Arms Wrestling Over Europe

Imagine a big, strong football player and a small, soft scholar, and you'll begin to see what's wrong with the INF treaty.


By offering to eliminate medium-range nuclear missiles from Europe, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has demonstrated consummate skill in exploiting to Soviet advantage the Reagan administration's present weakness. Gorbachev knows that the so-called zero option is extremely favorable to the USSR's strategic interests because of the substantial Soviet advantage in Europe in conventional and chemical weapons.

Indeed, if consummated without rectifying the conventional imbalance, the INF treaty will increase the ability of the Soviets to intimidate America's Western European allies and lead to their further Finlandization. Moreover, by placing the 340,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Europe in greater danger, the treaty makes it all the more imperative that the United States withdraw those troops and make Europeans responsible for their own defense.

By increasing the intimidation of Europe, the INF accord will lead to more transfers from the West to the Soviet Union—transfers of credit, technology, and goods. To understand how this works, imagine a big, strong football player and a soft, small, scholarly individual. Because of his superior strength, the football player is able to intimidate the physically weak opponent and get him to do all kinds of favors. In fact, the big guy doesn't even have to explicitly threaten the physically weak guy. All he has to do is say, Would you mind shining my shoes? And the little guy says, Of course, I'll shine your shoes. Why, I'm here to shine your shoes.

One day, though, the little guy gets smart and buys himself a gun. He shows the gun to the big guy. As a result, the big guy's ability to intimidate the little guy is reversed. The big guy may go out and purchase a gun as well. But the fact remains that even though they both have guns, the big guy cannot intimidate the little guy as before. Now the question of who dominates whom is a question of strategy—who is faster on the draw, who has stronger nerves, who owns the better gun, and so forth. Physical size is no longer relevant.

Along comes a peacemaker who proclaims to the gullible multitudes that guns are dangerous (forgetting that they are also useful). A deal is proposed whereby both parties dispose of their guns—that is, even-steven disarmament. The big guy agrees because he knows his ability to intimidate the little guy will be resurrected if the little guy goes along with the deal. Worn down by relentless propaganda about the inherent danger of guns, the little guy may agree as well, preferring intimidation to the remote possibility of being shot by a gun.

This, then, is the deal that the Reagan administration has cooked up with the Soviets. Many people have said that what the INF treaty, in fact, does is make the world safe for a conventional war in Europe. But I don't think we are going to have conventional war in Europe. The Soviets don't have to attack—just like the big guy didn't have to punch the little guy in the nose to get his message across. And we know what the big guy wants in Europe. He wants increased transfers of technology and subsidized loans, he wants to belong to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and GATT, and he wants the Europeans to put the muscle on the United States to offer the Soviets economic and political favors. That is the bottom line of this treaty.

Many conservatives mistakenly believe, however, that Soviet agreement to the INF deal is a U.S. victory—that "peace through strength" works. The Soviets had put SS-20s in Europe, and our job was to get them out. We accomplished this by first putting in our own intermediate range missiles and then agreeing to take them out. Strength, these conservatives argue, has given us peace.

But I wonder whether real peace can be so easily identified with eliminating the Soviet missiles from Eastern Europe. Should the U.S. goal simply be to rid Europe of the SS-20s—and no more? I say no. Real peace in Europe requires that Europe be militarized, not intimidated. And the INF agreement is certain to intimidate Europe.

How, then, can Europe be militarized? The best way is not to withdraw the missiles at all but to give them to the Europeans. The United States, if it had creative leadership in its foreign policy, would see the missiles as a great opportunity to change Europeans' attitudes toward increasing their military capacities. We don't even have to sell the missiles, we can give them to the Europeans. And then, if they want to negotiate the missiles away with Gorbachev, let them.

The Europeans, however, would be much more reluctant to negotiate those missiles away than the United States is. It is too easy for us to pull the missiles out, because the pressure to increase conventional forces will ultimately be borne by European budgets. If the decision were a European one, they would not place that pressure on themselves.

The second way to militarize Europe is to withdraw the U.S. troops. Those troops have truly done their job. In fact, they have pacified Europe to the extent that it actually has become a danger to this country. The U.S. nuclear guarantee of Europe—the cornerstone of NATO—has really had the effect of pacifying the Europeans too much, encouraging them not to make expenditures on conventional defense.

So, while the Soviets were going full throttle ahead, undergoing massive conventional rearmament, the Europeans were saying, Hey, the Americans are going to take care of us. Why do we have to spend money on our conventional forces—we'll spend it on our welfare state? Indeed, as long as the troops remain, no European politician will be able to muster sufficient popular support for a costly military buildup. That is what NATO has done in the last 20 years.

I'm not one who argues that NATO never had an important function. After the war it did. But, feeling safe because of the U.S. nuclear guarantee, the Europeans didn't build up their conventional defenses as their economies recovered from the war. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union built up its forces to the point where it now enjoys a three-to-one edge in tanks, a five-to-one edge in infantry fighting vehicles, a five-to-one edge in artillery, better than even in attack aircraft, a monopoly on automated tactical fire control, a one-and-a-half-to-one edge in manpower, a huge edge in chemical weapons, and a virtual monopoly in 50- to 500-mile range ballistic missiles. NATO has given us weak allies, and that weakness redounds to the benefit of the Soviet Union.

It is one of the tricks of the opposite side to this argument to label people like me "isolationist." But I am not an isolationist. I believe America cannot endure without strong allies. We cannot defend the world single-handedly. And if you start off with the presumption that a strong West requires a strong Europe, as I do, then you have to come to the conclusion that our major policy problem is how to get the Europeans strong again.

Many foreign policy experts argue that a U.S. troop withdrawal would split, or "decouple," Europe from America—which, they say, is precisely what the Soviets want. But the Soviets have made no concerted effort to get the U.S. troops out of Europe, comparable, for example, to their effort to get U.S. Pershing missiles out or to short-circuit the Strategic Defense Initiative. The reason is that the NATO link between the United States and Europe has worked very much to the Soviets' advantage.

"No one can read the literature that passes between Moscow and its European friends," writes Angelo Codevilla of the Hoover Institution, "without getting the message that the number one Soviet objective in Europe is to convince Europeans to use their influence to shape U.S. policy. Without doubt, since the late 1960s the Europeans have been the foremost lobby to convince the U.S. not to defend itself seriously.…No one who reads Communist literature can fail to notice that the Soviet Union's main message to its followers in Europe is not to 'decouple' the U.S. from NATO, but to use that coupling to Soviet advantage."

Indeed, the noted Soviet historian Adam Ulam has said that what the Soviets fear most is a strong, militarized, integrated Europe. And what is in the Soviet interest is the status quo—a weak, demilitarized, discordant Europe. "Although the Soviets want to encourage tensions between Western Europe and the United States," writes Ulam, "they may not want to see the United States withdraw or greatly reduce its land forces in Europe. Such a shock might make West European leaders decide they have no choice but to unite politically."

The Europeans have gotten the message that there are important changes going on in this country, that we are pulling the missiles out today and that sooner or later—and it is probably going to be sooner—the troops will come out as well. And they are starting to prepare for this. Today, for example, there is more French-German cooperation in the military field than ever before. And that cooperation will increase dramatically once a decision for a phased withdrawal is announced.

We're in an Alice in Wonderland world if we think that the present disparity between America's economic position and the economic position of the Europeans and Japanese is not going to cause drastic reordering in the security area. Private and Defense Department analysts estimate that NATO costs us $134–180 billion a year. This spending isn't on the Europeans alone, of course; it is on NATO, and we are an important part of NATO. And no one, as far as I know—and certainly not myself—is claiming that if we withdrew the troops from Europe, or we pulled out of NATO, we would save $140 billion. But we could save some $50–70 billion yearly by withdrawing our troops from Europe. That money would be better used to finance SDI or help close the budget deficit.

Adding to these pressures to pull out of Europe is the falling dollar. Lower and lower it goes, and as it goes lower the cost of maintaining our troops in Europe goes higher. In the past two-and-a-half years, the dollar has dropped more than 50 percent in relation to the German mark—and Germany is where most of our troops are. As a result, soldiers, who are paid in dollars, are living in poverty. This is scandalous in the short term, especially under an administration that pays lip service to caring about the troops, and will be expensive in the long run, as recruitment levels drop and salaries have to be raised to attract recruits and reenlistments. Of course, paying the troops is only one of the many costs of providing defense for Europe.

Yet the Germans are lecturing the United States right now, saying that we have to get our budget deficit in order to restore international financial stability. If we had any spirit in the foreign policy community, we'd say, Okay, you want us to work on our deficit, we have a great idea: We're going to pull the troops out of Germany.

America is stretched to the bones politically, militarily, and economically. This country has a big deficit problem. But not one of the candidates for president, on the Democratic side or the Republican side, is talking about cutting spending for NATO.

Yet how many Americans would be willing to vote themselves a tax increase rather than cut out spending on NATO? How many people would say, We want to increase our taxes to keep the troops in Europe? If a politician came along and posed that particular question to the American public, you would see how long the troops would stay in Europe.

Equally important, a phased U.S. troop pullout would have a long-run salutary effect on our allies. Without Uncle Sam's defense guarantees, the Europeans would have no choice but to beef up their own military spending. But if the troops do remain in Europe, pulling the Pershings out—as the INF treaty requires—will only increase Soviet intimidation of Western Europe. Only if the troops and Pershings are pulled out together will Western Europe become stronger and safer.

Melvyn Krauss, author of How NATO Weakens the West, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and economics professor at New York University. Parts of this article were presented at a December Cato Institute conference.