President Carter's call in his inaurgural address to eliminate "all nuclear weapons from this earth" contrast sharply with the Army's enthusiasm for deploying them along the NATO front.
The Army's affinity for nuclear artillery for NATO forces is documented in briefing papers prepared for Carter's transition team at the Pentagon and recently released to the public in censored form.
"Nuclear cannon artillery is the best and least costly system to attack targets near the forward edge of battle area," states the Army in one of the hundreds of "issue papers" written for Carter.
The Pentagon released the papers after U.S. News & World Report requested them under the Freedom of Information Act. The Washington Post obtained a set.
The U.S. Army wants to improve the nuclear artillery it already had deployed in Europe by manufacturing better nuclear shells for the 155-mm. howitzers attached to NATO forces.
One paper prepared for Carter states that the Defense Department and Energy Research and Development Administration have concluded that a new 155-mm. nuclear projectile "is critically needed by NATO nations" because their 8-inch guns that can fire nuclear shells are "inadequate."
Declaring that the Pentagon agrees with the need to develop a new 155-mm. nuclear shell, the Army's issue paper states "nuclear artillery deters massing of Warsaw Pact artillery and armor and can decisively blunt Pact exploitation of success against our conventional defenses by destroying armor units and supporting artillery."
Another issue paper, dated Nov. 26, 1976, argues that nuclear artillery "provides the national command authorities an option short of strategic war" to blunt a Communist attack in Europe.
Critics contend that placing nuclear artillery so close to the front is a bad idea because the guns would easily be captured in the first hours of a surprise attack.
If the guns were pulled back in the face of a Communist attack, they add, any nuclear shells that were fired would then fall on friendly West Germany territory.
Further, goes the counter-argument, firing any kind of nuclear shell so likely to push the conflict into all-out nuclear war almost immediately because commanders would not make the distinction in the heat of battle between nuclear and nonnuclear blasts.
Defense Secretary-designate Harold Brown is well versed in these and other arguments against tactical nuclear weagons and thus is in a position to challenge current Army plans for them if Carter wishes him to do so.