A Forward-Pause Defense for Europe

By Dr. Harald Malmgren

How different is the defense situation in Europe today versus 1964?

This may seem an odd question given how much has changed, but in actual fact while the context has changed dramatically, the core challenge of protecting the integrity of NATO European territory remains quite similar.

This point was driven home to me when working on the book which will be published later this year bringing together Dr. Harald Malmgren’s essays published on Second Line of Defense since 2009.

Harald published an essay in Orbis in 1964 which I am including in the book which focused on European defense. This was written after his time being involved during the Kennedy Administration in defense issues, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, and working from the Institute for Defense Analysis inside the Pentagon.

The title clearly underscored the topic being considered: “A Forward Pause Defense for Europe.”

The title underscored the key challenge which remains the same: How to defend Europe forward but to do so in a way that one can negotiate the end of hostilities with the Soviet (now read Russian) leadership and end up better than worse off?

Harald and I discuss that in a piece to be published soon, but here I want to re-publish his 1964 paper as the baseline for discussion.

By Robbin Laird

A Forward-Pause Defense for Europe

 by H. B. Malmgren

The governments of the  NATO nations and their defense strategists, military and nonmilitary alike, have debated for some fifteen years the question: What is the best strategy for the defense of Western Europe?

The discussion has ranged over alternative strategies and deployment of forces without the emergence of a consensus. At the cost of some oversimplification, the various positions may be subsumed in two categories. There are those who argue that a forward defense designed to yield no territory is essential, and that the means toward this end is automatic use of tactical nuclear weapons. There are those who argue that a defense characterized by a pause is essential, and that the means toward this end is a much-strengthened conventional fighting capability.

The main arguments for a forward defense based on automatic tactical nuclear reaction are: Nuclear automaticity is the most effective guarantee that no aggressive action, however limited, will be taken by the Soviets.

If the deterrent fails, tactical nuclear weapons are essential to hold defensive positions against superior Soviet forces. Tactical nuclear deployment is the only sensible strategy, for a conventional mode of deployment is highly vulnerable to enemy use of tactical nuclear weapons, and a tactical nuclear defense deployment is not feasible for conventional defense against conventional attack.

The arguments for a conventional pause concept are several: Since the use of tactical nuclear weapons involves a very high probability of escalation to full-scale thermonuclear war, and since both the United States and the Soviet Union are highly vulnerable to each other’s offensive thermonuclear forces, the threat to use nuclear weapons against limited adventures of any kind is not credible.

 The pause provides an intermediate step between overt but limited military action and intercontinental thermonuclear war, during which space can be traded for time. The time bought by yielding space may be used to negotiate to stave off mutual annihilation. The time may also be used to redeploy forces either to counterattack at points of penetration or to assume a tactical nuclear battle formation.

It is possible to argue that the defense of Europe is a strategic matter for Europeans and a tactical matter for the United States. Many Europeans do not wish to trade space for time, or for anything else; they tend to be interested in preventing any kind of fighting, rather than in being able to win a fight if one breaks out. The desire of the U.S. government to adopt any measures which diminish the risk of total destruction to itself tends there­ fore to be antithetical to such European interests.

Some Static Defense Concepts

Among the arguments posed by various defense strategists are some which involve, in essence, a trade of offensive capability for improved defensive capability. This trade is implicit in some recent discussion of plausible defense deployments.

For example, a recent study by several European defense analysts reported on by Alastair Buchan and Philip Windsor1 suggested an alternative to the thin defense crust “shield”: The twenty-five existing NATO divisions should be divided among ten highly mobile counterattack divisions and other divisions whose functions would be to provide a pattern of strong points behind which the mobile divisions could form and move.

In addition, strong militia-type local defense forces should be established in the countries most exposed to Soviet attack. Such local defense systems with an intimate knowledge of the terrain could effectively decelerate the pace of attacking units and force their dispersion, enhancing the ability of mobile regular divisions to counterattack.1

Another example is some recent work by James E. King, Jr., concerning the case for fixed defenses along the Central European front.2

King’s concept involves four elements: a fixed standing element of permanently occupied fortifications; a fixed non-standing element of prepared but not permanently occupied defense positions arranged in depth; a mobile standing element similar to the present NATO standing force for maneuver and counter-attack; and a mobile non-standing element of reserve forces to augment, reinforce and support the standing maneuver force.

The main function of these fixed and mobile defenses would be to compel an enemy attacker using non-nuclear means “to engage in extensive preparations and probably to employ a very high con­centration of force for direct attack upon them, or else to expose his flanks if he tried to infiltrate rather than attack them.” This would also diminish the attacker’s chances of achieving surprise.

More explicit recognition of the possibility of trading offensive for defensive capability is the broad “defense emphasis posture” currently being worked on by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI).3 This concept involves the interposition of “receptive defenses” between the enemy and his objectives in Western Europe: “

By ‘receptive defenses’ we refer to those military means which repel or destroy enemy forces that come to them; they would not ordinarily be suitable for use for deep strikes calculated to ‘defend’ by pre-emptive or spoiling attack upon the enemy’s means of providing, marshalling, or moving his offenses.” The SRI interest in this concept is basically with regard to its arms control characteristics: it may be less “provocative” without sacrificing the ability to defend.

These defensive concepts and other similar proposals which have been made are not out of line with the avowed purpose of NATO as a defensive alliance. What we need is some means of evaluating the feasibility and the cost of these concepts relative to more flexible defense postures.

A Conceptual Framework

The first step in building a general conceptual framework to evaluate these ideas is to examine the role of defense. A defensive formation or posture may yield one or more of several benefits. These benefits must be measured against the situation that would exist without the defense system in question: no defense can ever be made impenetrable to all possible attacks, thus benefits cannot be measured against an ideal defense which halts any and all attacks.

One benefit may be to raise the requirements and costs-the offense-to-defense ratio for a successful enemy attack. A defense system may also provide strategic warning by forcing the attacker to mass forces. It may be designed merely to buy time by slowing the pace of enemy penetration. It may increase the enemy’s uncertainty concerning the chances of success for his attack.

A defense system may, as a consequence of some or all of these effects, reduce the expected net gain of an attack, thus decreasing the aggressor’s incentive to attack. These and other objectives of defensive systems are well known; the purpose here is to point up their relative rather than absolute character in the analysis of particular defense postures.

Static defense concepts are often discounted because of a general inclination to disparage “Maginot-mindedness” or because of a belief that fortification and barriers can be easily overrun or overflown in modern warfare. The relevant question to pose is not whether a particular defense formation can be overcome but what does the formation buy, and is it worth the cost in relation to other alternatives?

If a barricade or fortified position along the Central European £rent buys an increase in offense-to­ defense ratio required for successful penetration, its cost and value have to be compared with additional frontline divisions or means of mobility, and their possible effectiveness against the various plausible attacks. (Obviously the cost is not calculated merely in monetary terms, and the effectiveness is not necessarily quantifiable.)

Consider, then, the concept of static defense. In commenting on the ratio of troops to space and offense to defense, Liddell Hart has argued that one important element in evaluating a defense position is the ratio of mobile reserves to the troops holding the forward position, and that there is an important trade-off between the two.4

His analysis suggested that up to one­-half of the whole force might be a proper proportion for the mobile reserves, “even where it entails thinning the forward defence to a hazardous degree.” A second trade-off he considered implicitly is that between well-trained, mobile combat forces and citizen militia.

The required number of divisions [along the Central European front] would be somewhat less if there was a citizen militia, of the Swiss type, available to man a deep network of defence posts in the forward zone as a means of helping to delay the enemy’s advance while the divisions of the mobile reserve converged upon the threatened sector.

This militia would need to be so organized that the posts could be manned at short notice by militiamen living or working nearby. It would also be desirable to have such a militia available in the rear areas as a check on an enemy airborne descent to seize key-points there and block the counter-moves of the N.A.T.O. mobile divisions.

If a militia force of this kind were available for local defence, the require­ment for the main “shield force” might be reduced from 26 to 20 divisions, that is, a one to two basis versus the enemy’s possible maximum in a surprise on the Central Europe front.5

Consider the trade between mobile reserves and forward defenses. It has been argued that if all NATO forces deployed in Central Europe were fully combat ready and highly mobile, and there were some increases in the number of divisions, conventional defense of Europe would be possible.

This posture requires additional divisions so as to maintain some defense-in-depth, but basically it involves a fluid defense which will allow trading space for time during which the forces for a counteroffensive can . be organized.

The experience of the last war showed that military planners favor this type of fluid defense. However, it has some unfortunate characteristics in the present context. For many Europeans trading space for time is inadmissible because it permits the overrunning of NATO territory and would prob­ ably convert most of West Germany into a battlefield.

It requires increased conventional contributions by the NATO nations in terms both of manpower and equipment-a step that is unlikely to be taken.6 Such a force is not only effective for defense but is also capable of large-scale offense.

Many defense analysts argue that such a stronger, more mobile NATO force would therefore tend to be provocative, compelling the Soviets to increase their combat forces deployed in East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, with resultant adverse effects on the political situation in the bloc countries and on the stable military situation.

A large-scale fluid defense capability would also tend to preclude thinning out of forces in Central Europe in possible arms control negotiations, since reductions below something on the order of twenty-five to thirty divisions would not provide either sufficient defense-in-depth or coverage of the front under a fluid defense strategy.

On the other hand, a deployment which places some of the total force in a static defense posture well forward, with a substantial portion in mobile reserve at the rear, is much more favorable in these respects. The static defense posture would have to involve a “mix” of substantial digging in, barricades, fortifications, and alternative equipment.

Thus, static defense may employ completely different equipment and tactical concepts as compared to the mobile forces, e.g., emphasizing anti-tank weapons as opposed to tanks for anti-tank warfare.7 If barricades raise enemy penetration requirements, they would be equivalent in that sense to the alternative of increasing the number of divisions. Static defense does not depend so much upon trading space for time.

Rather, time is bought by forcing the enemy to give strategic warning in massing for penetration and by slowing the pace of his penetration. Static defense can reduce the number of divisions required to hold a position, and thus accords more closely to the realities of Europe’s defense contributions.

It is not as capable of offense as the fluid defense posture, but consequently it may tend to be less provocative. Thinning out of forces under arms control agreements would be more feasible, i.e., less destabilizing, behind a static defense posture.

With regard to the trade-off between militia and regular forces, the fluid defense concept requires a very large, well-trained standing army, larger than that which presently exists; static defense does not impose such stringent requirements.

The importance of continuous experience among men and units for effective mobile combat cannot be overemphasized; again, static defense is not so demanding. The functions of each man in a static defense posture are far more limited in number than when he is being used in mobile combat formation.

If the other NATO nations do not increase their conventional contributions, or even further reduce their contributions, the development of complementary militia forces for a static defense role may be an acceptable means to build a plausible defense posture.

A static defense concept with alternative combinations of fixed forward forces and mobile reserve forces, standing forces and militia forces, and defensive equipment and positioning, may consequently be described as a strategy of “forward pause”: for­ ward defense, conventional, with a built-in pause. This is the broad concept of defense which can provide a framework for analysis of particular mixes like those mentioned earlier.

An appropriate defense mix does not necessarily require a barrier extending the full length of possible fronts. Whenever the defenses in any sector are strong enough to make the costs of the enemy’s penetration bear the same relationship to his anticipated gains from penetration elsewhere along the front, the defense mix in that sector will be appropriate.

In other words, the enemy should find his gains per unit of effort the same regardless of his point of attack, so that no one, or more than one, point is relatively more attractive.8 Thus a forward defense zone might be composed of fortifications at some points and forces deployed similarly to the present pattern at other points along the East-West border. There are also many possible combinations of fixed and mobile forces in the forward zone.9

So far the discussion has involved conventional defense only. What are the possibilities for deploying tactical nuclear forces as complements to the conventional forces? Tactical nuclear weapons could be used by an attacker to create gaps in a static defense formation, but this would place the onus of first use on the attacker. Thus, a possible benefit of the static defense posture is that it may shift to the attacking forces the need to make initial use of nuclear weapons.

If the enemy does not use nuclear weapons at the outset of a military engagement, the static defense posture would compel him to mass his forces for penetration.

Even during the course of penetration, it will be necessary for the attacking force to remain compressed in order to maintain momentum through a static defense area and to deal with mobile reserve forces if the static area is broken through. Defensive forces in prepared positions will be far less vulnerable to “self-kill” by nuclear weapons employed in close proximity by the defenders.

The enemy will therefore tend to remain a prime nuclear target for a substantial period of time, so that the opportunity to use tactical nuclear weapons in defense would not be entirely lost as a consequence of any pause.

Thus, the proponents of tactical nuclear defense for certain contingencies would not necessarily find their nuclear options precluded. If, on the other hand, the enemy uses nuclear weapons at the outset to destroy defensive positions, he will be forced to use them in significant numbers, a move which would invite retaliation in kind and probably escalation. A quick conventional grab for territory would be denied to him by his own actions.

Another possible feature of a static defense posture might be the employment of tactical nuclear weapons as complements to the defensive forces, rather than as substitutes for an adequate defense.

Thornton Read recently suggested that a working rule might be to employ nuclear weapons only on one’s own territory, creating a sanctuary for the enemy on his side of the border and an area of nuclear destruction on the defense side.10 While establishing clear-cut limits as to when and where tactical nuclear weapons would be used, and thereby increasing the chances of avoiding escalation, this concept would also prevent the enemy from massing for penetration of the static defense system.

The nuclear destruction zone between the border and the static defense positions would provide an area through which the enemy could advance in mass only at great peril. The combination of a nuclear threat against massed forces and the extreme difficulty of penetrating static defenses without massing might add up to a very effective defense system.11

The Value of Pause 

Does a defender obtain valuable advantages by delaying an enemy?

As a first step in answering this question, a distinction should be made between the value of delay in a tactical context and its value in a strategic context. In a tactical context, delay buys several things: Additional time enables intelligence to improve. The longer the pause, the greater are the chances of obtaining and confirming “correct” information and rejecting incorrect information.

With additional time, better sources of intelligence can be employed, such as aerial photographic reconnaissance, which is slower but more accurate than many other types of information acquisition. With additional time, in other words, there is a better chance of locating an enemy, defining his posture, identifying his likely pattern of attack, acquiring targets, and identifying them with greater precision.

Delaying or slowing up the attacker’s penetration makes defensive tactics more effective: The enemy loses the advantages of mobility and momentum; targeting is much easier with a slowly moving enemy; counter deployment by mobile reserve units at points of intended penetration is enhanced; attrition of attacking forces is likely to rise more rapidly than that of defending forces as the fighting is prolonged; and, in relation to tactical nuclear weapons, additional time enables defensive forces to maneuver in order to assume a tactical nuclear mode when necessary.

If the aggressive move appears to be an attempt at mass penetration rather than a limited (accidental or intentional) border incursion-a fact that can be established only over a period of time-then the defensive forces can redeploy for a possible tactical nuclear riposte.

Slowing the speed of the enemy’s attack is also important in terms of the safe and successful use of nuclear weapons: If the aggressor’s rate of advance is swifter than the defender’s ability to acquire a target, and then fire and hit it at a range beyond the minimum safety distance, it will not be possible to strike at the enemy with tactical nuclear weapons.

In the strategic or political-military context, time is critically valuable. Additional time produces better decisions and reduces the need for automatic response and reliance on pre-planning or hasty judgments under fire.

Additional time means time to negotiate, or at least to make threats and demonstrations of in­ tent to move to a higher level of conflict. Additional time enables the adversaries to feel each other out and determine just how far the other is prepared to go and what the objectives are.

It has been argued that once overt conflict begins it must be assumed that the attacker has weighed all the risks and costs, otherwise the conflict would not have been initiated.

But that need not be true. An attacker may have misjudged the defender’s resolve or the defender’s view of his vital interests in various parts of the globe. Once a limited conflict is under way, the probability of general war rises perceptibly, and the reactions of governments when confronting the imminent specter of general war are likely to be quite different than when general war appears remote or inconceivable.

As the conflict continues, longer run effects become more important, in particular the ratio of friendly to enemy reserve and mobilizable forces which can be brought to bear, and the risks of escalation in prolonged stalemate. The length of delay a defender ought to be willing to buy is therefore limited by the constraints imposed by enemy reserves and the risk that stale­mate will lead to escalation.

Although a defense system ought to be constructed to achieve a “significant delay” or “significant pause,” the duration of that pause will depend upon how long· the defender estimates any limited central war can last in the modern era, and what he will do with the time.

The Relevance of the Forward-Pause Concept

There are important reasons for a serious discussion of the forward-pause concept as described in this article.

There is a very real question whether any defense other than a full forward defense along the border between East and West Germany will be acceptable to the West Germans in the long run.

If there is eventually some reduction in the conventional contributions of other NATO nations, including the United States, the necessity for some kind of plausible forward-pause concept will become more crucial to the Germans.12

The European configuration of forces is likely to change substantially in the next few years. The French are not only reducing the size of their army by one-third, they are also shifting to a territorial deployment concept for a substantial portion of their ground forces (the so-called Operational Defense Forces of the Territory, or DOT).13

The British may well find the world-wide demands on their fighting forces so burdensome as to compel them to reduce further, or at best not to fulfill the target strength of, the British Army of the Rhine.

The Germans are now beginning to develop a Territorial Army in addition to the standing forces, and this may well be the pattern of further development beyond the present twelve standing divisions.14 A concept of defense which fits in with this coming con­ figuration of forces may be better than one which ignores it.

With regard to questions of arms control and military stability in Central Europe, the forward-pause concept may turn out to have certain advantages over other possible defense con­ figurations.

Thus, the current interest in setting up observation posts to prevent surprise attack, and perhaps later a revived interest in the possibilities of some form of disengagement or “thinning out,” may result in serious discussions about increasing stability at the NATO central front.

A defense concept which relied less upon offensive capability but did not reduce defensive capability, or better, one which increased defensive capability in a forward mode without increasing the chances of conflict or of the need to use tactical nuclear weapons with the attendant dangers of escalation, would make thinning out a far less risky undertaking for the defender.

If the defense concept provided strategic warning (as described earlier) and substantially raised the enemy requirements for penetration, so that the ratio of offense to defense needed for an attack would virtually preclude attack-especially surprise attack-in a thinned-out area, then stability would have increased measurably.

If this is true, the argument that disengagement would increase military instability would lose much of its strength. Thus, a shift to a forward-pause defense strategy for the forces remaining at the Central Front may permit a reopening of the question of disengagement and supply new impetus to a consideration of other forms of European arms control.

If domestic pressures for some reduction in U.S. forces based in Europe grow, whether for balance of payments reasons or because of the failure of the Europeans to increase their conventional contributions, the administration might find it possible to argue that there are some realistic defense concepts which do not require such extensive American commitments in Germany.

If there is any way in which a forward defense capability can be achieved without reliance on the automaticity of tactical nuclear defense in a provocative mobile defense-offense mode, as is necessary at present, then substantial progress toward avoiding escalation will have been achieved.

Perhaps it should be added, as a warning, that two important questions must be kept in mind when discussing the benefits and costs of a forward-pause defense concept.

First, simple calculations of offense-to-defense ratio for achieving various levels of defense effectiveness can be misleading. Requirements for penetration vary greatly with terrain, weather, morale, strategy of attack, pace of attack, and their relation to the various elements which make up the defense system.

Measures of combat effective­ ness or combat firepower of attacking and defending units can only be crude estimates for average conditions. Other considerations may be of equal importance, such as an increase in the enemy’s uncertainty of the possibilities for successful attack. In the modern context, where the risk of escalation is so great, any increase in the aggressor’s uncertainty about his ability to penetrate is a gain to be sought in itself.

Second, no defense system can be considered adequate if there is no offensive capability whatsoever. If an enemy does penetrate and consolidates his position, the defender must have the means to take the offensive and regain the lost territory, or to seize enemy territory and bargain for the lost territory.

A defense posture must not encourage the enemy to make a concerted push to achieve a fait accompli. If the enemy should break through the static defense system, the defending forces must have a rapid counterattack capability to prevent consolidation of the enemy position.

There is no getting around the need for fluid tactics involving space-time trades once a large-scale penetration is achieved. This capability must exist so as not to tempt the enemy to concert all his energies for one large-scale penetration, after which he might be free to disperse and harass the static defense as well as increase the momentum and area covered in his attack.

There is, in other words, a limit to the degree to which static defense forces may replace mobile reserve forces capable of taking the offensive.

*The author is indebted to Walter F. Hahn for helpful comments, and to James E. King who provided much of the inspiration for this article. The views expressed are those of the author, and should not be interpreted as reflecting the official opinion or policy of the Institute for Defense Analyses or of any department or agency of the U.S. government.

1   Alastair Buchan and Philip Windsor, Arms and Stability in Europe (New York: Praeger, 1964).

2 James E. King, Jr., “The Case for Prepared Defenses on the NATO Central Front” (unpublished paper, February 13, 1964), and discussion in a paper, “Towards Stability in Central Europe,” published in Changing East-West Relations and the Unity of the West, Arnold Wolfers, editor (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1964).

3 Carl H. Amme, Jr., Arms Control Concepts and Selection of Strategic Projections for Arms Control Analysis, Research Memorandum DAC-RM-16 (Menlo Park, Calif.: Stanford Research Institute, Defense Analysis Center, November 1963).

4 B. H. Liddell ·Hart, “The Ratio of Troops to .Space,” The Royal United Service Institution Journal, May 1960.

5 Ibid., 211.

6 While the argument that other NATO nations cannot afford increased defense contributions is discounted, European parliaments believe this to be the case. Europeans also cite the substantial pressures from the shortage of labor and consequent wage inflation. In addition, the phasing out of conscription in more European nations is highly probable. (Canada and the U.K. do not now have conscription.) There are also many who argue that European forces should be large enough to avoid U.S. displeasure and withdrawal, while at the same time small enough to make it necessary for the United States to maintain a substantial standing force in Central Europe, thus ensuring a U.S. commitment.

7 Cost-effectiveness analysis of such weapons as one- or two-man anti-tank guided missiles (e.g., TOW and ENTAC) would have to be based on their extensive use as substitutes for, rather than complements to, tanks and other more mobile antitank capabilities.

8 Andre Maginot himself understood this when, as French Minister of War, he intervened in the budget debate on December 10, 1929: “We could hardly dream of building a kind of Great Wall of France, which would in any case be far too costly. Instead, we have foreseen powerful but flexible means of organising defence, based on the dual principle of taking full advantage of the terrain and of establishing a continuous line of fire everywhere.” Quoted in Vivian Rowe, The Great Wall of France (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1959), p. 49. The problem of the Maginot Line in 1940, in this sense, was that it offered relatively more attractive avenues of penetration at points along the defensive frontier other than the Line itself.

9 The static defense concept also provides a framework within which to discuss alternatives to the extremes of a simple trip-wire strategy or the U.S.-supported strong conventional fluid defense force.

10 Thornton Read, “Nuclear Tactics for Defending a Border,” World Politics, April 1963.

11 It  may be observed that some of the very real difficulties of creating a plausible dual-capable force in a fluid defense mode may be less serious under a static defense concept of this kind.

12 Thus if one argues that a “wall” or anything which symbolically resembles a wall on the Western side of the border between the two Germanys is politically unacceptable to West Germany, one will have to match this argument against the political need for a forward defense with forces possibly below present levels.

13 See Pierre Messmer, “The French Military Establishment of Tomorrow,” Orbis (Summer 1962).

14 ‘See Wallace C. Magathan, Jr., “West German Defense Policy,” Orbis (Summer 1964), especially pp. 308-312.