Commentary Magazine

Do We Still Need Europe?

For an American to suggest that we should investigate our strategic interest in Europe can sound positively subversive—tantamount to repudiating our commitment to Europe altogether, or denying Europe's value to American security. Indeed, one can make a strong case against a too-frequent investigation of the roots of the American commitment to Europe, or for that matter of any well-established foreign policy; this stricture carries particular force when we speak of an alliance as old, as firmly established, and as much in the American national interest as NATO. And yet such a reappraisal is due, and overdue. For the world has changed in many ways since the victorious statesmen and generals of World War II, in a massive departure from American tradition, advanced the first arguments for the commitment of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to the peacetime defense of Europe.

The most obvious changes have occurred in the strategic environment, i.e., in the balance of power between the West and the Soviet Union. Since the early 1950's, when the founders of the Atlantic alliance established the current structure and basic policies of NATO, the Soviet Union has achieved nuclear parity, developed an increasingly powerful navy, and secured overseas bases and clients (Cuba and Vietnam, for example) unimaginable in 1950. The Soviet Union has also found itself confronted by new strategic threats, particularly from China, where a close alliance has been replaced by a bitter and, it would appear, enduring enmity. These developments, and others—including the withering of the Soviet Union's purely ideological appeal to Third World states—all argue for a reassessment of America's own strategic position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and primarily in the central arena of confrontation, namely Europe.

A second reason for investigating America's strategic interest in Europe has to do with generational developments. The appearance of the “successor generation”—Americans and Europeans in their late thirties and early forties marked not by World War II and the Berlin crisis but by Vietnam and the student revolts of the 1960's—has given rise to anxious inquiries about the basis of the alliance. Writers on both sides of the Atlantic seeking to reassure their readers and themselves have maintained that, although the level of annoyance among the partners has increased over the past decade, the alliance remains secure, and precisely because it is in the strategic interest of the United States that it be so. Others, however, are not so sure.

Finally we see a debate among Americans themselves over the future prospects of NATO. The chronic low level of tension which Europeans have noticed has also led many American observers to conclude that the nature of the alliance has changed. Such firm friends of Europe as Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger have suggested that the time may have come to reduce, perhaps substantially, America's military commitments to the alliance. A spirited American debate has thus begun over the place of Europe in American foreign policy.

Regrettably, lively prose rather than careful analysis has characterized that debate. On the one hand, Jeffrey Record, a prominent military analyst, declares flatly that we see before us “the manifest disintegration of NATO as a viable security organization warranting the present commitment of U.S. ground forces to Europe's forward defense.” At the other end of the spectrum Robert Komer, a former senior defense official, condemns the “sin” of unilateralism, and argues in effect that nothing has changed in the American relationship with the continent over the past thirty-five years. To compound the difficulty, the interlocutors in these debates often conflate different definitions of the problem, opposing geo-strategic concepts to geopolitical ones or stating the alternatives—Europe vs. the Pacific, going it alone vs. having allies, keeping resolutely to the sea vs. preparing to engage the Red Army on the continent—too starkly for useful discussion.

The art of strategic analysis does not, or should
not, rest on such simple dichotomies, and in the real world statesmen do not make such bald choices. Rather, the question is one of degree—what priorities we assign in peace and war to different theaters of operations, how we structure forces to achieve their missions, and so on. Even in the most “unilateralist” view the United States will need allies, if only to project its power overseas; and even the most ardent advocate of “coalition defense” must admit that the United States as a great power has interests distinct from those of its European allies. Europe is extremely important to us, but so too is the Pacific region, specifically Japan. Command of the sea is the sine qua non of successful American containment of the Soviet Union and its allies, but (as England discovered in each of its wars against Spain, France, and Germany) command of the sea can accomplish nothing without continental power.

What follows, then, is an attempt to clarify America's strategic interest in Europe. In concentrating on the strategic question I hardly mean to dismiss or ignore economic or, perhaps even more important, ideological interests. Ideological and cultural affinities in particular have made the alliance both workable and worthwhile in ways that would be quite inconceivable in a coalition based on strategic commonality alone. We should remember, however, that America's initial commitment to Europe during World War II and, afterward, during the early 1950's, was regularly justified in terms of a strategic interest quite distinct from other and less potent interests. Although Secretary of State Dean Acheson at first made his case for the dispatch of a half-dozen American divisions to Europe in 1951 on the basis of our common culture, he went on to say, “But our policy does not rest solely upon these intangibles, important as they are.” Rather,

Outside of our own country, free Europe has the greatest number of scientists, the greatest industrial production, and the largest pool of skilled manpower in the world. Its resources in coal, steel, and electric power are enormous. It has a tremendous shipbuilding capacity, essential to control of the seas. Through its overseas connections, it has access to a vast supply of raw materials which are absolutely vital to American industry.

In short, Acheson made a strategic argument, one that was echoed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and others, and which also reflected the opinions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The question we need to answer is, to what degree is this analysis still valid today?



It was quite clear following World War II and the dissolution of the Allied coalition against Hitler that control of Western Europe would be, as the official historian of the JCS has written, “the foremost prize in the cold war.” Europe was the epicenter of the world economy; indeed, it had given birth to that world economy. Although two world wars had devastated the continent, ruining industry and slaughtering millions, the fact remained that Europe still contained a skilled and energetic population and the basic material requirements for large-scale economic production. Moreover, Europe still controlled most of the non-European world, and the vital raw materials located there. British sway over the Persian Gulf safeguarded Middle Eastern oil; France and the Netherlands controlled territories possessing similarly valuable raw materials.

Europe was thus the strategic stake for the United States in the immediate postwar period. With it in our camp, we could count on ultimate economic superiority over the Soviet Union: without it, we would have faced as bleak a political-military situation as that of the summer of 1940. Eisenhower put it simply: “If we take that whole complex with its potential for military exploitation and transfer it from our side to another side, the military balance of power has shifted so drastically that our safety would be gravely imperiled.”

The importance of Europe as the main stake in the U.S.-Soviet competition escaped very few American statesmen and soldiers—hence the relative ease with which they could take the unprecedented action of stationing several hundred thousand American troops there to protect it from subversion and aggression during its period of recovery. Other areas of the world, including the Far East, had second priority—indeed, in the case of Japan, a priority considerably lower than that.

Europe recovered in due course from World War II, and today continues to constitute a strategic stake of the first order for the United States. Considered together, the West European states make up one of the three most productive regions of the world, accounting for some 17.3 percent of world gross national product (as opposed to 24.9 percent for the United States, 8.7 percent for Japan, and 13.8 percent for the Soviet Union). Yet a number of striking changes have occurred since the 1950's which considerably diminish the relative importance of Europe as a strategic stake.

Perhaps the most significant of these is the rise of Japan, and of the countries of the Pacific basin more generally. The Japanese economy, once smaller than that of any of the major European states, now far outstrips them, individually if not yet collectively. It has known a period of extraordinary sustained growth which gives no indication of stopping. The figures are most telling in the automobile industry: in 1960 Japanese automobile production stood at 165,000 units as opposed to Europe's 4,920,000; by 1980 Japan's production had leaped to 6,758,000, while Europe's had barely doubled to 9,450,000. Even more important from the point of view of long-term military-industrial potential is what has happened in electronics. American and Japanese companies lead in the development of computers, fiberoptics, and all of the associated technologies which have already begun to exert as profound an influence over military technology and warfare as did the introduction of the steam engine in ships or the internal combustion engine on land. Europe, on the other hand, has fallen seriously behind in the electronic revolution.

The reasons for Europe's relative economic decline since the early 1970's are too numerous and complicated to be explored in detail here. They include an expanding welfare state, low labor mobility, and the failure of the European Economic Community to promote real free trade, as opposed to the subsidization of various special interests. Europe's decline means, however, that it does not carry the same strategic economic weight that it did in the 1950's and early 1960's. Indeed, the loss of Japanese technological and human resources to the Soviet Union would now threaten the United States as much as the loss of Western Europe.

This is not to suggest that Europe has become unimportant from the point of view of American strategy. Rather, other areas have increased their importance substantially: Northeast Asia (including Japan and China), the Persian Gulf, and Central America.

Japan's importance from the military-industrial point of view is obvious. In addition, Japan's recent increases in military expenditure and its alignment with China against the Soviet Union both work to the American advantage. China has also become a strategic stake for the United States because of its ability to tie down large proportions of Soviet forces, and to divert large amounts of military investment from other areas. Sino-Soviet antagonism, barely envisaged at the beginning of the cold war, has become a major source of strategic advantage to the United States, and it is in America's interest to see that hostility continue. Approximately one-quarter of the Red Army's divisions face the Chinese. Although many of these are only at half-strength, and although the Soviets station approximately twice as many divisions in Eastern Europe and the European military districts of the Soviet Union, the creation and sustenance of the Far Eastern forces places an immense logistical burden on the Soviets.

Persian Gulf oil also remains critical for the functioning of the world economy. Whereas in the early 1950's and through the 1970's other powers (Britain and then Iran) helped police the Gulf, today the United States bears the brunt of ensuring the continuation of the flow of oil from that region. Despite the stimulus to oil exploration elsewhere and to conservation caused by the OPEC price rises of the 1970's, Europe depends on Persian Gulf sources for about a third of its oil, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand for over half of theirs. The United States has slowly begun to take the measure of what this commitment requires in terms of force structure, logistics, and deployments. In many cases it means the reallocation of funds and forces away from European contingencies.

In Central America the boiling up of revolution—home-grown, perhaps, but also fostered by outside powers—has restored some of the importance of that area as a strategic stake. The possibility of a turbulent southern border, massive population flows into the United States, and/or the creation of hostile Soviet client states will inevitably increase strategic concern with America's own backyard—a preoccupation absent from American strategic thinking since the fourth decade of this century—and create another potential drain on American military resources.

These three regions have emerged in addition to Europe as strategic stakes in the U.S.-Soviet competition. In all cases, their preservation or exploitation will require additional military expenditures and deployments, although not necessarily on the scale of those devoted to Europe.



In addition to its role as a strategic stake for the United States, Europe must also be considered in its role as a strategic asset, in particular a military asset. The European states possess, collectively, one of the greatest masses of conventional power in the world. Whether we are considering equipment or manpower, the European NATO states and the friendly neutrals of Europe possess more ground forces—in terms of numbers of soldiers, tanks, and so forth—than the United States. Yet in this area, too, enormous changes have occurred since the formation of NATO.

Over the years the European powers had gradually assumed most of the manpower burden of NATO defense, and integrated more countries into that defense. This was particularly true during the Vietnam war, when the Europeans increased their defense budgets in small increments even while the United States was drawing down forces in Europe in order to fight in Southeast Asia. Recently, however, the aggregate trends have been reversed, in particular as the Carter and Reagan administrations have made additional commitments to European defense. Today, for example, some 25 percent of NATO's 20,000 tanks are American; ten years ago the ratio was approximately 20 percent. The recent steady increases in the American defense budget (including the portion devoted to NATO), the program to modernize American armed forces, and, on the other side, the budgetary and demographic pressures facing the European allies will cause the overall relative contribution of Europe to diminish. (This assumes no major increases in European defense spending, a premise which seems reasonable enough.)

Even more significant in terms of long-term trends are qualitative changes like the virtual disappearance of European states (with the exception of France) as transoceanic powers and the diminution or disappearance of colonial contributions to Western power. To be sure, American statesmen in the immediate postwar period regarded European control of colonies overseas as a diversion from continental defense; this was particularly true of the American approach to France in the 1950's. A more sober recalculation in the 1970's suggested that the United States should not have expected so much of a military return on European decolonization; in fact, decolonization imposed political-military costs as well as yielding benefits.

In the early part of the cold war it was expected that American allies would help bear the burdens of defense outside Europe. Indeed, in 1951 the Army Chief of Staff, General J. Lawton Collins, could point to the participation of French, British, Turkish, and Dutch soldiers in the Korean war as evidence of such contributions. But following Korea, the willingness of our European allies to fight outside Europe for common interests eroded quickly. Somewhat more slowly, but nonetheless inexorably, the ability of European states engaged in extra-European politics to project force also dwindled. Great Britain and France in particular, which had exercised substantial regional influence through the use of forces deployed in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, gradually withdrew those forces as they granted independence to their former colonial dominions.

The British and French governments made (and continue to make) some effort to retain strategically mobile light forces for deployment overseas, but such efforts are of necessity small. In the Falklands war of 1982 and the Zaire intervention of 1978, the respective British and French forces required American logistical support in order to conduct relatively small operations overseas. In each case the operation succeeded, but each case also demonstrated how far these two powers had sunk even from the efforts of which they had been capable in 1956 at Suez.

To be sure, the European powers retain some forces uniquely suited to operations in the Third World, and some will to use those forces. The shadowy British involvement in Oman is one example; France's deployments in West Africa and Djibouti are another. At the lowest levels of conflict the European powers can thus make significant contributions to American power. But once one considers larger requirements—the projection of substantial air and naval power, the dispatch of expeditionary forces, or the rapid arming or rearming of a Third World ally—European capabilities appear far more modest. Moreover—and this is crucial—European states are and will no doubt remain unlikely to participate in major military operations outside the NATO area.

As for the independent European nuclear forces of France and Great Britain, these do make an additional contribution to the overall strategic balance between West and East, although the measure is hard to quantify. These forces do not merely increase the “target sets” of Soviet nuclear forces; far more importantly, they complicate Soviet planning of an attack against the West by presenting multiple centers of decision, each of which could destroy a substantial proportion of Soviet society. The rising cost of effective nuclear delivery systems, however, and the prospect of increasingly effective anti-missile defenses, call their future utility into some doubt.



Whatever our assessment of its role as a strategic stake and a strategic asset, Europe is also of interest to the United States simply by virtue of its location. European bases are important for the conduct of strategic nuclear war against the Soviet Union; Europe is a point of access to the restive satrapies of Eastern Europe, the most sensitive parts of the Soviet empire; Europe holds naval chokepoints for denying the Soviet fleet access to the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea; finally, Europe is a point of access to strategic positions in the Third World.

That Europe contains the most extensive array of American overseas bases has long been known. Often forgotten, however, is that throughout the 1950's and early 1960's the United States depended on European bases in order to be able to conduct any military operations—above all, nuclear operations—against the Soviet military-industrial heartland. During the 1950's the limited range of the B-47, the main weapon of the Strategic Air Command, required bases in European or European-controlled countries. As an interim measure until intercontinental ballistic missiles were developed, intermediate-range Thor and Jupiter missiles were deployed in Italy and Turkey, and U-2 reconnaissance planes were staged from European airfields. In the early days of submarine-based nuclear forces, American submarines also had to operate within short ranges of their targets—in other words, off European coastlines.

Thus, in the early stages of the cold war American intelligence-gathering and strategic forces depended heavily on the security of European bases. But this has changed. The development of a genuine intercontinental bomber (the B-52), land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (the Titan, followed by Minuteman), and increasingly long-range sea-launched ballistic missiles (the C-4, with a range of three times that of the early Polaris missiles) has meant that American strategic forces can operate without using European bases.

Additionally, the tremendous growth in the use of satellites for various kinds of intelligence-gathering has reduced some of the utility of West European bases. Although the invention and deployment of the cruise missile may in part renew Europe's importance as strategic geography, since cruise-missile carriers will have to operate in close proximity to Europe in order to strike at Soviet targets, the fact remains that the central strategic forces of the United States no longer require European basing or find themselves greatly aided by it.

In quite a different way, however, Europe retains geostrategic significance as a point of access to the Soviet Union itself, and its empire. Traditionally, NATO planners have viewed this as more of a vulnerability than a potential asset, although some have suggested that more might be done to exploit the proximity of a restive population to the west of the Soviet Union; Samuel P. Huntington, for instance, has suggested that the United States could use the threat of a retaliatory offensive into Eastern Europe to deter Soviet attacks on NATO, a strategy which, if adopted, would require the continuation of a substantial land-based force in Central Europe.

One might argue that a free and independent Western Europe under the aegis of American military power exercises, by virtue of its very existence, a corrosive effect on the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. Television and radio broadcasts, in addition to commercial and tourist travel across the Iron Curtain, serve to remind East Germans, Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles of the ties which once bound them to the countries of the West.

In two locations, the far north and along Turkey's northern border, NATO has land borders with the Soviet Union itself. The Soviets' preoccupation with territorial integrity leads them to place great emphasis on protecting their borders. As a result, these borders create both dangers and opportunities for the United States. Dangers, because of the possibility of an accidental clash of U.S. or allied and Soviet forces; opportunities, because they force the Soviet Union to divert military resources to defend its border regions.

A third source of geostrategic interest arises from consideration of maritime power. The steady growth of the Soviet navy and Soviet naval aviation since the mid-1960's has focused attention on the problem of securing NATO's sea lines of communication. In addition, the growing range of Soviet sea-launched ballistic missiles (from 1,400 km in the mid-1960's to 8,000 km or better today) enables the Soviets to create submarine “sanctuaries” off NATO's northern flank. In order to maintain an orderly flow of reinforcements and goods to Europe in the event of a war—in other words, in order to preserve Europe as a strategic stake—American and allied forces must attempt to hold back Soviet forces along the choke-points of the northern flank, if not to push them back to their bases on the Kola peninsula. The obvious implication is that American anti-submarine forces will have to operate more in the northern area than had previously been planned. A similar chokepoint in the southern flank—the Dardanelles—is vital for control of the Mediterranean.

The final point of strategic geography has to do with access to the Third World. European bases are physically well structured to support operations in various parts of the Third World, but are not necessarily politically well-situated to do so. Here the lessons of the 1973 Middle East war are significant: American attempts to use European bases in contingencies other than an all-out war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact may meet opposition or even a veto by the host country. More importantly, Europe no longer controls bases in the Third World which would be useful in the event of conflict. In the 1950's, European-controlled outposts in North Africa (especially Morocco), the Middle East (Algeria and Egypt), and the Far East (Aden and Singapore) offered valuable supplements to the American basing network; today the United States finds itself painfully reestablishing a basing network by negotiating new, bilateral arrangements with Morocco, Kenya, Somalia, and Oman.

In addition, the rise of new areas of concern in the Third World changes the relative utility of certain European basing areas. In particular, eastern Turkey has become increasingly important for the projection of military power into the Persian Gulf. Newly constructed air bases in that region, although not specifically designated for the purpose, could help the United States Air Force slow a Soviet invasion of Iran. Equally importantly, bases in Turkey serve as a useful threat to the southern flank of the Soviet Union. Turkey's numerous, hardy, and disciplined armed forces lack modern military hardware. Insofar as the United States can remedy that need (which is huge), it will create an increasing southern-flank threat to the Soviet Union.



Finally, in calculating the American strategic interest in Europe it is necessary to determine not only the value of Europe as stake, asset, and geographical location, but also the cost to America of maintaining its commitment to its European allies. That is to say, to what extent is Europe a strategic liability?

Europe has always had first claim on American military resources. But when in the 1970's and 1980's efforts were made to calculate the size of that commitment, the results astonished even its advocates. According to one General Accounting Office calculation, 56 percent of U.S. military spending went to cover European contingencies; total American expenditure on NATO amounted to slightly more than that of the other members of the alliance combined.

To be sure, all such attempts to calculate in purely monetary terms the price of America's commitment to Europe face serious accounting problems: how, for example, should one assess the cost of forces stationed in the United States and dedicated to NATO, yet capable of being given other missions?

Moreover, it must be recognized that even if American troops stationed in Europe were reduced in number, American force structures might remain as large as they are, or become even larger. A more fruitful line of inquiry would ask: (1) What are the trends in Europe's claim on American military resources? (2) What effects has the European commitment had on the size and composition of American forces? (3) What effects has the European commitment had on the intangible elements of force structure—doctrine, orientation, and habits of thought?

The first of these questions is easily answered. Europe absorbs a greater proportion of U.S. conventional forces in 1985 than it did in 1964, before the Vietnam war. Although absolute numbers of U.S. forces stationed in Europe have declined since the early 1960's, as a proportion of U.S. forces stationed abroad they have increased steadily. Over two-thirds of American soldiers, sailors, and airmen stationed overseas serve in Europe, and an increasing percentage of those serve in Germany. U.S. forces in the Pacific, by contrast, have declined both in real terms and proportionate to U.S. forces overseas and U.S. forces overall. The initial commitment to Europe of some 300,000 men came from an overall armed force of 3.25 million. A similar sized force today comes from an overall force almost a third smaller. Trends in deployment of key items of equipment point in the same direction.

Over time, the strategic commitment to Europe has more and more sharply affected American force structures at home as well. The “heavying” of Army divisions in response to increased preparation for European contingencies has been one aspect of this. Increasingly, U.S. reserve forces and even the Marine Corps (not traditionally a Europe-oriented force) have found themselves assigned to European missions, with corresponding effects on doctrine and organization.


The most obvious manifestation of the increasing commitment of American military resources to Europe lies not in the numbers of troops stationed there in peacetime but in those committed to its defense by American war planners. Current plans for a crisis envision an extraordinary deployment of ten divisions in ten days to the European front lines, with four divisions drawing their equipment from POMCUS (Prepositioning of Materiel Configured to Unit Sets) stocks warehoused in Europe. The strategic awkwardness of this arrangement should be apparent: POMCUS is costly, and offers lucrative targets to Soviet air and special forces. More than one knowledgeable observer has asked whether the forces scheduled to pick up this equipment will find it intact, find it operable, or be able to organize themselves and deploy in an orderly fashion from assembly points under attack.

The overstretch of American forces caused by the advent of the All-Volunteer Force, the emergence of new military commitments (particularly in the Persian Gulf), and the decay of alliance structures has led American planners to assign extremely demanding missions to the reserves. To meet the increased mobilization commitment to Europe, the United States Army has created a force structure that depends on reserve forces in order to undertake any major military campaign.

The results are twofold. First, reserve units must now prepare for early commitment and hence maintain high readiness for all-out combat. Not only do the history and logic of the American reserve system make one doubt that reserve units can attain the requisite efficiency; what this also means is that the most capable reserve units cannot serve (as they have traditionally and most usefully served) as a framework for a vastly increased force structure in wartime. By assigning the most efficient and well-equipped reserve forces to early European deployment, the United States runs the risk of finding itself stripped of a central strategic reserve after mobilization, and without a cadre of experienced units and soldiers to train and stiffen new, draft-based armies. Second, a reserve-dependent force structure oriented toward Europe will prove awkward for use in lesser contingencies (in the Persian Gulf, for example); for domestic political reasons, any President would hesitate to call out reserve forces for such purposes.

The European orientation of U.S. forces, particularly the Army, detracts from our ability to cover other contingencies adequately. More precisely, the need to prepare for a massive and early commitment to a land war in Europe distorts planning for both hot and cold war with the Soviet Union and other powers in other regions. With the exception of the Pacific Command, other regional commands—Central Command, for example, responsible for the Middle East and the Persian Gulf in particular—have no forces under their peacetime control, because such forces have dual (European and non-European) missions. Even the Army's new light divisions must prepare for a European role in addition to Third World contingencies. The emphasis on Europe extends to training and equipment as well: the military deemphasizes skills such as counterinsurgency that do not apply to the European scenario.

Europe acts as a strategic liability in other ways, too, primarily by exercising a restraining effect on American actions. This has been most noticeable in the Middle East, where American and European policies have been at odds, but it holds true in other areas as well (the Strategic Defense Initiative, for example). If, on balance, U.S. and European interests overseas conflict less than they have done in the past, that is simply because European interests overseas have contracted so sharply. Where interests do clash is with regard to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The Europeans, far more dependent on trade generally than the United States, and hard pressed to compete in world markets with the United States and Japan, find the Eastern-bloc markets increasingly attractive. At the same time the United States, fearful of Soviet attempts to steal or purchase Western technology, has attempted to impose restrictions on the kinds of trade its partners conduct with the Soviet empire.

In a larger sense, the Europeans have yet to experience the same disillusionment with détente that Americans have. Despite the invasion of Afghanistan and the imposition of martial law in Poland, the European states remain reluctant to resume the kind of conflict which divided the continent during the 1950's. One reason is that Western Europe benefits from closer economic ties to Eastern Europe. At a psychological level Europeans have also enjoyed the generally more relaxed political atmosphere that has pervaded the continent in the wake of détente and have hoped to insulate themselves from the atmosphere of East-West hostility which set in again in the late 1970's.

To sum up: over the past thirty years, America's commitment to Europe has absorbed an increasing proportion of U.S. military power, broadly defined. That commitment is most noticeable in the central region of Europe, although its effects have been felt to a lesser degree along the flanks as well. More importantly, the commitment has exercised an ever-growing influence on doctrine and organization. Demographic and fiscal trends—declining pools of draftable young men and stagnant European defense budgets—promise to augment the American role still further. This will hold true all the more if, as appears likely, the United States continues to dominate the next generation of military technology. Finally, all this has been happening while U.S.-European interests have increasingly diverged, or at any rate while the focus of divergence has moved from the periphery—the former colonial world—to the center, the very heart of East-West relations.



What do we learn from this analysis? Broadly speaking, three changes have occurred over the history of the Atlantic alliance.

The first is Europe's relative decline as a strategic stake and asset in the competition with the Soviet Union, although the decline has by no means been precipitate or steep: the preservation of a free and allied Western Europe remains overwhelmingly important to the United States, and its forces remain a major asset in the overall balance between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The second is that Europe has become more of a strategic liability to the United States, less for reasons intrinsic to Europe than because of transformations elsewhere, including the rise of new areas of strategic concern (particularly the Persian Gulf and Central America) and the expansion of Soviet power.

Third, from the point of view of strategic geography it is the flanks of NATO that are becoming increasingly important, primarily because of the rise of Soviet maritime power, because of changes in military technology, and because of threats in the Persian Gulf.

These changes are all long-term and slow in nature; they constitute a kind of tectonic movement beneath the surface of policy debates. It is striking, however, how little systematic attention has been paid to them. Current force postures and commitments still represent a cumulative set of marginal additions to a strategic policy established some thirty-five years ago. It is natural that policy be made that way (in the United States, at any rate), but the process is not without its perils.

Can we do anything about these structural changes in our strategic interests without causing catastrophic political damage to the alliance? That is not an easy question to answer. What we can do, at least, is to make an effort to understand those changes, and their implications, in order to prepare ourselves to take remedial action in the event of some major break in the continuity of alliance politics or international relations more generally—say, the defection of Greece from the alliance, or Soviet intervention in Iran.

One such implication is the need to emphasize the flanks of NATO more than the central front. The latter was a major source of worry in 1951 when American troops were seen as necessary to stop (or at least slow) a Soviet army poised to overrun a disarmed Germany and a war-enfeebled Western Europe. The great shifts since then—the rearmament of Germany, and the opportunity for a defense conducted with European reserve forces behind prepared fortifications and barriers—militate against pouring more resources into what is, after all, the region least likely to see a war. Instead, marginal resources could be devoted to Norway and above all to Turkey, the only country in NATO with no manpower shortage and with a long record of adherence to the alliance even in the face of poor treatment by it. It is, after all, on the periphery that the great wars of the past have broken out, and it is on NATO's flanks that one can most easily imagine military confrontations between the two sides.

A second implication is the need to reduce the dependence of Europe on immediate reinforcement by U.S. land-based forces. Military logic suggests the peculiarity (at the very least) of a strategy which relies heavily on the appearance within a week of massive armies from a power thousands of miles distant from the main battle front. Such a dependence is as politically unhealthy as it is militarily tenuous. The primary responsibility for Europe's defense on the ground must rest with Europeans.

Third is the need to encourage, as far as possible, the development of European defense entities. This may take a variety of forms: encouraging the revival of the West European Union; aiding, if need be directly, the creation of all-European (as opposed to national) arms industries; and minimizing the pressure the United States puts on Europeans to act where they will be least united, i.e., overseas. The stronger the European common defense—including ultimately a broader nuclear force than those of Britain and France—the less difficult it will be for the United States to adjust the balance between its forces and strategy on the one hand and its political commitments on the other.


Above all, the United States must face the realities of its own strategic position, which has changed in major ways since the 1950's. The durability of the Atlantic alliance is both a source of strength and a temptation to the belief that the strategic equilibrium has remained unaltered. That belief is mistaken. We can, however, recognize that new strategic realities exist without concluding that we must discard old instruments of security. Indeed, only through such a recognition will we avoid the further enfeeblement of a coalition as venerable, and valuable, as the Atlantic alliance.

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