NATO, the 15-nation alliance of garisoned soldiers who have yet to fire a shot, in anger, is now where the action is for the American military.
So much so, for example, that President Carter's first military budget going to Congress later this month is being advertised as "the NATO budget."
The big increases in his $126 billion defense budget for fiscal 1970 are for NATO-related conventional forces and weapons.The President wants to increase NATO accounts by about 5 per cent, compares to only a little ever 2 per cent for the entire Pentagon budget.
Service leaders, acutely aware that NATO is the name of the game, are putting Vietnam out of their minds and concentrating on widening their rples in Europe.
They are being encouraged to think NATO by an assistant defense secretary who himself dramatizes the shift in focus, Robert W. Komer.
Komer, formerly head of the U.S. government's pacification program in Vietnam, is now Defense Secretary Harold Brown's chief NATO adviser, working out of an office near Brown's in the Pentagon's prestigious E-ring.
Additional evidence of the NATO focus includes!
President Carter announcing on his recent overseas trip that 8,000 more U.S. troops will go to Europe to bring American units attached to NATO up to full strenth.
The Marine Corps, long identified with the Pacific, trying to carve out a front-line role for itself is NATO by conducting maneuvers during the last two years on the northern and southern flanks of the alliance - Norway and Turkey.
The Air Force stationing more of its hottest planes in Europe, adding a wing of F-111s to those already in Britain and putting 72-F-15 fighters in Bittburg, Germany, without taking out the F-4s already there.
The Army, long worried whether its reserves could get into a European battle in time to stop a Warsaw Pact advance, considering a new scheme to take tanks and other heavy stuff out of reserve unit armories in the United States and garage them in Europe where reserves would fly to join up with them.
Defense leaders forcing the Navy and Marine Corps to buy cheaper planes the F-18 and A-4 - on the theory that Israeli losses in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 demonstrated that quantity will be more important than quality in a NATO war.
Although this NATO emphasis is widely supported in Congress, there are some concerns arising that the White House and Pentagon have developed tunnel vision.
Mike Mansfield, U.S. ambassador to Japan, warned Navy leaders recently that Japan is becoming nervours about being abandoned by the U.S. military. Those fears are nurtured by the withdrawal of American combat troops from South Korea and the uncertainty about future Pacific deployment of aircraft carriers.
Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt, former chief of naval operations, gave military susbstance to such fears by indicating current U.S. war plans call for pulling the carriers away from Japan if war breaks out in Europe.
Said Zumwalt on the ABC "Good Morning America" television program last week: 'If we had a war with the Soviet Union, we would abandon our allies in the Western Pacific and concentrate on the defense of Hawaii and Alaska, putting most of our ships into the Atlantic in a desperate effort to try to save Europe."
Why all the new stress on beefing up NATO?
The official Pentagon answer is that the United States and its NATO allies, now that there is a standoff between the United States and Soviet Union in strategic nuclear weapons, must spend money to field more nonnuclear strength in Europe. Strong conventional forces are the best way, the argument goes to persuade the Kremlin that attacking the West with nonnuclear forces would be a loser, too.
Also, U.S. officials stare that while the United States was preoccupied with Vietnam, the Soviet Union expanded and modernized its Warsaw Pact forces by deploying new tanks, armored personnel carriers, antitank weapons, aircraft and electronic warfare equipment. The United States and its NATO allies have some catching up to do, both in arms and war planning, officials stress.
Carter has promised to increase the U.S. investment in NATO by at least 3 per cent a year, urging other members of the 29-year-old alliance to follow suit. He has called for a summit meeting of NATO heads of state later this year in Washington.
Yet, interviews with civilian defense officials and military leaders did not indicate any grave fears that the Soviet Union was on the verge of abandoning "detente" and attacking NATO.
In fact, some generals, when assured anonynity, said that, besides deterring Moscow from launching an attack, a big reason for the continued commitment of U.S. troops in West Germany is to keep the German war machine from rising again.
The United States had 272, 247 military people on active duty attached to NATO as of Sept. 30. Of that total, 224,466 were stationed in West Germany, according to the Pentagon.
Soviet generals, in talking with their American counterparts in informal situations, often indicate they welcome the U.S. troop presence in Germany because of its restraining influence.
Retired Adm. George H. Miller, a former strategic planner for the Navy, said in a telephone interview that another reason the Soviets like to see "our forces tied down in NATO is so they can pick our pockets every place else in the world."
Miller is among the military professionals who complain that NATO planners are still looking at the last war, not the most likely new one; that more money alone will not make the alliances militarily viable.
"There's no way to do what we're committed to do," Miller said. "Anybody who really thinks we is smoking opium."
He said the Soviets could disable landing fields for cargo aircraft in Europe with ease, then concentrate their submarines and planes on cutting the sea supply line.
Even if the United States somehow found the cargo ships it needed to resupply Europe, Miller agued, the losses would be so high "that we wouldn't go. And if you don't go, NATO falls."
The bucket-kicking admiral also faulted NATO land warfare strategy, declaring it violates the basic military axiom of "don't put your main body of troops on the picket line."
He contended that crowding the bulk of NATO's troops along the front line show the Soviet where the alliance is strong and where it is weak. The U.S. troops in Europe, he contended, should be regarded "as earnest money," with 50,000 on the line enough to serve that purpose. The rest should be kept back to strike where needed, he maintained.
Miller's recommendation is to "drive the submarine back to the drawing board" by building advanced surface ships that could across the ocean at speeds of 60 knots to keep NATO supplied. He said Defense Secretary Harold Brown was shortsighted in cutting from the new budget funds for the surface effect ship that could achieve such speeds.
Although Miller's interest in high-speed ships might be considered parochial, he was not alone in contending NATO planning has failed to reckon with battlefield realities. Army officers who have commanded units deployed on the NATO front made these other complaints in discussing the theater that has become the focus of military interest:
Combat units of different allied armies still have a hard time talking to each other by radio - a possibly disastrous situation if war broke out suddenly. Microwave radio antennas used for front-line communications could easily be destroyed.
Front-line U.S. troops in Germany would be hard-pressed to retaliate to a surprise attack because their rifles and ammunition are locked in separate places.
Tactical nuclear weapons with 155mm nuclear shells the most numerous, are so close to the front lines that a blitzkrieg attack might reach them before permission was granted to fire them at the invaders. The Army's own field manual on "request sequence" shows it might take 24 hours to get permission to go nuclear.
There is no well conceived plan for evacuating nukes - so much heavier than conventional weapons that it takes two men to load just one shell and four to lift the underground nuclear mines onto a truck - if they are in danger of being overrun. The alternative is to disable the nukes and leave them in place.
The U.S. Army, in response to the passage of an amendment by Sen. San Nunn (D-Ga.), has cut back on its logistical units in Europe to the point that there would not be enough support people to distribute replacement troops and ammunition in the crucial early days of a war.
"Now we're all teeth and no tail," complained one Army officer with considerable command experience in Europe.
There are so many American dependents in Germany that the roads would be blocked by them if war came, hindering troop movements. The Pentagon said that in Germany there were 224,466 active-duty U.S. military people (as of last September), 147,299 military dependents, 16,636 American civilian employees and 77,161 dependents of these employess (as of September, 1976.)
Gen. Alexander Haig, NATO commander, has no real war headquarters with the communications needed to run a war in Europe. "He apparently wants to fly around in an AWACs (airborne warnign and control system airplane the United States is trying to persuade NATO countries to buy) to persuade NATO countries to buy) to see who lost," one Army commander said.
Defense officials conceded there are indeed still a lot of NATO military problems to be solved but emphasized the Carter administration is determined to solve them - and is succeeding.
Komer, for example, agreed it is "scandalours" that communications between various allied forces in NATO are still inadequate but said command, control and communications are getting top-priority attention.
The Pentagon's civilian NATO chief added that the underlying planning assumption is a Warsaw Pact attack across the NATO line "would not be a bolt from the blue attack" but would provide the alliance with at least "two to three days" warning.
The "forward strategy" of putting heavy troop concentrations along the NATO front is the most effective way to deter an invasion and combat one if launched, defense officials believe. The new Pentagon budget will have billions in it to buttress the front lines with the new XM-1 tank, armored personnel carriers, antiaircraft and antitank missiles, artillery, attack helicopter and the Air Force's flying antitank gun, the A-10 plane.
To get more bang for the buck, the Pentagon's NATO team is pushing on "standarization, rationalization, interoperability" - NATO buzz words for building weapons alliance members can use and repair interchangeably.
Defense officials asserted that German could handle resupply during a war and that Haig has various means of communicating with NATO forces, although getting a better command post is a current objective.
Pentagon officials said there are plans for evacuating nukes but conceded they need improvement.
For the military services, "getting with the program" now means getting with NATO - the only game in town.