The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is facing a manpower shortage because of falling birth rates in its 16 member nations.
One remedy, officials here at NATO headquarters say, is the talks with the Soviet-led East Bloc in Vienna, which could bring an accord on reducing troops and conventional arms in Europe.
The U.S. Institute for Defense Analysis has forecast that by the year 2000, NATO members will see an average 12.4% drop in draft-age males while there will be a 15.2% increase among the seven Warsaw Pact nations.
One reason is what the West Germans call the pillenknick (pill dip), a falling birth rate due to greater use of the birth control pill in recent decades.
According to statistics supplied by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe, the problem is most acute in West Germany, whose supply of draft-age males will decline 45% from 1985 to 2000.
In that same period, the statistics indicated, the Netherlands will see a drop in males in the 18-to-24 age group of 30%, followed by Belgium, 27%; Britain and Luxembourg, 25% each; Italy, 23%; Denmark, 17%; France, 13%, and Portugal, 9%.
Greece’s supply of draftable males will remain even over the next decade. Only Turkey expects an increase.
The U.S. armed forces also face a declining manpower base.
In 1979, 2.2 million Americans were old enough to sign up for military service. This fell to 1.9 million last year and will dip to 1.6 million by 1992.
To maintain adequate defenses, NATO is considering improving the combat role of reserve forces, possibly by amending the way they are deployed in times of crisis.
“The need to tap this potential has taken on a new urgency,” said Gen. John Akehurst, the deputy supreme allied commander in Europe.
In wartime, under present plans NATO forces would include 5 million people, half of them reserves or volunteer citizen-soldiers whose key wartime task would be to provide logistical support for combat troops.
The United States has begun strengthening its military reserves. Since 1980, their numbers have increased from 1.4 million to 1.7 million.
West Germany also has begun doubling the number of reservists for military excercises, but with mixed results: in 1985, a third of its reservists never showed up for their service.
Reservists do not enjoy equal prestige in all allied nations, and there are a variety of rules regarding their function.
“The education and training periods are different, the time a country is really going to use its reservists, i.e. keep them trained and keep them on the list for active duty, is different,” one NATO official said.
“As a result, there is a large pool of reserves . . . not trained to the extent required.”
The increased use of reserves would offset the effect of falling birth rates, but the “graying” of NATO populations also will reduce the ranks of reserves.
This is already evident in West Germany, which has 1.6 million reservists but will have only 1 million by the mid-1990s.
Finding enough manpower poses special problems for the volunteer armed forces of Britain, the United States and Canada, which compete with private industry for a shrinking pool of personnel.