Awakening In Brussels

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In the days immediately following Mikhail Gorbachev’s ouster, NATO commanders collectively began to consider what the consequences of the coup would be for the alliance, as well as for their respective commands. Romanov had the reputation of being a hardliner and it was suspected that he would eventually turn his attention to the smoldering situation in the Eastern European satellites. It was not widely known in April, 1987 exactly how deep of a hole the Soviet Union had itself in. At home, there was increasing strife in the southern republics and Baltics. Discontent was growing among the general population as well. The grumblings were not restricted to Armenians and Estonians either. Russians were questioning the Communist Party’s decisions now in ever increasing numbers.  The economy was teetering on the verge of a total collapse, Afghanistan continued to consume Soviet blood, and Soviet influence in Central America was declining.

Nowhere was the situation more precarious for Moscow than in Eastern Europe. Internal discontent was fomenting from East Berlin to Warsaw and Prague. Poland had never been entirely pacified in the early 1980s. Jaruzelski, despite Soviet propping, was barely keeping his country together. Solidarity was still a force to be reckoned with. In East Berlin, Erich Honecker’s problems were more pronounced. His hold on power was becoming more illusionary. The harder he clamped down, the more resistant the voice of his opponents became. And it was spreading across the population rapidly. East Germany would celebrate its 40th anniversary as a nation-state in 1989 and there was widespread concern in the Kremlin that the nation would not last that long without Soviet military intervention.

What the ramifications of an East German collapse would mean for NATO was alarmingly clear: Nothing good. So, as Romanov was consolidating his power in the Kremlin, General Bernard Rodgers, SACEUR at the time, was holding meetings with his top commanders in Brussels to discuss the situation, and the training schedule for the summer months. Rodgers was leaving in June and wanted everything to be running perfectly for General John Galvin, his successor.

Over the next two weeks the new geo-political situation started to take shape. Romanov’s first priority was the United States. Specifically, repositioning the Soviet Union into a position of, if not political strength, political parity. The balance of power was tilting dangerously in Washington’s favor, even if the West was not clearly aware at this point. By mid-May, incidents between US and Soviet aircraft, submarines, and ships at sea were becoming a regular occurrence. It was the collision between a Russian Tu-95 Bear and US Navy F-14 Tomcat in the Pacific that captured Rodger’s attention and did not let go. Incidents like this have the power to start a war. Romanov was playing for keeps, he decided then and there. It now became the American general’s sole mission to ensure that the alliance was prepared for a conflict with the Soviets.

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