In two weeks the NATO alliance will decide whether to deploy 464 ground-lauched cruise missles in Europe which have sufficient range to destroy targets in the Soviet Union. This proposal is ill-conceived -- not because Soviet President Brezhnev and Foreign Minister Gromyko oppose it, but because it may mark the end of any further arms control agreements and a substantial increase in the possibilty of accidental nuclear war. The nuclear weapon package for NATO is directly tied to the SALT II treaty, but it abandons an essential principle of SALT even before the treaty is ratified by the Senate. Ground-launched cruise missiles cannot be monitored by intelligence. If they are deployed, verification of a Salt III agreement will be virtually impossible.
It has long been understood that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would risk arms control agreements based on trust.During the seven years of complex negotiation of SALT II both sides made compromises to enhance verification because they knew that no treaty was possible without insurance against cheating. Perhaps the most controversial issue of the negotiations, from this standpoint, was the control of ground- and sea-launched cruise missles.
The control of these weapons was so difficult, in fact, that the SALT II treaty merely postpones a final decision. The protocol to the SALT II treaty provides that "each party undertakes not to deploy cruise missiles capable of a range in excess of 600 kilometers (360 miles) on sea-based launchers or on land-based launchers." The 360-mile range limit is important because weapons based in Europe could not reach the Soviet Union at that distance. The protocol, an integral part of the treaty, remains in force until Dec. 31, 1981.
Attached to the SALT II treaty are the agreed "Principles and Basic Guidlines for Subsequent Negotiation" which President Carter and Brezhnev signed in Vienna on June 18. These guidelines call for resolution of the issues included in the protocol in the context of "significant and substantial reductions in the number of strategic offensive arms, including restrictions on the development, testing and deployment of new types of strategic offensive arms and on modernization of existing strategic offensive arms." The intent of this language is clear. Both sides have agreed to cut existing forces, rather than deploy additional weapons.
But the NATO proposal calls for the deployment of 108 Pershing II ballistic missles and 464 ground-lauched cruise missiles with a range of more than 1,000 miles each to be located in West Germany, Britain, Belgium and Italy. The NATO decision will also include a yet unspecified, but directly linked, proposal to the Soviets to negotiate a reduction of medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe and Western Russia.
The justification for the new NATO weapons is that the Soviets have been modernizing their medium-range weapons by deploying about 100 mobile SS20 ballistic missiles, each with three warheads and about 90 supersonic Backfire bombers. Neither of these weapons is controlled by SALT II, though Brezhnev in a letter to Carter has made a commitment to limit the deployment of the Backfire to 30 a year with no refueling capacity.
Both sides have had medium-range systems since the 1950s. The United States has forward-bases systems capable of reaching the Soviet Union, including bombers located in Britain and on aircraft carriers, as well as Poseidon submarines, carrying almost 500 warheads, which are assigned to the NATO command. Both Britain and France have their own independent nuclear forces capable of hitting Soviet cities. The medium-range nuclear forces have been essentially balanced for years. However, since the Soviet weapons are more modern it is claimed that they must be matched by NATO.
It might make sense to plan the development of the Pershing II, which is a ballistic missle with characteristics somewhat similar to the SS20. It might make sense also to build a new bomber as advanced as the Backfire. But it makes no sense at all to plan to deploy the ground-launched cruise missle.
These weapons are so small, about 18 feet long and two feet wide, that they can be easily hidden, easily moved and easily launched from mobile launchers. Modern intelligence technology has amazing capabilities, but it cannot provide adequate information on the location and numbers of ground- and sea-launched cruise missiles. Adequate verification would be impossible. The deployment of ground- and sea-launched cruise missiles would provoke an unrestrained arms race with no way to put the genie back in the bottle.
U.S. proponents of the cruise missile deployment decision come from opposing camps, making for strange bedfellows indeed. The opponents of arms control and the SALT II treaty see the decision as a possible means to kill the SALT process. They are not concerned about verification, because they oppose the treaty. They believe we should use our technological advantages to reassert our nuclear superiority. We have a lead in cruise missile technology which we should exploit, they believe. Furthermore, they note that the ground-launched cruise missiles will have a longer range than the Pershing IIs and can be produced a year or two faster.
The conventional wisdom in the Carter administration, however, is that a NATO decision to deploy the weapons now will provide a bargaining chip which will advance the cause of arms control in the next round of negotiations. Theoretically it would appear that a NATO commitment to deploy the weapons would strengthen the hand of Western negotiators to press the Soviets for real cutbacks.
But the history of the nuclear arms race, so far, demonstrates the opposite. Once the decision to deploy the new weapon is made the bargain is lost, because the Soviets invariably counter with additional weapons of their own in order to strengthen their bargaining position. Both Brezhnev and Gromyko have stated that this would be their position. Whether that proves to be true or not, a decision to deploy weapons inevitably generates so much momentum -- political, military, technological and budgetary -- that it becomes very difficult to reverse.
The decision to deploy multiple warheads (MIRV) on our missles in 1970 was supposed to be a bargaining chip, but there was no bargain. Five years later the Soviets mastered the technology and placed multiple warheads on their big rockets. The result is that we are less secure today than we were in 1970. If we had negotiated a ban on MIRV before making a decision to deploy we would be more secure, and we would have saved billions of dollars. The real bargaining chip is the decision itself, before it is made.
In the case of a NATO decision in December it is true that no action will be taken until the parliaments of the NATO governments have approved the action, and until the weapons have been produced, tested and deployed, which may take three or four years. The West German government of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is very sensitive to the implications of the looming decision. West Germany would receive the largest share of the new that nuclear weapons capable of striking the Soviet Union were located on German soil.
Schmidt has urged that NATO make clear to the Soviet Union its willingness to negotiate on the deployment of new medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe. Schmidt is willing to go along with a NATO decision but says: "If negotiations with Moscow are successful it might not be necessary to develop all the weapons, perhaps only a few and in the ideal case, absolutely none." Schmidt does not want to jeopardize the benefits to West Germany of the detente with the East which he and Willy Brandt have negotiated.
Henry Kissinger, in a September speech in Brussels, created a furor by questioning the plausibility of NATO's continuing reliance on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its future security, because the United States no longer has strategic superiority over Russia. Since then many editorial writers and colomnists have asserted that there must be a buildup of theater nuclear forces in Europe, so that invoking the U.S. strategic nuclear guarantee does not become Europe's only option in a conflict. This argument is wrong on all counts.
Unlike the independent French and British nuclear forces, the proposed NATO weapons will be ownded, operated and controlled by the United States. In fact, the West Germans have stated categorically that they will not accept the two-key system whereby a decision to send a nuclear weapon toward Russia would be shared by the United States and Germany. Thus, a decision to launch would be an American decision, whether the weapons used are based in the United States or in Europe.
NATO will not gain assurance of protection than it has today. The president of the United States would still make the decision and U.S. cities would be equally threatened by Soviet retaliation. Moreover, the deployment of these weapons in Europe would guarantee that the NATO member states would be early targets of Soviet rockets in the event of war. What would be the security benefit for Western Europe?
And why should the NATO governments be subjected to this emerging political turmoil, which may weaken the alliance? Furthermore, why should the U.S. taxpayer be subjected to the substantial cost of producing these weapons if, after all, it is not intended that they should be deployed? The implications of the cruise missile deployment have not been thought through, nor have they been debated.
The best course would be for NATO to adopt the position recently taken by the Danish government. Denmark has called for a six-month postponement of the NATO decision to ascertain whether the Soviets are wlling to negotiate mutual cuts, including the level of their SS20s and Backfire bombers. If so, the negotiations would begin at once. If not, NATO would move ahead.