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Do We Need To Bail On NATO? Can We Afford To?

6 mins read

By Scott Graber

It is Saturday, Jan. 5, and I’m sitting in my tasteful, sun-lit, fire-warmed living room reading the Wall Street Journal. Today’s Journal tells us that European leaders — worried about Trump’s criticisms of NATO — wonder if they should substantially increase the money they spend on weapons. 

“The times when we could fully rely on others have ended,’” says Angela Merkel, Chancellor or Germany. This article takes me back to when I was 17, and living in Landstuhl, Germany. My father, an Army officer in 1962, ran the laboratory at the sprawling U.S. Army hospital operated in Landstuhl. I was what was a “dependent,” living on the post and engaged in a low-level civil war with my family — mostly a war fought using the time-honored tactics of insolence, insubordination and indifference.

In those long-gone days the U.S. Army (called USAEUR) had concentrated thousands of tanks, artillery tubes and tactical aircraft in West Germany in hopes that they would deter the thousands of tanks, artillery tubes and tactical aircraft owned and operated by the Soviets in East Germany. Those of us living in the midst of these troops and their weapons were not oblivious to the fact that we were standing on the same stage where an apocalyptic, Book of Revelation-quality slugfest could erupt at any moment.

In spite of the tremendous numerical advantages enjoyed by the Warsaw Pact, Robert McNamara believed the United States had better weapons and better training that would deter an attack by the Soviet armored divisions. The elemental question on my mind, on everyone’s mind, was how far these T-34 tanks would get into West Germany before our “qualitative advantage” in weapons would kick in? And, parenthetically, would nuclear weapons be part of the mix?

In addition to its plans to stop the advancing Soviets, the U.S. Army had an evacuation plan for noncombatants called the Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) Plan. We “dependents” were told that in the event of attack we would drive the family Volkswagen to a undisclosed location in France. Then, presumably, we would be airlifted back to the United States. But the NEO Plan was only a plan and I’ve recently read an article saying that this operation — if implemented — would have failed.

But back in 1962 there was a general agreement in the United States that maintaining thousands of American tanks and tubes in West Germany was important to our national security. Nor was there was much argument — other than that from the French — that this U.S.-led alliance was a good deal for Europeans. Now, as I sit warm and content in front of my small hearth, I wonder how close we came to a supremely hot, nuclear war in those Cold War times. 

Some years ago Soviet plans for the invasion of Western Europe were found among some declassified Polish government documents. Those plans revealed that the Soviets were prepared to drop small atomic bombs on key sites and military installations in West Germany — one of which was targeted for nearby Ramstein Air Force Base. Then, while these vaporized targets were still radioactive, Czechoslovakian troops would invade and physically capture the still smoking sites. We also know that NATO had its own plans — plans to use tactical nuclear weapons — to take out the troops and tanks that would be pouring through the Fulda Gap.

Fortunately neither plan was implemented.

Now Donald Trump muses that we should get out of NATO — and Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron respond by saying that Europe should have their own troops, their own tubes, and be free to make their own decisions about the use of nuclear weapons. Poland and countries in Eastern Europe, however, are terrified by the possibility that NATO will be dissolved.

“After 70 years there is a legitimate question raised in both the United States and Europe: When is Europe going to be able to take care of themselves?” says Ivo Daader, former ambassador to NATO.

But is it in our interests to leave? Is it in our interests to leave the fate of Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania in the hands of Vladimir Putin? Should we withdraw from an alliance that has given Europe stability for 74 years? Or, for that matter, bring the Marines home from Okinawa, where we have kept Japan, South Korea and China from going at after each other’s islands, islets and throats?

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. Email Scott at cscottgraber@gmail.com.

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