52. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1

The President’s Summary

For 20 years, we have viewed a strong cohesive NATO supported by the presence of substantial U.S. forces as essential to the pursuit of basic U.S. objectives in Europe. In this context, we now face major decisions on U.S. strategy and forces for NATO over the next five years. The key issues are:

—the likely Warsaw Pact threat and the present military capabilities of NATO;

—the military strategy consistent with our overall objectives in Europe and the forces required to support it;

—the possible improvements in NATO forces and alternative ways of sharing the defense burden;

—the approaches to reductions in U.S. forces either unilaterally or as part of a mutual force reduction by NATO and the Pact.

Although designed to counter a military threat, the U.S. commitment and support for NATO make it a “European power” offsetting the political influence the Soviets could otherwise exercise.

The Warsaw Pact Threat

We and our NATO Allies believe that the Soviets will be deterred from an attack on NATO within the foreseeable future. In particular, the Soviets probably find that there is:

—a high risk that even a limited conflict in Central Europe would escalate to general war;

—a strong possibility that NATO’s forces would prevent Soviet conventional forces from achieving their objectives.

Nevertheless, events such as an uprising in an Eastern European country or a miscalculation in a test of wills over Berlin or the Middle East could trigger a crisis leading to hostilities.

Should hostilities break out, the Soviets would probably attack in the Center Region of Europe. While this attack would be initially conventional, the Soviets do not believe that the conventional phase of a conflict would last more than a few days because of the weakness of [Page 216] NATO’s conventional forces. If NATO used tactical nuclear weapons in an attempt to halt the Soviet attack, the planned Soviet response would most likely be a large theater-wide nuclear strike, including attacks on cities, followed up by a strong ground offensive penetrating through the holes in NATO’s defenses created by a nuclear attack.

At present, Soviet doctrine, exercises, and force design suggest that the Soviets neither plan for nor are capable of carrying on hostilities in Europe in which large numbers of nuclear weapons are not used.

The Military Balance

Worldwide, NATO has a very significant advantage over the Warsaw Pact in the resources available for and devoted to its defense effort. Including the U.S. contribution, NATO outnumbers the Pact 3:1 in population, almost 2:1 in defense expenditures, and has about 25% more men under arms during peacetime. With this overall resource advantage, NATO is able to maintain forces in Europe that are roughly comparable to the Warsaw Pact forces. In the critical Center Region for example:

In manpower, NATO has an active ground strength of about 757,000 men, slightly less than the Pact’s 818,000 men.

In aircraft, NATO is numerically inferior to the Pact by a large margin. However, NATO has larger external aircraft reserves, its aircraft are qualitatively superior to the Pact’s, and a large portion of Pact aircraft are designed for a defensive role.

In tanks, NATO has an inventory of about 11,000 tanks compared to the Soviets 13,000 tanks. At present, only about half (6,000) of NATO’s tank force, however, are in active units and the Pact would have an immediate numerical advantage of about 2:1. The NATO forces here again are qualitatively superior.

In naval forces, NATO has a 2:1 numerical advantage over the Pact except in attack submarines. Our NATO allies alone have as many major warships as the Warsaw Pact, including the Soviets.

While NATO’s strength is in manpower and air/naval forces, the Pact has a major advantage in its mobilization and reinforcement capability and armored forces. Whereas the Pact can mobilize and deploy a force about twice the size of its peacetime deployment within three weeks or less, NATO is relatively slow in mobilizing, largely because of the low readiness of U.S. ground forces. For example,

—The NATO Allies, like the Soviets, can mobilize and deploy their forces within three weeks.

—The U.S. is unable to deploy any ground forces in less than 20 days (the period required for full Pact mobilization). Deployment of our strategic reserve (3-2/3 divisions) is planned to take at least 45 days but, given current readiness, would actually take a month or two longer. U.S. reserve units would not be ready for deployment for about six months.

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Because the U.S. is slow to reinforce with ground forces, the Warsaw Pact could gain a clear advantage if the time available for mobilization were short and the Pact started before NATO. For example, a detailed comparison of the Pact and NATO capabilities led to the conclusions that under present circumstances:

—If the Pact makes a surprise attack after a few days of mobilization, it would have superior forces but probably could not penetrate NATO’s defenses near the West German border.

—If the Pact achieves a two-week level in mobilization and attacks, there is a high probability that NATO defenses would be penetrated.

—If both sides mobilize simultaneously for more than 30 days, NATO forces rapidly improve their position relative to the Pact. After 60 days of mobilization, the Pact’s chances of breaking through NATO’s defenses would be greatly reduced.

While the Pact might overwhelm NATO following a Pact mobilization to which NATO did not respond, NATO has sufficient strength to deny the Soviets any real assurance of success if there is either very limited or nearly complete mobilization by both sides. Since a full-scale Soviet attack would probably be preceded by some warning, this means that NATO has sufficient conventional forces overall to carry out a conventional defense under most circumstances. The principal uncertainties bearing on this judgment are:

Warning. The intelligence community believes that we would have indicators of Pact mobilization “possibly almost immediately but certainly within a week” after it had started. This delay could alone give the Pact a significant advantage since it only takes them three weeks to mobilize and deploy their forces. Moreover, even if clear warning were received, there is a real risk that our NATO Allies would not respond by making military preparations lest they provoke the Soviets.

Mobilization Time. Given the delays involved in receiving a warning of Pact mobilization and reacting to it, it is unlikely that NATO would mobilize simultaneously with the Pact. If the Pact led NATO by several weeks early in the mobilization process, it could gain a nearly decisive advantage.

War Outcomes. There is some risk that a NATO defense could fail even if NATO had very large forces. At the start of World War II 2.5 million Germans were able to overwhelm the 2.7 million men in the Allied force. Later in the war, the Soviets frequently failed in offensives even with five to ten times as many men as the Germans. Clearly, leadership and morale are as important in warfare as the relative size of the contending forces.

In spite of these uncertainties, we probably have large enough forces to have a real conventional option in case of Soviet attack. The real problems are a number of qualitative deficiencies in the NATO force posture that badly need correction and could prove critical in time of war. These deficiencies and the force improvements needed to correct them are discussed below:

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Insufficient tank and anti-tank weapons. While NATO forces in Europe match the Pact in manpower on M-Day and exceed them thereafter, the Pact forces could have up to three times as many tanks available for combat. While NATO has large tank reserves and an effective anti-tank capability, NATO forces need more tanks and anti-tank weapons if they are to have a good capability against a Pact armored attack. A suitable program would cost between $500 million and $1.5 billion per year.

Insufficient Sustaining Capability. At present, our Allies would be unable to continue fighting for more than 20 days because of shortages of ammunition and other reserves. The U.S. currently stocks about 90 days of most war materials in Europe. Since supplies from the U.S. could reach Europe in 75 days, these reserves would allow us to sustain our forces indefinitely. The Allied capability could be increased to 30 days for only $100 million per year, and to 60 days for $240 million per year.

Aircraft Vulnerability. A significant portion of U.S. aircraft and all Allied aircraft are not sheltered against surprise attack. All Soviet aircraft are sheltered. A surprise attack on NATO’s airfields early in a conflict could destroy a large portion of our force on the ground. Providing shelters for all aircraft would cost $100 million per year.

Mobilization and Reinforcement. Our active divisions could probably not be deployed to Europe for several months. We and our Allies have had little experience in mobilization or reinforcement on the scale needed. In contrast, the Pact has had several partial mobilizations, including the one preceding the Czechoslovakia invasions, and regularly holds large exercises. Some improvements in U.S. and Allied readiness could be made for only $140 million per year.

Unless we solve these problems by pressing for a joint U.S./Allied force improvements package, we may find our conventional forces weak despite the availability of enough manpower and equipment. On the other hand, if we and our Allies do make these improvements, at relatively little cost, we will have a strong conventional option should a conflict break out. The willingness of our Allies to make these improvements would be enhanced if they were assured that the U.S. would assist them by maintaining strong forces itself.

The U.S. Strategy for NATO

There are three principal strategies that NATO might consider in the event of Warsaw Pact aggression.

—Use of conventional forces exclusively.

—Early response with nuclear weapons to any unambiguous attack.

—A “flexible response” strategy that does not preclude either response. Whether and when nuclear weapons would be used would depend on how the conflict develops.

NATO has formally adhered to a “flexible response” strategy since 1967. This strategy envisions responding to a Warsaw Pact attack in kind or through deliberate and “controlled” escalation. While NATO [Page 219] commanders have a variety of war plans intended to cover the large number of possible contingencies, the emphasis is on defending NATO’s territory as far forward as possible using conventional forces.

Within the NATO “flexible response” strategy, you have approved a U.S. posture of “initial defense” for NATO. This means that forces in Europe and reinforcements from the U.S. should be able, with Allied forces, to defend conventionally for about 90 days against a full-scale invasion following a period of political crisis and military preparations by both sides. NATO forces should, under this strategy, be able to cope with smaller attacks or ones developing more slowly, but not with a massive Warsaw Pact attack following a concealed mobilization.

To implement this strategy, the U.S. presently maintains substantial forces for the support of NATO.

In Western Europe, the U.S. has deployed 4-1/3 Army divisions, 21 tactical fighter squadrons, and two carrier task groups in the Mediterranean. Total military authorized for June, 1970, was about 327,000. Because of drawdowns for Southeast Asia, the actual strength of our forces in Europe is about 300,000 of whom about 206,000 are stationed in the FRG. The U.S. direct budget cost of this force is about $3 billion a year and the net balance of payment outflow is about $1.7 billion.

Outside Western Europe, the U.S. also has substantial other forces that are planned for NATO. These forces, although earmarked for NATO, are not maintained solely for that purpose and some might be allocated to other theaters to implement national strategy. Active forces currently planned for NATO include 8-1/3 Army divisions, two Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEF), 41 Air Force squadrons, eight attack carrier task groups, and four ASW carrier task groups.

In assessing the adequacy of the forces there are a few key variables:

Defense Objectives. We plan to defend “forward” along the FRG border. If less demanding defense objectives, such as defense at the Rhine were chosen, NATO would be able to hold a Pact attack with substantially fewer forces than at present. Such strategies would be unacceptable to the Allies, particularly the West Germans.

Allied Contribution. Our Allies now contribute about four-fifths of NATO’s manpower and equipment. For this reason, small changes in our Allies’ forces, such as the improvements outlined above, could have a greater effect on NATO capabilities than relatively large changes in U.S. forces. Moreover, there is little doubt that the Allies are economically capable of further increasing their contribution. While they have a collective GNP about equal to the U.S.’s, they spend about one-third as much on defense.

War Length. We currently structure our forces for NATO to fight an indefinite war in Europe. Since our Allies are not able to logistically sustain a conflict for more than 45 days, even if they shared U.S. supplies, and the Soviets also plan for a short war, this assumption may not [Page 220] be reasonable. If the U.S. planned on a 60-day or shorter war, it might reduce its support forces to increase immediate combat capability and maintain overseas deployments since external reinforcement would be difficult.

Budget. The cost of all the forces we maintain for NATO (in place forces plus other forces in the U.S. clearly earmarked for NATO) is about $14 billion per year. It is clear that less than one-fifth of the total cost of U.S. forces for NATO results from the U.S. forces stationed in or near Europe. If large budgetary savings were necessary, they could probably be best obtained from U.S. forces outside Europe.

Reinforcement. We can rapidly reinforce NATO with air and naval forces. Ground forces cannot be rapidly deployed unless their equipment is prepositioned in Europe and they are ready to be committed. At present, a large portion of the ground forces that we plan for NATO could not be deployed rapidly enough to have any significant effect on the outcome of a war in Europe. Our reserve divisions, for example, are not planned for deployment until 26 weeks after a conflict had started.

With large reductions in the size and readiness of our overall force structure, the importance of maintaining adequate forward-deployed forces is increased because external reinforcement becomes more difficult. Given our present strategy and defense objectives, therefore, there is good reason for substantial U.S. forces, particularly ground units, to be retained in Europe unless the Allies prove willing and able to increase their defensive capabilities. The reduction of forward-deployed air or naval forces would decrease NATO’s military capabilities to a lesser degree since these forces can be rapidly re-introduced.

NATO Nuclear Strategy

At present, we place primary reliance on conventional and our strategic forces to deter and, if deterrence fails, defend against a Warsaw Pact attack. If it were feasible to deter the Soviets through tactical nuclear weapons, this could allow us to make major reductions in our conventional strength. The fact remains that NATO could be placed in a position where a decision would have to be made between accepting conventional defeat and using tactical nuclear weapons.

Under such circumstances, it would be very difficult to rely on tactical nuclear weapons for the following reasons:

—The NATO forces contain many small-yield nuclear weapons that could be used to limit damage. There is little assurance, however, that the Soviets could respond in a similar manner since they have few small-yield weapons.

—The NATO and Pact tactical nuclear forces each contain large numbers of survivable nuclear forces. Even if NATO struck first against the Warsaw Pact forces, the Pact could counter-attack killing half the urban population of Western Europe, using only its non-strategic nuclear forces.

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—The facilities and forces of NATO are probably more vulnerable to attack than the Pact’s. With fewer than 100 nuclear warheads, the Pact could close NATO’s major ports, cripple its depot system, and destroy a substantial portion of its forces.

While we have much to learn about nuclear weapons, there is little or no reason to believe that their use would result in an outcome favorable to NATO. Given present Pact doctrine and capabilities, it is also likely that any extensive first use by NATO would result in a massive Pact counter-attack against Europe’s cities and escalation to strategic warfare.

While our tactical nuclear forces should probably be maintained, there is broad agreement that the U.S. cannot place primary reliance on them for either deterrence or war-fighting capability. We should plan to retain a strong conventional capability.

Mutual Force Reductions

Since 1967, the U.S. has taken the lead in pursuing MBFR studies in NATO and in seeing that signals to the Pact favoring MBFR were incorporated in NATO communiqués. In June of this year, the Pact responded cautiously but favorably to these signals by suggesting discussion of the reduction of “foreign forces on the territories of European states.”2 We are now faced with the operational question of formulating an answer to the Pact signal in the communiqué resulting from the NATO Ministerial Meeting this December. Our Allies will be pressing us to approve a favorable response.

There are essentially 3 courses of action open to us:

Back off from our support of MBFR.

Actively seek a politically based approach in the form of a small reduction in stationed forces linked to possible later reductions in indigenous forces.

—Continue to give general support to the concept of MBFR and encourage further studies to identify approaches which would improve NATO’s military position. These could be either a major arms control approach involving large symmetrical reductions and constraints on the Pact mobilization and reinforcement capability or a corrective approach involving so-called mixed package tradeoffs which could, for example, reduce the Pact advantage in armor.

We need to think very carefully about the advantages and disadvantages of all these approaches in both military and political terms since

There appears to be no symmetrical approach to MBFR which would improve NATO’s military position although preliminary analysis indicates that small mutual reductions would have a minimal effect on the military balance.

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—We have not been able to identify negotiable collateral constraints which would inhibit Pact mobilization and reinforcement without harming NATO at the same time.

—The feasibility of an approach embodying “mixed package tradeoffs” has not been established.

—We have just scratched the surface in thinking about verification problems.

—The political advantages of seeking an MBFR agreement could prove to be illusory if the Soviets tried to use MBFR to weaken the will of the Alliance to maintain adequate defense forces.

Options for Decision

Earlier discussion of the key issues we face in NATO indicates that crucial decisions must be made regarding:

—The military strategy for NATO preferred by the U.S.

—The level and structure of U.S. forces for NATO in both the short run (e.g., FY 72) and the long run.

—The force improvements to be made by the U.S. and its Allies and their relationship to financial support and offset arrangements.

—U.S. support for the concept of mutual and balanced force reductions and possible for a particular approach to MBFR.

A variety of alternatives for dealing with all of these problems has been presented. They could be combined in many ways to construct options encompassing our overall approach to NATO. From the set of possible options, five have been developed which are believed to be representative of the wide range of feasible choices. All of these options assume continuation of the “flexible response” strategy to which NATO has formally adhered since 1967 although there is some variation in the supporting strategy adopted by the U.S.

The attached chart summarizes the principal features of the five options, two of which contain a variant. The advantages and disadvantages of each would be briefly as follows:

Option 1: Initial Conventional Defense Strategy with Sustaining Capabilities and Force Improvements would improve U.S. and Allied war-fighting capabilities, assure our Allies of our continuing commitment to NATO and discourage the Soviets from playing a waiting game on MBFR and other European security issues. It would be resisted, however, by those in the U.S., particularly in Congress, who want to see substantial U.S. forces withdrawn from Europe and would result in increased balance of payment and budgetary costs. This option is recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Option 2: Initial Conventional Defense (60 Days) With Restructuring and Force Improvements would have substantially the same advantages and disadvantages as Option 1 except that it would increase immediate combat capabilities while reducing staying power.

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Option 3A: Initial Conventional Defense with Small Reductions (25,000 men in Forward Deployed Forces) but no Definite Approach to MBFR would at least maintain immediate combat capabilities and would result in small balance of payments and budgetary savings in the long-run. It would, however, reduce U.S. sustaining capability for a conventional war but still leave a capability greater than the Allies and possibly the Pact and could also reduce U.S. credibility with its Allies in the light of past reductions and recent assurances. In addition, it might not be sufficient to satisfy groups in the U.S. which want to see substantial withdrawals from Europe. This option is the short-term policy recommended by Secretary Laird.

Option 3B: Initial Conventional Defense with Small Reductions (25,000 men in Forward Deployed Forces) Through a Basically Political Approach to MBFR would have substantially the same advantages and disadvantages as Option 3A except that it would maintain U.S. credibility with the Allies. This option is recommended by Secretary Rogers and ACDA.

Option 4A: Initial Conventional Defense with Significant Reductions (50,000 men in Forward Deployed Forces) and No MBFR would satisfy groups in the U.S. who want immediate and substantial withdrawals from Europe and would result in substantial balance of payments and budgetary savings. It would, however, substantially reduce NATO conventional combat capabilities and make it difficult to obtain Allied force improvements while causing the Allies to doubt U.S. credibility and weakening their perception of the U.S. commitment to NATO. In addition, it could weaken the prospects for détente and cause the Soviets to perceive the existence of a military advantage which could be exploited in peacetime as well as in wartime.

Option 4B: Initial Conventional Defense with Significant Reductions (50,000 men in Forward Deployed Forces) Through an Arms Control or Corrective Approach to MBFR would result in significant cost and balance of payments savings once the MBFR agreement was negotiated and would probably provide enough leverage to get the Allies to make at least some force improvements. It could also quiet some of the opposition in the U.S. to current deployments in Europe (but not satisfy those who want immediate withdrawals), discourage the Soviets from playing a waiting game on European security issues and enhance the prospects for détente. Depending on the content of the MBFR agreement, it could, however, reduce relative warfighting capabilities and give the Soviets the opportunity to try and weaken the will of our Allies to maintain adequate defense forces.

Option 5: Initial Conventional Defense with Very Substantial Reductions (in Forward Deployed Forces roughly 150,000 men) and a Major Shift in Force Burden to Allies (Or Increased Reliance on Nuclear Weapons) would [Page 224] defuse domestic opposition to our present [apparent omission] and budgetary savings. It would, however, have a number of major disadvantages:

—It would be strongly resisted by the Allies, would cause them to doubt U.S. credibility, and would probably remove their incentive to maintain present forces, much less make force improvements.

—It would, therefore, substantially reduce NATO warfighting capabilities and make U.S. troops appear more as “hostages.” In addition, should deterrence fail, there would be no assurance that use of nuclear weapons would assure an outcome favorable to NATO.

—It would make MBFR a dead letter and thus reduce the prospects for détente while causing the Soviets to perceive a military advantage which could be exploited in peacetime as well as wartime.

This option is the long term policy for NATO recommended by Secretary Laird.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–167, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 84. Secret; Sensitive. This paper summarizes both a 66-page “NATO Issue Paper (NSSMs 84 and 92)” and separate “Basic Papers” for NSSMs 84 and 92. (Ibid.) The paper was prepared for the NSC meeting of November 19, 1970 (see Document 53). Additional material on this meeting is located ibid., Boxes H–029 and H–030, NSC Meeting—NATO and MBFR 11/19/70.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 30.