The Neutron Bomb and European Defense

August 15, 1980

Report Outline
Neutron Bomb Developments
European Defense Strategy
Prospects for Arms Control
Special Focus

Neutron Bomb Developments

Response to French Neutron Bomb Test

When the United States and its partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) first discussed production of the neutron bomb several years ago, the issue proved too hot to handle. No head of state on either side of the Atlantic wanted to take responsibility for introducing the controversial weapon, which is designed to kill enemy troops within a restricted radius while causing little physical damage. After months of negotiations in 1977–78 to get the Europeans to accept deployment of the weapons, President Carter abruptly reversed himself and decided to defer neutron bomb production.

The debate in NATO over the neutron bomb is likely to be revived in the wake of a recent revelation that France has developed and tested a neutron warhead. French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who disclosed the test at a June 26 press conference, said France would decide within two or three years whether to go ahead and start producing the weapons. Although France is not a member of the formal NATO defense structure, its decision could lead other European leaders to more readily accept the weapon.

Giscard's announcement received a mixed response in Washington. The Carter administration reaffirmed its official opposition to deploying neutron bombs in Europe, but was careful to leave open its option to develop an American version of the weapon. Privately, many Pentagon officials applauded Giscard's announcement, saying it would make U.S. production of the neutron bomb politically easier. Some U.S. military officials pointed to the announcement as evidence that France is moving closer to the nuclear strategy of the NATO allies — which emphasizes “flexible response” and tactical nuclear weapons — and away from the doctrine of massive retaliation espoused by former President Charles de Gaulle. It was partly because of disagreements over nuclear strategy that de Gaulle withdrew French forces from the NATO command in the mid-1960s.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Jul. 29, 2016  Modernizing the Nuclear Arsenal
Mar. 08, 2002  Weapons of Mass Destruction
Jan. 31, 1997  Chemical and Biological Weapons
Jun. 24, 1994  Nuclear Arms Cleanup
Jun. 05, 1992  Nuclear Proliferation
Jun. 29, 1990  Obstacles to Bio-Chemical Disarmament
Apr. 22, 1988  The Military Build-Down in the 1990s
May 24, 1987  Euromissile Negotiations
Jul. 11, 1986  Chemical Weapons
Apr. 27, 1984  Reagan's Defense Buildup
Jun. 04, 1982  Civil Defense
Jul. 17, 1981  Controlling Nuclear Proliferation
Jun. 05, 1981  MX Missile Decision
Aug. 15, 1980  The Neutron Bomb and European Defense
Sep. 07, 1979  Atomic Secrecy
Mar. 17, 1978  Nuclear Proliferation
May 27, 1977  Chemical-Biological Warfare
May 13, 1977  Politics of Strategic Arms Negotiations
Nov. 15, 1974  Nuclear Safeguards
Jul. 01, 1970  Nuclear Balance of Terror: 25 Years After Alamogordo
Jun. 18, 1969  Chemical–Biological Weaponry
Jun. 30, 1965  Atomic Proliferation
Mar. 21, 1962  Nuclear Testing Dilemmas
Aug. 16, 1961  Shelters and Survival
Oct. 12, 1959  Chemical-Biological Warfare
May 13, 1959  Nuclear Test Ban
Dec. 04, 1957  Scientific Cooperation and Atlantic Security
May 15, 1957  Changing Defense Concepts
Jul. 03, 1956  Civil Defense, 1956
Nov. 16, 1955  International Arms Deals
Oct. 04, 1954  Industrial Defense
Apr. 15, 1954  National Defense Strategy
Feb. 10, 1954  New Aproaches to Atomic Control
Oct. 10, 1953  Atomic Information
Apr. 11, 1952  Biological Warfare
Oct. 03, 1951  World Arms Race
Feb. 04, 1948  International Control of Atomic Energy
Dec. 06, 1946  International Inspection
Aug. 27, 1943  Gas Warfare
Jul. 24, 1937  The New Race in Armaments
May 05, 1932  Abolition of Aggressive Weapons
Alliances and Security Agreements
Defense Technology and Force Planning
Nuclear Energy