LONDON — An agreement on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) between the United States and the Soviet Union will change the landscape of European security quite considerably, perhaps as profoundly as any development in a generation.
There is no small irony in recognizing that future European security will in large measure depend on decisions taken in Washington and Moscow. Although Washington takes an infinity of trouble in consulting its allies, this is a bittersweet fact of life and history which not a few eminent Europeans have regretted. But nostalgia will lead us nowhere. We had best simply acknowledge that European security is Atlantic security and get on with it--indeed be thankful for it.
An agreement would be a historic achievement that we should welcome. It could also bring an immense improvement in East-West relations and I hope presage further progress in the arms-control field. But there is also room for skepticism about Mikhail S. Gorbachev's foreign-policy goals.
Forecasts of Soviet intentions run two ways: toward greater detente on the one hand, toward seducing us, siren-like, into dropping our guard on the other. An atmosphere improved by an INF agreement should give us wider scope to test Soviet intentions against conduct and to see whether we can move into less-confrontational East-West relations, because arms control is, or should be, only one aspect of a wider detente process.
But it could also be a test of our own resolve, not to be carried away in a wave of euphoria at the first sign of an arms agreement. We have yet to see lions lying down with lambs or T-72 tanks being beaten into Ukrainian tractors.
Immediately upon an INF treaty, we shall confront the need to maintain stability in Europe during implementation, although I should hope that the most stringent methods of verification fully and honestly employed will take care of that. But temporary vulnerability and perhaps imbalances may arise and could pose risks which we must guard against.
An INF agreement can enhance stability in Europe but we should not let euphoria push us toward some mythical non-nuclear nirvana. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization strategy of flexible response will be as valid after an INF agreement as it is today. And nuclear weapons will remain essential to implementing the strategy. For me to profess otherwise would be unrealistic and irresponsible. For anyone to believe that under foreseeable circumstances we can survive without some nuclear weapons would be naive.
Effective deterrence such as we have enjoyed for nearly 40 years does not require a magical number of nuclear weapons. But it will always require a sufficient number and mix of systems, albeit at lower levels than before, to preserve the credibility of the nuclear element in our deterrent posture. Our military commanders must still be able to do their job.
But in addition to ensuring that we maintain an adequate post-INF posture toward the Warsaw Pact, we shall also have to face up to implications for relations within the alliance itself. The problem cannot simply be swept under the carpet but I equally do not believe that we are on the slippery slope to decoupling. The tangible manifestation of the American commitment to the defense of Europe is not the in-theater missiles but the presence of 326,000 American troops and their dependants. Flesh and blood count for more than abstract deterrent concepts.
Now if the Americans were to think that their contribution was largely charity, a relic of the Marshall Plan for the sake of Europeans rather than themselves, I would agree that we are in trouble. But I do not believe this to be the case. Both sides of the alliance have to be honest about the reasons for their participation and apply the acid test of whether they each have sufficient interests to maintain NATO's cohesion and momentum.
True, the United States has major Pacific and out-of-area preoccupations these days. But it does not downgrade the importance of Europe or weaken the particular bonds forged by common political, economic and cultural interests. The Americans cannot be indifferent to the security of Western Europe and the need to provide their indispensable contributions to deterrence.
To agree with this as a general principle does not mean accepting that the present balance is either right or immutable. This goes for the balance of interests between all nations in a democratic alliance, not just those between the United States and Europe. There is room for debate over burden-sharing in its widest definition, whether about resources, force structures or alliance priorities. But it does suggest that answers must be found through frank discussion.