A Blueprint for Mutual Withdrawal


DISENGAGEMENT is no longer a dirty word in the Western diplomatic vocabulary. In principle, most NATO governments now recognize that disengagement might offer a way out of their current dilemmas. But so far, most of the supporters of disengagement have either left their ideas too vague for serious discussion or have arbitrarily tied disengagement to other conceptions which are even more controversial. George Kennan, for example, in his Reith Lectures, did as much as any other single person to awaken international interest in the idea of disengagement. But by linking disengagement with an exceptionally revolutionary conception of defense strategy, he made it easy for his opponents to shoot down the two ideas together. Even so, few of those who have exploited Mr. Acheson’s attack on Professor Kennan to justify the rigid complacency of existing policies realize that Mr. Acheson himself envisages disengagement in Central Europe as a possible alternativethough he believes that:

a further process of evolution is necessary, both within the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, before a change to more complete national identity in the latter can take place without erupting into a violence which might engulf the world. When that evolution occurs, Russian and American troop withdrawals may be possible without destroying the basis of American association in the security of Europe. (Power and Diplomacy, p. 93.)

If the advantages and disadvantages of disengagement are to be compared with those of continuing the status quo, a model scheme for disengagement must be considered which is specific on certain pointsnamely, the area concerned, the political and military status of the countries disengaged, the nature of the control mechanism and the military sanctions available to the West if the control mechanism fails. The plan which I outline below is not, of course, the only possible one, but I believe that it is realistic enough to illustrate the major problems which must be faced by both East and West.

Since disengagement can only come about by agreement among Russia, NATO and the countries disengaged, at least two preconditions must be met. The plan must involve approximately equivalent concessions by both Russia and the West, and it must offer all parties military security and political stability at least equal to that which they can expect if present policies continue.

These preconditions go far toward determining the area from which the opposing forces disengage. If the troop withdrawals were from East and West Germany alone, the West would be conceding much more than Russia. The Federal Republic is nearly three times larger and more populous than the Soviet Zone of Germany and many times more wealthy. Moreover, while Russia could abandon Eastern Germany without any substantial change or weakening in her strategic position, NATO would have to face a drastic revision in its whole military posture. There are also obvious political dangers for the West in leaving a neutral Germany in direct contact with Soviet power, so long as Russia is able to bid for its support by offering territorial concessions at the expense of Poland. In my view military and political considerations alike insist that the area of disengagement should include at least Poland and Czechoslovakia as well as the whole of Germany.

On the other hand, the West could not at this time consider withdrawing from the European continent entirely, even if, as Khrushchev has repeatedly proposed, Russia withdrew from the whole of Eastern Europe. Once again the West would be giving up far more than the Russians. America would have to cross the Atlantic Ocean while Russia withdrew a few hundred miles across land to her own country. It would be infinitely easier, politically as well as Iogistically, for the Russians to return than for the Americans. Thus the only military response available to the West if Russia attempted to preoccupy the area disengaged would be by strategic air powera concept at present inseparable from global thermonuclear war. If, as I argued in my first article, a strategy of massive retaliation is losing its validity even for the protection of allied countries, it is likely to be even less suitable for the protection of neutrals.

Thus NATO must keep a military foothold on the continent of Europe, both as a political pledge of its concern with the integrity of the disengaged zone, and as a base for military sanctions short of global war if that integrity is challenged. Such a foothold must include at least France and the Low Countries. The territorial limits of a disengaged zone can thus be defined as follows: Russia must evacuate at least Eastern Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia; the West must remain in at least the Low Countries and France. It might be possible to include some other countries on each side, maintaining of course the same balance of political and military concessions. The countries thus exposed by the withdrawal of Russian and NATO forces would have to be militarily neutralized, or they might themselves decide to upset the new balance by opting to join one side or the other. There would have to be a formal treaty commitment by all concerned to maintain the neutrality of the zone of disengagement, and to join in defending it if necessary. This new European Security Pact would need supporting by certain physical guarantees.

Thus the neutral countries themselves would be limited to conventional armaments alone, at a level mutually agreed, and both sides would join in inspection to verify and control the limitations. In this respect, the neutral zone would be the world’s first pilot project in the techniques of disarmament. For this and other reasons there is much to be said for involving the United Nations directly in the work of inspection. In addition to ground control teams along the lines already envisaged by the Disarmament Subcommittee of the United Nations, it would be desirable to move the early warning system of each side to the far frontier of the neutral zone and to allow mutual air inspection for 500 miles beyond it. This would much increase both US and Soviet security against surprise attack by conventional forces.

In my opinion these disarmament provisions, once established, would in themselves go far to reduce the dancer of a military violation of the neutral area from outside. Nevertheless, it is fear of impotence against such a violation which explains most of the official opposition to disengagement at the present time. However much the likelihood of Russian military aggression against the neutral area may be reduced by political or other measures, the West will not lightly accept disengagement unless it is satisfied that it can devise an effective response to such a challenge. Nor is the threat of massive retaliation alone likely to satisfy this proviso.


IN addition to machinery for warning against surprise attack, I believe the response to aggression against the neutral area should have three components. In the first place, the neutral countries themselves should have sufficient conventional forces to deal with a frontier incident or to identify and hold up a major attackthis is the role of NATO’s conventional forces in protecting the present status quo. It is probable such conventional forces could cope with Soviet airborne formations if they were not immediately reinforced by large land armies.

In case of a major aggression, NATO would intervene with air support for the local forces, including nuclear weapons if necessary. NATO would also move ground troops into the neutral zone from its base west of Germany, to take up a position as a trip-wire alongthe same sort of line as they occupy today. Thus at worst, even if the Russians reoccupied much of Eastern Europe, they could not move into Western Germany without running risks almost identical with those they run at present. In fact, once NATO abandons its original forward strategy, as now seems inevitable whether there is disengagement or not, it will have to fall back on a strategy which would be just as suitable for defending a neutral area as the present status quo. Indeed disengagement would have the positive military advantage for NATO that if aggression took place, resistance would start on the Soviet frontier instead of in Central Germanywith all the resulting benefits of added space and time.

But what of the neutral countries themselves? Are the East European countries to be regarded as expendable in case of major aggression? I do not believe so. If only the West can rid itself of the illusion that there is no substitute for victory, it can exploit the infinite spectrum of modern weapons to develop a military posture which offers not only the probability of deterring aggression at any level but also the near certainty of halting any aggression which nevertheless takes place before the enemy has achieved his objective. The problem is not to convince the Soviet leaders that the West would rather destroy humanity than permit a single Russian soldier to cross another’s frontier. It is to show them that the West has the capacity to make them pay more for using force than they can hope to gain by it.

The immense variety in the range and destructive power of modern weapons makes it technically possible to limit the use of force to the minimum which is necessary for this purpose, and liberates diplomacy and strategy from many of the restrictions which used to be imposed by space and time. Significantly, Britain was able to use strategic bombers based in the United Kingdom to support troops in Port Said, more than 2,000 miles away.

On the other hand, the very continuity of the weapons spectrum leaves a marginal uncertainty whether acceptable limits could be maintained in actual fighting, and this enormously increases the risks which a potential aggressor must be prepared to face. Parallel with the increased risks which war presents, the Sputnik has shown that it is both easier, cheaper and infinitely less dangerous for a country like Russia to win Influence by exploiting the ample resources already inside her frontiers than by using force in trying to expand them.  

Thus, I believe, it would be possible for the West to organize effective military sanctions for the protection of the neutral area. It is often objected that no military guarantee can possibly replace the deterrent value of having American troops actually in position on the threatened frontier. It is probably true that Russia would hesitate longer before killing American GI’s than before challenging a purely written American commitment. But this argument can be grossly exaggerated. Turkeyand Russiaboth considered an American warning sufficient to prevent war during the Syrian crisis last year, although Russia could have crossed the Turkish frontier without killing a single American soldier.

Turkey is not the only member of NATO in this position. Greece, Norway and Denmark could all be invaded by the Red Army without the physical involvement of American troops. The Eisenhower Doctrine commits America to armed intervention in the Middle East even if her own soldiers are not threatened. Yugoslavia is similarly protected by purely verbal guarantees. The argument that the presence of American soldiers is an indispensable precondition of American intervention makes nonsense, not only of most of America’s existing treaty commitments but of the UN Charter itself.


KOREA is often cited to prove that the withdrawal of American troops may provoke aggression. But the true lesson of Korea is very different. What invited Communist aggression in Korea was not the withdrawal of troops in itself, but America’s failure to make it clear that she would intervene if aggression did take place. Indeed both General MacArthur and Secretary Acheson stated publicly in the early months of 1950 that America had no strategic interest in Korea. This gave the green light for Communist aggression. Yet nevertheless America did intervene, and brought the United Nations in with her. In other words she proved her readiness to protect a neutral country in which she had neither strategic interest nor treaty obligation. After this experience the Russians would be triply cautious about testing America’s will to implement treaty obligations for the protection of a European neutral belt in whose integrity she had a stated strategic interest.

In fact it is inconceivable that Russia would ever agree to withdraw from Eastern Europe if she had any intention of later returning by forcethe risks she would run by changing the status quo would then be out of all proportion to the advantages of her present position. It seems to me that the Western powers would not agree to disengagement if they thought the political consequences were likely to constitute an intolerable provocation to Soviet aggression. For this reason, the withdrawal of military forces from Central Europe is impossible without an agreed solution of the major political problems of the areaotherwise disengagement might well mean greater instability and greater risk ofwar than the very unsatisfactory status quo at present. On the other hand, the political problems of Central Europe, which have baffled statesmen for the last 13 years, offer much better prospects of solution in the context of military disengagement and political neutrality.

German reunification is the best example. There is no chance whatever that the Soviet Union will accept the present Western conditions for German reunificationwhich imply that the Pankow regime should be liquidated by free elections and that a united Germany should then join NATO, thus advancing Western military power t the Polish frontier. It is equally inconceivable that the West should accept the present Soviet condition that the Pankow regime should be the sole channel for negotiation on the problem. For so long as the Red Army remains in Eastern Germany, the Pankow regime is simply Russian Military Government.

But if negotiations on German reunification took place in the context of military disengagement, both sides could afford major concessions. Russia’s security would not be affected one way or the other by the establishment of a united and democratic Germany. And the Pankow regime would be under heavy and continuous pressure by the population of Eastern Germany: in this situation the West Germans could afford to negotiate the modalities of reunification with Pankow. I have not met a single German of any party who feels that if the Red Army left Eastern Germany it would be necessary to insist on free elections as a precondition of reunification.

The other major diplomatic problem which would require solution before disengagement was complete is the Polish-German frontier. Here again a solution would be simpler in the context of a neutralized area. I believe that the Germans would be prepared to accept the existing Oder-Neisse line with minor rectifications if the Soviet Zone were simultaneously to achieve its freedom.

 But besides these international problems inside the neutral zone there is the problem of ensuring a peaceful and gradual evolution toward greater freedom in the satellite states themselves. Mr. Acheson is right in saying that the Russians would not evacuate these countries unless they were sure that their withdrawal would not be a signal for violent revolutionand conversely, unless they were prepared to tolerate a process of peaceful change which might be to their disadvantage. For this reason if no other it is most unlikely that they would agree to total evacuation at the present time. On the other hand, once negotiations begin between Russia and the West on the general principle of disengagement, the evolution in Eastern Europe will steadily accelerate, and the dangers of a violent explosion will diminish.

The full program of disengagement I have outlined in this article would take years, not months, to carry out. The immediate problem is how and when to make a start. That is the theme of my next and final article.

In his article last week, Denis Healey argued that military disengagement in Central Europe is “by far the most hopeful issue on which to concentrate at Summit talks.” All-out Cold War, wrote Britain’s influential Labourite MP, threatens both the Soviet Union and the West with “economic ruin and political collapse.” Moreover, he asked, even if the West could afford to purchase “a balance of terror,” what of the coming disequilibrium when a wider and wider range of powers acquire nuclear weapons? Both sides now see the logic in arms limitation; but disarmament can start only with “a pilot scheme  . . . in an area [Central Europe] . . . which, with the development of long-range atomic striking power, is no longer indispensable to the security of either America or Russia.”

Here, Mr. Healey offers a model for East-West withdrawals, and in his concluding article next week he will discuss how both sides can be encouraged to move by stages toward disengagement 

This article appeared in the March 24, 1958 issue of the magazine. 

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