Beyond Deterrence: 
NATO, Western Europe and Nuclear Diplomacy


Ralph Dietl

The end of the Cold War makes a reinterpretation of the East-West conflict necessary. The end of the ideological confrontation allows an analysis of structures and interests shaping the Cold War. Questions can be posed and answered, without an ideological prism. Among others the question, whether the Europeans are self-determined subjects or mere objects in a super-power game. This question is of utmost importance for the self-imagery of Western Europe, and the United States.  

In an age of nuclear power, self-determination and political in-dependence depends on command and control over nuclear arms. This fact of life was expressed most pointedly in a press conference given by Charles de Gaulle on the 23rd of July 1964: „It can be maintained that a country possessing a nuclear arsenal is capable to make a nation, that does not possess nuclear weapons, a total servant. It can further be maintained that a country possessing nuclear arms has the means to prevent an attack from another country possessing nuclear weapons, for any attack would condemn the aggressor to follow the attacked country on the path of death.“[1] The possession of nuclear arms enables independence in foreign policy and safeguards national security.  

For Norway and Iceland Western defence was East-West confrontation pure and simple. The same can be maintained for Turkey and Greece in the South. On both wings of Western defences geopolitics dominated. The Cold War in Central Europe was much more complex. There the defence aspect was overshadowed by European reconstruction, the necessity to construct a progressive and peaceful post-war order. European unity was the political aim, defence policy often its servant. Defence integration was used as a  means of reconstruction. Above all, integrated structures allowed a reintegration of Germany into the society of nations, allowed even a German participation in Western defence guaranteeing control over West German armed forces. In the last resort it was integration that shaped Western security architecture in the Cold War and beyond. Lord Ismay’s famous dictum, that NATO was created to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down, is a proof in case.  

The US and European conceptions of Europe, however, were not identical.  

The United States envisaged an European Community, economically integrated to safeguard prosperity and to stop national rivalries but denuclearized, and militarily dependent on NATO to allow the United States an all-European settlement of the German question. This vision of Europe, however, did not serve European but US interests. For the European powers Europe was a pooling of ressources to allow the emancipation of the European nation states. The Europeans therefore envisaged a strong and independent Europe, commanding her own destiny. This necessitated political unity empowering Europe to control her own security, and to formulate and realise an independent foreign policy towards the East. The EEC Six accordingly demanded a voice in nuclear affairs, a share in the control of the nuclear deterrent. In case this would proof impossible, the development of European deterrent forces were envisaged.  

The conflicting visions of Europe were mirrored in conflicting outlooks on nuclear deterrence, nuclear strategy and nuclear non-proliferation among the NATO partners. The history of the alliance is a constant struggle between two concepts of Europe, the US concept based on integration and aiming at control, and the European concept based on co-operation and aiming at emancipation.  

Two forms of emancipatory politics can be distinguished: namely, attempts to liberate Europe from NATO domination by forming an independent European deterrent, and measures to re-form NATO nuclear structures to give Europeans a say in command and control of the Western deterrent, aiming at the creation of NATO Nuclear Forces. 

Ideas to create European Nuclear Forces surfaced first in France in 1954/55 during the epic EDC battle, were under consideration in France, Italy, the Federal Republic and Britain in 1956 during the Suez Crisis, and resurfaced in 1962/63 during the unsuccessful British attempt to enter the EEC. Reform plans, on the other hand, aimed at an emancipation from within while maintaining Atlantic structures. The most important ones are de Gaulles’ directorium plan of 1958, the Norstad Plan to form a NATO Nuclear Force of 1959 and the MLF/ANF saga of 1960 to 1965. 

The emancipatory politics faltered, however, for both forms in the last resort required some kind of integration – which made the European Nuclear Powers recoil. The former asked for a European Political Union enabling ‚Europe’ - and not just the European Nuclear Powers - to command the European Nuclear Forces; the latter an Atlantic military integration, which equated emancipation with control, for Atlantic integration would have given the US a veto over all Alliance nuclear forces.  

Policies of nuclear sharing, however, faltered not only because of national jealousies, but because détente opened the US an avenue to sacrifice any hardware solution to an international non-proliferation regime. The US had come to terms with the SU before the Europeans had been able to build up the power basis necessary to enable her to negotiate with the SU on post-war order to her liking.  

A breakthrough of the US reconstruction nevertheless did not materialise. A Pax Atomica, the feared agreement of the superpowers about the future order of Europe, was not forthcoming, due to the fact that France, having reasserted her national independence, by building up national nuclear forces, rebelled, and started an “Ostpolitik”, supported by the Federal Republic of Germany, that not only signalled Moskau that Europe was not a satellite of the US, but offered Russia an alternative all-European settlement.  

NATO structures were not primarily shaped to meet the security needs posed by the Warsaw Pact. Deterrence was surely not the only task of the Atlantic Alliance. Beyond deterrence NATO served the reconstruction of Europe. In short, NATO served the security of Europe and US ‚Ordnungspolitik’. Command and control over nuclear arms, safeguarded by the United States, guaranteed more than European security, they enabled their possessor - as de Gaulle correctly maintains – to command obedience from countries not possessing nuclear weapons. An insight that was not lost on Federal Chancellor Erhard, who told de Gaulle - who just had rejected the idea of creating European Nuclear Forces - that the Federal Republic if she had to choose between dependence on France and dependence on the United States, she would choose the latter, for the US could at least guarantee Germans security.  

[1]  Aufzeichnung des Ministerialdirektors Jansen, 1.8.1964, AADP 1964 II, no. 218.