Created: 3/17/1961

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of National Estimates



SECRET: Soviet Reaction to Improved Conventional NATO Capabilities

1. ajor improvement in NATO's non-nuclear capabilities,olicy of raising the threshold of nuclear response, tempt the USSRore aggressive military policy in Europe?

2, Why it might. The Soviets might reason that, if NATO

had an improved conventional capability, its first military response In various contingencies would be conventional, whereas without such an improved capability it would probably have to be nuclear. They might further calculate that, in the extreme tension created by conventional hostilities, NATO could be deterred by political pressure and military threat from going on to use nuclear weapons. According to this line of reasoning, they would thus bs tempted to bs more aggressive in areas where, ii war ensued, they wouldonventional superiority.




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3, Why it might not. Tha Soviets might reason that NATO is

reluctant to respond at all to aggressive moves in cases where less

than vital Western interests are threatened but the only available response is nuclear. Conversely, if NATOealistic alternative of responding conventionally, tbs Soviets would probably calculate that NATO would be more likely to make this response in such situations,ater resort to nuclear weapons if this proved necessary. Additionally, they might think (contrary to the previous paragraph) that NATO, once engagedonventional level, would be less reluctant than otherwise to Initiate use of nuclear weapons.

4. We find the second of these arguments more compelling. We believe that the Soviets would have great difficulty in convincing themselves that, in the highly Uncertain circumstances of active hostilitiesonventional level, NATO would decide to accept defeat rather than use nuclear weapons. We think, for reasons statedrevious memorandum, that tbey would need to bava high assurances on this point before thsy would deliberately choose to createituation. In sum, they probably wouldreater NATO readiness to respondonventional option were available to it,reat danger that NATO might resortto nuclear weapon* If its conventional strength proved


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