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NATO Ministers Insist on Nuclear Deterrent : Military: Defense chiefs will meet in July in London to ‘adjust’ the organization’s role.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

NATO defense ministers, responding to dramatic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, said Thursday that while most nuclear weapons can safely be withdrawn from Europe, the Atlantic Alliance must continue to deploy some of those weapons if it is to prevent the outbreak of war there.

“For the foreseeable future, the deterrence of war will continue to require . . . widespread alliance participation in an appropriate mix of survivable and effective conventional and nuclear forces in Europe,” the ministers stated in a communique.

The defense chiefs also announced that alliance leaders will meet in London on July 5-6 “to adjust our alliance to new circumstances, to seize the new opportunities before us, to address new challenges and identify our future objectives.”

“Our alliance is on the move,” said NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner in closing the two-day meeting of NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group. “The world is changing and our alliance is changing too.”

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The end of the meeting, the first of a flurry of high-level consultations leading to the July summit, came a week after President Bush announced that he had suspended modernization of two classes of new ground-launched, short-range nuclear missiles.

Bush also called for the alliance to begin negotiations with the Soviet Union to reduce such systems as soon as an agreement limiting conventional forces in Europe is signed.

At the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting, several defense ministers differed over the goal of those negotiations, whether it should be to eliminate ground-launched nuclear weapons from Europe altogether or to reduce their numbers.

In addition, several countries on Wednesday joined the Netherlands in arguing that U.S. nuclear-tipped artillery shells should be withdrawn from Europe without negotiations, leaving the talks to focus solely on the American Lance missile and its Soviet counterparts.

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There is general agreement that with the advent of democracy to almost all of the countries that used to be part of the Soviet Bloc in Eastern Europe, the shells have become obsolete, because they have the range only to reach the territory of those countries.

U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said the early retirement of nuclear shells, without negotiations, was “entirely possible” after further study and consultations within the alliance.

“It wouldn’t be the first time it had been done,” he said.

As they began to chart a new course for alliance military policy in a politically changed world, NATO defense leaders were eager to demonstrate unity and put off debate on potentially divisive issues, such as the modernization of air-launched nuclear weapons.

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On that issue, the allies chose simply to note that “sub-strategic nuclear systems offering both flexibility and longer range"--a reference to aircraft--"will assume relatively greater significance.”

Woerner, who called reports of deep rifts among the allies “absurd,” said the objective of negotiations and other largely political questions would be decided by the heads of NATO governments in July.

But the political leaders who must decide policy are likely to face some issues that will challenge their cohesion. One such potential flash-point is the question of which NATO countries in Europe will allow nuclear forces, which are certain to include aircraft armed with nuclear weapons, to be based on their soil.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Woerner, who was West Germany’s defense minister as recently as 1988, vigorously disputed suggestions that his country would not accept the deployment of nuclear weapons on its soil after unification with East Germany.

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“I’ve not the slightest doubt that a united Germany, as a member of NATO, will fulfill all its commitments,” Woerner said.

Speaking to reporters on board the plane taking him back to Washington, Cheney stopped short of saying that a reunified Germany must allow the deployment of nuclear weapons on its soil. But he said it is “politically important and important from the security standpoint” that Germany “continue in the alliance.”

Cheney dismissed as “very, very shaky thinking” the argument that with Soviet and NATO conventional forces moving toward equality, nuclear weapons in Europe are no longer needed.

“The fact of the matter is that conventional parity does not guarantee peace,” he said.

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