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1967-1979: NATO's Readiness Increases


 Although no longer part of the integrated command structure, France was still a member of the Alliance itself, so one of the first major tasks of SHAPE after the move to Belgium was to negotiate arrangements with the French authorities to co-ordinate France's military role and contribution to NATO in the event of a Warsaw Pact attack. After NATO adopted the new military strategy of "Flexible Response” in December 1967, SHAPE began a major review of its plans and forces to bring them into line with the new strategy.

In 1968 the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and overthrew the reformist government of Alexander Dubcek. SHAPE monitored this crisis closely and advised NATO Headquarters about the military implications of the Soviet invasion, which increased the number of combat ready Red Army units deployed very close to the Federal Republic of Germany.

During the tenure of the sixth SACEUR, General Andrew J. Goodpaster, SHAPE's activities were influenced by a number of important international developments: the shifting strategic balance in favour of the USSR, efforts to achieve East-West Détente, the increasing involvement of the United States in the Vietnam war, the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War, the subsequent oil crisis of 1973 and the 1974 Cyprus Crisis, which resulted in Greece's withdrawal of her forces from the NATO command structure.

SHAPE analysed the impact for NATO of the on-going negotiations over "mutual and balanced force reductions” between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and SHAPE also attempted to minimise the adverse effects of the desires of several allies (Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States) to reduce their forces stationed in continental Europe.

In 1970 SHAPE produced a major study of alliance's defence problems in the 1970's, which influenced the alliance's strategic planning during the next decade. The study addressed force reductions and recommended numerous improvements in ACE's conventional and nuclear forces and procedures.

The next SACEUR, U.S. Army General Alexander M. Haig, placed great emphasis on improving the "Three Rs” - Readiness, Rationalisation and Reinforcement - in order to counter-balance the growing military capabilities of the Warsaw Pact. One of SHAPE's major tasks during this period was to study how to improve the command and control and flexibility of NATO forces in Europe.

SHAPE played a major role in planning and implementing the NATO Long Term Defence Improvement Programme, which profoundly changed NATO forces in the 1980s and beyond. One of the most important innovations was NATO's decision to establish the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force, which was strongly supported by SHAPE. Improvements were also made in the quality and integration of communications and Command and Control systems, in particular the NATO Air Defence Ground Environment for coordination of air defence.

In 1975 Gen. Haig also introduced a major new NATO exercise programme called Autumn Forge, whose best known element was the REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) series. These exercises brought together national and NATO exercises, improved their training value and annually tested the ability of the Alliance's North American members to reinforce Europe rapidly.

SACEUR Haig implemented a long overdue realignment of the command structure in South Eastern Europe and he also made a significant change in the senior leadership of SHAPE in order to reflect Germany's increasing contribution to Allied Command Europe. In 1978 Gen. Gerd Schmueckle became the first German Deputy SACEUR after a second such position was created alongside the British DSACEUR.

General Haig's high profile attracted both positive and negative attention, with the latter taking the form of an attempt by left-wing German terrorists to assassinate him near SHAPE in 1979 shortly before he was due to leave SHAPE.

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