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Compared to the turmoil of the 1950s and early 1960s, intra-alliance debate over NATO strategy in the period from 1968 through the end of the Cold War was more acrimonious but less substantive. The Military Committee's formula of using nuclear weapons “as early as necessary and as late as possible” and the Harmel Report's validation of both defense and détente as NATO tasks established the basic compromises needed for consensus on alliance strategy. Although strategy did not materially change after 1968, its constituent arms control and deployment decisions became the areas in which the Federal Republic and the United States disputed policy toward the Soviet Union. The central debate of 1968-89 was over the balance in Western strategy between ensuring security and furthering détente. The American focus on preparedness to fight the Soviet Union came increasingly into conflict with the Federal Republic's desire to foster prospects for détente as a means to prevent a war in which Germany would be the main battlefield. These divergent priorities caused recurrent disputes over the deployment of nuclear weapons and even “out-of-area” issues like Vietnam and the Arab-Israeli wars.
The relationship between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States was the most important security commitment either state had in the Cold War. This symbiosis was due in large part to the hard facts of the Cold War: The United States was the Western “superpower,” whereas Germany was the Western state most exposed to Soviet power and, because of armament restrictions imposed by its allies, unable to defend itself. Neither state could meet its security goals without the other.
This security interdependence was managed primarily within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO strategy represented the consensus between the Federal Republic and the United States on the requirements of Western defense. The central strategic questions for NATO from 1945 to 1968 were where to defend Germany, what means to use, and Germany's role in that defense. America's answers to these questions determined in large part the nature of the German-American relationship.
From about the end of World War II until the administration of John F. Kennedy began its new approach in 1961, NATO strategy was responsive to and even driven by German interests. The policies of presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower were designed to revitalize Germany, incorporate it firmly into Western political and military structures, and prevent neutrality from becoming the preferred political option for the West German leadership.
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