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Facing up to NATO's SNF problem; an issue that may come to the boil sooner than expected.

Facing Up to NATO's SNF Problem

An Issue That May Come to the Boil Sooner Than Expected

Are we heading for a de-nuclearized Federal Republic of Germany? If German public opinion is anything to go by, it certainly looks that way. The final communique from NATO's 40th anniversary summit, six months ago, linked a start in negotiations with the Soviet Union on "partial" reductions of Short-range Nuclear Forces (SNF) to the successful implementation of an agreement on the reduction of Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE).

George Bush announced the optimistic target date of 1992-93 to achieve CFE reductions, partly to placate the German anti-nuclear lobby, and partly to tie in with the 1992 date that NATO has set for a final decision on modernizing its current SNF. The most emotive aspect of SNF modernization is the proposal to replace NATO's 88 obsolescent Lance missile launchers, most of which are deployed in Germany, by new missiles with more than three times Lance's range. The new weapons would approach the 500 km lower range limit for missiles now banned by the INF Treaty.

Unless there is a dramatic conservative swing in German public opinion, it now seems extremely unlikely that any government in Bonn will vote for replacing NATO's Lance missiles one-for-one in 1992. Indeed, it is quite possible that the whole question of basing any allied SNF in Germany will come to a head far sooner than that, if it becomes a major issue during next year's federal elections. In that case, NATO may find itself in the uncomfortable position of having to make some very hard decisions on nuclear doctrine at least two years earlier than expected. To make matters worse, it may have to do this before any CFE agreement has been reached, let alone implemented.

For NATO to count on all German politicians to refrain from campaigning on an anti-nuclear ticket next year, when this is clearly one of their electrorate's prime concerns, would seem to be utopian. Debate there will be, and politicians of all parties will have to state their positions for public scrutiny and possible censure at the pools. Whether any of them have the courage to stand by the current NATO position remains to be seen.

In NATO's Flexible Response doctrine, SNF are the vital link between a failure of conventional defences to halt an invasion, and the launch of US and UK strategic nuclear weapons against the USSR. For NATO's SNF to be effective as deterrents in their own right, they must be perceived by the Soviets as credible war-fighting weapons. The relatively short (110 km) range of Lance nowadays means exposing its launchers to pre-emptive conventional attack by Soviet Spetsnaz and/or Operational Manoeuvre Groups. NATO strike aircraft are likely to suffer heavy attrition during the opening conventional onslaught. The ability of the few that do survive to penetrate the world's most densely packed advanced air defences in order to deliver free-fall nuclear bombs is becoming highly questionable.

Hence NATO's SNF modernization plans to replace Lance, and introduce a new airborne stand-off nuclear missile. It appears that the UK, having failed to agree with France on joint development of an ASMP successor, will now purchase 400 km-range American SRAM II missiles for the latter role, armed with British nuclear warheads. These will replace the RAF's current WE-177 nuclear bombs. They will, in fact, be the only SNF entirely under British national control, since British Lances and nuclear artillery shells, in common with those of all the other allies, use American warheads held under a dual-key arrangement.

With regard to NATO's nuclear artillery shells, which have maximum ranges of little more than 30 km (and in some cases no more than 18 km), the allies' credibility problem appears insoluble. Not only are they terribly exposed to pre-emptive conventional attack, but they risk causing almost as much damage to forward-deployed friendly troops as to the enemy, not to mention any innocent civilians caught up in the fighting. According to one report, few of NATO's brigade commanders are willing to use them.

France has no nuclear artillery shells and describes its SNF as "pre-strategic" weapons, intended as a last and final warning before launch of the Force de Dissuasion to protect the national sanctuary. French SNF are not, therefore, seen as deterrents in their own right, as NATO's have been so far. Continuing development of the 450-480 km range Hades as the successor to the 120 km range Pluton nuclear artillery missile, while not conforming strictly to classical Gaullist nuclear doctrine, will provide both greater deployment flexibility and an implied (if unstated) extended nuclear coverage to protect West Germany.

France, which is not a member of NATO's integrated military structure although it remains a member of the alliance, is most unlikely to regard itself as bound to participate in NATO-Warsaw Pact negotiations on SNF reductions. If, into the bargain, Germany demands the removal of all NATO's Lances and nuclear artillery shells from its soil, Hades will end up as the only ground-launched SNF in Western Europe. It is perhaps no coincidence that it is scheduled to begin deployment in 1992.

Britain, too, is likely to resist the inclusion in SNF negotiations of its SRAM IIs, on the grounds that - although they will be declared to NATO - they will also form an integral part of its independent national deterrent.

There is, therefore, a strong argument to be made for bilateral Anglo-French cooperation in SNF targeting. This would make the most of what is left after short-range nuclear weapons reductions, and provide a genuine European SNF link to Western Europe's ultimate nuclear deterrent: the strategic arsenal of the United States.
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Title Annotation:Short-range Nuclear Forces
Author:Furlong, Robert D.M.
Publication:Armada International
Article Type:editorial
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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