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The INF Treaty, Part II — Moving from Arms Control to Arms Reduction

From November 1983 to March of 1985 negotiations between the United States and the USSR languished, leading the U.S. to deploy the Pershing II missile to counter the Soviet SS-20, which had been deployed beginning in 1976. When talks resumed, there were two main stumbling blocks toward the progress of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF.

One problem was the SS-20 missiles targeting Asia. Because the United States did not have missiles in Asia, there was no way to block the Soviet threat aimed at the East. The U.S. wanted Soviet missiles out of Asia, and the Soviets didn’t think that this was fair. The second problem was the Soviet fear of the U.S. ability to recommission obsolete Pershing I missiles in Germany. If the U.S. were to go to zero and destroy their Pershing II missiles, they would still be able to upgrade their obsolete technology in Germany.

Another concern was the softer — and increasingly effective — approach of Mikhail Gorbachev to discredit the U.S. and bring support to the Soviet cause. The previously hardline leadership assumed a warmer PR approach by agreeing to U.S. demands on the surface while often blocking progress behind closed doors.

Read Part I about the “walk in the woods” and the previous failed negotiating efforts and Part III about the push to a final agreement. Go here for other Moments on negotiations and on the USSR/Russia.


“Gorbachev is seeing, rightly, that he can be more effective by taking a warm approach, than by a cold one”

GLITMAN:  As the negotiations developed, we saw, on more than one occasion, where Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, said something which would have moved the talks forward, and then suddenly later on it gets pulled back again. This was the beginning of that.

Indeed, in this instance, January 16, ’86, Gorbachev made a very major speech on the whole broad arms control approach. I would say it was one of the best pieces of work the Soviets did in this era. It was very comprehensive, very compelling; you really needed to know the intricacies of the negotiation to find the flaws in it. But, they were there. It was a well-done job by them.

In this speech, Gorbachev seemed to put linkage back into effect. In other words, he referred to the settlement of the SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative, aka “Star Wars) question as a precondition for moving ahead on his proposal on eliminating all offensive nuclear weapons by the year 2000.

The specific linkage with SDI was contained in a sweeping proposal dealing with nuclear arms, which can reach each other’s territories, that is, strategic arms. A separate portion of the speech called for the complete liquidation of Soviet and U.S. medium-range missiles in the European zone.

Again, this is a zero coming out from their side, but limited to the European zone, the Soviet SS-20s outside of Europe were still capable of hitting targets in most of NATO Europe. And then, after January 16, there was a press conference and one of the Soviet deputy Foreign Ministers, Georgy Korniyenko, made clear that the fate of SDI would apply to INF.

Let me see if I can run through linking and de-linking that had occurred during this period of certain years. I noted they started out linking [making the SDI question a precondition for eliminating nuclear weapons], then in the ’85 visit to Paris we had Gorbachev’s de-linking, then on January of ’86 a re-linking, and then again on February of ’86 Gorbachev used the media-worthy event of a visit by Senator Ted Kennedy to suggest once again that a separate INF treaty was possible.

Then on February 25th Gorbachev announced that the Star Wars program must not be allowed to be used both as a stimulus for a further arms race and as an obstruction on a road to radical disarmament. There he seemed to be de-linking it again. That de-linking would last until the Reykjavik Summit, and at the Reykjavik Summit, the Soviets once again re-linked.

I was confident that in the end they were going to have to de-link. The political negatives of their trying to tie up INF with SDI and START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] were going to be so strong that they would back off in the end. And in fact they did.

On February 28th of 1987, Gorbachev announced the Soviet Union “proposes taking the problem of medium-range missiles in Europe out of the block of issues and concluding a separate agreement on this subject.”

Gorbachev also notes that de-linkage would remove much of the nuclear burden from our common home, which is Europe. This became a major theme for Gorbachev at this point: “Our common European home.”

And guess who doesn’t live in that home? That’s right, the U.S. is outside of this picture. In his memoirs, Gorbachev later says, “Well, I didn’t mean to exclude the U.S.” But I think it is clear from the way this began that this was his move in that direction. And this has broad strategic significance as well, in the sense of political policy. He is seeing, rightly, that he can be more effective by taking a warm approach, than by a cold one.

You could see once he took over, even before maturing in this common European home theme, that he was, all these initiatives that he took after January 16 and so on, this was part of a war of maneuver. This was a war of movement on his side. He hadn’t given up the objective, but he was pursuing it by showing in a sense a very real flexibility. Again, we can find flaws in what he was saying, from our standpoint, but he was very good at portraying this willingness to move forward.

Perestroika [”restructuring” of the Soviet economy], democratization, openness [“glasnost” in Russian], etc. All of these slogans were designed not only to have an impact internally but also to send a message out to the Europeans and particularly the NATO Europeans. So, this “common home” theme fits, and this was an example why in my view there would be no further re-linking. This fact was happily recognized and supported by all on the SDI delegations.

President Reagan welcomed this announcement. He made reference to the European political aspect of this event by stressing the importance of close cooperation between the U.S. and its European allies. And I’ll quote this because I got this in my notes here. “As we proceed, it is well to remember that nothing is more important to the cause of peace then the credibility of our commitment to NATO and our other allies and the vitality of these alliances of free nations.”

The President’s statement was well attuned to the “common European home” theme and presented our side. But this was a qualitative change in the discussion at this junction. We were going to get a treaty and this was the beginning of a sign that we may get that treaty, but the contest is not over. The contest is seen, basically as the Soviets trying to split the alliance or to move the allies closer to the Soviet Union. The Soviets had not given up on that.

“Asia and how we got to a global zero”

I want to talk next about something we refer to as “Asia and how we got to a global zero.” INF was, as you’ve seen, principally about our relations with our NATO allies. But, it also had an impact on our Asian allies and we did take that into account. It didn’t start out quite like that. There was a tendency to look at it as essentially a European issue….

As the negotiations went on, our policy line began to broaden to make Asian concerns an important part of the argument that the INF treaty needed a global basis, that it would be better to deal with limitations on these weapons not just as they apply to Europe, but indeed globally. No matter where they were deployed, they really ought to be eliminated.

That was a major step, because I don’t think there had been many instances before in arms control history where, for example, you looked at chemical and biological weapons, but no real program to actually carry out this elimination. They were to be banned, but this was basically going to eliminate them, and no more production, no more testing, no more missiles.

Our feeling was that it would be easier to make the agreement durable and sound if the elimination took place on global basis. And it had a side effect of making clear to the Asian allies and friends they benefit from this treaty as well as our European allies and friends.

In any case, the Soviets began most of their deployment in the European side, but as the negotiations went on, we saw more and more new deployments, new bases being set up in the East.

I think someone had estimated that the SS-20 could target 62% of the world’s population, including all of Europe, China, the Middle East, the Near East, most of India, much of South-East Asia and a large portion of northern Africa.

And yet, they were not, strictly speaking, strategic weapons, they could not reach 5500 kilometers, which is the beginning range for strategic weapons. They were a different category, but as you can see, they needed control. Because of the impact they had on security and stability across a large part of the world.…

So we began to think about how to bring Soviet-Asian INF missiles into an agreement. I would probe my Soviet counterparts on their views of the political aspects of INF in Asia and particularly China’s role in this equation.

They were very leery of even discussing the subject. Only General Nikolai Detinov, who was my counterpart in the first set of negotiations, was prepared to engage on this topic, and his comments, while elliptical, left me with an impression that a deeply ingrained Soviet concern rooted on fear over China would be a factor in their decision, on whether and to what extent, they would be prepared to reduce their Asian INF missiles in the context of a bilateral negotiation with us.

But you can see how that impacted how they saw what we were doing, trying to reduce the SS-20s in Asia, and from there, while NATO concerns remained in the forefront, but increasingly Japan and South Korea came into the picture, we had our eyes open to the fact. Now from a Soviet standpoint, it would have been China that they would have been most concerned about. So, trying to get them to go to zero globally was not going to be easy.

There was one other great advantage in going to zero globally. And that was, verification would be far easier to carry out. If you allow 100 large missile systems, you have to make sure that the next one you see is not the 101st. And we had come up with all kinds of technical ways of trying to deal with this….

But we wouldn’t need those if there was zero. Because if you see one, it’s a violation. That would make it much easier to do and that would reduce the amount of control, the number of inspections we would need, and so forth. That was a big plus from going to zero.

We did anticipate that verification would be a major issue during the Senate hearings on the treaty, as indeed it turned out to be. …It really wouldn’t be until Gorbachev took over the reins, that the Soviets began a more serious effort to improve relations with the Asians; and to recognize how their INF deployments in Asia impacted on that effort.

They walked out of the negotiations before we had any real exploration of INF in Asia, let alone any practice, but when they came back to Geneva, that issue came back with them. And here we were looking at their deployment pattern and we could see that the Asian element took on growing importance after the negotiations resumed.

“We were ready for something, but this twist was unusual”

Going back to August of 1986, we had a series of meetings with the Soviets outside of the Geneva negotiations, and this involved people from capitals, Washington and Moscow, and chief negotiators on both the U.S. and Soviet side.

The first meeting was held in Moscow and it was supposed to go through all three negotiations [SDI, START, and INF]. And let me just concentrate on the INF portion of it.

The most important part of the Moscow meeting was a question that General Chernov, who was the Soviet Defense Ministry’s lead individual for arms control, asked of me. It sort of came out of a blue, it didn’t follow any sequence.

He said, “Would you be willing to accept an outcome in which there were 100 missiles left in Europe?”

I had to think about it for a moment. Fortunately I had a pretty good idea at what point we still had a viable military force, so I went ahead and said, “Yes.”

Then I asked him a couple other questions. First one was, “We are talking about U.S. and Soviet systems, but nobody else’s, no British, no French?” And he said, “That’s correct.”

Then I said, “Secondly, this is not going to impact British or French in any way whatsoever?”

And they said, “Yes, that’s correct.” And I said, “Well then probably, we could work something out.”

And when we came back, the Reykjavik Summit had been set up. We came back from Moscow. We had preparation meetings and I was able to say for INF I anticipated that we would hear from the Soviets something along these lines, 100 in Europe, and we’d have to determine what the right number would be for Asia, and my thinking was that it would have to be a proportional cut.

So whatever proportional cuts we took in Europe, that same proportion would be cut, if it was 50% cut in Europe, it would be 50% cut in Asia, and we would have to look at our own numbers to adjust accordingly.

What happened in Reykjavik was a variation on this. But what came out of it was an agreement to have zero in Europe and 100 elsewhere in the world. That was where they were at.

The problem at that junction was that we didn’t have anything in Asia. We were certainly prepared when we got to Reykjavik to deal with 100 in Europe number and leave open the question in Asia, but this came as quite a surprise the way it worked out. We were ready for something, but this twist was unusual. Not anticipated by us. I am not sure it was anticipated by the Soviets either. This was Gorbachev just moving in that direction.

That left us with the question as to how we get down to zero. I began to look around for ways for some kind of leverage, that could keep open the prospects of deployment somewhere in Asia, but that was not very likely…

Some of the positions that we had taken, and others had taken on the fringes of the negotiation, concerning the possibility of our deployment in Alaska suggested that there was not any support. I think the Soviets were probably aware of that. So we needed to find some other way.

But the basic arrangement, especially the willingness to drop the British and French that we heard from Chernov, struck me as really significant. This was one of the toughest issues that we had faced in the negotiation, and at this point it looked as if this issue was now going to be resolved and in a way which would not in fact put the British and French missiles on our side of the ledger.

“We began to have a sense that there was some lack of communication”

Around this time, Gorbachev began a campaign to show that the Soviet Union wanted friendlier relations with Asian countries, in particular with China. (Photo: AP)

I, in effect, said to Obukhov, during some of the negotiating sessions, “You know, you are taking a position that you want to improve relations with Asia, then you really need to take a good hard look at your position to keep 100 missiles in Asia and zero in Europe. You know, it looks as in fact you are favoring Europe over Asia.”

I wasn’t too subtle about the way I phrased this. I wanted them to recognize that there was an incompatibility there between seeking better relations and keeping the 100 missiles….

On July 22nd, we got our answer. One of my staff came into my office and said, “There is an article here that you need to see right away. It’s an Indonesian newspaper, Merdeka.”

I thought to myself, “I know what this is.” It was Gorbachev’s acceptance of double global zero. He sought to present it as his own and as a Soviet contribution to improving security in Asia. His choice of an Asian newspaper I believe was also meant to send an obvious message.

Nevertheless, the incompatibility between his call for closer Soviet-Asian ties and Soviet insistence of keeping SS-20s targeted on most of Asia had forced the change in Soviet policy. He simply couldn’t argue in favor of closer relations and then maintain the SS-20s. That had forced the change.….The next day in Geneva, the Soviets formally tabled the proposal outlined in the Merdeka interview.…

The Soviets would avoid the risk of a modern NATO-FRG [West Germany] nuclear missile force. We’d get the global zero that we sought to benefit of ourselves, our Asian and NATO allies and both parties would gain from the improved prospect for effective verification which the zero outcome would create.

If you look back at this juncture in the negotiations, we had obtained the zero outcome which President Reagan had made his primary goal six years earlier. We had secured Soviet agreement to the NATO principles, which had guided us from ’79 on. We had obtained Soviet recognition of the legitimacy of U.S. deployments of nuclear weapons in Europe. And by extension their acceptance of our military presence in Europe as a counter to Soviet deployments threatening our NATO allies. And we had defended the interests of our Asian allies, by obtaining the elimination of the Soviet INF threat against them.

Around this time, and after Reykjavik, we began to wonder what was happening back in Moscow. We began to have a sense that there was some lack of communication. You can’t help but wonder.

Look at what happened here:  The Soviet leader puts forward a proposal, Gorbachev on February 28th, zero SRINF [Short-Range Intermediate Nuclear Force, which have a range of 500-1000 km, or about 300-600 miles. INF missiles had a range of 1000-5500 km and ICBMs a range greater than 5500 km]. His senior Foreign Ministry officials are unable to discuss it in any detail with us when we asked them about it. And yet one of them floats a proposal similar to one that their president had made in public only days before but about which they seemed rather uninformed.

I went back to Washington and began to help preparations for meetings in Moscow between Secretary George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. It was obvious that INF was certainly going to be on the agenda.

I emphasized that we might be confronted at that meeting with the Soviet zero SRINF proposal and that we would have to move very carefully, given the German concerns. I reinforced these points during the pre-ministerial meetings, which were held in Helsinki prior to going to Moscow. In fact, as we anticipated, SRINF was a prominent element at the April 14th, 1987 Moscow ministerial meeting.

I think Secretary Shultz raised the topic during the meeting with Gorbachev. The Soviet leader first suggested that Soviets would withdraw nuclear systems in East Germany and Czechoslovakia and that both sides would then freeze SRINF levels.

Secretary Shultz responded by citing our cardinal principle:  any agreement must be based on an equal outcome and a freeze at current levels would not be equal.

Gorbachev then suggested the SRINF be treated in the same manner as was agreed at Reykjavik for LRINF [Longer-Range Intermediate Nuclear Force]:  Zero in Europe and 100 in Soviet Asia and the U.S.

The Secretary rejected this approach, and he pointed out that these missiles can be moved rather easily. And he added that the only sensible outcome is equality on a global basis.

Finally, Gorbachev proposed a global zero. Secretary Shultz was well aware of the sensitivities with our allies and made it clear he would have to consult with the allies before responding to Gorbachev’s offer.

Well, we were scheduled to meet with our NATO allies in Brussels directly after the meeting in Moscow. I had been working on other issues, obviously during the ministerial I had been busy, but I wrote up talking points for the Secretary on the airplane as we flew to Brussels.

We could accept global zero for SRINF or an equal finite number for both sides, but to accept an outcome in which we turn down a Soviet offer for a global zero for SRINF while not deploying modern SRINF on our side would create a military imbalance, a politically indefensible result.

If NATO does not accept zero then it must deploy SRINF to match the Soviets. I had some interesting times with this paper. As we flew to Moscow I had cleared it with the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, Roz Ridgway, several other members of the party, and Richard Perle. Perle was busy working on a message of his own, but once we got to Brussels I showed him this and he gave a quick green light.

And Secretary Shultz used the paper to good effect. The Germans, as expected and understandably, agonized at length over the decision. In the end, they and the other allies recognized that the global zero SRINF outcome was in NATO’s overall interest, it presaged global zero for INF and it would make verification easier and relatively more certain in verifying the final number….

Remember, the Cold War is still a factor at this time. Therefore the prospect of the removal of all U.S. nuclear forces from Europe while the Soviet Union would continue to hold European cities hostage to its remaining strategic nuclear force that was not going away. And the effect that outcome would have on our ability to deter Soviet attack on the alliance was not particularly agreeable to contemplate….