Hey, let's do some Cold War-era history tweeting. WHO'S WITH ME?!

Today, we're going to talk about the multi-lateral force (MLF).
This won't be comprehensive. There are smarter people here who could talk about all these issues in more detail. But I can give you the general (and interesting) overview.

By say the late 1950s or so, NATO defence against Soviet attack was MASSIVELY reliant on nuclear weapons.
It was basically a numbers game. The Soviets had a vastly bigger army, and they were much closer to (bordered with, really, via their satellites) the expected battle area. They could just pour in tanks and guns and men in quantities NATO couldn't match.

So we'd have nuked 'em.
I'm being a bit glib, sure, but that really was the plan. We would counter the Soviets' superiority in conventional arms by hammering them with nukes. That would mean hitting targets inside the Soviet sphere to wreck their logistics, and also just pan-frying their army divisions.
Would this have worked? Who knows? But it was the plan. And to be clear, this was *explicitly* the plan. It was even embraced by U.S. leadership as a clever strategy: instead of spending huge money to sustain a massive conventional force in Europe, spend less money on nukes.
If you want to learn more, go read up on "massive retaliation." That's what this plan/doctrine was called. I won't get much more into it than that, but it's important to note that while it actually made some sense in the context of the 1950s, there were two problems with it.
The first problem was kinda obvious with hindsight: favouring massive nuclear striking power over conventional arms made sense against the Soviets, with their numerical and geographical advantages, but it didn't really make much sense in any other context.
Like, OK, if there's 10,000 Red Army tanks pouring across the Rhine, yeah, fine, nuke the bastards.

If some U.S.-friendly regime is having problems with communist-backed rebels ... you probably don't want to go save the village by hydrogen bombing it.
The other problem, of course, is that the Soviets had nukes, too. And by the late 1950s, we thought they were getting pretty good at delivering them where they wanted them to go. This wasn't REALLY true (at least, not as much as we feared). But it was sorta true.
And it was absolutely true for the European allies. The Soviets probably couldn't have wiped out North America until maybe the late 1960s. They could have fucked it up, but it would have been their last act. The American SAC would have wiped the USSR off the Earth.
The Soviets couldn't do that to North America until a bit later on. But they could wipe Europe out.

And the Europeans, to state the obvious, weren't thrilled by this.
Which, to be honest, makes sense. The Europeans had no interest in getting killed in the last genocidal act of the Soviets, who couldn't fry Canada and the U.S. but could wipe Europe out. And the Europeans also, obviously, not being idiots, realized there was another problem.
The problem was this: as the Soviets' ability to hit North America increased, as it clearly was (again, even if not as fast as they made us think it was), at a certain point, the U.S. might start wondering about writing Europe off.
I'm not saying the U.S. would have (that's a fascinating thing to ponder,). But you can't blame the Europeans from worrying. The conventional superiority of the Soviets was unquestioned. If the U.S.'s nuclear advantage was negated via Soviet deterrence, the Euros were screwed.
(My gut feeling, for what it's worth, is that no U.S. president would have folded in the face of Soviet intimidation and written off the NATO allies in fear of an attack on the U.S. homeland. But that's just a wild-ass guess on my part and I'm glad we never found out.)
Anyway, so back to it. The U.S. doctrine of massive retaliation was only going to get less and less credible as Soviet nuclear capability grew. The Europeans knew this. And the U.S. knew it, too. They needed the European allies to BELIEVE the U.S. would stand by them.
So that's where the idea of the MLF came in — giving the Europeans a nuclear deterrent of their own. The Euros didn't need to worry about America's willingness to die on the hill of a free Europe, because the Europeans would control enough nukes to deter Moscow on their own.
Like I said above, I don't intend this to be comprehensive. So I'm going to skip over a ton of fascinating stuff where different technical options were considered for how to field this nuclear strike force (on ships, mainly). But the core of the idea was fascinating.
Instead of NATO needing to wonder if the Americans would sacrifice New York to save Naples, NATO itself would have controlled its own nuclear strike force.
The idea didn't pan out (if memory serves, some ships were refitted to carry nuclear missiles, but I don't believe any were actually so equipped). Eventually the Brits (and later the French) developed their own nuclear forces and that sort of (imperfectly) filled the MLF role.
The issues were largely around financing and also the strategy. And that brings me to what I find most interesting. Who controls a NATO nuclear force? Like who's the final authority?
Call me old fashioned, but I believe any organization needs a final authority. You have to hope to God that you get yourself a good one, particularly when they're packing nuclear heat, but one way or the other, in a crisis, you need ONE person who can make The Call.
British PM Macmillan summed it up well. He noted that the problem with a multilateral force was that it didn't matter if there was one united NATO finger on the nuclear trigger if there were 15 individual national fingers on the safety catch.

Quite so.

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