Editorial Note: Lifting the Veil on Cosmic:
Declassified Documents on NATO Military Planning and Threat Assessments of the Warsaw Pact,
by William Burr and Robert A. Wampler
As the documents listed below reveal, there are significant gaps, as well as surprising revelations, in the records that have been made available in the United States and Great Britain related to NATO military planning and the alliance's assessments of the threat posed by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact to West European security during the Cold War. The reasons for this mixture of access and continued denial are many. For the period of the 1950s, much if not most of our detailed knowledge of NATO military planning and threat assessments is based upon documents found at the Public Record Office in England. The sole document marked "Cosmic" comes from this archive (M. C. 33, 10 November 1951). While the U.S. archives have not been inactive in providing parallel documents, the great majority of these come from declassified State Department documents. The records of the Defense Department, which contain thousands of key documents, have been held hostage by a number of developments, starting with the fact that systematic declassification of Defense records suffered from inadequate funding and staffing throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s. The issuance of former President Clinton's Executive Order 102953 did provide a much needed impetus to declassification, but in practice little significant Defense material from the Eisenhower period and later has been released due to two factors: an initial focus upon review of documents that held low classification levels, in order to meet the quantitative criteria of the Executive Order, and the subsequent imposition of a requirement, under the Kyl and Lott Amendments, to review yet again on a page-by-page basis all documents already reviewed, in order to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of Restricted and Formerly Restricted Data relating to the design and use of nuclear weapons.
For the 1960s, the record of declassification of Defense Department documents has improved, with a great number of NATO-related documents released as the result of declassification requests by former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara for documents in his files, to be used in connection with work on his memoirs. Still, a serious bottleneck exists with respect to any document in which NATO claims an equity, as there are formidable obstacles to quick review of military documents within NATO (as is discussed further below). State Department records up through late 1973 have been made available to researchers, with the specialized Lot Files available for even later dates. Review of the central State Department files after late 1973 is currently experiencing its own delays, because of problems associated with the processing of the large body of cable traffic which is stored electronically. Defense Department files for the 1960s and 1970s remain subject to the obstacles already noted.
Looking ahead, prospects for further declassification of NATO-related documents is cloudy, given the impact of the events of September 11th, which is resulting in an even-stronger emphasis upon security, and the budgetary impact of the anticipated deficit which many expect to result both from the recently-passed tax cut and the expanded defense spending to combat terrorism. Declassification funding has likely seen its peak under the impetus given by the Clinton Executive Order, and will enter a period of decline in the immediate future.
Looking at NATO, the Department of Defense Historical Review Declassification Advisory Panel, of which Dr. Wampler is a member, received a briefing on September 21, 2001, that revealed the following:
(1) There has been notable progress in the review and opening of key NATO series documents, produced by the major bodies such as the North Atlantic Council or the Defense Committee. These documents are being made available in the Public Reading Room at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
(2) No effort is currently being made to review the so-called Subject Files, which could provide a wealth of information on the inner workings of NATO and its International Secretariat.
(3) Turning to NATO military records, the SHAPE Historian, Dr. Gregory Pedlow, has released a collection of key NATO strategic documents, culminating in MC 14/3, but no plans are currently in place to review and release any of the plethora of NATO military planning and intelligence documents, largely because of the need to devote time and resources to archiving NATO's recent military operations in Europe and the Balkans.
(4) In addition, the SHAPE Historian is not subject to U.S. declassification laws, being a NATO Civil Servant, and while he does entertain requests from official historical offices in NATO governments, the backlog of these requests stretches back nearly seven years.
(5) Finally, apparently the first 30 years of NATO military archives exist only on microfiche, which is becoming worn and scratched from use. Plans are being made to digitize these valuable records before they become totally illegible. As our contribution to the international collaborative effort, The Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact and the National Security Archive NATO History project have been seeking to rectify these gaps in the record through the use of targeted declassification requests to both the Defense and State Departments for identified record collections, and will continue to make the declassified documents available to researchers.