12. Paper Prepared in the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs1

NSSM–168—Part II

NATO’s Long Range Prospects

I. Overview and Options

The fundamental East-West military relationship in Europe has remained essentially the same over the years, despite both political and military developments which have greatly changed operational contexts. The military forces on the ground still represent the basic differences between the blocs, and continue to be a necessary cover even though other factors help make détente possible. At the same time, the long-range stability of the military balance may be more uncertain.

Though there have so far been no major shifts in the military equilibrium, foreign policy has been affected by the economic resurgence of Western Europe and Japan, the transformation of Sino-Soviet relations from those of allies to adversaries, the movement of US relations with the PRC toward rapprochement, and a reordering of Moscow’s foreign policy priorities toward closer links with the West.

Functionality, too, there are many new vectors of influence on the international scene. Among these are the increased importance of omnipresent multinational corporations. Additionally, as concerns mount over energy supplies and other resources, the dynamics of the relationships between the major industrial nations of the West (and Japan) and the oil-rich states of the Middle East and—more broadly—between the developed countries and the raw material-producing states of the Third World are assuming greater importance.

However, while in many spheres international relationships have become more complex, and while the centrality of military issues to decision-making by NATO governments has been somewhat reduced, the essential bipolarity of military power in East-West relations revolving around the US and the USSR makes NATO’s traditional role as the instrument of European and Atlantic security as important as ever. [Page 50] Continued support for NATO, however, requires a durable trans-Atlantic consensus.

Thus far, the basic community of politico-military interests between the US and its major Allies has remained relatively stable, despite far-reaching changes in US relationships with other areas of the world, and despite the resurgence of the economic power and self-assertiveness of these Allies. In the immediate future, however, Allied cohesion is likely to be threatened by increasing centrifugal forces, accentuated by pressures for détente. Segments of Western European and US opinion sense an adversary relationship between the United States and Europe in monetary, trade and investment matters, as well as in political issues relating to Alliance defense and East-West relations. The functioning of the nine-nation EC in some of these fields reinforces feelings of separateness. Moreover, in the economic field, some leaders question the adequacy of such economic organizations as IMF’s Group of 20, the GATT and the OECD. And in the security area, as public opinion is increasingly influenced by a younger generation with no recollection of the early days of the cold war, the relevance of NATO’s traditional role is being questioned. All this leads to increasing talk of the need for new institutions, and new roles for the old.

A. Assumptions

Trends and prospects, discussed in greater detail in ensuing sections of this paper, provide a basis for deriving certain general assumptions underlying alternative concepts for future US policies toward NATO that are described below.

A range of possible but unlikely contingencies is excluded, such as a drastic change in the nature of the Soviet state, a radical shift in the nuclear balance, a Sino-Soviet conflict, or a renewal of sharp East-West confrontations—as, for example, might arise from certain regional crises, such as upheaval in the Middle East or Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, it should be kept in mind that the Western European powers are even more critically dependent on Middle East oil supplies than is the United States, and that a grave rift could arise between the US and Western Europe if US support for Israel, and Arab-US enmity, threatened to jeopardize European energy supplies.

Finally, US policies, because of US economic, political and military weight, will have a strong bearing on developments. Particularly important, given the continuing potential sources of conflict in the monetary and trade spheres, will be the results of efforts to resolve these issues in a manner mutually satisfactory to the partners on both sides of the Atlantic.

The USSR . It is assumed, too, that throughout the decade the USSR will remain militarily powerful and, though possibly in diminishing [Page 51] degree, hostile in ideological attitude toward the West. This does not imply that the détente course adopted as official Soviet policy at the 23rd CPSU Congress in 1966 is only a transitory phenomenon. On the contrary, there is evidence that the Soviet leadership is now carried along to a considerable extent by the political dynamic generated by its own détente initiatives.

Certainly Moscow would appear to have sound reasons for holding to its present policy. The resurgence of Western Europe as a major economic and political force accelerated the long-standing Soviet search for an East-West modus vivendi in Europe. The USSR’s technological lag heightens the advantages Soviet planners see in broader intercourse with the West. Moscow undoubtedly also calculates that opportunities for stabilizing the Western front on acceptable terms should be seized in order to leave it greater flexibility in dealing with pressures in the Far East, before those pressures reduce Soviet bargaining leverage with the West. The re-emergence of active Chinese diplomacy, particularly the rapprochement with the US, also probably will discourage to some extent any latent tendency by the Soviets to revert to earlier patterns of international behavior.

This does not mean that Moscow will leave out of the calculation of its policies and tactics its evaluation of the military strength and political solidarity of the Western coalition. Certainly, Western weaknesses could tempt the USSR to exploit its strengths for political advantages. Whether the Soviet government moved in such a direction or refrained from such destabilizing acts would depend on how risky the moves seemed for Soviet interests, which in future years might involve quite extensive dependence on Western sources of food, capital, and technology.

Western Europe. In any event, it seems reasonable to suppose that, whatever Moscow’s actual moves, Western European governments will continue to perceive Moscow’s military power and unfriendly political orientation as a source of potential dangers, against which some prudent hedging is indispensable. From this perception will flow in turn a continued general recognition at the governmental level of the basic mutuality of Western European and US interests in maintaining a balance of power by preserving the security system that has served Allied interests so well over past decades. Nonetheless, the Western Europeans are now and will likely continue to be concerned about the impact of SALT, and the consequences of rough strategic parity, leading some to believe that the linkage between US strategic forces and the US commitment to NATO has been eroded. Differences in emphasis on issues of strategy, nuclear defense and burden-sharing also will continue to offer ground for misunderstanding.

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EC members seem determined to press ahead with economic and monetary integration on a pragmatic basis—though progress will likely occur in a fitful and erratic manner, and serious setbacks may occur. Meaningful political integration, though proving much more difficult to realize, has begun in a few areas, such as coordination of EC Nine positions in CSCE and discussion of MBFR. However, integration excluding the US with respect to military and security issues and arrangements still appears to be well beyond the range of feasibility, except in certain production projects and financial undertakings—whatever the abstract attraction of cooperative European defense arrangements as a hedge against uncertainty in relationships with the US. It seems likely that the EC will become a more important forum for intra-European consultation on political issues—in time competing with NATO in this regard. For the foreseeable future, however, closer integration within the EC framework probably will not be regarded by the member states as a substitute for the military security which NATO provides. Some Allied governments will undoubtedly question the value of the Alliance during the decade ahead, but the paucity of reasonable alternatives makes them unlikely to do anything about it.

From behind the NATO shield, Western European governments and the US will pursue active and essentially independent policies toward the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries, from which some inter-Allied tension will inevitably flow. Considerations of prestige will not be entirely absent, and the process will occasionally take on a competitive aspect, particularly among some of the Western European governments which feel that East-West détente is already too much a subject of private US-Soviet dealings.

At the same time, we would expect most Western European dealings with Moscow to be marked by caution, with careful testing of Soviet intentions. There will also be some underlying skepticism about the practical results likely to be obtainable from political efforts with the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe which will continue to take their cue from Moscow.

USUSSR Relations. US-Soviet relationships will likely remain very active, with both parties impelled in that direction by insistent national interests. This will have mixed effects upon the Alliance. On the one hand, some relaxation in US-Soviet relations is a pre-requisite to the more general East-West détente which most Allied governments prefer, for reasons of their own national interest, to an environment of confrontation and political conflict. The crude Gaullist imagery of a US-Soviet diktat has given place to more nuanced fears that deals between Washington and Moscow will limit European options. Thus, doubt and satisfaction will coexist uneasily in Western European minds, and net attitudes will depend on the speed, depth, and scope of [Page 53] US-Soviet mutual involvements—an unpredictable matter. For its part, the US occasionally will have its own reservations, as in the past, about some aspects of our Allies’ discussions and negotiations with Moscow.

Allied Cohesion. Although independent bilateral initiatives toward Moscow may at times have corrosive effects upon inter-Allied confidence, the very frequency and intensity of major power discussions with Moscow will probably enhance the value to Allied governments of NATO as a consultative forum, since it provides the most effective means available to governments to check-up on what is afoot, and, particularly for the smaller Allies, to gain access to the internal councils of the major Allied governments concerned.

However, the effect that frequent bilateral dealings with Moscow will have in public and parliamentary attitudes towards NATO and defense-related issues will be complex. On the one hand, an obvious NATO role in détente management and political consultations will give the Alliance an added relevance to important segments of public opinion. At the same time, however, the public will frequently have before its eyes the media images of friendly contacts between Allied and Soviet leaders and will increasingly question why the burdens of costly defense establishments and defense alliances have to be borne in the softer climate of East-West understanding. Misunderstanding will be greater among the younger generation which has no personal memories of Joseph Stalin and the cold war episodes that ushered in the present period of détente, and which has no serious understanding of military forces and realities.

Doubts about the need for maintaining defenses in an era of détente will be intertwined with resource-allocation debates, as national parliaments and governments wrestle with unfamiliar and vexing problems of advanced and post-industrial societies.

Moreover, since monetary and trade problems between the US and the EC will increasingly impinge on these debates, there may be some attendant damaging spill-over into the political-security areas. Vocal minority sectors of public and official opinion on both sides of the Atlantic increasingly may question more insistently whether the USSR—rather than the EC or the US, depending upon the circumstances—is in fact the major opponent on the bread and butter issues that dominate a democratic electorate’s political interest in times of peace.

Finally, with regard to the US, it seems likely that domestic pressures for troop withdrawal will be a constant problem, fueled by a variety of questions regarding foreign commitments, domestic priorities, defense costs and the balance of payments.

Thus, popular pressures, largely economic in origin but augmented by the mood of détente between East and West, will operate to reduce the proportion of national resources allocated to defense and to [Page 54] erode the underlying political trust and solidarity necessary to a healthy Alliance relationship.

One might also assume that the EC members of NATO will be intensely preoccupied with the further development of the EC and will have little surplus creative energy to spare for bold new departures in NATO. Counteracting this, however, the Western European defense and foreign policy establishments are not likely to remain entirely passive with respect to national and regional security problems—witness the past activity of the Eurogroup and the European Defense Improvement Program (EDIP) which it put together under UK-FRG-Dutch leadership.

Despite the foregoing inventory of problem areas, a close Alliance relationship will continue to correspond to the fundamental military/security interests of all Allied governments. The substantial presence of US forces in Europe and the availability to NATO of US nuclear power, which the Europeans are far from developing on their own, will remain essential to East-West political equilibrium. Neither the likely results of evolving US-Soviet and East-West relations, nor any foreseeable strengthening of EC cooperation, will permit a substantial reduction of the US military commitment in Europe without risking far-reaching and damaging political consequences.

The possibility remains, however, that the levels of US troops in Europe will be substantially reduced in the next few years. The issue then would be to limit the damage, and undertake new initiatives in order to find new formulas to preserve stability and promote European security interests. The framework of NATO could be more rather than less important in such circumstances. Similarly, divisive developments in trans-Atlantic economic relationships could impact on security relationships, and steps would need to be taken to offset adverse consequences.

The major Allied governments, too, will regard the Alliance as too important to be allowed to wither away. Significant changes in East-West relations may well evolve, but in the next five to ten years, nothing so fundamentally new, promising, and radically different is likely to emerge from East-West or US-Soviet initiatives that will alter the basic security perceptions described above that have induced the widely-felt need to preserve security links between North America and Western Europe. In particular, Western Europe’s power, in military terms, will remain more latent than actual, in the absence of unified political institutions.

Thus, in the likely absence of a strong European lead (given the political, and especially the security policy fragmentation of the Western European Allies), a continuing firm but quiet assertion of American interest and leadership, consonant with the spirit of the Nixon doctrine, [Page 55] will remain the basis for preserving the integrity of Atlantic security relationships and Western European regional stability.

Within the limits postulated, however, realistic and significant policy options remain.

B. Alternative Concepts for Future US Policies toward NATO

For the foreseeable future, US policies toward NATO will derive primarily from US objectives toward the USSR, on one hand, and Western Europe, on the other. Though the US shares common interests with both, in preserving world peace and stability and in coping with the burgeoning problems of industrialized states in the late 20th century, these interests are not at the same level of identity, since ties with Western Europe are far closer. Moreover, these interests cannot easily be used in a bargaining process entailing, say, trade-offs of closer cooperation with the USSR for diminished cooperation with Western Europe, or vice versa, without incurring serious disadvantages, including, in the case of Western Europe, the risk of attenuating ties of central importance to US security and economic interests. Nevertheless, the tacitly perceived linkage between these alternatives will remain an important background factor in US-Western European relations.

With respect to the USSR, it is generally accepted to be in the interest of the US and its Allies to seek to develop a more conciliatory relationship between East and West. Indeed, the ultimate purpose is to convince the Soviet leadership that, whatever its ideological predilections, its predominant interest is in accommodation with the West and in a joint pursuit of crisis management and of solutions to the problems of advanced societies, rather than in an ultimate goal of subverting and reordering the Western system. None among the Western European governments questions this objective; indeed, East-West détente is rooted in the evident readiness of the Soviets, at least as of the moment, to adopt a more conciliatory posture toward the US, as well as towards Western Europe, and the West’s readiness to reciprocate. Objectively, it would not, then, serve US or Western interests for the US or the Allies to attempt to turn back the clock, barring an increasingly unlikely sudden shift by the Soviets to a policy overtly hostile to the West.

Specifically concerning US relations with the USSR, apart from issues that entail convergent Western European interests in security and other matters arising mainly in the SALT, MBFR and CSCE contexts, and lingering Western European concerns about the potential impact of an unanticipated reversal of “détentism,” the evolution of USUSSR relations, while likely to be a principal element affecting US relations with Western Europe, is balanced by other considerations. Even while the Western Europeans may express concern that closer US-Soviet contacts will lead to dealings over their heads, they welcome im[Page 56]proved USUSSR relations, and their concerns about bilateralism can be dispelled to an important extent by balancing gestures toward Western Europe, including consultations on US intentions with respect to its relations with the USSR—providing, of course, the intentions themselves are not threatening.

Against this background, the choices for the US appear to lie not in reconciling competing American interests in Eastern and Western Europe, but rather in selecting a strategy for dealing with Western Europe and for encouraging it to join with the US in developing a common approach for the pursuit of enhanced and mutually beneficial relationships with the USSR. It should also be emphasized that many choices also lie with the Europeans. The US cannot maintain good relations singlehandedly.

Three concepts set forth below illustrate strategies the US could pursue toward NATO in serving its future relations with Western Europe. An attentuated relationship between Western Europe and the US is not included as an alternative. Briefly stated, they are:

1. To continue present policies toward NATO .

2. To enhance NATO cooperation and consultation in all spheres.

3. To improve cooperation and consultation in NATO as feasible, but to attempt particularly to enhance the Western European role in security matters.

These policy choices are described more fully below, together with advantages and disadvantages.

1. Continuation of present policies toward Western Europe. In this approach, the US would seek to preserve NATO’s existing security structure and to manage as at present its relations with the Western Europeans, including the EC. Not excluded would be adjustments and improvements to existing arrangements, but new initiatives would not be stressed.

—In the political sphere, consultations at all levels would be continued as now on US policies toward the USSR, and no steps would be taken to attempt to broaden the framework of discussion of US and Allied concerns about issues not directly related to Europe.

—In the military security sphere, the US would retain the bulk of its European-based forces, stressing European force improvements, including correction of recognized deficiencies. Qualitative adjustments would be pursued as budgetary circumstances permitted. New measures for burden-sharing would be investigated, but far-reaching changes eschewed if political obstacles intervened.

—In dealings with the EC, the US would continue to encourage evolutionary development of Western European institutions, looking toward greater Western European support for common NATO objectives, but overt US intrusion in the process would be excluded, as would attempts to erect new institutional security links between the US and Western Europe.

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—in general, would allow for continuity, without barring gradual favorable evolution.

—would not entail significant new efforts or commitments by the US at a time of budgetary stringency coinciding with balance of payments difficulties and Congressional pressures for US force reductions in Europe.

—would satisfy those Europeans concerned to avoid increased US involvement in evolving Western European institutions.


—would not do more than at present to meet concerns expressed on both sides of the Atlantic about the deterioration of US-Western European cooperation.

—in the absence of reassertion of a vigorous trans-Atlantic relationship, growing détente and other pressures could erode public support in the US and Western Europe for obtaining the resources and manpower needed to maintain defenses.

—by default, the US could deny itself whatever role might be feasible in shaping Western European institutions, so that they took account of legitimate US security, economic and other interests.

2. To enhance NATO cooperation and consultation in all spheres. This would entail a series of major actions. Included would be high-level attention to NATO, such as a Presidential visit to NATO Headquarters or a summit gathering of NATO chiefs of government. Involved, too, would be a more forthcoming US attitude toward consultations in NATO about our initiatives toward Moscow, and greater efforts to stimulate harmonization of Allied policies toward the USSR through intensive consultations. In the security sphere, the US would increase pressure for burden-sharing and for closer cooperation in concrete questions of force improvements, utilization of advanced weapons technology, deployments and reserve policies, and for a more solid Allied consensus on strategy for use of tactical and strategic weapons. An active US interest in the evolution of Western European institutions also would be entailed, with an eye toward encouraging Western European cooperation, particularly in the defense area, and to the extent possible, toward keeping stresses in trans-Atlantic economic relations from impinging on NATO. NATO initiatives beyond the political and security sphere would be envisaged, including attempts to harmonize policies toward non-European areas and possibly a NATO role in coordinating Allied approaches to dealing with energy and other resource problems.


—would give public earnest to the importance attached by the US to NATO.

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—would reassert a stronger US leadership role, offsetting doubts about US intentions toward Western Europe.

—would tend to reassure the Allies concerning our objectives towards Moscow, and thus offset unjustified European concerns about USUSSR bilateralism.

—would enable closer coordination of Alliance objectives.

—would encourage the strengthening of Allied machinery for possible further joint East-West initiatives.

—could stimulate Allied consideration of other common problem areas.


—could encounter resistance in some quarters of US and Western European public opinion favoring a lower US posture in Western Europe.

—could, to some extent, affect US relations with the USSR, since the steps foreseen would entail the strengthening of NATO both in a military sense and as an institution for reconciling Allied common interests.

—would reduce somewhat US flexibility in bilateral relations with the Allies.

—could, if trans-Atlantic trade and monetary problems do not proceed toward mutually satisfactory resolution, founder on antagonisms generated in the economic realm, affecting trans-Atlantic security ties.

—could have an inhibiting effect on the evolution of Western European political consultative machinery and defense cooperation.

—could increase public expectations for expanded cooperation in all areas beyond Alliance capabilities to deliver.

3. To improve cooperation and consultation in NATO as feasible, but to attempt particularly to enhance the Western European role in military security matters. This approach would attempt to expand NATO’s role in other spheres as possible, but would place very strong stress on defense matters, looking toward the devolution to the Western Europeans of much greater responsibility for defense. Specifically, it would encourage enhanced Western European defense cooperation in support of general purpose forces and possibly of an Anglo-French (and eventually an EC) nuclear force. The rudimentary basis for such cooperation already exists in the Eurogroup of ten Allies responsible for recent significant increases in Western European contributions to the common defense. While France appears now to be seeking a role at least in Western European research, development and production cooperation, it does not envisage such cooperation in the Eurogroup, which is closely related to NATO. Barring a shift in French policy, therefore, Western European defense cooperation may require an aegis other than NATO to find scope for growth.

Given the relative satisfaction of most Allies with existing arrangements, and in the absence of a catalytic impulse such as a major US force reduction, early and broad Western European support for signifi[Page 59]cantly enhanced Western European defense cooperation is unlikely. Over the longer time-span of the next decade, however, provided Western European collaboration expands in the EC context, and US support persists—including sharing of technology—Western European defense cooperation on a far wider scale may be possible.

Until now, Western European nuclear defense collaboration has made no real progress toward realization, but attitudes could change within ten years. Thus, although the US would not have as its objective the creation of a new center of nuclear power, such an undertaking could not be ruled out in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, and the nuclear issue may be on the active agenda in a five- to ten-year time span. (A fuller discussion of this is in Sections II and IV of this paper.)


In addition to the advantages outlined for the second alternative course, above, this approach

—could enable the US to maintain its essential security interests in Europe at a reduced level of US economic, military and political contributions.

—would enable the US to maintain its commitment to Western Europe, while moving the Allies toward the US goal of more equal partnership.

—would encourage Western Europe to attain a level of responsibility commensurate with its capabilities.

—would provide a tangible common goal for the Western Europeans that could offset the lethargy and apathy in the security field that may flow from a protracted period of détente.

—would establish the most favorable conditions for stability and continuity in Western European security relationships if the US should be compelled to withdraw substantial forces from Europe over a period of time.


In addition to those outlined for alternative 2, this approach would entail the following disadvantages:

—as military dependence on the US diminished, the Allies could become more assertive in their political independence of the US (though this could happen in any case).

—Soviet concerns could be aroused by a reduction in US leverage on the Western Europeans, particularly the FRG.

—it might provoke serious domestic quarrels over defense and budgetary issues in many Western European countries and cause additional antagonisms toward the US for forcing such issues to the forefront.

—it is basically a long-range program, whose success will not be possible unless there is first a greater degree of political cohesion in Western Europe.

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—in the absence of clear US leadership, dormant Western European rivalries could be aroused.

[Omitted here is the remainder of the 76-page study.]

  1. Summary: The paper represents Part II of the study prepared in response to NSSM 168, U.S. NATO Policies and Programs.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–195, Study Memorandums, 1969–1974, NSSM–168 (1 of 2). Secret. Attached but not published is the remainder of the 76-page paper. Sent to Kissinger under cover of an April 30 memorandum from Stoessel. For the analytical summary of Part I of the study prepared in response to NSSM 168, see Document 16.