to become "a third superpower" with its own defense strategy. Several military leaders, including Pierre Gallois, FRG Army Gen. Gerd Schmuckle, and Dutch Gen. G. C. Berkhof all supported the idea, as did France's former defense minister Charles Hernu. Von Hassel, former FRG defense minister, presented a sweeping version, ambitious even beyond President Reagan's dream, of a joint U.S.-European enterprise to develop defenses not just against threats from space and air but also on the ground: "By providing the scientific and technological prerequisites for the feasibility of SDI and EDI, a technological window is created for the first time which might neutralize both nuclear missiles in space and conventional weapons on the ground, without endangering human lives." The aim, however, was not just to provide a European adjunct to the United States' SDI project but to develop a separate European perspective, if not a separate European military-political position, altogether. This undertone of separateness from NATO, coupled with the political sensitivity of the issue, led the FRG government to avoid endorsing calls for an EDI and instead to endorse NATO efforts to develop extended air defense.
Outside the ranks of the government, the leading spokesmen on foreign and defense policy in the Social Democratic opposition, including Helmut Schmidt, Willy Brandt, Hermann Scheer, Karsten D. Voigt, and Hans-Jochen Vogel, were sharply critical of SDI. The party officially urged that the ABM Treaty be tightened to eliminate all projects that might lead to space-based weapons, including ASATs, or to the development of anti-tactical ballistic missiles (ATBMs). The smaller and more
radical Greens were even more caustic, arguing that the project was further evidence of the twin folly of allowing the United States to determine Europe's destiny and of succumbing to a delusory belief in the saving qualities of advanced technologies.
European political leaders were equally upset by what the U.S. announcement portended for arms control. The START talks had been stalled for several years, and the United States' NATO allies were as inclined to blame the United States for the failure of these talks as they were the Soviet Union—with good reason, in view of the confusion in the U.S. position. The SDI seemed to signal the United States' readiness to abandon arms control altogether in favor of reliance on advances in military technology. The SDI was a direct challenge to the ABM Treaty, which was seen as the cornerstone of the arms-control process. The United States did not propose to negotiate a revision of the treaty, and the president's assurance that, once developed, the technology might be shared with the Soviets, was greeted with derision in view of the U.S. restrictions on technology transfers from NATO Europe to the Soviet Union under the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM). SDI seemed to confirm suspicions of a U.S. move to the right, in the sense that it reflected a revival of extreme cold war hostility toward the Soviet Union. Unlike the Reagan administration, West European governments were not convinced that the Soviets had flagrantly violated treaties, were still bent on world domination, and left the West with no choice but to develop the means to thwart their ambitions. Western Europeans, both on the right and the democratic left, were far more interested in reviving détente than the cold war. Although the governments had been anxious for the United States to reaffirm its commitment to Europe by adhering to the controversial two-track decision and deploying the Pershing II and cruise missiles as a counter to the Soviet SS-20s, they had to deal with strong reactions among European publics as these deployments were made. In addition, they had based their decision to deploy partly on the argument that the security of Europe rested on a balance of forces—a balance disturbed by the Soviet deployment of SS-20s.
But SDI was not part of this accepted strategic posture. By proposing to make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete," the president also threatened to make the strategic concepts on which Europe had come to depend just as impotent and obsolete. Even if the president's vision was unlikely to be realized, as the European leaders clearly believed, the effort to pursue it could well be destabilizing in several respects.
One concern was for the accepted NATO policy of "flexible response,"
or selective options. The West Europeans had been reluctant to accept flexible response in place of the previous commitment to threaten massive attack by nuclear weapons in the event a conventional defense in Europe were breached. But they finally came to accept it as a policy that would be more credible to the Soviets, even though it was never clearly understood exactly how such a policy would be implemented, in view of the enormous havoc that would be caused both by collateral damage and by retaliatory strikes. The allies had accepted it as one element of a formula that also included a continuing U.S. commitment to station significant ground forces in Europe and a willingness to pursue dialogue and détente as well as military preparedness—as enshrined in the 1967 Harmel Report. To the extent that SDI led to defensive deployments on both sides (which, while not leakproof, could provide an indefinite degree of protection, especially to military targets), the possibility of flexible response would be removed. Any U.S. retaliatory attack would therefore have to be massive and very likely be concentrated against cities. Thus, the major NATO strategy, over which a hard-won and fragile consensus had been achieved, was being put in serious doubt.
The French and British governments, as noted earlier, were particularly concerned about the possible effects of SDI on their independent deterrents. French defense policy, then Minister of Defense Paul Quilès emphasized, "is based on the nuclear deterrent." France had built its deterrent forces in a deliberate effort to achieve and preserve great-power status and independence. Although the British had not done so in order to avoid reliance on the United States and were active NATO allies of the United States, they too had undertaken at considerable expense to develop and maintain a retaliatory force (relying mainly on Polaris submarines) that would deter a Soviet attack by itself. In order to preserve its independence and its security in the event the United States did not honor its commitments, Britain's established policy was that its own forces should be "able to hold at risk critical elements of Soviet state power," a deliberately ambiguous phrase that may "embrace a range of targets lying between hitting a large city and hitting a silo." Similarly, the French, although they recognized they could not hope to match the firepower of the Soviet Union, could at least protect Paris by threatening Moscow and could even hold at risk the "vital works" of the Soviet Union. Both countries had begun to modernize their forces to make them capable of penetrating any defenses the Soviets might erect in the foreseeable future. The British had made a commitment to
acquire Trident D-5 missiles and submarines, a commitment that was sharply challenged by the Labour opposition. Even a partial Soviet defensive deployment of a significant new type, such as was suggested by the U.S. proposal of a layered defense, could have the effect of degrading and even nullifying the independent deterrents of Great Britain and France. SDI in effect put both Britain's Trident program and France's force de frappe in jeopardy.
Compounding these apprehensions was the concern for the economic harm that SDI might do to Europe. European leaders were already concerned about a growing "technology gap" between Europe and the United States and Japan. If the United States infused $26 billion into the high-technology sector of the U.S. economy over five years, Europe might find itself even further behind. Also the notion that the United States would allow the Europeans to participate as full partners was greeted with skepticism. Europeans knew from experience that U.S. firms would keep the lion's share of such contracts for themselves and treat the European firms as subcontractors. In the key technologies—computers, lasers, satellites—U.S. firms had significant advantages over their European counterparts, and security considerations would prevent the United States from sharing sensitive technology. Already, embarrassing technology transfers from the FRG had led to efforts to tighten the restrictions. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, in particular, was leading an effort within the Pentagon and in Congress to tighten the existing restrictions. In addition, the ABM Treaty imposed restrictions on the transfer of ABM technology (and a later understanding included plans and blueprints in these restrictions), which would affect SDI cooperation.
In view of this skepticism, the French, who were officially opposed in principle to cooperating, attempted to develop support for EUREKA while quietly allowing their companies to compete for SDI contracts. French defense firms were uneasy about being excluded from the SDI, especially as it seemed more and more likely that other major European contractors would take part. As a result, while the French government did not abandon its official opposition, French firms, notably Thomson-CSF, Matra, and Aerospatiale, were permitted to take part in the program, and EUREKA began to take shape as a program in civil technology with military applications, that is, the reverse of SDI. A government study, the Delpech Report, concluded that by upgrading its offenses France could be assured for the indefinite future that its nuclear weapons carriers could penetrate any foreseeable Soviet defenses. Eventually,
more effective defenses might be achieved, the report observed, but they were of no immediate concern: "Over a much longer period of time, the hypothetical realization of a sufficiently effective and not very vulnerable system could have strategic consequences for France, but this eventuality is remote and uncertain and a satisfactory modification of our strategic forces is not at all excluded."
As Pierre Lellouche has explained, the French government found that by rejecting SDI, it had backed itself into a corner. The United States was not going to drop the program simply because the allies did not like it, and meanwhile, in the revived INF talks, the Soviets were demanding that France's strategic forces be constrained as part of a deal to reduce or eliminate U.S. and Soviet intermediate weapons. The French could not expect U.S. support for the exclusion of France's independent deterrent in the INF negotiation if France appeared to be siding with the U.S.S.R. on the SDI issue. "Given these realities," Lellouche observes, "France gradually moved to a more pragmatic attitude based on a clear-cut distinction between the strategic and technological sides of the SDI issue."
On strategic grounds, France remained opposed to SDI, arguing that it would destabilize European security and the superpower balance in nuclear weapons, in addition to undermining "what was left of Western consensus on deterrence after the Euromissile battle." On technological grounds, however, the French wanted to cooperate with the United States in order to make sure that their nuclear force retained its credibility in a rapidly changing technological environment. As a result, in the fall of 1985, Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Quilès announced that France's opposition to SDI would not preclude French firms from entering into joint ventures with U.S. firms or from accepting contracts from the U.S. Defense Department. Thus, as Lellouche has noted, "France found itself in the somewhat bizarre position (its critics would call it hypocritical) of opposing SDI in principle while letting its firms—including the nationalized ones—run to Washington to secure contracts." The vacillation was considerably reduced when Jacques Chirac became prime minister in 1986 and announced in his inaugural address that France would cooperate in European efforts to achieve tactical defenses in association with the U.S. program:
Technological progress is leading to the emergence of defensive systems utilizing space. Their birth will not upset for many years to come, and may never upset, the fundamental basis of nuclear deterrence. Our American allies are actively working on this project, and important changes may thereby occur in the world balance, in the dialogue between the great powers,
as in the defense of Europe. We must watch this evolution carefully, as well as the technological gaps that may result therefrom, proceed to the necessary adaptations and avoid missing the opportunities to strengthen European solidarity in this field as well.
In Britain, Thatcher virtually ordered her cabinet colleagues to muffle their criticisms. She herself won considerable respect in Europe and at the same time mollified her colleagues by flying to Washington in December 1984 to secure President Reagan's agreement at Camp David to four points involving SDI: (1) it was to be a research program, and no decision to deploy defenses would be undertaken without an effort to negotiate the issue with the Soviets; (2) it was to be undertaken in conformity with the ABM Treaty in an effort to maintain strategic parity, not to achieve superiority; (3) efforts were to continue to negotiate arms reductions with the Soviets; and (4) SDI was to be undertaken to enhance deterrence, not to replace it. This agreement has sometimes been interpreted as a revision of the original plans for the SDI, especially insofar as it is formally described as an effort to enhance deterrence. In this way, Thatcher's supporters could claim that she forced a change in the program, away from the commitment to a leakproof area defense and toward a defense of retaliatory capacities.
From the perspective of the Reagan administration, this agreement was a small price to pay for claiming European apprehensions, inasmuch as the program called for a long-term defense transition that might well result initially in enhancing deterrence by adding defense to offense. Both sides could interpret the agreement as they chose. In any event, given that deployment decisions could be deferred, any differences in interpretation would remain below the surface. A report of the House of Commons Defence Committee in 1985 sought to remove any apprehensions caused by SDI for the Trident program by emphasizing the improbable prospects for defenses: "After our discussions with representatives of the U.S. administration in March and April this year we were left in no doubt that the new era of strategic defenses that has been advocated is unlikely to arrive while Trident is in service—which suggests that the current excitement is being generated about a project unlikely to reach fruition before 2020." Having thus determined at least to its own satisfaction that SDI was merely a long-range research program that would not interfere with its own strategic commitments, the British cabinet agreed to sign the memorandum of understanding with the United States on December 6, 1985, by which the two countries undertook to cooperate in the research.
In the Federal Republic, where, as one specialist put it, "attitudes toward
SDI range from actual opposition to reluctant acceptance," Kohl succeeded in persuading his cabinet that there was more to be gained by negotiating terms of cooperation than by refusing to follow the British example. He argued that the FRG would have more influence over the course of events by proving itself a loyal ally and cooperating with the Reagan administration's program, especially inasmuch as SDI was unlikely to produce any dramatically transforming technologies in the short run. By refusing, the government would play into the hands of both domestic critics of the alliance and the Soviets, who would take advantage of the split to brand the United States as an aggressive power and thereby undermine public support for NATO. On April 18, 1985, Kohl endorsed SDI "in principle." As U.S. officials emphasized that SDI was a research program whose benefits might redound to the civilian economy, FRG adherence to the U.S. program was made easier for the government to endorse. Even so, Kohl's cabinet feared that cooperation would be a one-way street and therefore developed a series of demands that would have to be satisfied in any negotiation. Pointedly, the Kohl government sent its economics minister, Martin Bangemann, to Washington to negotiate the terms of a joint agreement of principles committing West Germany to participate in SDI research. The United States made few concessions, but the West Germans agreed anyhow on March 27, 1986, opening the way for such major West German firms as Siemens and Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm to participate in R&D contracts.
Other U.S. allies displayed varying degrees of receptivity toward the program. Only Israel was unabashedly enthusiastic, both out of an interest in benefiting from U.S. subsidies for military high-technology and out of a more specific need to counter the conventionally armed Soviet SS-21 missiles provided to the Syrians by their Soviet patrons—weapons the Israelis viewed as upsetting the balance of power in the region by threatening their airfields and marshaling points. In June 1988 Israel and the United States formally announced their cooperation in the Arrow project to develop an interceptor against tactical missiles. Israel would pay 20 percent of the cost, the United States 80 percent, out of SDI funds. In Italy, at the urging of Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti, the government followed the lead of other European governments, waiting until April 1986 to agree to take part. Canada, Belgium, Portugal, and the Netherlands allowed their industries to take part. The Japanese government watched the moves in Europe toward cooperation and decided to join in. The Danes, Norwegians, and Australians, who had little to gain or to offer, chose not to participate.
From 1983 through the middle of 1986, the SDI issue loomed larger and larger in European debates. To some extent it became a left-right issue. In the Federal Republic the Social Democrats denounced it as inevitably destabilizing and a final blow to the prospects for détente with the Soviets. In Great Britain, although SDI did not revive the fortunes of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (perhaps because, unlike cruise missiles, there were no deployments against which to rally opposition), it nevertheless reinforced the view of many on the left that the United States under Reagan was embarked on a highly dangerous course that could provoke a new phase of the arms race, both defensive and offensive, and that Europe needed to develop a position of its own, independently of the United States. Especially once the furor over INF deployments had died down, SDI served as a convenient stalking horse for a renewed assault on U.S. cold war policies and on conservative governments for their supposed willingness to remain dependent on the United States.
SDI was also grist for the mills of FRG leftists who were advocating a European "alternative defense," or "defensive defense," strategy to replace NATO and reliance on nuclear weapons. As Jonathan Dean has pointed out, however, most of these proposals will probably not be adopted largely because they eliminate a front-line role for the United States and other European allies, thus weakening the deterrent effect and raising political difficulties. SDI served to revive the traditional themes of the left-right dispute in foreign policy, with those on the left arguing that Western Europe should pursue accommodation with the U.S.S.R. rather than confrontation and adopt a new Europeanism instead of remaining stuck in the middle of the superpower conflict. Alongside these themes there was also a more widely shared fear that European economic difficulties would be exacerbated by a new U.S. challenge. The disputes within the ruling conservative coalitions were of a narrower character, based on skepticism about the validity of the Reagan administration's technological hopes, as well as on fears of the consequences for NATO unity and the economic burdens that would be imposed in an effort to develop defenses while seeking to maintain nuclear deterrents and to modernize conventional forces. The European governments were much more inclined to want to see arms-reduction agreements that would relieve some of the burden of armament and promote a lessening of tensions, allowing increased trade between East and West and encouraging tendencies toward reform in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.
Public opinion in Europe, while tending to mirror the uneasiness of
the political elites, nevertheless did not react with marked hostility to the U.S. initiative. At least one poll, taken in Britain, showed that most respondents thought SDI was aimed to protect the United States rather than the alliance as a whole. Like ordinary Americans, many West Europeans assumed that one way or another space would continue to be militarized, but they worried, more than Americans, that such a defense might increase the prospects of a conventional war fought in Europe with weapons even more destructive than those used in World War II. Europeans were not comforted by assurances that the "astrodome" would protect them as well as the United States, but they could take some comfort from the fact that the program was being promoted as nonnuclear, and at least some were aware that the Soviets had themselves made elaborate efforts to erect defenses against strategic nuclear attack. In the end, attitudes toward SDI were colored by more general attitudes toward the United States and the Soviet Union. There is some evidence to suggest, however, that SDI helped weaken confidence in the U.S. commitment to Europe and promote a desire to pursue an independent course, a trend that may well have been encouraged by the abruptness with which SDI was announced and the skepticism expressed by European leaders. In the same British poll, most respondents thought the United States would go ahead with SDI even over European opposition, and a substantial number thought SDI had been created in order to induce the Soviets to negotiate about other matters.
On the whole, then, the initial reaction to the SDI in the allied nations was unfavorable and might have led to serious ruptures had the administration not mounted a major effort to soothe European feelings and relieve fears that SDI portended either an immediate lessening in the U.S. commitment to its allies or an unwillingness to negotiate arms reductions with the Soviets. As Wolfram F. Hanrieder perceptively noted: "Political costs have to be paid in advance, as it were, before the anticipated strategic benefits are realized in a distant future."
Mollifying Western Europe
West European annoyance with the unilateral nature of the announcement of SDI and distress over its strategic and economic implications were only compounded by Defense Secretary Weinberger's seeming ultimatum in March 1985, in which allied governments were asked to indicate whether or not they were willing to cooperate within sixty days. Once the harshness of West European reaction became obvious, the
Reagan administration took steps to ease the situation for these governments. Reagan had readily agreed, as we saw earlier, to Thatcher's four points. The West Europeans could also take some satisfaction from the fact that Lieutenant General Abrahamson went out of his way to endorse these four points in testimony before Congress. In the administration's eyes, of course, the agreement had no substantial effect on the program. SDI had been designed as a research program, and it was acknowledged within the administration (and at least implied in the Fletcher report) that a defense transition would probably never become a practical option unless the Soviets agreed to reduce offensive weapons. Although the administration had not consulted with the allies prior to the decision (as it had not consulted even with the appropriate departments of the executive branch or with Congress), it was eager to help friendly leaders avoid trouble at home.
Part of the effort involved missions to explain the president's plan both the European government officials and journalists. George Bush, Shultz, Weinberger, Perle, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and science advisor Keyworth were all pressed into service, along with the president himself. Technical specialists who supported SDI sought to show that the principles and technologies useful for strategic defense would also be useful in defending Western Europe. Teller told those who attended a Wehrkunde conference in Munich in February 1986 that laser beams reflected from mirrors popped up over the earth would make it "relatively easy" to destroy even such intermediate-range weapons as the Soviet SS-20. Those sympathetic to the president's ideological views, or who were at least willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, found the explanations more impressive than they expected. Others, including high-ranking defense officials, remained skeptical. Their views were generally silenced, however, by the political leaders, who were anxious to maintain NATO unity. Opposition leaders in Great Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany seized on SDI as yet another example of the administration's susceptibility to illusion and the use of confrontation in its relations with the Soviet Union. They also tried to make the United States appear to be intent on developing a shield over itself which would leave Europe vulnerable to attack. United States officials, however, countered some of the effects of this campaign by promoting the idea that, if successful, SDI would protect Europeans and Americans alike.
Otherwise, the United States' primary effort to sell SDI concentrated on promising at least minimal economic inducements—prompting one
"shrewd and worldly American bureaucrat to comment that although European government support could not be bought, it still might 'be rented.'" U.S. government officials thus dangled the bait of significant contracts before the eyes of European industrialists, and the industrialists in turn pressured governments for permission to take part. They were mainly concerned that they be admitted on equal terms, and this theme was taken up by government representatives as the price of European cooperation. The West Germans in particular were concerned that they be allowed to market any civilian applications of the technology and that they not be unduly hampered in possible sales to East European countries. The U.S. negotiators offered to be conciliatory but in the end made few concessions, relying instead on European interest in not being shut out of the project. Initial funding was quite small—in the neighborhood of $30 million the first year—until, in the second year of the program, a series of larger contracts was let involving cooperative ventures by European and American firms.
The U.S. position vis-à-vis the allies improved considerably when the Soviets agreed in 1985 to return to arms-control negotiations, where they called for a 50 percent reduction in offensive weapons. Many West Europeans agreed with U.S. analysts that the Soviets had come back to the table in part because they became concerned that SDI might lead to unilateral U.S. deployments and might undercut the parity in offensive weapons they had won by considerable effort. This recognition of SDI's contribution to arms control was raised in the March 1985 ministerial meetings of NATO's Nuclear Planning Group and in Brussels in October of the same year. A communiqué issued at the close of the first set of meetings affirmed allied support for SDI but carefully couched that support in terms of the established NATO emphasis on offensive deterrence: "We support the United States research programme into these technologies, the aim of which is to enhance stability and deterrence at reduced levels of offensive nuclear forces." In this formulation, the European allies of the United States in effect agreed to regard SDI primarily as a political question rather than as a new direction in alliance strategy. Although the leading partners were eager to stay abreast of U.S. research in case there might be any breakthroughs, their main motivation (and, even more, that of the other allies) was to exert influence on the direction of SDI so that it did not adversely affect the alliance. In particular, they wanted to make sure that it stayed a research program until they agreed to deployment, remained in conformity with the ABM Treaty, and did not jeopardize East-West arms control negotiations or destabilize the strategic balance.
The "Intermediate Option" In Europe: Toward A Division Of Labor
In addition to these various efforts to mollify the Europeans, the SDIO increasingly emphasized its willingness to cooperate with European efforts to develop defenses designed for the European theater. The Europeans had already taken steps in this direction before SDI was launched. The idea of a European Defense Initiative did not seem necessarily uncongenial to U.S. officials, who were already considering the possibility of initial theater deployment broached in the Hoffman report. Unlike the Fletcher report, which called for a long-term effort of research aimed at producing a layered defense, the Hoffman report emphasized that in view of the uncertainties attending the development of such systems, "partial systems, or systems with more modest technical goals, may be feasible earlier than the full system." These "intermediate" systems, the report stressed, might strengthen deterrence because they would "greatly complicate Soviet attack plans" and reduce Soviet confidence in a successful outcome at various sizes and levels of attack. The report called for an R & D program that would provide an option for early deployment while proceeding along the path toward the ultimate goal of layered defense. The intermediate option could be of immediate utility in Europe and might later be integrated with a system to defend the continental United States:
The advanced components, though developed initially in an ATM [anti-tactical missile] mode, might later play a role in continental United States (CONUS) defense. Such an option addresses the pressing military need to protect allied forces as well as our own, in theaters of operations, from either nonnuclear or nuclear attack. It would directly benefit our allies as well as ourselves. Inclusion of such an option in our long-range R & D program on ballistic missile defenses should reduce allied anxieties that our increased emphasis on defenses might indicate a weakening in our commitment to the defense of Europe.
Intermediate deployment of ATBMs in Europe was also attractive for other reasons. First, they could be developed without violating the ABM Treaty. (The Hoffman report did not address the question of whether sharing technology with potential BMD applications would violate the provision against providing ABM information or blueprints to third parties; presumably, work on tactical defenses would be sufficiently differentiated from ABM research to conform to the provision.) Second, deployment of ATBMs in Europe would emphasize the coupling of U.S. and Western European security and would address the growing threat
posed by improved Soviet offensive capabilities. Technically, the intermediate deployment option was within reach in the sense that it would not require major breakthroughs in technology. The deployment would represent a tangible commitment toward a comprehensive defense, a "first installment" that would ultimately serve as a sub-tier of a layered defense. (Alternatively, the recommendation could be read as a polite way of saying that although Reagan's vision of a comprehensive defense was not feasible, deployment of tactical defenses in Europe was both feasible and in keeping with perceived military needs.)
In discussing this option, however, the Hoffman report did not restrict the possibilities only to terminal systems that might be acceptable within treaty limitations. It also noted that even imperfect boost-phase defenses could have a significant effect against existing Soviet offensive weapons. Therefore, they might be worth deploying as an intermediate option—even before more advanced systems might be developed—presumably to cope with a Soviet offensive force designed to incorporate countermeasures. Soviet offensive improvements were eroding European confidence in the threat of U.S. nuclear response to Soviet attacks on Western Europe, the report noted, but a U.S. attempt to match the Soviet buildup by reversing the tendency to reduce arsenals and, instead, to increase stockpiles would only heighten public anxiety.
The Hoffman report put particular stress on the possible contribution of defenses to NATO security. Soviet doctrine, it contended, emphasized operations designed "to bring large-scale conflict to a quick and decisive end, at as low a level of violence as is consistent with achievement of Soviet strategic aims." In a conflict involving NATO, a major goal would be to use intense initial attacks on critical military targets in the rear—particularly those relevant to theater nuclear capabilities and air power, but also those that would receive reinforcements from the United States. One purpose of such attacks would be to reduce the ability and resolve of NATO to initiate nuclear attacks if nonnuclear defense failed and to preempt a NATO attack. Tactical ballistic missiles would therefore play an important role in Soviet plans. If defenses were to deny the effective use of TBMs, the entire Soviet attack plan would be jeopardized, thus helping to deter theater combat, both nuclear and nonnuclear.
Lieutenant General Abrahamson echoed this emphasis on the SDI mission in his first appearance before Congress on April 25, 1984: "We are not seeking only to build defenses for the United States. As Secretary Weinberger has indicated, our concept of an 'effective' defense is one which protects our allies as well as the United States." When Weinberger
invited eighteen allies to join in SDI research, he too stressed that "the SDI program will not confine itself solely to an exploitation of technologies with potential against ICBM and SLBM, but will also carefully examine technologies with potential against shorter-range ballistic missiles." Under Secretary of Defense Fred C. Iklé informed Congress that the United States wanted "to provide the allies with the opportunity to become involved in SDI research projects that address some of the unique aspects of defending NATO-Europe against missile attack." Nevertheless, the SDIO did not emphasize the benefits of the research program for tactical defense until two years had gone by. The system-architecture contracts did not explicitly address the need to consider system extension to Europe until September 1985. It was not until spring 1986 that plans for a competition were made for a European theater-defense architecture, and awards were made for these studies only in that year. In June 1986 SDIO awarded a $10-million contract to the British government to study theater defense, and in December of the same year contracts worth $2 million each were awarded to seven consortia, involving twenty-five European firms, for "architecture studies" of a missile defense for Western Europe.
Clearly, the difference of emphasis between the Fletcher panel, with its advocacy of long-term research and strategic defense, and the Hoffman panel, with its stress on intermediate deployments of relatively accessible technology, prefigured a conflict of goals within the Defense Department and SDIO. Congressional supporters of SDI also put pressure on SDIO to think more seriously about intermediate deployments. In October 1985 Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) led a House Armed Services Committee delegation to Europe and reported that officials in France and the Federal Republic were ready to cooperate in developing ATBMs. The aim was to make the investment in SDI one that would have immediate benefits for U.S. regional commitments and would presumably at the same time demonstrate the real utility of SDI to the European as well as to the American public. An amendment prepared by Sen. John Glenn (D., Ohio) to bar the award of SDI contracts to firms not headquartered in the United States failed. But in the FY1987 authorization, a successful amendment introduced by then Sen. Dan Quayle (R., Ind.) "identified" up to $50 million in the SDI program (rising to $75 million in FY1988) to be used to accelerate ATBM technology development, looking to deployment in the 1990s. The amendment called on SDIO to cooperate with U.S. allies in developing the technologies. From the SDIO's point of view, ATBM work was valuable because it served to link Western Europe's interests in theater defense to the United
States' interest in strategic defense. In effect, there would be a cooperative division of labor in which the Europeans would emphasize ATBM while the United States emphasized BMD. The Europeans were to be encouraged—particularly the French and the West Germans—to design their own systems for these purposes with U.S. support and cooperation. It is not clear that SDIO puts equal weight on the military significance of ATBM work as on strategic defenses, but it is well recognized that the political benefits in assuring European support for SDI are substantial.
As SDIO officials began to define the goals of SDI in more proximate terms—that is, to emphasize its potential role in shoring up deterrence by retaliation rather than making nuclear weapons obsolete—it came to seem a better fit for European concerns with tactical defense and improved air defense. Although some Europeans sought to distinguish sharply between Europe's need for extended air defense and for defense against tactical ballistic missiles, the SDIO came to see the European theater as a locus for a possible early deployment of missile defenses. In effect, Western Europe would be encouraged to cooperate with the United States in developing tactical defenses (thus avoiding ABM Treaty restrictions) in order to take advantage of work already done there and to reinforce European belief in the advisability of developing such defenses. In this way, a division of labor would develop in which SDI could become an alliance commitment without raising the allies' hackles. From SDIO's perspective, however, this division could not be a sharp one, because tactical and air defenses could not be neatly separated from strategic defenses. The same sensors that track strategic missiles could be used against certain of the missiles fired by intermediate-range launchers. Airborne detectors could be even more useful in tactical air defense than in strategic defense.
This confluence of West European interest in air defense and ATBMs and the United States' eagerness to claim European participation in SDI has resulted in a kind of modus vivendi. Europeans emphasize work on ATBM and air defense, cooperate with the United States on architecture studies for the theater (which would include linking ATBM to BMD), and play a lesser role in studies of exotic technologies that may eventually have applications both to ATBM and BMD.
The ATBM Issue
West European cooperation with the United States on SDI reflects concern among NATO strategists regarding a growing Soviet tactical
threat, both nuclear and nonnuclear. But the SDIO and European leaders differ sharply over the issue of linking SDI to tactical defense in Europe.
NATO strategists have become increasingly concerned about Warsaw pact threats to airfields, nuclear installations, and resupply depots because of improvements and additions to Soviet strength in aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles, conventional as well as nuclear. Assessment of the threat varies, as does assessment of the likely Soviet strategy for conducting a war in Europe, but there is general agreement that Soviet planners have taken account of the capacities of NATO's highly accurate conventional systems to avoid the introduction of nuclear weapons, thereby minimizing the possibility that NATO will escalate the conflict to a nuclear level. In the 1960s, as we note in chapter 4, Soviet strategy was predicated on the expectation that a theater conflict in Europe would automatically involve nuclear weapons. Soviet forces were therefore prepared to undertake massive nuclear strikes at the outset in order to preempt the expected Western use of such weapons. The Soviet doctrine was similar to the U.S. belief in massive retaliation. As a result, the Soviet Rocket Forces, formed in 1959, assumed a major role in Soviet battle planning and enabled some temporary cutbacks to be made in expenditures on conventional forces.
Shifting Soviet Strategy
But just as massive-retaliation doctrine had encouraged the U.S.S.R. to adopt a greater reliance on the nuclear option, so the United States' move toward flexible response stimulated a renewed Soviet emphasis on conventional means of waging war. Military strategists under Brezhnev who favored greater flexibility received more of a hearing from the political leadership. The result was a shift of strategy in which tactical nuclear war and conventional war planning became guiding principles; emphasis was accordingly shifted in military production. During the 1970s the Soviets engaged in a military buildup that put these principles into effect. Belatedly, Soviet strategists explicitly acknowledged that the danger of introducing nuclear weapons was so great that all other means should first be exhausted. This recognition made Soviet force planning far more complex by introducing a need for a greater variety of weapons systems and requiring planning for varied military contingencies. Thus, in the mid-1970s the aim appeared to be to attain a diverse set of military options designed to dominate each level of escalation from conventional, to operational-tactical nuclear, to general nuclear war. This
approach foresaw the need to preempt NATO's use of tactical nuclear weapons by striking those weapons with tactical nuclear weapons before employing strategic forces based in the Soviet Union. Gradually, however, another option began to appear plausible: the use of conventional attacks by frontal aviation, nonnuclear missiles, and conventionally armed bombers for the same purpose—an approach that might allow the Soviets to avoid introducing nuclear weapons, thus triggering a NATO response in kind.
By the early 1980s Soviet military writers were discussing the possibility that major wars might be fought without nuclear weapons, a contingency that had earlier been ruled out as unrealistic. In these years, Soviet planners became more and more optimistic about emerging conventional technologies. This optimism mirrored that of Western technologists, who were also convinced that emerging conventional technologies, especially the advent of precision-guided munitions, would make it possible to use conventional instead of nuclear explosives against hard targets. The U.S.S.R. looked to longer-range, highly accurate, dual-capable delivery systems, which might be fitted with both conventional explosives and chemical weapons. The major aim of Soviet strategists in using these new armaments was to prevent NATO from using tactical nuclear weapons to respond to a Soviet conventional attack. Soviet defense forces were reorganized in order to take proper advantage of these new technologies. In particular, the Soviets emphasized the development of air operations as substitutes for initial nuclear strikes against major military targets. They also stressed the predeployment of munitions and other supplies in forward areas, so as to support rapidly mounted attacks by mobile groups whose mission would be to penetrate deeply into allied lines. In the 1970s new aircraft—including the SU-24 Fencer, the SU-17 Fitter D/H, and the MiG-27 Flogger D/J—gave the U.S.S.R. a frontal aviation power it had previously lacked. These aircraft were supported by other advances in target acquisition, all-weather operating capacity, and integrated theater command-and-control. The aim of the introduction of aircraft was to reduce reliance on longer-range air forces and nuclear missiles and to enable attacks on NATO military targets by frontal air assault making maximum use of surprise.
At the same time, efforts were made to initiate new programs designed to improve short-range and intermediate-range missiles so as to provide them with accuracy great enough to deliver conventional munitions to military targets, including airfields. The SS-21 was given a conventional payload, and the SS-22 and SS-23 were to be developed for
the same mission. According to U.S. sources, upgraded models of these missiles can deliver payloads to within 30 meters of their targets, evidently by using improved inertial guidance combined with terminal guidance. These accuracies are roughly the same as those reported for the U.S. Pershing IIs. The SS-21s, with a range of 120 km, have reportedly replaced the shorter-range Frog-7 missiles in Soviet divisions in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The SS-23, with a range of 500 km, was to replace the older Scud missile, more than three hundred of which are located facing NATO and have a range of 300 km. The SS-12/Mod (formerly designated the SS-22), with a range of 900 km, was to replace the SS-12 Scaleboard. From locations in the GDR, it would have been capable of reaching Great Britain and would have greatly improved Soviet ability to mount a surprise attack. By banning both Soviet intermediate-range missiles (the SS-20, SS-4, and SS-5) and two of the shorter-range missiles (the SS-12 and SS-23), the 1987 INF Treaty significantly reduced the threat the Soviets were mounting.
In addition to developing missiles with sufficient range and accuracy, the Soviets have also developed area munitions, such as cluster bombs and fuel air explosives that spread destruction over soft targets. The latter weapon has an explosive charge like that of the smallest nuclear weapons and is said to have been used by the Soviets in Afghanistan. So far, there is no firm evidence that the Soviets have deployed kinetic-energy or shaped-charge penetrators, such as the United States has been developing, to cause craters in runways or to penetrate the concrete used to shield headquarters or aircraft hangars, but these innovations may be in the offing.
The military thinking behind these deployments is that the Soviet conventional force can be used to greatest advantage if it can take account of NATO's need for time to mobilize and disperse forces. In the event of war, the intention seems to be to use a combination of ground-launched missiles and aircraft, both using conventional munitions, to attack NATO forces in depth and to open corridors through which mobile ground forces can move in deep-penetration strikes. Soviet planners, heirs of a long-standing tradition that prizes massive artillery barrages, are attracted by the tactic of overwhelming critical enemy targets in a short time with a large fraction of their own offensive firepower. The emphasis is partly on the psychological demoralization to be achieved by heavy initial strikes. Successful blows against NATO airfields and the aircraft themselves could seriously damage NATO's ability to disrupt an attack—an ability on which NATO planners rely heavily. Although
hardened shelters could protect aircraft from such attacks, the infrastructure necessary to enable planes to be refueled and rearmed, as well as to take off and land, is more vulnerable.
A precursor missile attack aimed at airfields, taking advantage of the short flying times of missiles (from thirty seconds to five minutes) could help suppress NATO air defenses and improve the prospects of follow-on air attacks. Missiles cannot substitute for aircraft, which can carry much larger payloads, but serve rather to amplify, or compound, the effectiveness of reusable aircraft. If air defenses are suppressed, aircraft can use higher and deeper routes with heavier payloads, and face fewer allied interceptors. Thus, the use of conventionally armed missiles provides leverage for an air attack.
Soviet respect for Western technological advances, coupled with concern over the adoption of counteroffensive strategies like NATO's Airland Battle and Follow-On Forces Attack, has heightened interest in achieving surprise and in foiling NATO's efforts to carry out its ambitious plans. But the underlying motive is to be in a position to nullify NATO's nuclear threat (using tactical weapons and aircraft) by nonnuclear means.
Possible NATO Responses
NATO could offset these plans by dispersing the targets, insofar as possible, to more locations and by developing mobile field units. Dispersal is an attractive option not only because it increases the chances that such forces could survive a preemptive strike but also because it lessens pressure to make early use of nuclear weapons. Critics warn, however, that sudden dispersal could be interpreted as provocative by the Soviets, who might respond by considering a preemptive attack, adding that it risks putting too much authority over nuclear weapons in the hands of field commanders. It is also not clear that dispersal could be accomplished rapidly enough upon warning of an impending attack. While dispersal is taking place, forces are exposed to attack. NATO is also vulnerable to an attack on its fixed surveillance radars, which provide early warning of an attack, and on the C3 facilities that coordinate its defense, although mobile radars are considerably more difficult to find and destroy.
In response to the Warsaw Pact's growing emphasis on conventional missile and air attack, NATO has given serious thought to active defenses. Air defense has been a long-standing NATO goal. What is new in
the discussion is whether air defense can be "extended" or "expanded" to include defense against tactical ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, or, in other words, from all attacks from the air. From the NATO perspective, SDI is an outgrowth of the concern for air defense as it was initially extended, in the 1960s, to attacks from space. Recall that the United States had announced, toward the end of the 1960s, its intention of deploying a thin Sentinel shield in the United States. In the wake of that decision, some wondered if a similar BMD deployment should be made in Western Europe. The option was considered but rejected by the NATO Nuclear Planning Group as too expensive, not effective enough, and likely to hinder arms-control negotiations. Since then, however, concern for air defense has led to broader interest in defenses against tactical missiles as well—an interest that intersects with SDI: the general purpose is the same, and some of the technologies have overlapping functions. Airborne radar and optical-detection systems could track both long- and short-range missiles. Terminal interceptors could conceivably be designed for both types of attack. The principles involved in tracking, identifying, targeting, and destroying missiles are similar, if not identical, for the two classes of missiles.
The initial stages of the discussion of BMD in NATO were held in the ministerial-level Nuclear Planning Group from April 1967 to April 1968 and focused on ground-based systems equipped, like the earlier Nike-Hercules, with nuclear warheads, and designed to provide some measure of defense for population as well as military assets. In 1980 NATO's Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD) produced a study endorsing the idea of extended air defense in the hope of achieving active defenses of critical military targets from either air or missile attacks. In the NATO context, defense systems were politically desirable because they demonstrated the indivisibility of the alliance in the event that the United States pursued ballistic missile defense, and they provided some protection against the sort of blackmail the Soviets had used effectively against Britain and France during the Suez crisis in 1956. West Europeans were hardly enthusiastic about pursuing BMD, which they thought would be ineffective, too expensive, and a barrier to arms control. But in 1986 Manfred Wörner called for a "process of incremental steps proceeding from existing air defense capabilities" in order to create a missile defense for Europe. The relevant technologies, he said, "could be harnessed to this process in complete conformity with current NATO guidelines covering the exploitation of new technologies for strengthening the conventional defenses of the Alliance."
The defense need not be impenetrable, Wörner argued, nor would it need to protect Western Europe completely in order to have strategic benefit. Even a limited defense would introduce enough uncertainties into Soviet calculations regarding the success of an offensive attack to deter such an attack. In May 1986 the NATO defense ministers approved the extended air defense concept, based on studies by AGARD, as a framework for developing both air defenses and ATBMs.
Thus, there has been a growing recognition among NATO strategic planners that the Soviet air and missile threat, particularly against fixed NATO installations, may require the development of hard-point defenses. At first, NATO planners emphasized the use of conventional offensive weapons, especially aircraft and precision-guided missiles, to interdict a Warsaw Pact attack by rendering command centers inoperative, striking at both forward and rear bases, and interfering with resupply efforts. As the Soviets improved their own capacities, the planners recognized that NATO's ability to launch such interdiction strikes was itself in jeopardy. Without point defenses to protect its own air and missile bases and command-and-control facilities, NATO would lack confidence in its ability to thwart a rapidly mounted Soviet attack except by early resort to nuclear weapons, and even these capacities might be denied by a massive initial Soviet attack on tactical-weapons launchers and bombers. For those in favor of emphasizing conventional war capabilities, the stress on ATBM is a way of promoting work (under the framework of SDI) designed to shore up the conventional idea of deterrence. From a West European perspective, it could be said to maintain existing options—i.e., to use conventional force so as to delay and possibly obviate the need to use nuclear force. On both strategic and political grounds, then, extended air defense using conventionally armed SAMs and ATBMs is attractive to West European military planners.
Skeptics point out, however, that the SDIO's interest in integrating European defenses with SDI "diverges starkly" from the approach prevalent in Western Europe, where the concern is for defense against a growing Soviet conventional threat. The fear in Western Europe is that the Warsaw Pact forces may be preparing to use conventionally armed short-range missiles, along with intermediate-range bombers, to make a massive attack on NATO defenses. By using conventional munitions, the pact forces would minimize the risk of provoking a Western nuclear response. According to Wörner, the addition of this element could give the Soviets a decided military edge in the most likely form of conflict:
By concentrating missile strikes on prime NATO targets over massively attacking Warsaw Pact air and ground formations, the Soviet Union could prevent,
delay or obstruct numerous NATO response options in the critical initial phase of a conflict. Thus, an orderly mounting of NATO defensive operations with emphasis on forward defense, the inflow of ground and air reinforcements from abroad, freedom of maneuver in the rear areas, as well as the Alliance's capacity for nuclear response—above all, the air-delivered components of that response—could be substantially disrupted and compromised, if not prevented entirely.
Addressing the conventional threat poses very different requirements from those of intercepting nuclear weapons, which must take place at greater heights, requiring higher-velocity interceptors and stronger, more accurate radars. In effect, the difference is between SDI-type systems and upgraded SAMs. SAMs have been upgraded by the United States in the form of the Patriot missile, which was tested successfully to intercept a Lance missile in September 1986. The Europeans are also working on upgrading SAMs to replace the current Hawk system, which is part of a network of allied air defenses that includes NADGE (NATO air defense ground environment) for detection and SAMs and fighter interceptors. Two French companies, Thomson-CSF and Aerospatiale, are at work in cooperation with France's Defense Ministry on the Surface-Sol-Air-Futur, a sea-based version of an ATBM; a land-based version is being planned. In the Federal Republic, Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm is working on another system. The two governments are discussing the integration of these efforts.
The proposal for deploying ATBMs is also an appealing one to some elements in the U.S. military, notably the army unit responsible for the Patriot missile program. Although the Patriot was designed as an air-defense system, a commitment to extended air defense would bolster the Patriot's role and lead to increased expenditures on the system to give it defense capacities against tactical missiles as well as aircraft. In the competition for defense appropriations, the army can expect opposition from the air force to any request for greatly increased support of the Patriot. The air force would probably argue that incremental support should be designed to improve tactical offensive capabilities and provide better passive defenses for aircraft and radar systems. In view of the likelihood of conflict and the constraints on available incremental funding in the United States, the development of ATBMs for the European theater will be significantly affected by the level and pace of West European investment.
The desirability of major investments in ATBM is by no means universally accepted on either strategic or economic grounds. Many of the same strategic objectives can be served by passive defenses—in the form
of hardening and dispersal and by greater reliance on counter-air activities. A technical study by Benoit Morel and Theodore A. Postol argues that relatively modest measures, such as burial of command posts, increased depth of "overburden" on shelters, along with hardening and dispersal, could readily negate the most severe threats from tactical ballistic missiles. The cost of acquiring between fifty and seventy-five upgraded Patriot missile fire units has been estimated as $30 billion. The high cost of Patriot is already inhibiting efforts to achieve air defense. Another technical study by two Rand Corporation analysts agrees that passive defenses are probably the best option in the near term but that "ATBM is an important, but longer-term, option for protecting air-bases." It is also not clear if defense should be designed to protect against nuclear as well as conventional attack. But calls like Wörner's for extended air defense have generated interest. The fact that investments have already been made in anti-aircraft systems like Hawk and associated AWACS surveillance systems and radar detection makes it all but inevitable that continued attention will be given to both air defense and defense against tactical missile attack. To the extent that arms-control agreements can eliminate or reduce the threat from missiles, that emphasis could be diminished.
SDI And The Western Alliance: The Prospective Problems
West European concentration on tactical defenses, even if they are designed to serve in conventional modernization, will not altogether alleviate the difficulties SDI has introduced into the Western alliance. As tactical defenses are developed, avoiding conflict with the ABM Treaty could become harder, inasmuch as many of the relevant technologies have applications for ABM as well as ATBM systems. By collaborating with SDI, moreover, the West European governments may be perceived to be lending encouragement to a development that would hamper prospects for East-West accord and jeopardize adherence to the ABM Treaty. Even ATBM defenses could become highly problematic for West Europeans, especially if they are to be armed with a nuclear kill mechanism. Such a development "would produce an avalanche of public and official opposition in Europe," as Hugh De Santis has noted, and raises the question of whether the United States would give prerelease authority to its allies. At the same time, those Europeans who consider nuclear deterrence the best way of averting a Soviet attack might find that ATBMs
would raise the nuclear threshold to an uncomfortable extent. As De Santis suggests, a conventional ATBM defense "might reduce deterrence if it contributed to the perception that NATO would not escalate to the use of nuclear weapons."
By removing the threat posed by both intermediate- and shorter-range Soviet missiles, the 1987 INF Treaty seriously weakens the case for extended air defense in Europe. By prohibiting both conventionally and nuclear-armed tactical missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km, the treaty significantly diminishes the Soviet threat to NATO. The threat is not altogether eliminated, however. Many of NATO's highest-value installations are within the 500-km range still permitted for short-range missiles, and the treaty limits may only encourage Soviet weapons designers to concentrate on improving the accuracy and yield of the theater missiles still permitted. NATO bases will remain vulnerable to attack by Soviet bombers, which are capable of delivering far larger amounts of conventional explosives than could be delivered by the missiles now being removed. Because treaties can be abrogated, a case can be made for developing ATBMs as a way of encouraging Soviet compliance with the INF Treaty.
Even with the intermediate- and short-range missile threat removed, however, the task of defending Western Europe against a possible Soviet attack, except by threatening nuclear retaliation, remains daunting. Soviet strategic missiles can be fired against European targets. Defenses must be able to intercept attacking warheads at high-enough altitudes in case they are salvage-fused (as Soviet warheads are now reported to be). Short-range tactical missiles do not have high apogees and therefore cannot be intercepted by interceptors designed to work in space. A Soviet attack combining ICBMs and low-trajectory SLBMs, coupled with precision-guided submunitions delivered by aircraft, short-range ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles, would easily overwhelm a tactical defense relying on technology available in the foreseeable future. Under these circumstances, a negotiated agreement to reduce the size and scale of the threat still further is a far more preferable option, especially because it would also prevent the development of corresponding defenses by the Soviets that could vitiate both NATO's strategy of flexible response and the credibility of the French and British deterrents.
In economic terms, SDI has so far been neither the roundabout subsidy for U.S. high-technology industry some Europeans feared nor the bonanza they hoped it might be for their own industries. By March 1987 Britain had won SDI contracts totaling just $34 million, a sum
that was expected to rise to $100 million by the end of the year—but that would still amount to less than 2 percent of the SDI budgets for 1986 and 1987—a far cry from the hope expressed at the outset by Defense Secretary Michael Heseltine that contracts for Britain might reach $1.5 billion. Through June 1986 all European contractors had received awards totaling less than $100 million, or less than 1 percent of the total. A report of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee found that despite promises, the United States was excluding foreign companies from "operationally sensitive work" and that, in any case, major spin-offs were unlikely. The committee noted that the most persuasive reason for Britain's continued participation was not any potential economic benefit but the chance to keep abreast of developments in strategic defense that might threaten the credibility of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. The committee also warned against accepting the Reagan administration's "broad" interpretation of the ABM Treaty lest it jeopardize arms-control negotiations. The government, the committee asserted, ought to ensure that British research continue to adhere to the traditional interpretation "even in the event of the U.S. ceasing to abide by that interpretation."
In the longer run, the anxieties initially generated by the announcement of SDI will persist so long as deployment remains a serious possibility. If both the United States and the U.S.S.R. should deploy defenses adequate to deal with relatively small-scale nuclear attacks, continued investments by the British and French in independent nuclear deterrents will become harder to justify. The plausibility of the flexible-response policy would also become more questionable. The line between a limited nuclear strike and a full-scale one would be fuzzier if defenses could be deployed to defend key military targets and command-and-control centers, especially the national-command authority in Moscow. Although a limited defense, designed to strengthen the credibility of NATO's retaliatory capacity (with some collateral protection of civil targets), would reassure the West Europeans, a fuller defense effort, especially if it were to involve the abrogation of the ABM Treaty in favor of the deployment of significant hard-point and population defenses, would presumably make them more dependent on the superpowers. The West Germans might hope to gain marginal political advantages by participating in the development of tactical defenses and, eventually, by deploying such defenses, but these gains would be more than offset by the likely growth in tensions between East and West. The FRG's interest in Ostpolitik , which is widespread, leads all West German parties
to be as interested in détente as in defense. To the extent that defensive deployments would trigger a breakdown in the arms-control process and an intense competition in all military systems, the West Germans would certainly conclude that they would become worse off.
Another prospect that would seriously concern the West Europeans is that effective defenses—those that could eliminate or seriously reduce the role of nuclear weapons as deterrents—would increase the likelihood of conventional war. Insofar as they perceive themselves to be at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the Warsaw Pact in conventional forces, they would not welcome the loss of NATO's nuclear threat. U.S. officials have for years warned them that they have no real choice but to increase their contribution to defensive forces or suffer a dangerous inferiority that might tempt the Soviets to attack or, at the very least, to exert coercion. The West Europeans themselves have serious misgivings about moving out from under the U.S. nuclear umbrella and embarking on a costly and politically unappealing effort to upgrade conventional forces.
The preferred Western European strategy would therefore be for allied solidarity on SDI to contribute to greater willingness on the part of the Soviets to negotiate reductions in offensive forces in exchange for U.S. willingness to adhere to the ABM Treaty, at least until research demonstrates that a useful defense is deployable. An agreement to extend adherence to the treaty, such as the Soviets proposed at Reykjavík, would certainly be acceptable to the European leaders, however much they may have been disturbed by loose talk of a total abandonment of nuclear weapons or of a potential agreement on INF that took no account of Soviet short-range missiles and conventional forces confronting Europe.
From a West European perspective, the SDI is part of a U.S. effort to take the military and political initiative away from the Soviets and, possibly in the long term, to bring about a major change in strategy. In the short run, however, such an effort can only reestablish and reinforce European dependence on the United States. At a time when Western Europe is seeking greater economic and cultural integration, the U.S. initiative seems to threaten efforts to establish solidarity independent of the United States. It certainly threatens the effort of parties of the left, notably in the FRG, to seek accommodation with the Soviet Union as part of a campaign to put more stress on the integration of Europe and, in some versions, to create a third force between the two superpowers. The U.S. initiative, while it is not directly aimed at such efforts, is a forceful reminder that the United States sees itself as the leader of the
alliance and that it will take unilateral decisions to develop technology that increases its military strength. The fact that the technology involves the use of space and the development of advanced technology, especially computers, is bound to be viewed as an effort by the United States to sustain its economic preeminence and to push outward into space without allowing either the West Europeans or the Soviets to challenge its military or technological leadership. Ironically, however, while the SDI may have taken the wind out of the sails of the freeze movement in the United States, it has had the opposite effect in Western Europe by strengthening the case of those who oppose continued reliance on offensive weapons and who favor negotiations aimed at transcending reliance on force of all kinds to keep the peace.
Understandably reluctant to make SDI a critical alliance issue, West Europeans will be compelled to do so if it proceeds to the point of deployment. Their stake in a stable superpower relationship is almost as high as it is in preserving the alliance with the United States. Because of this ambivalence of objectives, the Europeans are bound to feel qualms about a U.S. program that in certain forms could challenge the Soviet feeling of parity. Insofar as the U.S. program is developed without attention to arms control or in an effort to substitute a military program for arms control, Europeans will grow increasingly wary. If a government should come to power in Britain committed to the denuclearization of the United States' closest European ally, and if SDI blocks arms-control agreements with the Soviets, the damage to the alliance could be considerable. If, conversely, the U.S. administration can negotiate agreed restrictions on testing and development of SDI systems so that an arms-reduction agreement can take place, with more reductions promised, West Europeans may well look on SDI as a blessing in disguise. If and when defensive systems become economically affordable and technologically feasible, however, the European allies may well be willing to adopt them on the grounds that an effective defense against nuclear weapons is preferable to no defense except for the nuclear deterrent. For the time being, they remain committed, on the whole, to the belief in the necessity of nuclear deterrence and wary of any new developments that threaten to upset the already precarious balance between East and West.
In the aftermath of the INF Treaty, the Western alliance will have to decide both on the course of NATO's military modernization and on the aims to be pursued in negotiations for conventional-arms reductions with the Warsaw Pact. On military and economic grounds, it is far from obvious that a major commitment to modernization is advisable, in
view of the alternatives available in the form of passive defenses and further negotiated reductions in the Soviet threat. To the extent that SDI remains an obstacle in the strategic negotiations, it could also block progress on conventional reductions. Even a major commitment to pursue tactical defenses could complicate efforts to achieve détente in the European theater. The INF Treaty has considerably weakened the case for deploying tactical ballistic missile defenses. Further negotiated reductions could make the argument entirely obsolete. In the case of Europe, as in the East-West confrontation generally, the question is whether diplomacy can negate the need for costly and ultimately vain efforts to rely on even newer military technologies. If these diplomatic initiatives fail or are protracted, pressures could build for tactical deployments in Europe and early strategic deployments in the United States. These deployments would hearten advocates of SDI (who have good reason to fear that, otherwise, SDI would fall victim to détente and retrenchments in allied defense spending), but they should dismay those who recognize the futility of relying on new weapons to achieve security.
Decisions taken in the alliance framework could therefore have critical bearing on the question of whether SDI moves from research to deployment. The central decision, however, must still be made in the arena of American domestic politics—the subject to which we now turn.