The nuclear dilemma of the Western peoples
A REPORT FROM FOUR EUROPEAN CAPITALS
PETER C. NEWMAN
BECAUSE NO PUBLIC ISSUE in Canada since the war has been more fiercely debated than the place of nuclear weapons in our armory.
I recently toured our NATO allies to report on their private and public feelings on this critical question. 1 found a Europe trembling under the impact of the atomic controversy.
The nuclear dilemma of the NATO countries is simply stated: Russia and her satellites maintain about a hundred and seventyfive battle-ready divisions within immediate striking distance of Europe’s 440-mile Iron Curtain border. The NATO forces defending that border now number just under twentyone divisions.
To make this ridiculously outbalanced position bearable. NATO's military experts insist that the Western troops must be equipped with tactical nuclear weapons — small atomic bombs that can be fired from fighter aircraft or converted artillery pieces. They claim that these weapons can even up the odds, because the Communists would never dare mass their troops for a frontal attack — they would present too convenient an atomic target. Also, nuclear weapons allow an army brigade to hold the length of front held during World War II by a division three times its size. -v
The discussion, chatter, and plain argument sweeping Europe over whether such nuclear arms should be adopted has spilled over to this side of the Atlantic, because Canada must make the same decision for the army brigade and twelve jet squadrons it maintains as its contribution to the NATO shield. The division on this question could become the major issue of the next general election campaign. It’s an open secret in Ottawa that the question has split the Diefenbaker cabinet, w'ith Howard Green, the Secretary of State for External Affairs, resolutely leading the battle against the weapons.
My brief but intense sampling of European public opinion took me ten thousand miles through half a dozen countries; I listened to the incomprehensible arrogance of scientists, the thunderous platitudes of politicians, the cold-douche judgments of admirals and generals, and the sometimes unreasoned but emotionally strong pleas of ordinary citizens. I have returned with the feeling that those Canadians arc wrong who insist that this country’s hesitation over accepting American nuclear warheads is vigorously backed by public opinion in Europe. For every European I heard damning the existence of the
bomb and insisting that his country have nothing to do with American warheads, at least three others told me, for various reasons. that they support their country’s nuclear arrangements with the U. S.. that they are not opposed to the Bomb s existence or, if necessary, to its use.
This doesn't mean that the presence of the U. S. nuclear bastion in Europe isn't resented. Under present American law. U. S. atomic weapons cannot be placed outside U. S. control. Five thousand American troops have been assigned to guard the storage depots of nuclear warheads that will be handed over to NATO forces if the U. S. decides to go to war. Such a mission — emphasized daily in w-estern Europe’s many Communist newspapers — has stimulated a considerable popular movement toward a vaguely defined form of disengagement that advocates the scrapping of nuclear defenses. There is mounting feeling, even in the countries that most staunchly support NATO, that the introduction of the intercontinental ballistic missile has made Canada and the United States, rather than Russia's immediate neighbors, the front line of World War III. Accordingly, there is a vocal minority, especially among the socialists (joined of course by the Communists), which insists that every country accepting current NATO strategy is in etfect pledging itself to commit suicide on behalf of the United States. “Why should my family go up in radioactive dust as a lightning conductor — a decoy duck — just to divert Russian atomic bombs from New York and Chicago?” one German labor leader asked me.
A more typical point of view' among those Europeans who oppose nuclear rearmament is that NATO’s idea of nuclear deterrence was never practical and has now become obsolete. This is how a British Liberal politician illustrated the flaw' in the deterrent argument: “Supposing 1 threaten a man with a gun. and say to him — 'If you move one pace forward. I'll shoot' — he'll probably be deterred from doing so. 1 say 'probably', because it's possible that he won’t understand what I've said, or he may even be mad. or suicidally inclined. But at any rate, there's a chance that he'll be deterred from doing what I asked him not to do. But if the two of us are sitting on a barrel of gunpowder and I say — 'If you move. I II strike a match’ — he'll probably laugh and dare me to do it. He’ll not be deterred from doing anything, unless
he thinks that / am mad.” Many of the nuclear opponents point out that NATO’s atomic strategy was useless in saving the Hungarian people, and is just as useless for the defense of West Berlin. Atomic weapons, they contend, deter the waging of total nuclear war, but not anything less.
A recent Pentagon statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington made headlines all over Europe. It was an estimate that for the U. S. to press her button and indulge in a major nuclear exchange with Russia would cost fifty million to seventy-five million American lives within twenty-four hours. Many Europeans have ceased to believe that in these circumstances any American president would dare launch his retaliatory forces to stop the invasion of an overseas ally by Russian troops. More important still, they wire convinced that the Kremlin has ceased to believe it.
“To be merely prepared for war is not enough,” 1 was told by a colonel in the new German army. ‘The United States must be believably wiUinx to wage war when faced with something short of the ultimate provocation.”
In Munich, I sat in a beerhall with one of West Germany’s best - informed newspaper columnists. “Look,” he said, “this business of arming our troops with American war-
heads is perfectly simple. If we get them under Yank guardianship, the Russians will have to make them available on the same basis to the East Germans. That'll mean Czechoslovakia, Poland and most of the other satellites will get them. Then other Russian allies will want them, and the first thing you know, Egypt will have the Bomb. Then the United States will have to make it available to Israel. At that point, as the British say, the balloon will go up. That’s why I’m opposed to accepting the wretched things under any conditions.”
No such precise reasoning is advanced by the proponents of nuclear weapons, although I am convinced they represent the majority of West Europeans. Their stand is a mixture of fatalism, economics and a sense of responsibility that will not allow them to support a policy that would force the Americans to carry the entire burden of Western nuclear defense. “It’s no worse on moral grounds to have our troops firing nuclear weapons than it is to accept the protection of American troops armed with the same weapons,” a German professor told me in Bonn. “We can’t avoid nuclear destruction by not having the Bomb. Geography involves you in this terrible business, not whether you have the Bomb. Perhaps if we parade it around enough, it will
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NATO’s 468 million people field 21 divisions; Russia fields 175
never be used.” I hose Europeans who support adoption of the warheads by their countries fall back on NAIO’s declared need of the weapons to justify their stand.
Despite NATO’s many faults, most of the Europeans 1 interviewed stressed that NATO — created just after a series of conquests without war by the Communists had culminated in the coup d’état at Prague in 1948 — has eflectively halted territorial gains by the Communists in Europe.
Economics come into the argument too. If NATO’s nuclear requirements are not met, and NATO has to face the Russians with a conventional army, it can only do so with at least a fivefold increase in its ground forces. A minimum of a hundred divisions—instead of the current twentyone— would have to he maintained in fighting readiness, plus another hundred divisions in reserve to reach the battlefield within a month of the outbreak of nonnuclear war. The manpower for such an army exists: Russia maintains her standing army of 175 divisions (about 115 of them face the NATO forces in Europe) out of a population of 210 million; her European satellites, with a total population of 97 million, maintain about 60 divisions. The NATO countries have a population of 270 million in Europe, and 468 million in total. We could support an even greater army than the Kremlin, if we were willing to take a substantial cut in the standard of living. At a NATO meeting in 1957 the allies decided to substitute tactical nuclear weapons for such a drastic step.
Finally, an American threat also figures in Europe’s nuclear rearming. The Americans have declared they’ll withdraw their five divisions from NATO if they can’t station their nuclear arms in Europe. All the military experts I interviewed agree that this would encourage the Kremlin to gamble that a piecemeal invasion of Europe would not set off the American strategic deterrent.
ft is mainly this logic that General Charles de Gaulle has used to justify his independent nuclear policy. He believes that eventually the Americans will pull
out of Europe, and that the status quo can be preserved only if the continent (i.e. France) has its own nuclear capability. “We must have an independent nuclear striking force,” he insists in speech after speech, "otherwise we are simply an integrated American satellite.”
'The creation of that force will cost France $1.3 billion over the next five years—a tremendous drain on the country’s economy. Because the Algerian war absorbs whatever pacifist feelings exist in France, the opposition to the nuclear force is largely on economic grounds. Critics of the plan say such an extravagant manifestation of Gaullist grandeur will take up too many resources that might otherwise go into schools and housing. “West Germany, merely by co-operating with NA TO, will get atomic warheads from the U. S. at no cost, freeing her economy for even more effective competition against us in the Common Market,” I was told by a businessman in Paris.
Scandinavia remains wary
In a Parisian sidewalk café I heard the strangest reason of all for a country’s need for atomic bombs. “It is absolutely essential for France to have this weapon if we are to maintain our cultural life,” a bearded French intellectual explained with great earnestness. “If we don’t make the big Bomb, all our best scientists will leave, and scientists are the most stimulating part of our cultural life.”
That’s hardly a typical comment, but there is less anti-Bomb agitation in France than in any of the other NATO allies. The countries that we on this side of the Atlantic associate with the most vehement opposition to nuclear weapons are Denmark and Norway. Besides France, which refuses to accept American warheads until she can build her own. they are the only European nations that have turned down the U. S. weapons.
Luke most Canadians who worry about such things, I thought that this Scandinavian refusal was prompted by popular agitation against atomic arms. I was wrong. Certainly a great many Norwegians and
Danes do oppose the weapons and, in Norway especially, an important left-wing socialist group is clamoring for a return to the country’s traditional neutralism. But Denmark and Norway have at least two other reasons, far more important than the limited public outcry for not allowing U. S. nuclear warheads on their soil in peacetime.
“We’ve been plainly warned,” I was told by a senior foreign-affairs department official in Copenhagen, “that if we allow American atomic weapons here, a week later the Russians will set up atomic missiles in Finland, a country that Russia can turn into a satellite overnight. We feel very close to the Finnish people and we must do what we can to keep them free.”
More subtle reasoning behind the Danish attitude was sketched for me by one of Copenhagen’s leading publishers: “We’ve hinted to the Russian ambassador here that if his country ever brings a lot of pressure against Denmark, we’d probably change our policy and accept the American Bomb,” he said. “That gives us a far stronger bargaining position than if we had a few nuclear rockets. Of course it’s not a case of the Kremlin’s being frightened of our little armory but, by having nuclear bombs here and in Norway, the Americans could completely surround Russia with nuclear storage depots.”
What the publisher didn’t say, and what no Danish government official wants to discuss, is that Denmark and Norway have written a very important escape clause into their anti-nuclear contract. They talk always of not accepting nuclear weapons on their soil in peacetime. The two countries do possess all the atomicwarhead-carrying weapons of other NATO allies. In fact, the first operational anti-aircraft battery established in Europe was the ring of Nike missiles around Copenhagen. Arrangements have been made to fly in American nuclear warheads from Germany the minute war breaks out. Meanwhile Danish and Norwegian troops manœuvre with conventional warheads on atomic-weapon carriers of exactly the same weight as their nuclear
counterparts, so that new trajectory cal-. dilations would not be necessary in any wartime switchover.
1 he Danish Nike bases last fall were the target of a small march staged by anti-Bomb demonstrators. Despite some heavy organizational efforts, the marchers have so far been able to stage only one other outing on the continent — to some American depots near Hamburg.
The situation is very different in England. of course, where the third annual protest march to the nuclear-weapon research centre at Aldermaston last Easter vsas climaxed by a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square that a police inspector described as “certainly bigger than the crowds here for VE Day and even bigger than the coronation crowds.” It's difficult to estimate how accurately these marches reflect British thinking. The public-opinion polls have never shown an anti-Bomb vote of more than thirty-three percent, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. w'hich co-ordinates the movement, has established only five hundred branches throughout England, some numbering less than a dozen members.
The most vivid political expression of anti-Bomb feeling was the vote at last fall's Labor party conference that approved a resolution for the scrapping of British nuclear weapons, the ousting from the U. K. of American troops and withdrawal by Britain from NATO. The vote was based on a narrow-margin victory in a complicated and somewhat artificial blockvoting system that favors the big unions. It did not speak for the twelve million Britons who voted Labor in last year’s elections. Three quarters of the constituency delegates voted against the resolution and in an eve-of-conference poll taken by one British newspaper it was supported by less than a fifth of Labor voters.
Despite the doubtful validity of the Labor resolution, there is a great deal more anti-Bomb agitation in Britain than anywhere on the continent. The British are fed up vvith spending twice as much of their budget on defense as the other NATO allies in Europe for no extra protection. England is the only country in the world that has already been subjected to missile bombardment: Hitler’s V-2 rockets killed almost three thousand men. women and children. Premier Khrushchov’s warnings that “the unsinkable aircraft carrier of Britain would cease to exist the first day of an atomic war" are taken very seriously.
Harold Macmillan’s Tories have been answering the disarmament advocates by stressing active summitry rather than a change in defense policy. But there is mounting pressure inside Conservative ranks for Britain to give up its independent atomic force. Party lines are becoming increasingly mixed in their nuclear policies. This prompted Michael Frayn, a Guardian columnist, to confess recently: “The only party 1 could vote for now would be a Don’t Know party, committed to a policy of firm vacillation and resolute shilly-shallying. Between the iron jaws of an intolerable and impossible choice, only the spinelessly malleable will survive.”
The next European country where nuclear weapons will become a major political controversy is Germany. The main issue of the 1961 election campaign will probably be opposition by the Social Democrats to Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s policy of giving the new German army wartime access to American nuclear warheads. The socialists already are organizing demonstrations against "atomic death.”
On my last day in Berlin. 1 walked along the boundary that slices this city
of three and a half million into two worlds. 1 passed the spectacular skeleton of the Reichstag—the German parliament of the pre-Hitler period whose gutted dome juts out like a huge, empty birdcage —and came to the Brandenburg Gate, the world’s best-known East-West border point. From here to the Sea of Japan, broken by no natural or ideological frontiers. stretches the new Communist empire.
1 watched as agents of the West Berlin police checked for victims of Communist kidnapping teams in the cars driving to
the Soviet sector. High up on the quadriga that decorates the top of the Brandenburg Gate, a squatting East Berlin policeman was examining everyone who approached; the sun's rays flashed briefly off his binoculars. 1 could feel him watching me. Here, 1 sensed, was the final illustration of the human bedevilment I had been exploring during my journey. That stranger’s scientists and mine have thrown voices to capsules a million miles away, but no one has yet devised a way of communicating across the invisible, impenetrable curtain that separates West from East.
So many men and women in so many tongues had told me their hopes of how history’s most fearful weapon might somehow be manipulated into becoming the agent that prevents war. The generals and politicians who are charged with making the sombre decisions of this nuclear age cannot ignore these pleas much longer. ★
ln Part II of this report, in the next issue of Maclean's. Peter C. Newman will examine Canadas stake in the controversy over NA TO s nuclear strategy.