BRUSSELS — NATO military commanders warned Tuesday that the Atlantic Alliance must spend more to develop credible conventional forces to offset the superior Soviet-led Warsaw Pact if the superpowers agree to reduce nuclear weapons in Europe.
The warning was delivered to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers at the start of their two-day NATO Defense Planning Committee meeting.
"If arms controllers agree to come to results, this puts an edge--a different type of necessity--on the need for improvement of conventional capabilities," West German Gen. Wolfgang Altenburg, chairman of the NATO military committee, told a briefing for reporters. "I think this was understood by the ministers."
Altenburg said that on behalf of his commanders, he made clear that nuclear disarmament would deprive NATO of the option of an early escalation to nuclear weapons to offset the conventional superiority of the Warsaw Pact in the event of war.
With nuclear arms control, he said, priority must shift to prolonging the battlefield staying power of NATO forces so political leaders are not forced to order an escalation to nuclear weapons merely because they are outgunned.
Altenburg said the military commanders informed the defense ministers it would require across-the-board improvements in manpower, equipment, logistics and technology to make the NATO forces capable of more sustained conventional combat against Warsaw Pact invaders.
"The necessity coming out of arms control has its cost," he said. "We need more money than there is in the present budgets."
The German general said he did not recommend any specific percentage increase in military spending and declined to make an estimate. He also declined to say how long NATO forces would be able to hold the line without resorting to atomic weapons. However, he said plans often call for a 30-day stockpile of ammunition and supplies and in some cases, this might not be sufficient.
The Defense Planning Committee meeting is the second in a series of three ministerial sessions focusing on the implications of nuclear arms control under discussion by the United States and the Soviet Union in Geneva.
Assessing the Geneva talks, Altenburg said there was "no problem" with the proposed removal of longer range missiles reaching beyond 1,000 miles and only "some clarifications" needed on removing warheads reaching 300 to 1,000 miles.
But he said that on battlefield nuclear weapons with ranges under 300 miles, "anything that happens here has to be seen in the context of the conventional disparity (between NATO and East Bloc forces)."
The NATO nuclear planning group met in Stavanger, Norway, two weeks ago, and all 16 NATO foreign ministers will review policy in Reykjavik June 11-12.
The coordination of NATO arms policy has been complicated because West Germany postponed announcing a position on the key nuclear disarmament issues until June 4. Bonn fears the possible removal of intermediate-range nuclear forces from Europe will leave the Germans uniquely exposed to the remaining threat of short-range battlefield nuclear weapons and rockets.