Conventional defense and total deterrence: assessing NATO's by Robert Killebrew

By Robert Killebrew

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Nuclear weapons without destroying confidence in American dedication to the Alliance. The interests of the United States are better served in a world of strong democracies than weaker ones, even when they compete and disagree. Stronger and more self-reliant NATO countries are vital to the West's long-term relations with struggling underdeveloped nations, many of which have historic European associations. The United States is not omnipotent; other free countries with different historical backgrounds and geographical associations may be more easily approached by Third World states.

Moreover, neither will a strong conventional defense ever be a substitute for nuclear deterrence. It cannot. But, with the advent of essential nuclear parity at all levels, certain assumptions the West has made concerning the utility of nuclear weapons are now questionable. In 1946, writing about the effect of atomic weapons on military policy, Bernard Brodie said that "thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them.

The recent public interest in nuclear deterrence is an opportunity for NATO to evolve a more balanced defense policy and strategy, one that includes adequate conventional defense as well as nuclear deterrence. There is also the possibility that, if no initiatives are taken, the public consensus for all defense will be weakened. This is not the time for long-term studies. The Alliance should seize the chance to capitalize on the emotions of the moment and install a strategy for Western defense that can survive the next one or two decades.

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