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Conventional Arms Control and East-West Security
By Robert D. Blackwill, F. Stephen Larrabee
Duke University PressCopyright © 1989 Institute for East-West Security Studies
All rights reserved.
The General State of European Security
François Heisbourg, France
* * *
The state of European Security at the end of the 1980s is a perplexing combination of immobility and change. A description of the existing security situation based on military and strategic criteria leads one to conclude that the present is still much like the past—not necessarily pleasant, certainly not optimal, but eminently stable. If one takes into account the forces of economic and societal change, however, a rather different picture emerges, that of a significant degree of geopolitical fragility with a potential for evolution unprecedented since the emergence of the postwar order in Europe. It is thus important not only to recall the elements of continuity in European security, but to assess the potential of the forces of change. Clearly, a discussion of European security has to include an analysis of economic trends. Policy options in the area of conventional arms control need to be examined with regard to the factors of transformation of the European security scene; indeed, choices in arms control can have a significant influence, positive and negative, on both strategic change and Stability. Therefore, and in view of the likelihood of lengthy, complex conventional arms control negotiations, European security must be analyzed not only in the present context but also in light of the potential impact of the ongoing changes affecting Europe.
"Déjà Vu" and "Plus Ça Change ..."
The use of military and strategic indicators to describe the general state of European security produces an image of basic continuity. Briefly summarized, the postwar geostrategic scene in Europe is characterized by a combination of overlapping factors, five of which stand out particularly prominently:
the division of Europe;
the permanence of the postwar alliances;
the superpowers' military presence and involvement on the continent; -the deployment of massive and asymmetrical conventional forces, concentrated most notably in Central Europe; and
the central role of nuclear deterrence.
These five factors are not equally acceptable or stabilizing: it is now generally admitted, for example, that major conventional force imbalances are undesirable, whereas the legitimacy of nuclear deterrence in Europe is not universally accepted. Nor is their moral, political or military content identical in the East and the West. This truism has fundamental implications for defining the objectives of conventional arms control, and for the difficult choices that may have to be made between ethical, political and military goals on both sides. Nor are these elements immutable: Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev's announcement at the United Nations on December 7, 1988, of major conventional force reductions may indeed herald significant movement in the bases of European security. However, these factors have been, and currently remain, the foundations of the current order, and the fact that they mean different things to the two sides bears recalling.
The Division of Europe
The political division of Europe remains a physical reality, embodied by the Tron Curtain' not only in Berlin and between the two German states. Beyond the existence of a steel and concrete cordon sanitaire from the beaches of the Barents Sea southward, division is also deeply rooted in sharply differing economic and political regimes on both sides of the divide. Setting aside all other considerations, the strategically most relevant political difference in the current situation between the members of the Council of Europe, on the one hand, and the states affiliated with the Warsaw Pact, on the other, may well be the absence of a reasonably transparent and stable process of political legitimization and succession in the latter group of countries. This creates basic uncertainties as to the Stability of incumbent regimes, with a corresponding risk for the future of the arms control process and the Security situation more generally. The specific situation of Germany, as a divided nation in a divided Europe, remains as topical as ever and imposes its particular political and strategic constraints on both alliances, as discussed further below.
The Permanence of the Postwar Alliances
The postwar alliances have been remarkably durable by any historical peacetime standards: NATO, a 40-year-old alliance primarily composed of multiparty, economically liberal states with a modicum of agreement on the bases of joint defense vis-a-vis the Warsaw Pact's military threat (and, in the case of the members of the integrated commands, a common military organization and strategic concept, of which extended nuclear deterrence is an essential component); and the Warsaw Pact, the military and political grouping of states governed by communist parties, with any real or potential departures from the single-party monopoly being forestalled, in the past, by military intervention.
The Superpowers' Military Presence and Involvement
The superpowers structure the security order in Europe through their respective alliances, as well as through the presence of their military forces. These roles and this presence are not equivalent. This is clear in moral as well as in political terms. The United States has refrained from using its military forces to deal with domestic political contingencies in Europe; and when U.S. forces have been requested to leave, they have agreed to do so (France, 1966; Torrejón, Spain, 1988).
This absence of equivalence also holds true in strictly military terms, whether on the central front or in the whole European theater. U.S. ground and air forces (245,800) represent 27 percent of total allied (stationed and West German) manpower in the FRG (926,200). The U.S. Army in the FRG has 204,700 permanently stationed troops versus 332,100 for the West German Bundeswehr. Conversely, Soviet ground forces in the GDR account for some three-fourths of such forces present in East Germany; the Group of Soviet Forces in the GDR has 380,000 troops, versus 120,000 for the East German Nationale Volksarmee. The contrast is just as remarkable when one looks at the much broader Atlantic-to-the-Urals region: Soviet ground forces west of the Urals represent 53 percent of all Warsaw Pact forces in Europe(some 2,143,000 soldiers) and more than two-thirds of all battle Tanks. Out of 776,400 U.S. Army troops, a total of some 212,000 are stationed in Europe, representing some 10 percent of allied forces in Europe (2,102,000). A further 65,000 are assigned for the reinforcement of Europe.
The priority assigned to the European theater by each of the superpowers is also marked by a disparity which is particularly stark if only in-place forces are taken into account. The Soviet Union permanently deploys 69 percent (more than 1,300,000) of its active ground forces west of the Urals. In contrast, 22 percent of U.S. active ground forces (975,000—Army plus Marine Corps) are stationed in Europe. The number rises to 42 percent if all U.S. Army and Marine Corps forces assigned to (65,000) or earmarked for possible use in (137,000) Europe are taken into account.
This set of figures results from the high contribution of non-U.S. NATO forces to the total number of allied active ground forces in the Atlantic-to-the-Urals area, in comparison to the relatively low share of non-Soviet Warsaw Pact forces in the Warsaw Pact total. Ninety percent of NATO forces in Europe are non-American; under 50 percent of Warsaw Pact forces west of the Urals are nonSoviet. These figures reflect—but only in part—the disparate demographic weight of the non-superpower contributions. Non-NATO Europe has a total population of 376 million (and the United States 245 million). The non-Soviet Warsaw Pact countries have a population of 114 million (and the USSR 285 million)—28 percent of the Warsaw Pact's total population—which is, on average, richer in per capita terms than the Soviet population.
This situation will be altered by the Soviet unilateral reductions announced by Gorbachev on December 7,1988, although less significantly in the broad European area than in Central Europe. Once these cuts are effected, Soviet tanks will represent more than 50 percent of Warsaw Pact battle tanks west of the Urals (instead of 71 percent). Sixty-three percent (instead of 70 percent) of all Soviet tanks will be deployed west of the Urals.
These changes will have a deeper impact in the central area: in the "Jaruzelski zone" (encompassing Poland, Hungary, the GDR and Czechoslovakia on the Warsaw Pact side), Soviet tank forces will drop sharply, from 9,790 to 4,790 battle tanks, thus representing less than 30 percent of the Warsaw Pact's total in the area (instead of 46 percent).
The Deployment of Massive and Asymmetrical Concentrations of Conventional Forces
The balance of forces is further explored in Chapter 2 of this book. However, several general observations can be made here concerning the relationship between the concentration of conventional forces and European Security. First, one of the dominant features of the European strategic landscape is the existence of Warsaw Pact forces sufficiently numerous, well equipped and adequately deployed for the conduct of large-scale, sustained and deep offensive operations into Western Europe. Such an offensive option is not available to NATO.
Second, the nature and relevance of asymmetries differ widely between the central front and the northern and southern flanks. The central front is precisely that: an uninterrupted zone of contact, from Bohemia to the Baltic, bounded by a geographically homogeneous hinterland on both sides. It is separated from the flanks by the neutral Alpine states to the south and by the Baltic Sea to the north. Therefore, it is logical to establish numerical force comparisons between the two alliances, encompassing frontline forces and the rear echelons. The term "asymmetry" applied to numerical disparities does have a demonstrable significance as regards the central front.
The situation on the flanks is rather different. In the north, there is a limited zone of contact (less than 200 kilometers of the Soviet-Norwegian border lying between Kirkenes and Pechenga) and a longish north-south array of buffer states—Sweden and Finland—which are themselves partially separated by the Baltic Sea. There is no contiguous hinterland zone for the Northern flank. The southern flank for its part is fractioned into four subtheaters: Portugal-Spain, Italy, Greece-Thrace and eastern Turkey. Each of the last two areas, which are contiguous to the Warsaw Pact, can lend themselves to local frontline force comparisons. However, rear-echelon force comparisons are far from simple. For example, Turkish forces in Anatolia can reinforce a variety of sectors. Some of these countries also have to take into account potential non-Warsaw Pact threats in their immediate vicinity: e.g., the Middle East and Cyprus for Turkey and Morocco for Spain. A comparable discontinuity applies to Warsaw Pact forces, with large distances separating forces available for operations against Slovenia and northern Italy, on the one hand, and Macedonia and Thrace, on the other, not to mention Transcaucasia. "Bean-counting" for arms control purposes is an exercise that covers only part of the overall military reality in the best of cases; on the southern flank its relevance becomes highly questionable, notably vis-à-vis ground forces. Lastly, the concentration of armed forces in Europe is awesome by any standard: a total of close to 1,800,000 active ground forces in Central Europe (NATO Guidelines Area) with more than 31,000 Main battle tanks; and a total of close to 4,500,000 active troops from the Atlantic to the Urals, with close to 80,000 main battle tanks—and still more than 65,000 after the "Gorbachev cuts" and the ensuing reductions by the non-Soviet Warsaw Pact countries will have been implemented. Europe thus plays host to the world's greatest concentration of forces, both conventional and tactical nuclear.
The Central Role of Nuclear Deterrence
Last but not least, the iron law of the nuclear age remains a linchpin of strategic Stability in Europe: any confrontation between the alliances in Europe carries with it the possibility of drawing in the strategic forces of the nuclear powers. Even if the use of these strategic weapons is extremely improbable, such a risk makes aggression an unappealing policy option. True, the nuclear threshold may be perceived as uncomfortably low, nuclear deterrence may be considered increasingly unpalatable, and some analysts may indeed consider that nuclear deterrence (and particularly extended nuclear deterrence [END]) has ceased to exist except against the use of other nuclear weapons. Furthermore, there certainly is a degree of "deterrence fatigue" among publics and leaderships in the West, with, as a corollary, a correspondingly greater emphasis on conventional forces and options. Nonetheless, the fact remains that it would be an extraordinarily foolhardy aggressor who would choose to exploit his conventional advantage at the risk of escalating to the nuclear level. Indeed, it is the existence of extended nuclear deterrence that has alleviated the potentially destabilizing consequences of the conventional force Asymmetries. Further, many would argue that nuclear deterrence will still be desirable even if approximate Parity of restructured, smaller and defensive conventional forces emerges: a Europe with purely conventional forces is not necessarily stable or peaceful, at least from the perspective of history. In short, the "end of END" is not in sight, despite certain trends in that direction. Important as they may be in variousrespects, the INF Treaty and the prospective success of the START negotiations will not, in and of themselves, basically alter this situation.
The net effect of these structural factors of the postwar order is not continuity but inherent stability. This stability not only applies to the relationship between the two alliances, with its absence of open military conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. Continuity has also held within the two coalitions: by choice in the West (not necessarily unreservedly, e.g., France, Spain) and by coercion in the East (although not without some difficulties, notably in 1956, 1968 and 1981). This raises the question of the relationship between inter-alliance and intra-alliance stability. The experiences of Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968 tend to indicate that inter-alliance stability is relatively insensitive to intra-alliance instability. However, these precedents may not necessarily be relevant guides any more, for several reasons:
Human, cultural, economic and political exchanges between Eastern and Western Europe were considerably less developed 20 and 30 years ago than is the case today; the stakes are much higher at present, making intervention a less appealing option, and thus providing greater leeway for internal change, which may in turn become uncontrollable, in Eastern Europe and the USSR.
The breakdown of intra-Warsaw Pact stability would pose a new challenge, if such fragmentation did not simply pit the Soviet Union against one of its proteges, but involved several of the latter simultaneously. Tension between member-states (e.g., Hungary vs. Romania) or within strategically located European countries themselves (e.g., Yugoslavia) would further complicate an already complex picture in Eastern Europe and the USSR.
The Forces of Change
Along with the new political reality in the USSR, it is the pressure of economic factors that has provided new fuel for change in Europe. The economic parameters at play could be encapsulated as follows:
The relative role of the superpowers in structuring European security is, to a certain extent, dependent upon their economic weight, both vis-à-vis each other and vis-à-vis their allies; economic weight will in turn be a function of the new criteria characterizing economic performance in the "information age."
The third industrial revolution, driven by information technology, is changing the currency of economic performance and imposes a dual logic of societal change (information technology prospers in open and decentralized societies) and growing interdependence (to be a player in an information-driven world economy, you need to cooperate internationally).
However broad these generalizations may seem, they have concrete implications for the future of European security and provide useful tools for analyzing strategic trends within the two alliances, between each superpower and its allies, as well as within the West and East European states themselves.
Excerpted from Conventional Arms Control and East-West Security by Robert D. Blackwill, F. Stephen Larrabee. Copyright © 1989 Institute for East-West Security Studies. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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