“Closing the Gap” The Euromissiles and President Carter’s Nuclear Weapons Strategy for Western Europe (1977-1979)

Shortly after entering the Oval Office for the first time in January 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his top foreign policy aides – including National Security Advisor Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski and Deputy National Security Advisor David Aaron –were immediately confronted with a serious threat to the security of the Western European members of the NATO Alliance. The threat came in the form of a Soviet force of long-range theater nuclear missiles – called “SS-20s” – that the Soviets deployed within striking distance of Western Europe. The Soviet Union’s growing superiority in long-range theater nuclear missiles (LRTNF) relative to the NATO Alliance worried Western European political and military leaders, particularly West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Schmidt claimed that the combination of SS-20 deployments within striking distance of Western Europe and the advent of “strategic parity” in the early 1970s revealed the existence of a serious “gap,” or vulnerability, in NATO’s “flexible response” deterrence strategy.

William Leonard