Allies Urge Netherlands to Reconsider Scrapping 2 Nuclear Responsibilities
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The NATO defense ministers urged the Netherlands Tuesday not to mothball its nuclear-armed F-16 jets and naval depth charges in exchange for deploying 48 cruise missiles on Dutch soil.
NATO Secretary General Lord Carrington told reporters the allies felt the unilateral Dutch move ″might set a political precedent″ within NATO, which assigns defense responsibilities to its member states.
But Dutch Defense Minister Job de Ruiter said his government would carry out its Nov. 1 decision to scrap 36 nuclear-capable F-16s and the nuclear depth charges as part of a deal to win parliamentary approval for deployment of the 48 cruise missiles.
De Ruiter told reporters, ″We see it as a balanced and responsible way to share the nuclear burden and risk.″
He said he expected the allies to understand the political hurdles his government had to overcome to deploy the cruise missiles starting in 1988. The Netherlands has one of Europe’s most vocal anti-nuclear movements.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger also criticized the Dutch decision. He and Carrington said the F-16s and the depth charges, which are dropped from navy patrol aircraft, play an important role in NATO’s nuclear defense.
NATO officials declined to say which nations would be assigned to fill the gap left by the Dutch decision.
Officials said the Dutch decision to reduce its nuclear role was also criticized by the defense ministers of Britain, Belgium, Germany and Italy, whose countries are deploying cruise and Pershing 2 missiles.
The ministers ended their talks with a statement vowing to continue to improve NATO’s conventional defenses and increase arms cooperation to save money and reduce NATO’s dependence on nuclear arms.
Among the measures already taken, they listed an increase in ammunition stocks, a doubling of funds to build aircraft shelters for U.S. troops who would be sent to Europe in time of war and ″a comprehensive review of alliance defense requirements.″
The ministers endorsed long-term defense planning to the end of the century and beyond, taking into account anticipated Soviet military posture until then.
The ministers also approved the national defense plans of each NATO nation for next year, except those of Turkey and Greece.
As they did last year, these two rivals vetoed each other’s defense plans because of a long-standing dispute over the status of the Greek island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea.
Carrington termed the dispute ″a very serious factor for the alliance″ but said it was up to Turkey and Greece to resolve it.
Weinberger said he expected talks about British participation in the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Reagan Administration’s proposed space-based missile defense system, could be concluded ″in the near future.″
″The only things remaining (to be worked out) are technical details. We are in basic agreement on the essentials,″ he said.
He and British Defense Secretary Michael Hesseltine reached a formal agreement in October. Weinberger goes to London Friday for talks with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The issue of greater arms cooperation is expected to be discussed next week at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. Allied officials cite the agreement by West Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain to jointly build a European jetfighter for the 1990s as an example of such cooperation.
The allies have said they are pleased by new U.S. legislation making available $250 million for joint arms development projects.
Last month they suggested six projects to qualify for the U.S funds, including a ″friend or foe″ system for distinguishing between NATO and enemy aircraft and 155mm precision-guided ammunition.
NATO discussions of increasing conventional defense follows years in which deploying nuclear cruise and Pershing-2 missiles dominated allied talks.
U.S. Gen. Bernard W. Rogers has warned that unless the allies improve their conventional arms he, as NATO’s top military commander, would be forced to resort to nuclear missiles to stop a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe.