Political control of nuclear weapons within the Atlantic Alliance became a major foreign policy issue in both the American presidential and British general elections of 1964. This issue had been discussed and studied within military and political planning councils since 1954 when nuclear weapons became the key element of NATO’s plans for the defense of Western Europe. It was brought out into the open in December 1962 at Nassau. Immediately thereafter, at the press conference of 14 January 1963, French President Charles de Gaulle had his say, and the subject has been under international public debate ever since.
On the surface, there is a curious accommodation of the position advanced by the Labour Party, that has come to power in Great Britain, and the position of the United States. This compatibility is reflected by Labour’s stated policy that “Britain should cease the attempt to remain an independent nuclear power, since this neither strengthens the alliance nor is it now a sensible use of our resources,” and by the statement of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara that “The awesome responsibility to unleash such [nuclear] force, I believe, can rest only on the highest elected official in this country—the President of the United States.” The implied willingness of Labour to entrust Britain’s ultimate survival to the decision of an American president is more apparent than real. The realities of the situation are such that Great Britain can no more renounce national ownership and control of its nuclear weapons than the President of the United States can claim the prerogative and ultimate responsibility of dispatching or of not dispatching nuclear weapons in Great Britain’s behalf. The control of nuclear weapons never can be simply a “go or no go” decision of one man. Control extends over a wide range of activities which encompass production, ownership, custody, manning and physical delivery systems, strategic and operational planning, and the political constraints on how the weapons will be used—if and when the decision to use them is taken. Great Britain, as a sovereign nation, could hardly divest itself of these functions, even though the decision in the last analysis may be made by the President of the United States.
The one thing that the debate on nuclear control brings home clearly is that there is a lack of confidence in the almost exclusive U. S. control over nuclear weapons within the Alliance. This lack of confidence is implied in Britain by the many statements made by Labour leaders that they would seek to renegotiate the Nassau Agreement to give Great Britain an opportunity to “participate fully, intimately, and without limit in the formulation of the ideas, policy, and strategy which together make up the doctrine upon which any particular decision of the President must depend.” It is more explicit in France where President de Gaulle makes no bones of how he feels. In his press conference of January 1963, he pointed out that in the face of direct attack against the United States, the Americans would decide the means to counter it and that if Europe were attacked in turn, “no one in the world, in particular, no one in America can say if, where, when, how, to what extent, the American nuclear forces would be employed to defend Europe.” In April 1964, President de Gaulle said:
For France to deprive herself of the means capable of dissuading the adversary from a possible attack . . . would mean that she would confide her defense and therefore her existence, and in the end her policy to a foreign and, for that matter, an uncertain protector.
But this lack of confidence exists in other Western European countries as well, and it stems directly from the fact that NATO is an alliance of sovereign states who want to maintain control over their individual destinies. Because each nation sees its destiny in different terms, each also conceives of different means or strategy to achieve its objectives. The lack of strategic consensus among the nations of the Atlantic Alliance is at the very root of the problem of the control of nuclear weapons, and both issues are intimately related to the concept of the multilateral seaborne force (MLF). The U. S. Navy and the navies of some of our NATO allies have already taken a significant step in assigning officers and men to the guided missile destroyer USS Claude V. Ricketts (DDG-5)—the demonstration ship which is being used to test the concept of the mixed crew. Whether the MLF will ever become fully operational as a NATO deterrent force will depend upon the decisions to be made in the coming months by the nations concerned. These decisions will depend in large measure on the strategic and political considerations discussed in this essay.
The differences in strategic concepts among the major NATO allies are pronounced. There are many conflicting views of when, and in what manner, nuclear weapons should be used, if required. These differences as revealed by public statements of NATO leaders are briefly summarized below.
Great Britain. One major difference between British and American views on strategic concepts is that the British do not believe that nuclear weapons can be used in a controlled and selected manner—even on the battlefield. This was pointed out in a recent article by the defense correspondent of the London Times reporting on an interview with Mr. Peter Thorneycroft, then minister of defense. The British believe that early atomic blows are needed to resist Russia and that any use of nuclear weapons would make escalation to a general war “virtually unavoidable.” This view stems from an appreciation of the vulnerability of the British Isles to “wholly unacceptable destruction” from nuclear attack. Even with the commitment of the entire V-Bomber force and strike aircraft to NATO, Great Britain does not visualize using these aircraft in support of a prolonged conventional battle. They are earmarked to deliver nuclear weapons to preselected targets.
The Labour government has not shifted from this view. The major difference from the Conservative view is that Labour sees little virtue in continuing to maintain an independent deterrent which they claim is neither “independent nor does it deter.” As Mr. Denis Healey, the new Minister of Defense said, “To maintain the fiction of an independent British deterrent is undermining the solidarity of NATO. ... It decreases America’s readiness to trust in Europe and Europe’s readiness to trust in the United States. . . ”
France. The French differences are more sharp. French spokesmen advocate an immediate massive reprisal against the Soviet homeland for any attack against “vital interests.” In a recent article in the Revue de Defense Nationale, General C. L. M. Ailleret, Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces (a position comparable to our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs), took sharp issue with the American concept of “flexible response,” which the French claim is justified only when it defends secondary interests or positions. According to General Ailleret, who rules out conventional defense in Europe entirely, even the use of tactical nuclear defense could hardly be judged satisfactory for the Europeans/ For even if tactical nuclear warfare “prevented the invasion of Europe, it could not protect the Europeans from destruction.” He went on to say:
This situation [limited tactical nuclear war] constitutes a method to be employed only if there is no other way to do it. That is to say, if the United States, which is the only country today capable of deterrence and the only country which has nuclear stockpiles for conducting nuclear war on a grand scale, decides to apply this method to the exclusion of all others. In view of this hypothesis, it is necessary for the Western forces to be prepared intellectually as well as materially to use tactical nuclear weapons, but they don’t recommend it and they would only be able to resign themselves to it.
The French would use tactical nuclear weapons as a secondary action in the field simply “for mopping up and destruction of the remaining forces of the aggressor. . . ”
To give meaning to this strategic concept, France has developed its own independent force de frappe which, according to Defense Minister Pierre Messmer, “alone is capable of exercising a determining influence on the enemy’s will to wage war.” France disagrees completely with the U. S. counterforce doctrine as applied to strategic forces: “The only objectives that have a deterrent value are demographic; to aim for missile sites would be an absurdity.”
Germany. Open public statements of Germany’s position on nuclear strategy are sparse, due to the sensitivity of Soviet and Allied concern. Enough has been said, however, to indicate that, although Germany has renounced the development and manufacture of nuclear weapons in Germany, it has by no means renounced the use of atomic weapons for the defense of the Federal Republic.
The German strategic concept of “forward strategy” favors immediate response at the border with tactical nuclear weapons to prevent any invasion of West German territory.
As Vice Admiral Friedrich Ruge said in 1960:
The soldiers of the Bundeswehr have a right to weapons which are at least equal to those of the opponent . . . The armaments of the opponent make graduated deterrence essential. This deterrent requires a balance of atomic and conventional armament for the shield force as a supplement to the strategic air force and navy . . . Tactical atomic weapons in the sphere of the shield forces are therefore an essential step in deterrence . . .[emphasis supplied].
As can be seen by this statement, the Germans view tactical nuclear weapons as part of strategic deterrence, except that the Germans see real military advantages in the use of tactical nuclear weapons while the British regard the use of tactical nuclear weapons as a link to general war. Nevertheless, certain agreement was reported in the London Times on 10 September 1964 as a result of the conversations between the then British Minister of Defense Thorneycroft and the German Defense Minister, Kai Uwe von Hassel. The report indicated that British and German strategic thinking “on all important matters” is similar, including agreement that NATO conventional forces should be neither a “tripwire” nor a capability to wage a long conventional war; and nuclear weapons should be used in reply to any large-scale Soviet attack on Europe.
Despite these differences in strategic concepts, there is one common theme that is similar in the views of Britain, France, and Germany on nuclear policy. In varying degrees of expression, each country is more concerned with deterrence than with defense. This is based on an appraisal that conventional defense alone is impractical as long as the Soviets possess nuclear arms. They are mistrustful of American attempts to build up military forces in Europe sufficient to defend the borders against major attack with conventional means. They see this action as degrading the credibility of deterrence. As Professor Henry Kissinger points out, a Soviet penetration of even a hundred miles in the fluctuations of conventional combat is a vital matter in which the national existence of a state is at stake. Europeans, viewing the success of the NATO deterrent posture in the last 16 years, are reluctant to change from a strategy that threatens an aggressor with massive destruction to one that reduces losses for a defender. Thus, they want a nuclear deterrent that is absolutely effective and credible. To be credible, France, in particular, feels that the deterrent force must be controlled directly by the country whose vital interests are at stake.
Deterrence, in the final analysis, is a psychological and political posture. The means may be fixed but the deterrent effect is relative, and, as Bernard Brodie stated, it must be measured “not only by the amount of power that it holds in check, but also by the incentives to aggression residing behind that power.” In the French view, the fact that the United States has sufficient strategic nuclear arms to kill the Soviet Union several times over does not invalidate the deterrent effect of the planned 50 or so nuclear-equipped Mirage IV aircraft, even if they are vulnerable to a Soviet pre-emptive strike. Certainly, the existence of these forces will weigh on Soviet calculations, and the Kremlin must also consider the possibility of U. S. retaliation in the event the French force de frappe were struck first. This French force, as well as the NATO- committed British nuclear force, which is ultimately under the orders of its own government, would simply erect new disincentives to counteract whatever incentives the Soviets may have to attack.
Since deterrence is the key problem in European eyes, the question of control of nuclear weapons revolves around this issue and the strategic nuclear forces that provide the means to deter. In regards to tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, hardly anyone outside of France questions the arrangements whereby these weapons are under sole American control to be parcelled out to our allies in the event they are needed in time of war. As pointed out above, Great Britain, France, and Germany regard tactical nuclear weapons mainly as an essential and supplemental step in deterrence. But when it comes to the final arbiter—“the credibility of a nation’s will to confront an adversary with a war that no one can win”—each of the major allies wants to have its own voice in the control of strategic nuclear weapons. In such considerations, Professor Robert E. Osgood of the Washington Center of Foreign Policy Research points out “national views on military logic arc bound to be heavily infused with the logic of politics and psychology.”
France has chosen the way of an independent nuclear force. Great Britain, under the Conservatives, has regarded its V-Bomber forces as an “independent contribution to the long- range strategic forces of the Western Alliance.” Under Labour, Great Britain will seek to exercise more influence in U. S. “control” and all that it implies. Mr. Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister, has called for “much closer co-operation in NATO for deciding not only questions of targeting, guidelines and the rest, but deciding . . . the consensus, the circumstances in which the bomb should be dropped.” The position of Germany on strategic forces is clearly in the formative stages. There are conflicting political forces operating upon the government. On one side, there are the pressures from President de Gaulle and the right wing of the Christian Democrats to choose a continental coalition. On the other side, there are pressures from the United States, England, and some of the smaller European nations to choose a wider basis of collaboration within the Atlantic Alliance. There is very little demand from the German people for Germany to become an independent nuclear power. But the government leaders are keenly aware of the dangers of an incipient trend that might develop in this direction. (A leading German political analyst recently stated that Germany has never actually renounced the “acquisition” of her own nuclear weapons—only the manufacture of them. Furthermore, the protocol to the Brussels Treaty of 3 October 1954, where Germany agreed not to undertake unilaterally the manufacture of atomic weapons is tied to the treaty itself by which other nations have made commitments. In the view of this analyst, a default on the commitments of other nations may bring about a reconsideration of the German pledge.) On the whole, Germany recognizes that the United States is the only country with the strength and will to protect German vital interests. Consequently, the German position is to seek closer collaboration with the United States on the strategic nuclear forces and thereby exercise more influence on U. S. control.
Implicit in the American proposal for the control of nuclear weapons within the Atlantic Alliance is the assumption that all the members of the alliance will seek identical objectives and will have similar national interests in time of war. This does not imply that differences do not exist on these matters in time of peace. These national differences are recognized. But it does imply that, in extremis, there will be a closing of ranks and unanimity in making the necessary political decisions to defend NATO and to defeat the enemy. In short, Article 5 in the original treaty that an “attack on one or more ... shall be considered an attack against them all” calls for an ultimate solution—a highly integrated nuclear force which precludes the possibility of disruption by independent national action.
Two other derived assumptions are associated with this view. First, common war objectives and national interests demand a common strategy. Since the United States provides 95 per cent of the “integrated nuclear force,” U. S. nuclear strategy should be followed in NATO. The “indivisible” control plainly required for an integrated force follows logically the strategic concept of controlled response enunciated by the United States. As Mr. McNamara pointed out, this concept calls for “destruction of the enemy’s military forces not of his civilian population.” The option of striking the enemy’s cities would, however, remain, if that be our choice. As Malcolm W. Hoag of the Rand Corporation put it, “Our ultimate deterrent power is that we hold enemy cities as hostages, and the enemy knows it. The bargaining power over him that these hostages give us is an asset we should be loath to throw away.” A force designed solely for “city-busting” like the French force de frappe would clearly be incompatible with this strategic concept. Any hope of inducing Soviet restraint in avoiding cities would be dashed by the use of France’s independent strategic force.
The second derived assumption is that the American commitment to NATO is irrevocable and cannot be questioned. A series of official policy pronouncements have made this abundantly clear. At the allied ministerial conference in Athens in May 1962, we gave firm assurances that our strategic nuclear forces would continue to provide defense beyond the capability of the forces directly committed to the Alliance. In his Ann Arbor Speech of 16 June 1962, Mr. McNamara said:
We are convinced that a general nuclear war target system is indivisible . . . We know that the same forces which are targeted on ourselves are also targeted on our allies. Our own strategic retaliatory forces are prepared to respond against these forces, wherever they are and whatever their targets. This mission is assigned not only in fulfullment of our treaty commitments but also because the character of nuclear war compels it ... In short, we have undertaken the nuclear defense of NATO on a global basis.
Taken in the context of general war, the arguments for a common strategy, U. S. leadership and total commitment are compelling—at least from the American point of view. It is virtually impossible to conceive of plausible circumstances where Soviet attempts to seize all or part of Western Europe would not trigger American nuclear response. Either the Soviets would strike the United States first to pave the way for a massive combined armed invasion or they would have to face the threat of a NATO and American tactical nuclear defense with all the attendant dangers of triggering an American “first strike” against the Russian homeland. In general war, there would be a “closing of the ranks” by necessity. Even President de Gaulle recognizes this—despite the doubts he expresses about American commitment. As long as we are dealing with the canonical threat of all-out war, common sense allows no other conclusion.
Where the argument breaks down is in lesser circumstances than general war or in circumstances which precede or may lead to general war. Here the basic assumptions of the American argument are called into question. The members of the alliance do not have identical objectives or national interests. Since the goals and interests are different, the strategy for employing the means—military, political, and economic—will be different. And, certainly, American commitments cannot be regarded as unquestioned in the support of national interests which vary from our own. One has only to recall Suez to bring home this point.
In our more reflective moments, we can recognize these different national interests and the desire of the European members of NATO to have a voice in determining their own national destinies. We have recognized Great Britain’s right to withdraw its national contingent from the NATO strategic force “when supreme national interests are at stake.” We have even gone so far as to provide the KC-135 tanker aircraft without which the French independent strategic force of Mirage IV aircraft would not have the range to reach its targets. We have welcomed foreign officers from European nations to SAC headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, to assist in the planning of our strategic force. In our pronouncements, we have stated that “we have no desire to dominate NATO” and “if our European NATO partners wish to create a European strategic nuclear force, we certainly should have no objections.” Recognizing that Germany will not for long be satisfied with a secondary role in an alliance where the other three major nations possess nuclear weapons which can be used as instruments of policy, we have proposed the concept of an MLF made up of surface ships armed with Polaris missiles and manned by a mixture of officers and men from the navies of the various member nations of the Atlantic Alliance.
Just about all of the conflicting national views on the question of the political control of nuclear weapons are brought to focus in the MLF concept. Proposed here is an international allied force in which each of the participants is almost certain to demand a veto over its use. Of course, German Defense Minister von Hassel has suggested an eventual system of weighted voting which would not prevent the use of this force against the will of a majority of the collaborators in the project. But it is hard to conceive that any nation—even a minority stockholder in the MLF—would agree to permit a few “Polaris missiles to be lobbed into Russia” without its consent or without being prepared to back up the action by the full use of its national military resources. This applies to the United States as well as to the other nations that might join in the project. Furthermore, the idea of having a veto loses much of its significance as far as the European members are concerned should the United States decide that strategic nuclear weapons will be used. There are enough Minuteman and Polaris missiles available to the United States alone to make the contribution of the MLF almost irrelevant in terms of the actual physical destruction that could be wreaked on the enemy. These arguments are used by many of the opponents of the MLF who regard it as a mere super addition to what the United States already has in nuclear strategic forces—except that the MLF would be paid for in part by the Europeans with funds that could be better spent on other military forces. If viewed in this context, it is clear that the intractable problem of the control of nuclear weapons cannot be solved by the MLF alone.
But, if the problem of nuclear control is viewed in the broadest political and military context, the multilateral force concept appears to some people to have distinct advantages. The most important advantage claimed is that it provides a means, however limited, of bringing Germany into the “Nuclear Club” without unduly provoking the fears of the Russians and Germany’s NATO allies. Of course, these fears are expressed by both Russia and by some of these NATO allies. But at the same time, there is a growing awareness that German aspirations to achieve a status in the Alliance commensurate with its importance and power must somehow be satisfied. The political and psychological advantages of “possessing the bomb” that have recently accrued to a backward industrial nation like China have not passed unnoticed in the leading industrial country of Western Europe. Perhaps it was true that the German government went along with the MLF concept when it was originally proposed more in response to American desires than from any firmly held national aspirations to become a nuclear power. But there are clear indications that the German government attaches great importance to the MLF concept today. Recent evidence of this can be found in Chancellor Ludwig Erhardt’s suggestion that the possibility cannot be ruled out that the United States and Germany may go it alone if other European nations do not choose to participate.
If one accepts the premise that Germany will not long remain willing to accept a subordinate position in the Alliance in regard to nuclear strategy and control, there exist only three alternatives. One, Germany may seek to become an independent nuclear power—a move that would have serious consequences to Western unity and to the Soviet policy of “peaceful coexistence.” Two, Germany may turn to France and become associated with a purely European nuclear force—a move that would clearly lessen American influence in European affairs. Three, Germany may elect a closer attachment with the United States and its other NATO allies in matters of nuclear policy and control. The third course is preferred by the German government today, and the MLF is advanced as a partial answer to this alternative.
There are serious political difficulties. President de Gaulle flatly opposes the MLF, and a French contribution to the project cannot be counted on. Great Britain is unenthusiastic, but British support is thereby more important to its success. In December 1963, Mr. Harold Wilson expressed the view that “a German finger on the nuclear trigger will render it more difficult to reach any understanding between Russia and the West.” But this view was expressed before the election, before the fall of Nikita Khrushchev, and before China exploded her nuclear device. Certainly, the realities of the situation will be borne upon him in his official position as head of the British government. If Labour adheres to the objective set forth by the Defense Minister Denis Healey for integrating Britain’s strategic force “irrevocably in a NATO nuclear force in return for more European influence over America’s atomic strategy,” then the multilateral force concept may provide the “gimmick” or means to do so. But the MLF cannot do it alone, and the United States must take the lead in providing additional means to satisfy the aspirations of the European nations to have more voice in their ultimate survival.
It would be a mistake only to examine the political advantages of the MLF without regarding the military aspects. A force that is militarily unsatisfactory and militarily useless will not be viable and probably will fail in achieving its political goals.
The most significant military advantage in the multilateral force concept is in basing the strategic forces at sea. Despite the differences among our allies in nuclear strategic concepts, there is solid agreement on the advantages of sea-based deterrence. Without going into the arguments, familiar to U. S. Navy readers, for basing the deterrent force at sea, one has only to point to the official position taken by the governments concerned.
The official British “Statement on Defense” presented to Parliament in February 1963 stated:
The Royal Navy is now to be entrusted with a most important additional task. It is responsible for creating and operating, in time to succeed the V-Bombers, a force of Polaris-equipped nuclear submarines as Britain’s independent contribution to the long-range strategic forces of the Western Alliance.
This decision was reconfirmed in the 1964 White Paper.
Of course, the British Labour government is on record as desiring to reopen the negotiations on the Nassau Agreement by which the United States agreed to provide Polaris missiles for British-built submarines. How far the Labour government can go to change things is questionable, with only a majority of three seats in Parliament over the Conservatives. But Labour’s objection is not against the military value of a sea-based force as much as it is against continuing the “program in its capacity as an independent British force.” As a matter of note, one of the practical objections is that it will require additional resources to build this naval force at a time when the cost and maintenance of continuing the V-Bomber force would be taking a sizeable bite out of the military budget. Again, the prospect of sharing this cost with other European countries in a NATO strategic force might make the MLF more palatable as a substitute for the independent naval force planned before the Labour government took office.
Even France recognizes the advantages of a sea-based deterrent force. Defense Minister Pierre Messmer wrote an article in the Revue de Defense Rationale in which he spoke of the follow-on to the Mirage IV strategic force:
The decision [of a launch platform] depends on technical factors, but also on strategic and, therefore, political ones. Technically, the launching from a mobile or stationary land platform, the latter often underground, is the most simple and most economical solution; militarily and politically, it is not without its drawbacks for a relatively small country such as France. That is why the nuclear-powered submarine has been selected as a launching platform.
The position of Germany in favor of a sea- based strategic force can be inferred by its official preference for the sea-based MLF proposed by the United States over the land- based Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) concept proposed by General Lauris Norstad. There is little doubt that, like England and France, this preference is based on military as well as on political considerations.
But the real value of the MLF sea-based deterrent force can only be assessed in the light of Soviet reactions to it. This depends not on the “facts” of its effectiveness and survivability, of its damage-limiting features under attack, of the large Soviet effort required to counter it, of its mobility and versatility on a global basis, of its relative insensitivity to strategic warning prior to a first enemy strike—but rather it depends on Soviet perceptions of these “facts.” It depends ultimately on whether the MLF strengthens the “disincentives” to embark on courses of aggression against NATO or against the member nations or whether it erects additional new “disincentives” in the event the major deterrence of the United States strategic forces loses some of its value. Viewed in this light, arguments that the MLF adds little or nothing to the size of Western strategic power become largely irrelevant.
Unfortunately, the question of how the Soviets perceive our actions is largely speculative. Even the most dedicated Sovietologists in the West, immersing themselves in Russian history and culture, cannot make sure estimates of Soviet value judgments. A Soviet military officer who had defected to the West recently stated that Mr. McNamara’s “no cities doctrine” confirmed Soviet leaders’ fears of “war-mongering Americans” attempting to find ways to fight a nuclear war. This reaction, if true, is obviously not the reaction Mr. McNamara would seek. But on the other hand, if Soviet official pronouncements and actions give any clue to their perceptions, one would infer that Soviet deep-seated emotional fear of the Germans is at the bottom of their vigorous opposition to the MLF. But this was probably also true when the Soviet Union vigorously opposed the European Defense Community in 1954 and Germany’s independent rearmament within NATO. There is perhaps a more basic concern than emotional fear of Germany which accounts for Soviet opposition. The Soviet Union loses no opportunity to create disunity in the Atlantic Alliance. Whenever NATO undertakes a scheme for strengthening the military force or for achieving closer unity, the Soviet Union is almost certain to object. These two considerations—fear of the Germans and the symbol of unity within the Alliance represented by wide support and participation in the MLF—would probably condition Soviet perception of the deterrent or dissuasive power of this NATO force. Certainly, if low level conflict were to break out in the central European sector through a series of events or miscalculations in a crisis, the Soviets could expect strong German pressure on the United States and on the other participating allies to commit this force to counter the Soviet strategic threat of 700 or so MRBMs and IRBMs capable of striking Western Europe.
In this sense, the MLF could act as an “intra-war deterrent force.” It is arguable whether the Soviets would perceive the MLF in this light, or be more deterred by the knowledge that the United States has more than enough American ICBMs and Polaris missiles trained on Russia. The MLF force with Germany and other European nations participating may well strengthen the “disincentives” to any incentive the Soviets might have to exploit the threat of their home-based strategic rocket forces against Europe. This point, however, is very uncertain.
It should be quite clear that the answer to the problem of the control of nuclear weapons cannot be found in the MLF. The lack of consensus in strategic concepts for the defense of Western Europe will probably remain. However, in the matter of strategic deterrence, which is the primary concern of the European states, the MLF may provide a partial answer—provided additional measures are taken for closer nuclear sharing within the Alliance. It all depends on whether the NATO allies believe in the concept or not. The purpose of the MLF is not so much to give the European nations of NATO a veto over the American strategic force—a thing which would be quite unthinkable in the context of the confrontation of the two super powers— but rather to give the European members a bargaining lever to convince the United States to come to their aid in times when their vital interests are threatened. The American view, of course, is that such a lever is not really necessary, since U. S. interests would demand our involvement if European vital interests are threatened. But since doubt is expressed in whether we will or will not, certainly a step in the direction of establishing even limited means to restore the confidence of our allies is needed. This is essential in making deterrence truly credible to the enemy.
On the other hand, it is quite likely that no entirely satisfactory answer can be found to this complex problem of nuclear control. France is not likely to give up its independent nuclear force, and President de Gaulle has forcefully stated his opposition to the MLF. Also, there must be a real change in the Labour government’s thinking if Britain were to lend its support. The fact should be recognized, however, that the success of the MLF as a means to strengthen Western deterrence does not require either France or Britain to give up their independent strategic forces. No nation can be persuaded against its convictions to give up forces regarded necessary for its survival. But if this is true, both France and England should recognize that the same basic considerations weigh on German thinking. Prime Minister Wilson argues that the MLF will not sublimate German ambitions to become an independent nuclear power, but will rather whet the German appetite. This is debatable. In the long run, the nations that participate more closely in the United States’ control of nuclear weapons and in the strategy for the use of nuclear weapons, may have more influence than a nation that elects to go its own way in this vital matter.
Perhaps, in the final analysis, the problem of nuclear control exists only in the minds of political leaders jockeying for influence in international matters. As Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir John Slessor, commented in a letter to the author, “The United States need not insist on the de jure right of veto, because I am convinced, inevitably, such a veto will always exist de facto. ... If the President of the U. S., having heard all the arguments, refuses to commit the U. S. to war then, again whether we like it or not, there will be no war and the question of using nuclear weapons will not arise. If war is forced upon us by open Soviet aggression, then the United States will be in it with us (whether they like it or not), and it is inconceivable that such a war could be fought without using nuclear weapons.” The failure to recognize this truism accounts for many of the expressions of doubt in the U. S. nuclear support. It is inconceivable that the United States can sit back and observe the chain of events leading up to a crisis which may affect the very survival of a NATO ally— without stepping in and becoming involved also. Once the United States becomes involved, the nature of the crisis changes and “the play would be taken away” from the threatened nation. The United States’ own national interests would demand it.
The reason why there is so much concern on this issue is that while most of the world leaders realize that nuclear war is unthinkable, they also recognize that it is possible. It is possible because of the intrinsic paradox that pursuing the objective of preventing a nuclear war may operate against the basic national objectives and interests of the nations concerned. The question of the political control of nuclear weapons could be posed on this basis: Is the MLF compatible with the objective of preventing a nuclear war and at the same time of advancing the objectives and national interests of the nations in the Atlantic Alliance? Obviously, at the present time there would be considerable disagreement that it is compatible. But, if the long-range goal of the Western nations is to achieve a closer unity in the Atlantic Alliance, a case can be made that it is a step in the right direction— but only a step. Again, the question could be posed in a different manner by asking whether the rejection or abandonment of the MLF would serve the objective of preventing nuclear war and at the same time advance the national objectives and interests of the nations in the Atlantic Alliance? The answer to this question would be that the divisive trends that exist in NATO would remain. In either event, whether the MLF is constructive or not, some other measures are needed for achieving unity in nuclear policy within the Alliance in the future. In the final judgment, the unity and strength of the Atlantic Alliance is the strongest bulwark we have against the spread of Communist power.