Conventional Forces and the NATO Strategy of Flexible Response

Issues and Approaches

by Roger L. L. Facer

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Concern has grown in recent years about Europe's dependence on nuclear weapons for its security. The credibility of the current NATO strategy of flexible response is being questioned. It is widely felt that NATO should strengthen its conventional force capability in order to raise the nuclear threshold. New developments in technology appear to offer hope that a main obstacle to an effective conventional defense against conventional attack, its cost, can at last be overcome. This report gives a wide overview of the implications of these developments. Concentrating on central Europe, it examines the question whether the continued maintenance of an effective strategy of deterrence requires a change in the relationship between the conventional and nuclear elements of it. It considers the adoption of a no-first-use policy buttressed by conventional force improvements large enough to create a permanent conventional force balance in Europe. The report concludes that improving conventional forces to the point of equivalence with the Warsaw Pact would risk decoupling the defense of Europe against conventional attack from the United States' nuclear umbrella and would thus reduce deterrence as well as damage the cohesion of the Alliance.

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