Since the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, deterrence of a massive Soviet-led assault on Western Europe has been the main reason for NATO’s existence. But with the retreat of communism in Europe in 1989, and the formal disbanding of the Eastern Bloc’s Warsaw Pact military alliance on March 31, the 16-member Western organization has suffered an identity crisis. Late last month in Brussels, NATO defence ministers, including Canada’s Marcel Masse, acknowledged the new realities by unveiling a blueprint for the most radical shakeup of their organization in 42 years. Declaring in a statement that an East-West conflict is “much more unlikely,” the ministers agreed to cut overall NATO troop strength—there are now 2.8 million alliance soldiers under arms, 1.5
million of them in Central Europe—by about 22 per cent by the end of the decade. They also agreed to increase the mobility of NATO’s forces and to give European members a more prominent role. Said NATO Secretary General Manfred Women “The allies are agreed that the Europeans could and should take a greater responsibility for the collective defence of Europe.”
The proposed changes, which must be formally approved by the heads of alliance governments later this year, are far-reaching. The United States alone is expected to halve its 320,000-member NATO contingent in Europe. The future of Canada’s 7,500-member NATO ground and air forces in Germany awaits Ottawa’s decision in an overall defence review. The centrepiece of the NATO plan is a multinational rapid-reaction corps of 50,000 to 70,000 troops, under British command, capable of deployment within a week to crises anywhere in Europe. An additional six corps of ground forces, each with 50,000 to 70,000 troops, would be stationed in Western Europe for
defence. A seventh ground corps, made up exclusively of German soldiers, would operate in former East German territory.
Underlining the reduced Soviet military threat, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh announced on June 1 that they had settled differences over a landmark treaty designed to cut conventional forces in Europe. Ratification of the CFE treaty, signed last November by the 22 nations of the Warsaw Pact and NATO, had been held up over Soviet demands to exclude some naval land-forces weaponry from treaty ceilings on tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and aircraft. The timing of the announcement, just two days after the NATO meeting, clearly delighted alliance officials. The CFE treaty, Wömer declared, “can give guarantees of military stability” now that the Cold War is over.
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