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The Balance of Nuclear Forces in Central Europe

An Inidllgrncr Awwment



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The Balance of Nuclear Forces in Central Europe

OnimlAt**cv IBM

Key Judgment$

Improvements that have been mode in Soviet tactical nuclear forces in Central Europe over the past several years htve eroded much of NATO'snuclear advantage there.esult. Pact planners probably consider that the credibility and, therefore, the utility of NATO's nuclear forcesounter to the Pact's preponderance in conventional forces havo been reduced. If present trends continue and Soviet forces over the next few yearseneral nuclear parity in Central Europe, the basts of deterrence there will shift more to the conventional forces of both sides.

NATO still retains an overall advantage in force readiness and in the numbers and quality of its tactical nuclear systems, most notably In nuclearNATO's nuclear weapons are generally superior In their variety,sophistication,ihility,umber of programs are under way to increase their capabilities.

Recent Soviet force improvement programs have been aimed at redresj-Ing the nuclear Imbalance in Central Europe. The most significant of these have been the Increases in the number and quality of Soviet tactical nuclear delivery aircraft In Central Europe and In the number of nuclear weaponsto Soviet forces there, Of potential Importance Is the development of nuclear rounds for heavy artillery units In the USSR. If such weapons arewith Soviet forces In Central Europe, as seems likely soon, they will break NATO's monopoly on nuclear artillery there and hence reduce thevalue of these weapons.

Force ImproveniTits carried out to date have increased the flexibility with which the Soviets can employ their tactical nuclear forces and provided themapability for conducting theater nuclear war at higher levels of

Intensity before having to resort to the peripheral strike forces based on Soviet territory.

The evidence Indicates that the Soviets are becoming more comfortable with the theater nuclear balance and are eiplorlng alternatives to their long-held strategy of missive response to any NATO first use of nuclear weapons. Although the Soviet* still see little chance for limiting escalation once the nuclear threshold has been crossed, thererowing Soviet tendency to plan to use nuclear weapons In Europe with greater flexibility and restraint, at leMt Initially, than was seen during the lUtes. [

Whatever Increased confidence Soviet planners may have gained Is likely to be tempered by an awareness of NATO's projected force Improvements and Its ability to quickly open new areas of competition. Cruise missiles, for example,evelopment that from the Soviet perspective has the potential for profoundly affectltg the nuclear balance In Europe. These NATO Improvements probably would also serve as on Impetus to efforts by the Soviets to further improve their own theater nuclear forces


Key Judgments Preface

A Current Assessment

Tactical Missiles

Tactical Aviation

Warsaw Pactand Modernization ..


i.1XII .III mi


Force Trends



NATO's. Employment Policy Force Trends

Implications for Deterrence


1 .1

* III.11



Doth NATO and Warsaw Pact forces In Central Europe have longa variety of nuclear weapon systems, which they have occasionallyOver the past several years, however, Improvements In Pact forces have been made atace and magnitude as to cause concern lhat the

West will lose its longstanding advantage in tactical nuclear capability

1 i 1 I

This paper looks at the present array of nuclear systems within Central

Europe and discusses some indexes of the exisitfng numerical and qualitative balance. It then evaluates trends in the balanceesult of the deployment of new systems and relates those trends to the nuclear doctrines andpolicies of the two alliances. Finally It assesses the effect if these trends on the overall balance of ground and tactical air forces in Centralparticularly as this balance contributes to deterrence there.



The Balance of Nuclear Forces in Central Europe

Current AiMiimtn'

A comparison of forces and trends Indicates t'-at the Warsaw Pact Is closing the gap between the capabilities of its nuclear forces In Central Europe and those of NATO. Although NATO currently has quantitative and qualitativethese have been declining over the pest several yean as the Soviets have both modernizedonded their nuclear forces there. The Immediate result of these efforts has been to enhance the Pact's capabilities to wage nuclear war In Central Europe at whatever level NATO chooses, using only locally based systems.

The military doctrine of both sides generally holdsonflict In Europe would escalate to nuclear warfare, but the Pact, probably because of its longstanding inferiority In battlefield nuclear capabilities, has placed greater emphasis than NATO on developing passive defense and decontamination capabilities. Because of the uncertainties associated with widespread use of nuclear weapons. It Is problematical howthese preparations would be.

As shown by tableATO still enjoys an overall advantage In numbers of tactical nuclear delivery systems based In Europe. This advantage is vested primarily in NATO's large force of nuclear artillery. In the past few years the Pact has overtaken NATO In the number of tactical surface-to-surface missiles In Central Europe and tactical aircraft Intended for nuclear delivery missions there.

Nuclear artillery also provides NATOualitative advantage in battlefield supportthat is presently lacking In Warsaw Pact forces. With low-yield nuclear rounds and the accuracy Inherent In tube artillery, NATOcan provide re-'ro-ulve, close-In support for

Table 1


Tactical Nuclear Delivery Syiteini In Central Europe 1

Wiru. Pad

lias been via ihc North German Plain. In llic area defended by the Northern Army Grouphe terrain most favors the at-tucker, the distance to the Benelux port* is the shortest, and Warsaw Pact strength is the greatest,

We estimate that the main thrustarsaw Pact attack In Central Europe would fall In praoboly thisHannover and Mannheim (seehus, the heaviest assaults most likely would strike theorps and theorps. Yet mart of NATO's nuclear artillery Is deployed with US forces in areas wher the terrain Is more favorable to the defender and the enemy threat is less critical.

The remainder of NATO's present array of tactical nuclear weapons also is generally superior in technical sophistication and flexibility. Here ogsln. however, the technological gap isparticularly In the case of tactical aviation.


NATO's tactical missile forces have twoover the Pact's. First, the Pact's logistics requirements are greater. This burdens Soviet missile unitsore cumbersome support structure that could slow their movement and, if It were successfully attacked, sharply cut their operational effectiveness. Furthermore, oldermissiles and warheads must moveomplex logistics network before they reach user units. The Scud missile uses liquidthus requiring extensivethe sensitivity of warheads to temperatureenvironmental controls. On the other hand, the missile systems now In use by NATO (Pershing, Honest John, Lance) use primarily solid propellants; arid US warheads do not need rigid environmental controls, j

The other major advantage of NATO Is that Its missile forces are capable of reacting more quickly. Some of NATO's missile force Is maintained on alert, with warheads mated to missiles that are capable of launch withininutes. No Soviet missiles are so maintained. Because of the preparationsoviet

Scud hrlgiide takes at least four hours lo deploy and to reachhest readiness condition.

Because of the logistic and technical problems with their older systems, the Soviets probably view an Indefinite conventional phase preceding nuclear operationsomplicating faclor In achieving and maintaining peak readiness lo launch or respond to nuclear attacks.

Tocikol Aviation

NATO's tactical air forces ore still generally superior to those of the Pact In pilot training and particularly avionics. NATO aircraft have Inertlal guidance or terrain-following navigation systems which givereater capability to penetrate at low altitudes and locate their targets.

Newer, Improved Soviet aircraft, however, have largely eroded NATO's advantage In overall range capability. The primary NATO nuclear delivery aircraft of the earlyand thenearly twice the range of the Pact'sitter. This enabled them to strikep In Pact territory from bases that were beyond the range of most Pact tactical aircraft. This range gap has been closed by new Soviet fighters such as theitter and thelogger. Their range characteristics for nuclear attack missions compare favorably to most NATO attack aircraft now deployed in Europe.

Aj with the tactical missile forces, NATO's tactical air forces are maintainedigher readiness for nuclear operations than are their Pact counterparts. In peacetime, some NATO aircraft are on alert with nuclear weapons aboard. No Pact aircraft are known to beimilar state of readiness,

| * . j

Warsaw Pactand

Modernization j

Since the late sixties the Soviet approach to nuclear war In Europe has undergone major changes. The Soviets have experimented with various strategies for nuclear conflict. TheIn turn, have been made possible by the growth and modernization of the USSR'snuclear forces.

Missiles and Rocket* ol Warsaw Pact and NATO




Thoaior Interdiction Systems r

Evolving Percaptloni

Soviet doctrine; during the early sixtiesthat any war involving tlie Soviet Union and the West wouldecisive global conflict. The Soviets considered that the outcome would be determined largely by massive nuclear exchanges during the first few hours. Because of the decisive advantage they believed would accrue lo the side that itruck firstassive sc.'e, thoyremium on preemption. Contributing to the pressure for preemptionuropean war were the vulnerability lof Soviet medium- andballistic missile systems based in the USSR and the relative dearth of Sovietsystems in Central Europe.

According to the Soviet doctrine of that period, the first Soviet nuclear strikeuropean conflict would be one of maximum strength delivered throughout the entire depth of the theater of war. Because of the range limitations ot Soviet tactical nuclear systems, the initial strike would depend heavily on Soviet systems based In the USSR. The sequence of tblf strike would be generally as follows;

Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF) would launch on signal by the Supreme High Command.


with the SRF strikes, or os soon as possible thereafter, the mlrslleand ground forces rocket troops would strike and the long-range aircraft would take off. ;

Another reason for the Soviets' emphasis on preemption may have been their perception, reflected In their military literature of the early to mld-slxtles, that NATO's tactical aircraftthe majority of the Alliance's means ol nuclear delivery. These tactical aviation units were concentratedmall number of available fields and would have been highly vulnerableassive preemptive strike. In the contextheater nuclear threat consisting largely ofoperatingew known, fixed bases, preemption could rightly have been considered the most effective strategy.

In the mld-slxtles the perceptions of Soviet military planners changed. They came to believe that the bulk *t" NATO's.nuclear deliverywas vested not In tactical aviation but in the missiles, rockets, and nuclear artillery deployed with army corps and divisions Thi> roughly colnclded with the initial deployments of them howitzer Into West Germany. These deployments appreciablyNATO's nuclear artillery forcethe target base facing Warsaw Pact planners.

The Soviets further recognized that, because of Its expanding nuclear artillery force, NATOignificant advantage In battlefield nuclear capabilities and that their capabilities for close-In support to troops were much less than those of NATO. Because of this. Pact planners estimated that even after the Pact hadassive nuclear strike, NATO would retain strongforces opposite the Pact's main axes of advance.

Sovtat Owno*!

Recognition of these deficiencies has led the Soviets to experiment with alternative nuclear strateg'es and has affected the nuclear forces they have In Central Europe. Doctrinal changestake several years to implement, however, as new equipment is fielded and tactics areto meet the new requirements,


During the mid- to late sixties Soviet military theorists advanced nuclear tactics designed to offset the USSR's pronounced Inferiority innuclear systems. These Included:

assive,nc act" strlkjtill massive system of grouped and single nuclear strikes delivered as Important targets emerged.

more emphasis In nuclear targeting to striking large ground force units in the hope of destroying the tactical nuclear weapons deployed with them.

Frontalreater role against those small and mobile nuclear

terns that missiles would have difficulty destroying.

the extent to which nuclear artillery and low-ylold projectiles couldto combat flexibility.

During this perlfd the Soviets apparencythe possibility of limited nuclear strikes, but the predominant Soviet response to NATO's first use continued toheaterwlde nucleir strike.

Planning Voetatfom InrwrrrM

oviet planning apparently hasay from exclusive reliance on massive nuclear retaliation and probably now includes other options for conducting nuclear war.variants have included: '

esponse to NATO's first use of nuclear weapons. This suggests that Soviet planners may have begun to regard the limited, selective use of nuclear weapons by NATOistinctive. If transitional, phase oft would not necessarily require an Immedla-nuclear response.

Responding at the lower end of the nuclear spectrum with limited strikes by forward-based systems rather than with massive strikes involving USSR-based systems. This variation would call for the Soviets' initial use of nuclear weapons to be more limited in Intensity, matching more closely NATO's first use and for the Pact toassive strike only when NATO Is preparing to deliver Its own massive, theaterwlde strike.

Escalating [the intensity of nuclear strikes overhe Soviet* apparently are at least considering gradual escalation of aeither at their own volition or Into NATO escalation, i)t:-

Initiating limited nuclear strikes withsystems in support of specific military goals. The Soviets might consider usingweapons first If they were on the defensive or possibly to break through NATO defenses, but we do not believe that these options enjoy any real promlnance In Soviet planning.

massively when Intelligencet'ut NATO is preparing to deliver massiw, widespread nuclear strikes. This preemption vuriation differs from theof thr sixties, which specifiedassive initial strike be delivered upono' enemy preparations to employ nuclear weapons on any scale whatever.

These planning variations suggest that theare becoming more comfortable with the theater nuclear balance and are exploringto their strategy of massive response. The extent to which such alternatives have become port of official Soviet doctrine Is unclear. At present there seems toendency to use nuclear weapons, at least initially, with greater flexibility and restraint, but the't Soviet planners still see little prospect for limiting escalation once the nuclear threshold Is crossed.

With their own Improved In-theater nuclear capabilities mitigating the requirement tomassively to any NATO nuclear initiative, the Soviets may now believe it Is In their interest to delay widespread nuclear use as long asThey probably reasonengthy period of conventional, or even limited nuclear, warlare would afford them greater opportunity to seek out and destroy NATO's nuclear deliverythus reducing the impact of any eventual theaterwldo nuclear attack by the West.elay would also permit Pact forces to prosecute an offensive without the uncertainties Imposed by the widespread use of nuclear weapons.

Trenda '

The Soviets are carryingroad variety of force improvements In an effort to reduce the nuclear Imbalance they have perceived In the European theater. These Include:

andewof nuclear delivery systems withsuperior to those of theirNewer models of Soviet tactical aircraft have greatly Improvednd pay load capabilities, and more effectivemissiles will be deployed soon.mill offer significant

ments In range and accuracy over (he FROG, whicheplacing. Theppears to be approaching Initial operational capability and could bo deployed at any time. It Is similar to the Scaleboard system and apparently Is Intended to replace It. The Soviets may soon begin (light testing another new short-range ballistic missile, which probably will replace the aging Scud.

Significantly increasing the inventory of nuclear delivery systems In Europe.has already Inc'udedne-third Increase in the number of tactical missile launchersripling of nuclear-capable delivery aircraft In Central Europenother round of Increases In Soviet tactical nuclear forces In Central Europe may be under way. One Scud brigade has apparently been Increased 'romoaunchers. If all Soviet Scud brigades there are similarlywill probably he theforce will haveaunchers.

Increasing the numben of nuclear weapons they plan to use in Central Europe.

Increasing the warhead yields for their tactical missiles. The motivations for the larger yields are unclear, but the Soviets mayequirement for greater areas of destruction to compensate for the relatively poor accuracy of their missile systems and the lack of timely, accurate reconnaissance data on small, mobile targets, i

The evidence also suggests that FrontalIs replacing missiles as the USSR'smeans for delivering tactical nuclearBeginning9 and continuing throughout most oi the sixties, aboutercent of any given front's nuclear weapons wereFrontal Aviation being used primarily for providing air defense to Pact ground units and installations. The Soviets In the late fifties also developed huge self-propelled mortars to deliver nuclear rounds, but these too were discarded In favor of tactical missiles.

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The evidence now Indicates that the nuclear attack role of Frontal Aviation has expanded. In fact, aircraft may now be allocated as much as two-thirdsront's nuclear weapons. This shift probablyoviet view that aircraft are better suited than missiles for delivering strikes in the Immediate battlefield area and for attacking mobile targets throughout the theater.

Coinciding with thb expansion of Frontalbattlefield role hasuclear artillery. In the early seventies the Soviets formed heavy artillery units equipped withm howitzersm mortars- The nine such units Identified In the USSR thus far are colocated with Scaleboard or Scud brigades, suggesting that they have self-propelled mortarswill eventually replace all of the older tewed weapons.

For the near term, however, NATO's nuclear advantage appears secure. Even If the Soviets deployed nuclear artillery to Central Europe in the nearseemswould require several years to develop the doctrine, storage, handling procedures, trailing, and stock


nf nuclear rounds needed lo match NATO's war-fighting capabilities. The Immediate military ef-frct of such deployment would be to expand the nuclear target base facing NATO, because all Soviet and East .European artlller) pieces of the type associated with nuclear rounds would have to be considered nuclear capable.

The Soviets' renewed Interest in nuclearsuggests that they view the expanded use of Frontal Aviation asartial solution to the problems of providing close-In nuclear support to ground forces and destroying NATO's manysystems In the tactical depth of the theater. The Soviets apparently consider that, because NATO's nuclear-capable artillery would beclose to the battlellne. Pact artillery fire would be the most effective and responsive means for destroying It.

Thearer Strike Forcfl

The Soviets are also undertaking improvements in peripheral strategic forces that will affect their war-flghtlng doctrine and capabilities In Central Europe. Potentially the greatest Improvement will result from deployment of the mobileRBM to replace the old, fixedndaunchers. In addition to Its multiple warheads and Increased accuracy, thepparently willeflre capability. It will provide the Sovietsheater strike weapon that,on the manner of Its deployment, can be significantly less vulnerable to preemptive attack than their present missile force.

The reduced vulnerability of these missiles could lessen the Soviet Incentive to launch them preemptively to prevent their destructionATO first strike. This "shoot It or lose it" philosophy has been one of the driving factors behind the preemptive nature of Soviet theater nuclear doctrine. Widespread deployment of theill provide Soviet plannersheater strike force more compatible with what appears toore flexible and confident theater nuclear doctrine.


Two factors have combined over the past few years to create' pressures for reevaluating US tactical nuclear doctrine for Europe and for reducing and modernizing US nuclear forces there. First, Congress4 called for aof the rationale of maintaining US theater nuclear forces In Europe and for removal of those nuclear warheads that, In number or type, were not essential for Europe's defense. Secondly, at the MBFR talks the West hasin Its Option III package to withdraw fromuclear warheads,nd0 US ground troops In exchange for the withdrawaloviet tank army.


Employ maul Policy

In response to the Congressional mandate, the Secretary of Defense In5eport that made the following judgmentsthe purposes and capabilities of USforces deployed In Europe:

Although tactical nuclear forces cannotfor adequate conventional forces, they could temporarily affect the tactical situation andtalemate or NATO advantage that could be used to induce negotiations.

A nuclear strike by NATO to blunt aPact conventional attack that threatened to overwhelm NATO's defenses should clearly be limited and defensive in nature, so as to reduce the risks of escalation

On the other hand, the attack should be delivered with sufficient shock and Intensity to forcibly change the Warsaw Pact leaders' perceptions of the risks involved and toituation conducive to negotiations.

Overall, US doctrine holds thatonflict In Europe could Involve the limited use of nuclear weapons in any or all of the following ways:

Uselearly defensive role, as Innuclear-crmed Nike Hercules missiles for air defense or atomic demolitionfor area denial.

Demonstrative use, ortrike designed to convey resolve but to minimize the risk of provoking an escalatory response.

Selective nuclear strikes on Interdiction targets.

Selective nuclear strikes against othermilitary targets.

in general, planning guidelines emphasize that NATO must retain the freedom to eschew early use of nuclear weapons If circumstances do not demand their use, that only conventional forces should be employed initially to meet aattack, but that nuclear weapons should not be held back until conventional forces are exhausted.

NATO's goal In using nuclear weapons would shifthiefly politicalhiefly military one as the intensity of nuclear conflict Increased. The purpose In low-key Initiation of nuclear war would be primarilyIs, to restore deterrence byhange of mind In Soviet political leadersemonstration of NATO's resolve and determination and, by implication, its willingness to escalate theIndeed, NATO would consider the primary purpose even In early follow-on use to beas it would seeilitary advantage to such escalation against an enemy that also has substantial tactical nuclear capabilities. This early stage of escalation would be Intended not to defeat the enemy but toheto raise the stakes.

With escalation to higher levels of nuclear conflict, NATO's use of nuclear weapons would be driven more by military requirements. That Is, with more widespread usage, strikes would be intended to destroy attacking forces and to freeze the battlefielderiod sufficient for political negotiations to restore prewar borders.

i 1 : -.

Fort* Trendi j

Plans for the modernization of NATO's tactical nuclear forces have focused upon theof more efficient nuclear warht^dshanging mix In US tactical air forces based In Europe Congressional review and the MBFR negotiations have probably had an Impact on this modernization. Questions about the appropriate size and composition of US nuclear forces in Europe are still under review.

The Stockpile

The US nuclear stockpile began to grow in the mid-fifties, when NATO's nuclear strategy was one of massive retaliation. The growth In number and variety of warheads contlnueu during the early toith the new doctrine of flexible response, which required the US to be prepared for nuclear combat with wide variations in tactics and levels of Intensity. Growth in the stockpile was stopped78 when ceilings were established.

Missiles ond Artiltfy j

The trend In US warhead design has been toward lower yields, In keeping with NATO's desireapability to minimize collateral damage from strikes against Pact forces on NATO territory.-Lower yields have been made possible by advances in warhead design, while effectiveness has been enhanced byIn missile accuracy.

Probably the most notable of the new, lower yield warheads are the enhanced radiationweapons. These provide initial levels of lethal radiation equal to that normally obtainedtandard fission weapon whose yield Is someimes greater. There Is presently nodefense against the high levels r* radiation emitted by neutron weapons.

Neutron warheads for the Lance missile andmnch howitzers are in various stages of development. The decision to add these weapons to the operational inventory and deploy them in Europe Is still under executive review.

Tocficd Aviation

The employment concepts for the US tactical air forces In Europe are changing In response to the Pact's increased conventional, rather thancapabilities. US nuclear doctrine foraviation, which until recently emphasized widespread, preplanned attacks against fixedas partassive theaterwide nuclear

strike plan, is now placing more emphasis on limited and selective strikes. The new emphasis Is more in tune with NATO's doctrine of flexible response, which callsarefully modulated riposteact conventional attack.

The new planning calls for more flexible use of tactical air forces against mobile battlefieldThe current trend toward increasedof missileSLBMfixed targets would permita greater proportion of tactical aircraft sorties to both conventional missions and selective nuclear strikes.

With the US Air Force's emphasis onIts conventional rather than itsthere probably willecline Inof nuclear-capable aircraft as newenter the inventory. Many of the newto be deployed in Europe In theorspecifically for air superiority ormissions and will not be nuclearaircraft they are intended to replace arecapable of delivering nucleartheir pilots receive some _

Nevertheless, no significant degradation In NATO's overall tactical nuclear capability Is likely. This Is because one of the aircraft to beis thehich Is far superior to the aircraft it will replace; the number ofils in the UK Is being doubled; and the number of Poseidon warheads allocated toEurope has been Increased.

Implications for Datarrone*

Judgment as to whether the growth andof the Warsaw Pacts nuclear forces have lessened deterrence In Europe can be no more than speculative, because deterrence is based on the perceptions of both sides. Theeffect of NATO's theater nuclear forces Is dependent on the Soviet leadership's perception of NATO's force capabilities, the credibility of NATO's threat to use these forces If necessary to halt aggression, and the losses the Pact wouldIf NATO's threat were Ignored.


During the sixties NATO's clear superiority in nuclear forceseterrent against both conventional and nuclear attack by thePact. The large number of NATO battlefield and theater nuclear weapons gave theange of employment capabilities that the Pact could not offset with In-theater systems. To match NATO's capability toheaterwar, Soviet leaders would have been forced to escalate the conflict by using systems based In the USSR, thus Inviting retaliatory strikes against Soviet territory.

Given NATO's large advantage in the number, sophistication, and readiness of nuclear systems during the sixties, Soviet planners probablythat the Alliance would be stronglyto use nuclear weapons at the beginning or early stagesar In Europe. Soviet planners believed that, after nuclear attacks by both sides, NATO's military position would be better than the Pact's. T

With the Improvements In their own tactical nuclear forces over the past several years,Soviet leaders probably now consider that the military advantages to NATO of usingweapons have decreased and that thewould be more reluctant to use themonventional attack. To the extent that this Is the case, the growth of the Pact'snuclear forces has reduced theand therefore theNATO's theaterweaponsounter to the Pact'sstrength. If present trends continued and Warsaw Pact nuclear forces approached aparity with those of NATO, the basis o'In Europe would shift further to theforces of both sides.


Whatever increased confidence the Soviets may have gained from their force improvements Is likely to oe tempered by their awareness of the US ability to quickly open new areas ofCruise missiles represent Just such an area that from the Soviet perspective has the potential for profoundly affecting the nuclear balance.

The deployment of such missiles to Europe could confront the Sovietsreat number of

nuclear weapons that would be difficult tourther complicating factor Iscnusc of the high European Interest In cruise missiles, the US might transfer them or their associatedto its NATO allies.

Thus, although the Soviets may feel morewith the present nuclear balance Intheir public commentcry and their positions In the SALTegotiationseepabout the potential of cruise missiles forboth the tactical and the theater nuclear threat. Such concern may be reflected in the near termontinued effort to expand andtheir own theater nuclear forces.

The author of this paper

u. Office of Strategic Research. Comments and queries are welcome and should be directed to

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