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Bush Faces Potentially Divisive Issues in NATO Alliance

November 13, 1988

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Once in office, George Bush will be faced with a NATO alliance struggling with decisions on upgrading its nuclear arsenal, sharing defense costs and responding to a changing Soviet Union.

The U.S. president-elect will come into office at a time when the European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization see the lowest risk of war on their continent since World War II ended.

Moreover, relations among the 16 NATO partners are good.

Yet, Bush will be faced with a number of issues that could be potentially divisive. He likely will discuss these defense problems with other leaders of NATO nations early in his administration.

There is some speculation a summit could be held as early as April to mark the 40th anniversary of the April 4, 1949, signing of the North Atlantic Treaty.

The new president will be dealing with troublesome defense issues as Western Europe becomes more unified and possibly more independent from the United States, which has long dominated the alliance.

The dozen nations of the European Economic Community, all of which belong to NATO except Ireland, will form a single market in 1992 when the countries remove the many trade barriers separating them.

This economic cohesion, analysts suggest, may extend to the political arena, raising the possibility the Europeans will stake out positions differing from those of the United States.

Among the problems looming for NATO is ″burden-sharing,″ a short-hand term for the sticky question of whether the Europeans are paying enough for their own defense and whether the United States is paying too much.

Congressional critics want the Europeans to do more, leading to threats to withdraw some of the 340,000 U.S. forces in Europe.

″The Reagan administration managed to hold the trend in check, but I’m not sure it’s going to be possible for much longer,″ said Martin McCusker, director of the military committee of the North Atlantic Assembly, a group of legislators who represent the NATO countries.

″All of the pressures of last year will be there again next year in spades,″ said Hans Binnendijk, director of studies for the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Binnendijk predicted Bush’s campaign promise not to raise taxes to ease the federal budget crunch will add to the problem.

″It will put pressure on the system to do something about (U.S. military) bases here,″ he said.

McCusker said the discussion may be fueled by Western Europe’s growing economic and financial ties to the Soviet Union. A host of West European banks have offered huge amounts of credit to help the Soviets modernize their backward economy.

Some critics, McCusker said, may argue Europeans don’t want to pay more for their own defense but are willing to finance Soviet economic improvements.

″The interaction of East-West trade and banking with burden-sharing is potentially very divisive,″ he said.

The overtures by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, analysts said, are seen by some Europeans as offering the promise of improved security for their continent. Therefore, they said, Europeans may feel there’s less need to spend more on defense.

They may also be less inclined to give a go-ahead for upgrading short- range, or battlefield, nuclear arms.

This issue has gained prominence since President Reagan and Gorbachev signed in December the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty which provides for eliminating all U.S. and Soviet land-based missiles with ranges of about 300 to 3,400 miles.

″There is a feeling in the United States and in Congress that there needs to be modernization of short-range nuclear systems,″ said McCusker.

Strong anti-nuclear movements in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, however, oppose such plans.

The most controversial of the weapons tagged for modernization is the Lance surface-to-surface missile, which was introduced in 1972 and which military analysts say will be obsolete by 1995.

The Lance has a range of a little more than 60 miles and a new system might boost that up to more than 250 miles.

The United States wants a firm commitment from the allies, on whose soil the weapon would be deployed, before it asks Congress for money to produce the new generation Lance.

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