Volume #21 - 215.|
ORGANISATION DU TRAITÉ DE L'ATLANTIQUE NORD
POLITIQUE DES ARMES NUCLÉAIRES
Note du chef de la 1ere Direction de liaison avec la Défense|
pour le sous-secrétaire d'État aux Affaires extérieures
le 15 juillet 1955|
IMPLICATIONS OF M.C. 48|
You will recall that, when M.C. 48 was submitted by the Military Committee to the NATO Ministerial Meeting last December, we expressed concern that member governments should be asked to take a decision of this importance at such short notice and without adequate consideration of the serious implications of the Military Committee's recommendations.99 Various means for allowing further study by governments were discussed in this Department, and between this Department and the Department of National Defence. This Division in particular suggested that the Council should not at that time approve the Military Committee's conclusions, but should agree that further military studies could proceed for the time being on the assumption that nuclear weapons would be used, provided this did not pre-judge the final decision by governments. We pointed out that this report was only the first in a series of studies whose purpose was to re-assess the previously accepted bases of NATO defence planning, and that the decision to use nuclear weapons from the outset in the case of hostilities was a conclusion that should flow from, rather than precede, this re-assessment.
2. In opposition to this thesis, and in favour of approving M.C. 48, it was argued:
(a) that the Council was not being asked to approve the actual use of nuclear weapons, but only to authorize the military authorities to plan and make preparations on the assumption that such weapons would be used;
(b) that nuclear weapons could in any case be used by the United States, at the direction of the President, regardless of any NATO decision;
(c) that SACEUR was unable to defend Western Europe successfully with the conventional forces in existence and planned; that governments would have either to increase their contributions of conventional forces (which they were plainly unwilling to do) or to permit SACEUR to arm his forces with nuclear weapons; and
(d) that it was impractical for SACEUR to prepare plans on the basis of alternative strategies, conventional and nuclear, and to shift from one to the other.
Decision on M.C. 48
3. In actual fact, the Ministerial meeting did approve M.C. 48 in the following terms (Document CF(54)50, paragraph 42):
"The Council approved the Military Committee's report (M.C. 48 Final) as a basis for defence planning and preparations by the NATO military authorities, noting that this approval did not involve the delegation of the responsibility of governments for putting plans into action in the event of hostilities."
4. The meaning of the phrase "as a basis for defence planning" is to be found in the following conclusions extracted from the report:
(a) "It is militarily essential that NATO forces should be able to use atomic and thermonuclear weapons in their defence and that NATO military authorities should be authorized to plan and make preparations on the assumption that atomic and thermonuclear weapons will be used in defence from the outset";
(b) "Should war occur, the best defence against atomic attack lies in the ability of the Allied nations to reduce the threat at the source by immediate and intensive counter-attack"; and
(c) "Priority must be given to the provision of forces in being capable of effectively contributing to success in the initial phases" and "which will have an integrated atomic capability."
5. The meaning of the phrase "as a basis for ... preparations" is clear from the following "minimum measures" outlined in M.C. 48 as being necessary to increase the deterrent and defensive value of NATO forces:
(a) the provision of "an integrated atomic capability" (i.e., the ability to integrate the delivery of atomic weapons with the delivery of present type weapons);
(b) the provision of a fully effective alert system;
(c) steps to give forces the maximum possible warning of attack;
(d) the allocation of high priority to "forces in being"; and
(e) dispersal and redeployment measures to enable NATO forces to survive atomic attack.
Interpretations of this Decision
6. During the discussion of M.C. 48 the following ministers offered their interpretations of the qualification contained in the last part of the Council's decision:
(a) Mr. Dulles described in the following terms the responsibility that should be reserved to governments: "It is important that the responsibility should be vested in those who are able to judge from their own position that the attack is of a nature to call for certain types of defence, and who will be able to prevent minor outbreaks, which might be judged grave by those immediately involved, from becoming an unnecessary cause for a war of vast dimensions, where that was not the purpose and will of the enemy and where the situation might be dealt with by limited rather than all-out defence."
(b) Mr. Temple (France) said he understood the Council resolution left to the political authorities the decision whether or not atomic weapons were to be used in case of need.
(c) Mr. Martino (Italy) said he considered the Council's decision could not prejudice in any way the right which member governments retained of taking the political decisions necessary for the effective implementation of the military plans.
(d) Mr. Pearson said he did not want the impression to be created that "any hostile move of any kind would be met by the use of such (i.e., thermonuclear) weapons."
7. General Gruenther also put on record, in a briefing given to the Permanent Council just before the Ministerial meeting, his understanding of what approval of M.C. 48 would mean. His comments were summarized in the Council record as follows:
"It is unquestionably a political decision to decide whether or not there is an act of war, and there is no thought in our headquarters that there should be a military decision - and certainly not one that our headquarters should make. But it having been decided that there was an act of war, and that it was an all-out act of war, and not simply a local war, he felt it was not feasible to go to this or that strategy."
8. It was thus the clear intention of all concerned that unqualified approval for the use of nuclear weapons by NATO forces should not be given in advance and regardless of the nature of the threat posed. But the Council did not attempt to define with any precision either the nature of the circumstances in which their use would be justified, or the procedure to be followed in authorizing such use. Consequently it is possible to interpret the effect of the Council's decision in two alternative ways:
either (a) once member governments have decided that there is an all-out aggression, they will decide on belligerent action and that decision in itself will be sufficient authority for the military to use nuclear weapons as and when the situation requires;
or (b) having decided on belligerent action, member countries will still be free to decide when, or where, nuclear weapons are appropriate to meet the aggression.
9. In practice, the distinction between these two approaches is likely to be more apparent than real. In both cases the crucial point is the matter of judgment as to where the line should be drawn between limited aggression and all-out aggression. Whether the decision on this point is described as a decision on "belligerent action" or a decision on "the use of nuclear weapons" becomes academic once the NATO forces have been so organized that the only large-scale defence they can put up is a nuclear defence. In other words, the very approval which the Council has given to the NATO military authorities to plan and make preparations on the basis of M.C. 48 (see paragraphs 5 and 6 above) will condition any eventual decision regarding the use of these weapons. The scale of border incident with which SACEUR will be able to deal with conventional means will inevitably be restricted, and a decision to put up resistance on a large scale will necessarily mean a decision to fight with nuclear weapons. Whether this result is good or bad is a matter for argument, but it seems to flow inexorably from the Council's approval of M.C. 48. It does, however, underline the advisability of working out an effective "alerts" procedure. Consideration might also be given in this connection to the possibility of defining the "general alert" more precisely in relation to the use of nuclear weapons.
10. It should be noted that no distinction was drawn either in M.C. 48 or in the Ministerial meeting that approved it, between the "tactical" and the "strategic" use of nuclear weapons. It is true that all the forces at present under SACEUR's command are likely to use atomic bombs only in a tactical way, with the possible exception of the 14th USAF Bomber Group in the United Kingdom. However, this latter force could, as far as is known, be used to bomb communications centres deep in Eastern Europe, and in any case there is no reason why elements of the U.S. Strategic Air Command could not be put under SACEUR in wartime.
Role of the United States
11. This leads to what is perhaps the most important aspect of this whole question. The decision on M.C. 48 deals only with the NATO forces and can itself have no effect on the forces remaining under national command. In other words, although NATO member governments have reserved to themselves the right of collective decision with respect to the implementation of NATO nuclear defence plans and preparations, the right of the United States to commit the Strategic Air Command to battle as part of any NATO defensive action is subject to no collective review or control. It is therefore quite possible to envisage a situation in which the NATO forces in Europe would be fighting a strictly limited defensive action, pending a decision by the Council with respect to the magnitude of the threat, while the U.S. President, having come to the conclusion that this was a case of all-out aggression, would have ordered the Strategic Air Force to bomb the Soviet Union. It would clearly be desirable to try to establish some procedure of consultation in this regard, perhaps initially among the United States, United Kingdom and ourselves, as Mr. Wilgress has suggested, covering the strategic use of nuclear weapons.
12. The practical implications of this nuclear defence concept for NATO defence plans and preparations are already to be seen in the modifications that SACEUR has proposed in the NATO airfields programme. Since dispersal and concealment are essential means of defence under conditions of nuclear warfare, projects to provide a "fully operational airfield for each atomic delivery squadron and each of their direct support reconnaissance squadron" will be included in the programmes recommended to SHAPE by subordinate commands for the 1956 programme (Seventh Slice), or in proposal for conversion of existing airfields. SACEUR, in his tentative guidance, recommended that airfields for these squadrons should have the following additional facilities:
"(1) capability for local widespread dispersal of individual airplanes in the vicinity of each airfield to maximum extent practicable;
(2) maximum practicable combination of physical protection, camouflage and concealment for individual aircraft, equipment, supplies and personnel;
(3) minimum of one alternate means of take-off accessible from dispersal areas to preclude elimination of unit from operations through damage to regular runway. These means can be airstrips, highways, fields from which rocket-assisted take-offs can be achieved, etc."
13. SACEUR has proposed that these airfields might be provided by the assignment and modification of suitably located alternative and redeployment airfields, already programmed as part of common infrastructure, by the development of available and suitable national airfields to squadron standards, and only last through the construction of airfields at wholly new sites, if necessary.
14. We will not have an indication of the exact number of wholly new airfields that will be necessary for the support of these squadrons, nor of the total number which will be required for all types of squadrons under the new dispersal policy until this policy has been approved and subordinate commanders have made their recommendations on how it can be carried out. SHAPE's new approach policy has yet to be considered by the Standing Group although we understand that Standing Group approval is expected in the near future.
15. SACEUR bases his proposals on the approval by the Council of M.C. 48, in which it was stated that in the event of war the primary tasks of the NATO forces would be not only to survive the enemy's initial attacks, but also to retaliate immediately with atomic weapons. It would be necessary for NATO to take measures, among other things, to "ensure to the maximum extent possible the security of their vitally important strategic air forces and atomic striking forces in Europe. The most important measures to be taken are the establishment of a satisfactory alert system, the improvement of intelligence and communications, the initiative of adequate active and passive air defence measures, and the dispersion of vital atomic delivery forces." It would also be necessary to "ensure that in the event of aggression NATO forces would be able to initiate immediate defensive and retaliatory operations including the use of atomic weapons."
16. At a meeting on May 18, 1955, of the Military Representatives' Committee with the North Atlantic Council, General Truesdell, Deputy U.S. member of the MRC, reported on the conversion of NATO tactical airfield infrastructure to "atomic posture." General Truesdell stated that, in view of the fact that M.C. 48 had been approved for planning purposes, General Gruenther was "certainly doing his job in coming to the Standing Group with a recommendation of how he planned to get around the fact that one atomic bomb could knock out a whole group."
17. The Standing Group has pointed out that any change in the air defensive posture, after it receives approval from the military viewpoint, will also require searching examination by the Council. The Standing Group considers that it must be ensured that the best use is made of the limited remaining infrastructure funds and that the internal financial effects on host countries of disturbance of current national income by any interruption of infrastructure must be considered. The Standing Group also realizes that any change in policy which will require the acquisition of additional land will have serious political effects.
18. The Standing Group has urged SACEUR to expedite the completion of his redeployment studies in order that a full operational analysis of the whole problem may be made.
19. By its decision on M.C. 48, the NATO Council approved in principle the reorganization of the NATO forces necessary to enable them to fight with nuclear weapons in defence against all-out aggression. At the same time SACEUR was authorized to draw up the detailed plans and to recommend the physical preparations required for this purpose. These plans and preparations will, of course, have to be approved in the normal way by the appropriate NATO bodies and preparations requiring additional expenditures or the movement of troops will require approval by member governments. In other words, the policy has been approved but its detailed implementation will still be subject to the normal control and supervision of the NATO Council and its subordinate bodies.
20. The NATO Council reserved to itself the power to decide whether a given threat was such that SACEUR's defence plans should be put into action (i.e., whether or not a given attack was part of an all-out aggression). However, the Council did not define the relationship between this decision and the decision concerning a "general alert" under the NATO alerts procedures, and this relationship could usefully be clarified.
21. Regardless of such a NATO decision, however, the United States is free to take independent action with the Strategic Air Command which could in fact pre-determine the course of events. Perhaps the most fruitful avenue of approach to this problem is the procedure of consultation on intelligence "indications" which is at present being worked out between the United States, the United Kingdom and ourselves.100