A Question of Resolve

Dec. 1, 1981
An earnest young man dropped by the other day to inform me of his concern about the way things are going in Great Britain, the not always United Kingdom. Although an American, the young man lives in London and has, almost inevitably, acquired a British accent, a distraction that made me wonder why Brits in this country never take on American accents. But never mind.

The young man did have a serious message, one that had to do with creeping neutralism in the British Isles and the danger it poses to the defense of the West. The recent British Labor Party proclamation should be enough to send chills down the spine of anyone who believes in the concept of allied security. Undoubtedly, then, the man is right to worry, although he is too young to remember another time in the late thirties when the Oxford Group was giving out similar signals about a Britain gone soft. That movement, along with Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring’s bomber force, was a casualty of the Battle of Britain.

Still, there is no denying dangerous signs do exist that a substantial number of people in Britain believe in unilateral disarmament, even if the consequences of that disarmament mean shuffling off into the dreary shadows of the Soviet Empire.

The immediate catalyst for Europe’s disarmament movement is the program for modernizing and enhancing NATO’s nuclear weapons arsenal, a program that will bring cruise missiles to England’s midlands. This better red than dead syndrome is not, of course, confined to the UK. The October disarmament rally in Bonn drew 250,000 people into the narrow streets of that somber old town.

Clearly, no one can question the seriousness of the times. What is in question, apparently, is the resolve of Europeans to face up to them. Since a good bit of this neutralism stems from the hysteria arising from any contemplation of nuclear war, the argument that nuclear war is best prevented by nuclear strength gets lost in the polemics. Rolling over is a less contentious, hence easier, option.

After all these years, it must now be plain to everyone, Soviets and NATO allies alike, that there will never be a serious effort on the part of the Alliance to balance off the Soviet conventional preponderance. For whatever reason, and no one has yet come up with a reassuring one, the Soviets continue to maintain, and add to, Warsaw Pact conventional forces far greater in size than any conceivable NATO threat can justify, a policy they have now applied to their nuclear forces.

Some years ago, NATO’s theater nukes were, along with an implied intention to use them if a Soviet invasion got out of hand, the equalizer. Now, with SS-20s threatening all of Europe, the NATO arsenal is beginning to look less formidable and hence less credible. If the protesters have their way in banning these new nuclear weapons, there would be little basis for any credibility at all in NATO’s strategy of flexible response. And if the strategy has no credibility, of what use is the Alliance?

And so, while there may be good cause for worry about the way things are going in the UK, especially if the elections in 1984 (how did Orwell ever fasten on that year?) bring the radical Labor faction to power, our present concern should be saved for the Continent.

According to another recent visitor, this time a German with a long and distinguished record in both military and civilian life, these are discouraging times in the Federal Republic. The demonstration in Bonn was not just an orchestrated performance of radicals and innocents, although there was some of that, but an alarming indication of a drift toward neutralism. Willy Brandt, a discredited political figure after the disclosure that his trusted aide, Guillaume, was a professional East German spy, has emerged once again to bedevil his fellow Social Democrat Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, with statements calculated to undermine the German decision to accept Pershing I missiles.

This campaign from the left, along with the nervous indecision of the weak coalition governments in Belgium and the Netherlands, gives the nuclear weapon modernization program a decidedly shaky future. Only Italy, for all its political troubles, seems steadfast in the decision to accept the missiles. Even there, the disarmament movement managed to organize 250,000 demonstrators on an October day in Rome. All of which suggests there is an unseen hand masterminding and coordinating these anti-nuclear, anti-American, outbursts throughout Europe.

These are tricky days for NATO and for the whole concept of European defense. Greece, with the election of Andreas Papandreou making NATO’s bad dreams come true, is now, at best, an uncertain quantity. We have yet to see what France’s turn to the left will do to its NATO ties which have been, since de Gaulle, a la carte, and thus unpredictable.

This is not the best Christmas season ever, but we have seen a lot less cheery ones. For those of us who can remember, there was that last lunge of von Rundstedt through the Ardennes in December 1944, which seemed to threaten an interminable extension of a war we had thought almost won. Then there was a cold Christmas in 1948 when Europe, just beginning to dig out from World War II, seemed on the edge again. The hope for averting a Soviet walkover hinged on the tenuous link of the Berlin Airlift.

The memories of Christmases in Korea and, finally, Vietnam, are not happy ones. We have seen a lot of trouble these past forty years, but one way or another, we still have things better than the people who have caused the trouble. It cannot be accidental, not after all that time.