Key point: Nobody wins a nuclear war for Europe.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed in 1949 to oppose Soviet expansionism in Western Europe. The end of the war saw the Soviet Union solidify its gains in Eastern Europe, garrisoning countries such as Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and East Germany. NATO was a direct response to the raising of what Winston Churchill deemed the “Iron Curtain.”
At the time, American and Western European planners felt that if war were to break out between West and Stalin’s Russia, it would quite logically take place in Europe. The reality of nuclear weapons, however, meant that the two sides avoided direct confrontation and instead fought a series of proxy wars worldwide. That having been said, for the Soviet Union an invasion of Western Europe carried the biggest risk—and the biggest reward.
NATO’s strategic mission was to prevent the destruction of the alliance by military force. Essential to that were four wartime goals: gaining air superiority, keeping sea lines of communication open to North America, maintaining the territorial integrity of West Germany and avoiding the use of nuclear weapons. Were NATO to lose any of these four, the war was as good as over.
In 1988, NATO’s plan for the defense of Western Europe was the doctrine of forward defense, in which Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces were stopped as far close to the inner German border as possible. A defense in depth—which experience on the Eastern Front in World War II had proved superior—would have imperiled virtually the entire West German population and forty years of postwar rebuilding.
NATO seemingly had no unified battle plan other than to “man the line” until Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces were exhausted—whereupon counterattacks could be executed to restore prewar borders. West German Army forces, inflexible at the strategic level, were allowed a level of flexibility at the tactical level. The United States devised AirLand Battle, a doctrine that stipulated ground and air units would work together to strike the enemy simultaneously, from the forward edge of the battle area to deep behind enemy lines.