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  • NATO-Strategie und nationale Verteidigungsplanung: Planung und Aufbau der Bundeswehr unter den Bedingungen einer massiven atomaren Vergeltungsstrategie 1952 bis 1960
  • Oliver Bange
Bruno Thoß, NATO-Strategie und nationale Verteidigungsplanung: Planung und Aufbau der Bundeswehr unter den Bedingungen einer massiven atomaren Vergeltungsstrategie 1952 bis 1960. Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2006. ix + 774 pp. £39.80.

In mid-1959 the United States and West Germany signed an agreement on the exchange of strategic nuclear information. Months later, the new West German defense minister, Franz Josef Strauß, complained to Lauris Norstad, the U.S. general who was serving as commander of all forces deployed by the North Atlantic Treaty [End Page 157] Organization (NATO), that the West German government had still not received any information about NATO's "Atomic Strike Plan." After considerable hesitation, the NATO commander finally agreed that the West German chief of staff, Albert Schnez, might receive oral instructions at NATO's headquarters which he could then report—also orally—to Defense Minister Strauß. The effect of this information was a huge shock, and the shock was compounded in September 1959 when NATO held its SIDE STEP planning exercises that gave the West Germans their first sense of NATO's nuclear strategy in case of an all-out East-West conflict. The exercise scenario stipulated that West German territory would be struck by more than 400 Warsaw Pact nuclear warheads and a sizable number of NATO warheads. NATO's self-announced task to reestablish control over territory lost during the first days of the conflict would be utterly impossible in the midst of this devastation. After visiting Fontainebleau, General Schnez was understandably shaken by NATO's war plans and reported to Strauß that any such war would be tantamount to a "Golgatha of the German nation."

Powerful images such as this are few and far between in Bruno Thoß's book. NATO-Strategie und nationale Verteidigungsplanung is a professorial German monograph—full of sources and details, and utterly void of the high-flying, stylish rhetoric so en vogue in Anglo-American historiography these days. Nevertheless, those making the effort to work their way through 800 pages (in German) will be fully rewarded. NATO-Strategie und nationale Verteidigungsplanung goes against the grain of recent books by Odd Arne Westad and other scholars who have sought to relocate the Cold War to the Third World. Thoß instead convincingly shows that Europe was "the central arena of the conflict of systems between East and West" (p. 5). No doubt, Thoß did not aspire to become involved in historiographical debates. Rather, he simply set out to deliver a thorough study of his more focused topic: the buildup of the West German Bundeswehr under the shadow of a potential nuclear confrontation. Barely a decade after the crushing of Nazi Germany, the creation of the Bundeswehr raised fundamental questions about West Germany's role in NATO, about nuclear deployments on West German territory, and about the veto rights—if any—that the West German government might have if a nuclear confrontation seemed likely to occur on its own (and East Germany's) territory. A narrow approach focused solely on national history would clearly be inadequate to deal with this topic. Thoß does full justice to the wider international framework by drawing on rich archival sources not only in Germany but also in the United States, Great Britain, and NATO headquarters.

The strength of the book lies in its coverage of developments in the late 1950s and 1960. Thoß provides a wealth of hitherto unknown details regarding the Bundeswehr's equipment (particularly its missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft), Konrad Adenauer's hollow renunciation of A-, B-, and C-weapons from 1954 on, and the nature of "Live Oak" (NATO's contingency planning for a serious confrontation over Berlin that would have necessitated the use of nuclear weapons even at a relatively early stage). These issues continued in one form or another after 1960—but when Thoß's narrative extends into the 1960s, the evidence he was able to gather becomes [End Page 158] thinner, occasionally raising doubts about some of his assertions and conclusions. Because of the Christian Democrats' lingering interest in acquiring nuclear weapons...