WORLD

NATO’S COURSE

THE WESTERN ALLIES TRY TO COMFORT MOSCOW BUT AVOID ANY MAJOR RETREAT IN EUROPE

HILARY MACKENZIE July 16 1990
WORLD

NATO’S COURSE

THE WESTERN ALLIES TRY TO COMFORT MOSCOW BUT AVOID ANY MAJOR RETREAT IN EUROPE

HILARY MACKENZIE July 16 1990

NATO’S COURSE

WORLD

THE WESTERN ALLIES TRY TO COMFORT MOSCOW BUT AVOID ANY MAJOR RETREAT IN EUROPE

Trained marksmen peered down from the rooftops and armed policemen patrolled the bustling London streets in droves. On one morning last week, a mysterious bomb exploded in a downtown trash bin, injuring no one but heightening the tension. Inside the ornate Long Gallery in Lancaster House, however, leaders of the 16-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization were talking of peace. With communism collapsing in Eastern Europe and the Warsaw Pact all but defunct, the NATO allies met to try to redefine their essentially military alliance for the post-Cold War era. After two days of talks, they released a six-page communiqué that was clearly intended to ease Soviet worries about both a united Germany and NATO’s own armed intentions. And in a symbolic gesture, they invited Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to address the next NATO summit in Brussels. The changes in NATO, said Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, “fundamentally realign the alliance with a new international vocation.”

In what NATO Secretary General Manfred Wömer called “probably the most important summit in the history of our lives,” the allied leaders pledged to reword their strategy to introduce a new, less threatening description

of nuclear forces as “truly weapons of last resort.” And they vowed to eliminate the 1,400 U.S. nuclear artillery shells from Europe if the Soviets removed their counterpart arsenal. In Moscow, Soviet President Gorbachev, who was facing a stiff challenge from military hard-liners at the Communist party congress, warmly welcomed NATO’s moves (page 20). But, to some Western observers, the latest NATO exercise was merely a transparent attempt to preserve the 41-year-old organization—and Washington’s formal foothold in Europe. “Beyond a certain point,” said an

editorial in The Times of London, “redefining its role must stop and the admission be made that the valiant warhorse may one day be ready to go out to grass.”

Still, in both tone and substance, the meeting was significant. As the Germans celebrated economic union last week, the allied leaders essentially sent a message to Moscow that the Soviets need not fear the inevitable: a united Germany in NATO (page 22). They also pledged to make a specific commitment to limit the size of Germany’s armed forces as part of an agreement on cutting conventional forces in Europe. And they vowed to modify the mid-1960s doctrine of “forward defence,” a commitment to defend all alliance territory at its borders with massive NATO forces; American, British, French, Belgian, Dutch and Canadian troops based near the front are the most visible sign of that commitment. Instead, the allies pledged to work towards reducing their troop strength in Germany and deploying smaller, highly mobile multinational forces to defend NATO territory.

At the same time, they proposed strengthening the 35-nation Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, a move that Gorbachev himself has suggested. And they offered to sign a joint declaration of nonaggres-

sion with Warsaw Pact members to help reassure the Soviets further. Said President George Bush: “I hope that they will look at the changes that have taken place in NATO and say, ‘Well, if NATO had been a threat to us, it no longer is.’ ”

In fact, Gorbachev had expressly asked for just such assurances. In a two-page letter that Soviet Ambassador Leonid Zamyatin delivered to Thatcher’s residence at 10 Downing Street on the eve of the summit, Gorbachev called for a “partnership for peace” to replace the bitter distrust that had characterized East-West relations in the past. And openly acknowledging the severity of his domestic problems, he asked for Western “aid and assistance” to bolster his flagging reforms. That latter question was expected to be a major topic this week in Houston, where the seven major industrialized nations, the Group of Seven, are holding their

annual summit (page 24). But before leaving London, Bush said that he continued to have “big problems” with providing direct financial aid to Moscow. He added, however, that the West Germans, who were pressing for such aid, were free to provide it on a bilateral basis.

On the key question of the use of nuclear weapons, the alliance’s pledge was plainly limited. Since 1967, NATO has adhered to the doctrine of “flexible response”—escalating, if needed, to tactical nuclear arms from conventional forces against Soviet aggression. NATO commanders have long said that Soviet superiority in conventional forces would compel the allies to make early use of nuclear arms. The “last resort” phrase in last week’s communiqué was clearly designed to soften that stance—but it did not commit the allies to renouncing the right of first use. Said Col. Michael Dewar, deputy director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London: “Last resort may be good public

relations, but it is essentially meaningless.”

Yet even that rhetorical change encountered objections from host Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Dismissing accusations that she was a “Cold War warrior,” Thatcher nonetheless declared, “We need to maintain a strong defence because you never know what threat may emerge in the future.” Some right-wing London tabloids went even further. Warned the Daily Mail: “The Red Army’s top brass are restive, and some Russian Bonaparte may try a coup d’état. Alternatively, the U.S.S.R. might plunge into a civil war in which nuclear arms could get into the wrong hands.” As for Thatcher, the Iron Lady acquiesced after the allies agreed that NATO would continue to possess nuclear arms and would use them as a deterrent—or against an aggressor.

At the same time, NATO leaders avoided a contentious debate about the future modem-

ization of nuclear weapons. The final communiqué made no reference to a new generation of deadly nuclear weapons known as TASMs, for tactical air-to-surface missiles, capable of hitting targets inside the Soviet Union from a distance of 250 miles. The missiles, currently under development in the United States and France, have been a contentious issue within NATO, where some smaller nations have argued that deploying them undermines the spirit of East-West arms reductions.

In the end, the NATO leaders seemed to achieve their two main goals: they sent a goodwill gesture to Moscow while maintaining a strong-enough defence posture to satisfy most hawks in the West. The question was whether that balancing act represented “a profound attitudinal change in NATO itself,” as Mulroney insisted—or merely new political camouflage over the old warhorse.

HILARY MACKENZIE in London