"Looking Tough" Is Not a Plan--Well, Not a Good Plan Anyway
Very odd. Jeff Herf is a smart man, but he thinks that NATO's decision to put intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe in the early 1980s was an important cause of the collapse of the Soviet Empire at the end of the 1980s:
Open University: The British historian Michael Howard's essay collection, The Causes of War presents a number of trenchant essays about "the forgotten dimensions of strategy" that applied this tradition to the cold war in Europe. In 1991 I published, War by Other Means: Soviet Power, West German Resistance and the Battle of the Euromissiles. It brought together the study of the political culture of West Germany with an examination of the balance of power between the Soviet Union and the Western alliance. Oddly, it remains one of the few, perhaps the only work that gives the battle of the euromissiles the historical significance it deserves as one precondition for Western victory in the cold war. One can still read recently published accounts of the cold war that barely mention it or even assume that it had nothing to do with the subsequent implosion of the Soviet Union and its empire and that the events of 1989 were overwhelmingly, and again, the result of events and trends internal to the Soviet Union. In writing and researching that book, it became clear to me that policy makers in West Germany and in Washington paid a far more attention to the impact of events within societies on the capacity of states to sustain "will" and generate power than historians focused on internal histories of societies assumed would be the case. Many of them also believed that the battle of the euromissiles, far more than a "star wars" system that was never built, was one of the turning points of the cold war. Historians of the cold war have yet to give those events the significance they deserve...
War by Other Means: Soviet Power, West German Resistance and the Battle of the Euromissiles is a very good book. But I cannot help but think that for "policy makers in West Germany and Washington" we should read "neoconservative nutboys" eager to justify the waste of money on intermediate-range nuclear missiles.
NATO's deployment of IRBM's did not strengthen but weakened the alliance's strategic position. The IRBM's were expensive--the money could have been been spent on something useful. The IRBMs created a new point of vulnerability--another weak point where some insane colonel could set in motion events that might kill us all. The IRBMs did not add to NATO's strategic options: they could do nothing that Trident missiles could not do at least as effectively.
Herf says that the deployment of the IRBMs was a "victory" for NATO because it demonstrated that the alliance governments had the "will" to, in the face of mass demonstrations, deploy an expensive and useless weapons system that increased the danger of nuclear catastrophe. And this triumph of the will is supposed--somehow, the links are not drawn (and I do not believe could be drawn)--to have "been an important cause of the collapse of the Soviet Empire." I, by contrast, say: thank God NATO did not have many more such "victories."
I suspect that Jeff Herf may have fallen victim to a common neoconservative disease: that it is a positive benefit to acting stupid because it makes you "look tough," and "looking tough" is good. But in reality what neoconservatives call "looking tough" is "being stupid."