2 SEPTEMBER 1972, Page 7


Problems of European security

Adam Watson

Dispassionate thinking about defence is rare in this country. The subject is distasteful: both the destructiveness and the cost of modern weapons are terrifying, and the technical issues are too abstruse.

The basic problems of our complex defence position can be summed up as follows. The essential task is to preserve the security of these islands from hostile attack or coercive pressure. As things stand, the threat comes only from the Soviet Union, The Soviets maintain armed forces in Europe of far greater effectiveness than anything required by Western standards for defence. The West Europeans together could not produce anything like the conventional and nuclear force required to parry this Soviet strength.

In present circumstances it is difficult to believe that either superpower would use nuclear weapons against the other's homeland unless it felt its existence was at stake. An American nuclear umbrella' by itself would be unconvincing. The danger to non-Soviet Europe is the threat of invasion by conventional forces — perhaps in active support of a 'People's Liberation Movement.' If the Soviets had arrayed against them only what Western Europe and Greece and Turkey can muster, they would have to show a truly saintly regard for their people's independence not to use their preponderance to get their way in Western Europe and the Mediterranean, even if they allowed us internal autonomy. This is the fear of ' Finlandisation.' Nor would the threat be contained by a US promise to send troops across the Atlantic in case of need.' A considerable crisis would be needed to persuade a US President and Congress (especially in the wake of Vietnam) to send the boys across; their arrival would itself escalate the crisis; and coordination with European forces would be jerky.

What prevents Soviet hegemony, and makes Europe a zone of low pressure in the world, a region where détente, balanced force reductions, even a new European security system seem worth serious discussion, is the massive and integrated participation of the US in the conventional defence of Europe below the strategic nuclear threshold. The scale of this is impressive. There are nearly a third of a million Americans under arms in Europe. The defence of the central front consists of a US German force in South Germany and a mixed British-German-Dutch-Belgian force in the middle, with a European Commander over the two; and a Scandinavian-German area under British command in the north. The Americans also maintain nuclear and naval forces in Europe. The defence of Greece and Turkey, who control Soviet access to the Mediterranean, is maintained by the US providing their equipment and advisers. The US also pays the largest share of the expensive infrastructure programmes in Europe which modern defence requires.

There used to be a fear among the European allies that we might be dragged by the Americans into a quarrel with the Russians on an issue that did not directly threaten European security. Times have changed; and the fear today is not of being dragged in but of being shut out of a settlement between the two superpowers that did not adequately protect us.

This is clear enough to the European defence partners. Men like that resolute friend of Britain, the Dutch Joe Luns. now fortunately Secretary-General of NATO, or the Belgian Paul-Henri Speak, have constantly proclaimed that Europe is not enough. (The Times obituary leader praising Spaak for founding the EEC without mentioning this basic premise was like praising Edith Cavell for patriotism or Oliver Twist for enjoying his dinner.) The Germans. in the front line, regard an integrated US presence as so essential that they are reluctant to do anything that might unmesh it. But there is bound to be a substantial reduction of the American presence. As we adjust to new realities, we European partners need to coordinate our defence policy, because we have the same defence interest while the US has major commitments outside Europe. Some restructuring of NATO seems inevitable. The Americans welcome any strengthening of the 'European pillar,' like the Eurogroup in NATO. That was a British initiative; and we are well placed to take others, with support from the Italians as well as our integral partners.

This brings us to the other major problem of our defence, the isolation of France. The political heirs of de Gaulle still believe in preserving national sovereignty, and that defence, its most vital attribute, must not be entangled with that of others so as to limit sole French control of their armed forces. The French are developing a self-sufficient concept of defence rather like Switzerland and Sweden, two effectively armed lone powers. But the French remain nominally in the Atlantic Alliance, as opposed to the integrated defence partnership which de Gaulle quitted and evicted from France. And they have also developed an individual nuclear capacity: including a small strategic 'force de frappe' which each year becomes less capable of inflicting unacceptable damage (the criterion of effectiveness) on the Soviet Union, and a tactical nuclear weapon which apparently causes more damage than the partners, and especially the. Germans, consider acceptable to halt an invasion of Western Germany. This French policy is realistic only if carried out behind the shield of an effective defence structure between France and the Soviet threat: just as the French policy of cooperation with Russia is practicable only in the context of the detente induced by adequate defence of the NATO area. That is why the French want the Americans to stay in Germany. There are signs that the French would be willing to talk to the European defence partners, outside the NATO context, about coordination if the US did substantially withdraw. But such discussions would stop short of entanglement and would probably be limited to conventional forces and their equipment. My impression is that if the French talk to anyone about the force de frappe, it will be the Americans and not us Europeans.

Our security would be improved if the French, who are geographically our neighbours and a sizeable military power, would agree at least to coordinate their defence policy with the rest of us, provided that this does not involve any additional disengagement of the Americans (the Germans would insist on this proviso anyway) What can we do to promote this? Little enough. But where openings exist let us take them.

Fortunately for those who wish to take an intelligent interest in this complicated but vital aspect of our foreign relations, a short and quite admirable book entitled The Security of Western Europe* has appeared, setting out these problems and the possible ways to mitigate them. It confines itself to the present general context; and within that context it is likely to become a classic. Its principal author, Sir Bernard Burrows, until recently our representative at NATO, is one of the halfdczen people who have thought most deeply and lucidly about our defence; his collaborator Christopher Irwin is deputy director of the Federal Trust.

The text is only 150 pages long. The first ninety pages are precise and clinical, like a good medical diagnosis. The last sixty pages, and a few paragraphs of the first ninety, list the possible prescriptions and courses of treatment. This is harder going, because it is technical and necessarily tentative; but few who get to page ninety will fail to read on in order to see what the authors think could be done.

Alas, the suggestions are modest. Where they go beyond the conventional wisdom, they offer not panaceas but palliatives. For instance, the French have cautiously accepted the Davignon Report on 'seeking to harmonise' the foreign policies of the EEC Ten. Perhaps they would agree to discussions about defence? The brilliant Belgian Count Davignon seems to me to have inherited Spaak's mantle in this field: assuming the Americans agree, his committee could try. European arms manufacture, more help with US defence costs, offer other possibilities. These are all defence prescriptions. The book does not discuss what could be done in other fields, to keep the Americans in Europe or coax

back the French. These wider issues are or should be, the nub of our foreign policy;

but they would make the book unwieldy.

It is more useful as it stands: a real contribution to the technical problems of our defence. *The Security of Western Europe by Sir Bernard Burrows and Christopher Irwin (Charles Knight, £3.00)