Defending Europe

The Economist (Letters) February 19, 1983

Mr. Robert Dujarric (Letters, January 15th) believes that an increased Nato reliance on “smart” anti-tank weapons instead of tactical nuclear weapons is inadvisable. His analysis overlooks several important points.

  1. Many American tactical nuclear warheads are stored close to the East German border and might be quickly overrun during a Soviet attack. An American president would have only hours in which to decide whether to begin nuclear warfare or to risk losing much of his tactical nuclear capacity. The decision would have to be made before it was clear whether Nato forces were slowing the Soviet attack by conventional means. I believe that most presidents would be unwilling to use nuclear weapons while a conventional victory was still possible. If this is true—or, more importantly, if the Kremlin leaders believe it to be true—then a Nato defence based on early use of tactical nuclear weapons, such as Mr. Dujarric advocates, will not deter war, but will lead to disaster.
  2. The present western reliance on tactical nuclear weapons has led to the growth of a powerful anti-nuclear movement in both Europe and the United States, which could conceivably force unilateral nuclear disarmament on the west. Widespread use of “smart” munitions might give Nato conventional parity and could allow a doctrine of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, which would go a long way toward satisfying anti-nuclear campaigners.
  3. Mr. Dujarric’s view that Assault Breaker technology is not cost-effective is very wide of the mark. A typical tactical nuclear weapon costs $1m-2m. Even if an Assault Breaker costs twice as much, that still leaves it as cheap as two modern tanks. For $5 billion spent over a few years, Nato could buy enough Assault Breakers to neutralize the conventional superiority of the Warsaw pact. This is a cheap price for a large increase in security.

Ron K. Unz
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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