NATO: Meeting Moscow's Threat

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Meting Moscow's Threat

Western Europe prepares to counter the Soviet juggernaut

The unavoidable geopolitical fact of life for Western Europe over the past quarter-century has been the threat from the East. The Soviet Union and its satellite states have assembled one of the most powerful military juggernauts in world history, and never before has the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact loomed so menacingly as it does today. While the Soviets have been eroding the West's lead in weapons technology, in recent years the pact has enormously increased its offensive firepower by deploying the lethal SS-20 mobile missile and the Backfire bomber—intermediate-range nuclear weapons systems capable of devastating military and civilian targets anywhere in Western Europe.

Now that Moscow has achieved strategic parity, the U.S. nuclear arsenal —once Europe's main line of defense —has been, by and large, matched. As a consequence, the military imbalance at lower levels has taken on a new significance, posing immense potential dangers for Western Europe, which would probably be the battleground in a limited nuclear war. Just how the West should respond to the new Soviet threat in Europe will be the chief topic next week when the Defense Ministers and Foreign Ministers of the 15 NATO states gather for their annual autumn meeting in Room 16 at the alliance's three-story headquarters near Brussels.

In one of the most important moves in its 31-year history, NATO is expected to approve a U.S. proposal to deploy 572 new intermediate nuclear weapons in Europe. Of these, 108 would be Pershing II mobile missiles; with a range of about 1,000 miles, the missiles could hit targets in the western part of the Soviet Union, though probably not Moscow. The rest of the new weapons would be subsonic but extraordinarily accurate ground-launched cruise missiles with a striking range of approximately 1,500 miles.

To dispel Soviet fears that the new weapons represent a threat to peace, the U.S. is expected to announce that it will withdraw about 1,000 of 6,000 nuclear warheads now based in Western Europe. In addition, NATO next week will almost certainly propose negotiating with the U.S.S.R. a further reduction of nuclear forces in Europe. Deciding the precise terms of this call for arms talks will be one of the main items before NATO Foreign Ministers. Because neither the Pershing II nor the cruise will be ready for deployment for at least three years, some NATO governments hope that this will give East-West negotiators time to agree on ceilings for Europe-based atomic arms.

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