THE United States has for years been concerned about possible Soviet attempts to split the NATO alliance. The conclusion of an agreement on intermediate- and short-range missiles in Europe (the zero option) has increased fears that General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev pushed for the withdrawal of American missiles in order to "decouple" Europe militarily from the United States. This view represents a fundamental misperception of the forces behind Soviet policy.
Although Gorbachev has accepted a zero option that Leonid Brezhnev would not accept, it would be wrong to conclude that his goal is the decoupling of the United States from the defense of Europe. He has repeatedly denied that he wants to break up the NATO alliance, and he is sincere. The Soviet Union needs NATO as a justification for maintaining Soviet troops in Eastern Europe. It fears that a breakup of NATO would eventually lead West Germany to acquire nuclear weapons in order to achieve equality with Great Britain and France. A high Soviet official gave another reason privately in September 1987 when he was asked why the Soviet Union wanted to preserve NATO: "We do not want a united Germany."1
The explanation for Gorbachev's willingness to accept the zero option lies outside the military sphere. Brezhnev desperately wanted to stave off reform, but Gorbachev has____________________