History / Warfare

The Reality-Based History of the Cold War, Part 4


Scott Walker can argue all he likes that Reagan’s reaction to the PATCO strike (firing over 11,000 ATC controllers in August 1981 and barring them from federal employment for life) brought about the rise of Gorbechev or whatever fevered thoughts run through the Wisconsin governor’s brain, but the reality in September 1984 did not indicate that the Soviet Politburo had anything other than the worst opinion of the 40th president:

IF the Soviet press is any guide, there are few global problems for which the United States is not to blame.

A single issue of Pravda last week managed to accuse Washington of destroying any basis for Soviet- American dialogue, orchestrating last year’s Korean jetliner disaster, opposing nuclear-free zones, supporting Israeli expansionism, meddling in Central America and the Red Sea, and fomenting religious and ethnic strife in India. The President himself now routinely comes under the sort of personal attack that not so long ago might have shocked Western diplomats. Soviet officials, and occasionally voices in the West, place the entire onus on the Reagan Administration. They cite the President’s joke about bombing Russia and his talk of evil empires, the deployment of new missiles in Europe, Washington’s military buildup and its activities abroad. Mr. Reagan’s recent efforts to moderate his stance have been scorned.

Few would deny that the Administration’s strong anti-Soviet sentiments and Moscow’s frustration at its failure to block NATO missile deployment have been serious factors in bringing relations to a low state. But as the gloom deepens, Western diplomats are asking whether the unrelenting anti-American rhetoric may not be a symptom also of internal malaise in the Kremlin – of a weak and possibly ailing leader, of inability to jettison futile policies in the absence of strong direction from the top.

Whatever feelings Konstantin U. Chernenko, the Soviet leader (or perhaps more to the point, Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko and Defense Minister Dmitry F. Ustinov), may harbor toward Mr. Reagan, it is also pertinent that xenophobia has historically been an affliction and tool of Soviet leaders.

What a change six months made, eh? Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary on 11 March 1985, and talk of reforming the Communist system began almost immediately. Chief amongst the reforms was perestroika—the restructuring of the Soviet economic system. From this restructuring came glasnost (openness) and uskoreniye (acceleration of economic development). Some might also argue capitalist concepts such as khozraschyot (profitability) also emerged, ignoring the fact that khozraschyot was part of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (1917-22) and had reemerged with a vengeance with the 1965 economic reform, the latter coincidentally emerging under the tutelage of Brezhnev as VPK was ascending.

Gorbachev’s failure was pre-ordained. What chance would Western-style capitalism take root when Russian crony capitalism had perfected itself during the 20 years VPK was the Poliburo’s puppet master; since 1965 directing almost all Russian resources into manufacturing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems? Two years ago I argued VPK perished with Dmitri Ustinov when the defense minister died in 1984, but the truth is VPK had become the entire Soviet economy long before Andropov succeeded Brezhnev in 1982. Is it any wonder the Russian economy completely collapsed in the 1990s (besides corrupting outside influence)?

The Return of the Old Peace

Wars are commonly concluded by peace treaties, the U.S. becoming an exception over the last 60 years. Senate Republican opposition to strategic weapons reduction, which since 2010 has only increased, might be reflective of Republicans repudiating the very concept of treaties altogether. Republican presidents are loath to extend peace treaties, beginning with Lincoln refusing anything other than Lee’s surrender. The 16th president’s Republican successors preferred less-restrictive ceasefire agreements over treaties: the Korean Armistice Agreement, Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam (sounds like Nixon signed a peace treaty, but he didn’t), U.N. Security Council Resolutions 686/687 (Iraq 1991), and the horribly wordy Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq (no, I’m not making this up). The only exception was McKinley in 1898 ending the Spanish-American War at the Treaty of Paris…and Reagan.

As I said before, the Cold War was a conflict that centered on nuclear weapons. The SALT talks of the 1960s and ‘70s led to another word salad, the Interim Agreement Between The United States of America and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Certain Measures With Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, along with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972 and the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) in 1974. Reagan undermined ABM with SDI and Bush shredded the treaty altogether in 2002, but TTBT (perhaps owing to China Lake’s weapons yield modulation in the 1950s) remains in effect.

But Ronald Reagan truly believed in nuclear weapons reduction, throwing his full weight behind START I…and the crown jewel of peace: the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF):

It was this realization that led to the opening of the more serious Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) talks and an INF treaty that eventually removed an entire class of nuclear arms from the superpower arsenals–a major step in the weakening and ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union itself.

Air Force enthusiast and all-around nuclear hot dog Peter Grier gets most of the history of the INF right…

Throughout the tumultuous years of US-Soviet INF negotiations, the Army’s Pershing II tended to get the most media attention. It was big, powerful, accurate, and fast-flying. It would have been the weapon of choice to strike time-sensitive Soviet targets in the event of all-out war.

In some ways, however, the GLCM was the system most feared by the Soviets. For one thing, they were to be more numerous than the Pershings. Plans called for deployment of 464 cruise missiles in Belgium, Britain, Italy, Netherlands, and West Germany. By contrast, NATO forces were to receive only 108 Pershing IIs, and they would be based only in West Germany.

…but it’s safe to say the Pershing II was far more terrifying to the Soviets than the GLCM. The BGM-109 is (GLCM was the -109G, a variant of the U.S. Navy’s long-serving Tomahawk cruise missile) a subsonic, non-stealthy missile that was and remains vulnerable to surface-to-air gunnery and missiles.  The Mach 8 Pershing, on the other hand, couldn’t be detected by Soviet early-warning radars prior to impacting Moscow six minutes after launch.

Formal INF talks between the US and the USSR began in 1981 but didn’t really get serious until the major deployments began. The US position was a simple one: “zero-zero”–elimination of the new longer-range INF systems in Europe by both sides.

Moscow, for its part, proposed a limit of 300 missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft, with British and French nuclear systems counting toward NATO’s quota.

At the time, GLCM deployments had not yet begun, and with the power of the anti-nuclear movement still building, the Soviets must have thought time was on their side. But NATO hung together. After additional US systems began arriving in Europe in late 1983, the USSR walked out of the talks. No negotiations took place in 1984.

This can be attributed to the “Ustinov Factor.” VPK loved building the RT-21M (the Soviet IRBM referred to as the SS-20 in the West), and so long as their patron was shadow ruler of the CCCP, they would continue unabated. With the passing of Dmitri Ustinov on 20 December 1984, the world could get down to business negotiating away the nuclear apocalypse.

In January 1985, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko agreed to parallel talks on INF, strategic forces, and defense and space issues. That fall, Moscow hinted that it wanted an INF treaty separate from the other negotiating tracks. Soviet negotiators offered a proposal that would have allowed NATO to keep some GLCMs–but which still would have permitted SS-20 warheads equal to GLCM and British and French forces combined. This was clearly unacceptable to the West.

Then the pace of events began to accelerate. High-level discussions took place in 1986, capped by the confusion caused by the October 1986 summit between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Reykjavik, a summit that included Reagan proposing to ban all offensive ballistic missiles and Gorbachev proposing the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Some confusion is necessary, I guess…

In February 1987, the Soviet Union announced that it was ready to work an INF deal detached from all other nuclear issues. That July, Gorbachev agreed to the original US zero-zero position. He also agreed to then unprecedented verification protocols, including on-site monitoring of INF production facilities.

The coda to the INF negotiations was the Reagan Administration’s assertion that the treaty was strictly bilateral, an unacceptable condition for the CCCP as it would leave West Germany as a nuclear weapons state:

As for the West German Pershing 1As, the United States argued that these were third-party systems with U.S. warheads, and neither were subject to limits in the INF treaty. But West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, responding to both domestic and Soviet pressures, agreed to dismantle the launchers “with the final elimination” of U.S. and Soviet INF missiles. Separately and outside the INF treaty, the United States made a commitment that the warheads would be subject to the procedures specified in the Protocol on Elimination.

Kohl’s actions seal the deal on the INF Treaty, which in practical terms transformed Europe into a nuclear-weapons free zone:

1987 — August 26 GERMAN AGREEMENT TO ELIMINATE PERSHING IA MISSILES Chancellor Helmut Kohl announces that the Federal Republic of Germany will dismantle its 72 shorter-range INF Pershing IA missiles and will not replace them with more modern weapons if the United States and the Soviet Union eliminate all of their LRINF and SRINF missiles, as foreseen under the proposed INF treaty.

1987 — September 14 U.S. INSPECTION PROTOCOL At the INF negotiations in Geneva, the United States presents an Inspection Protocol detailing procedures it considers necessary to effectively verify compliance with an INF treaty. Key elements of the verification regime are:

  • The requirement that all INF missiles and launchers be in agreed areas or in announced transit between such areas during the reductions period.
  • A detailed exchange of data, updated as necessary, on the location of missile support facilities and missile operating bases, the number of missiles and launchers at those facilities and bases, and technical parameters of those missile systems.
  • Notification of movement of missiles and launchers between declared facilities.
  • A baseline on-site inspection to verify the number of missiles and launchers at declared missile support facilities and missile operating bases prior to elimination.
  • On-site inspection to verify the destruction of missiles and launchers.
  • Follow-on, short-notice inspection of declared facilities during the reductions period to verify residual levels, until all missiles are eliminated.
  • Short-notice, mandatory challenge inspections of certain facilities in the United States and Soviet Union at which banned missile activity could be carried out.
  • A separate “close out” inspection to ensure that, when a site is deactivated and removed from the list of declared facilities, it has indeed ended INF-associated activity.

1987 — September 15-17 NUCLEAR RISK REDUCTION CENTERS U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze announce in a joint statement that the United States and the Soviet Union have agreed “in principle” to conclude the INF Treaty and announce a summit meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in the fall “to sign a treaty on intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles and to cover the full range of issues in the relationship between the two countries.”

Shultz and Shevardnadze also sign an agreement to establish Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers (NRRCs) in Washington and Moscow to reduce the risk of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union that might result from accidents, miscalculations, or misinterpretations. The centers will be connected by a new, dedicated communications link and will play a role in exchanging information and notifications required under existing and future arms control and confidence-building measures agreements. The U.S. and USSR centers open April 1, 1988.

1987 — November 22-24 MINISTERIAL MEETING Secretary Shultz and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze eliminate the final obstacles to an INF treaty. Secretary Shultz announces that the United States and its allies have agreed to stop the deployment of U.S. GLCMs in Europe as soon as the INF treaty is signed.

1987 — December 8 INF TREATY President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev sign the “Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles.”

The INF Treaty requires elimination of all LRINF missiles (ranges between 1,000 and 5,500 kilometers) by June 1, 1991, and all SRINF (ranges between 500 and 1,000 kilometers) missiles within18 months. In all, 2,692 missiles are to be eliminated. In addition, all associated launchers, equipment, support facilities, and operating bases worldwide are to be eliminated or closed out from any further INF missile system activity.

1988 — January 26 OSIA ESTABLISHED The U.S. On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA) is established to carry out the on-site inspection, escort, and monitoring provisions of the INF Treaty. It later becomes responsible for U.S. inspection activities under other arms control agreements.

1988 — May 27 RATIFICATION OF INF TREATY The U.S. Senate gives its advice and consent to the ratification of the INF Treaty by a vote of 93 to 5, and the Soviet Union ratifies the treaty the following day. The treaty enters into force on June 1, 1988.

1988 — June 6-July 15 SPECIAL VERIFICATION COMMISSION The United States and the Soviet Union hold the first session of the Special Verification Commission (SVC) for the INF Treaty in Geneva. The SVC resolves INF treaty compliance questions and agrees upon measures necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty.

1988 — July 2CONTINUOUS MONITORING The United States begins continuous portal monitoring at the Soviet Votkinsk Machine Building Plant, where SS-20s were assembled, and the Soviet Union begins continuous monitoring at Hercules Plant Number 1 at Magna, Utah, where the Pershing II had been produced.

1988 — July 22 / September 8 INF ELIMINATIONS The Soviet Union begins eliminations under the INF Treaty on July 22; the United States on September 8.

1989 — April 12 SHORT-RANGE NUCLEAR FORCE NEGOTIATIONS The Soviet Union proposes short-range (less than 500 kilometers) nuclear forces (SNF) negotiations between that country and the United States.

1989 — May 11 SOVIET UNILATERAL SNF REDUCTIONS General Secretary Gorbachev informs U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that the Soviet Union intends to announce a unilateral cut of 500 short-range nuclear weapons.

1989 — May 29 SNF NEGOTIATIONS U.S. President George Bush proposes that an agreement on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) be concluded within six months to a year. Negotiations on short-range nuclear forces would begin once CFE implementation is completed.

1990 — March 7 SRINF MISSILES IN EAST GERMANY East Germany admits that its forces possess 24 conventionally armed Soviet-origin SS-23 SRINF missiles and that it has begun dismantling them. The Soviet Union claims that it had transferred the conventionally armed missiles to Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany in 1985, before entry into force of the INF Treaty.

1990 — May 3 U.S. ANNOUNCEMENT ON SNF MODERNIZATION President Bush announces the cancellation of the U.S Follow-on-to-Lance, ground-based, short-range missile program in Europe and any further modernization of U.S. nuclear artillery shells deployed in Europe. The president says there is “less need for nuclear systems of the shortest range” in Europe “as democracy comes to Eastern Europe and Soviet troops return home.”

1990 — Late September REMOVAL OF LAST U.S. INF MISSILES FROM EUROPE The United States removes its last INF missile from Europe.

1990 — October 4 DECOMMISSIONING OF GERMAN PERSHING IAs Germany decommissions its 72 Pershing IA missiles and associated launchers.

1991 — May 24U.S. COMPLETION OF INF ELIMINATIONSAs of the end of May 1991, the United States has eliminated 234Pershing II and 443 BGM-109 INF missiles, as well as 169 Pershing IA SRINF missiles.

1991 — May 28SOVIET COMPLETION OF INF ELIMINATIONSAs of the end of May 1991, the Soviet Union has eliminated 654 SS-20, 149 SS-4, 6 SS-5, and 80 SSC-X-4 INF missiles, as well as 239 SS-23 and 718 SS-12 SRINF missiles.

1991 — September 27 U.S. UNILATERAL WITHDRAWAL OF TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS President Bush announces a major unilateral withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons: “I am…directing that the United States eliminate its entire worldwide inventory of ground-launched short-range, that is, theater, nuclear weapons. We will bring home and destroy all of our nuclear artillery shells and short-range ballistic missile warheads. We will, of course, insure that we preserve an effective air-delivered nuclear capability in Europe.

“In turn, I have asked the Soviets…to destroy their entire inventory of ground-launched theater nuclear weapons….

“Recognizing further the major changes in the international military landscape, the United States will withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons from its surface ships, attack submarines, as well as those nuclear weapons associated with our land-based naval aircraft. This means removing all nuclear Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. ships and submarines, as well as nuclear bombs aboard aircraft carriers.”

1991 — October 5 SOVIET RESPONSE President Gorbachev responds to President Bush’s unilateral withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons by calling for the elimination of air-based weapons and announcing that:

  • “All nuclear artillery munitions and nuclear warheads for tactical missiles shall be eliminated.
  • “Nuclear warheads for air defense missiles shall be withdrawn from the troops and concentrated in central bases, and a portion of them shall be eliminated. All nuclear mines shall be eliminated.
  • “All tactical nuclear weapons shall be removed from surface ships and multipurpose submarines. These weapons, as well as nuclear weapons on land-based naval aviation, shall be stored in central storage sites and a portion shall be eliminated.
  • “Moreover, we propose that the United States eliminate fully, on the basis of reciprocity, all tactical nuclear weapons of naval forces. In addition, on the basis of reciprocity, it would be possible to withdraw from combat units on frontal (tactical) aviation, all nuclear weapons (gravity bombs and air-launched missiles) and place them in centralized storage bases.”

1991 — October 17 NATO REDUCTION OF TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONSNATO agrees to remove all but 400 to 600 nuclear bombs from Europe.

1991 — November 14 GERMAN DESTRUCTION OF SS-23s Germany announces that all SS-23 “components crucial for deployment” have been destroyed.

1991 — November 27 NUNN-LUGAR LEGISLATION The U.S. Congress passes the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act(the Nunn- Lugar legislation), which provides up to $400 million to assist with the destruction of Soviet nuclear and chemical warheads.

1991 — December 21 TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN NON-SOVIET REPUBLICS Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine agree to transfer all tactical nuclear weapons on their territories to Russia by July 1, 1992.

1992 — February-May TRANSFER OF TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS TO RUSSIA On February 1, Russian President Boris Yeltsin announces that the transfer of tactical nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan was completed in January. On April 28, Belarusan Defense Minister Pavel Koszlevsky announces that all tactical nuclear warheads in Belarus have been transferred to Russia. On May 6, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk confirms that all tactical nuclear weapons have been transferred to Russia except for those on the ships and submarines of the Black Sea Fleet.

1992 — July 2 U.S. COMPLETION OF TACTICAL NUCLEAR WITHDRAWALS President Bush announces that the United States has completed the worldwide withdrawals of its ground- and sea-launched tactical nuclear weapons (see September 27, 1991).

1992 — October 9 INF MULTILATERALIZATION During a meeting in Minsk, the Commonwealth of Independent States agrees to adhere to the INF Treaty (see November 3, 1994).

1993 — January 19 SS-23s IN GERMANY, BULGARIA, AND CZECHOSLOVAKIA The annual U.S. report on arms control treaty compliance notes that some SS-23 missiles still remain in Germany, Bulgaria, and the former Czechoslovakia.

1994 — January 10 CZECH REPUBLIC SS-23s The Czech Republic announces that it will destroy its SS-23intermediate-range ballistic missiles by 1996. The Bulgarian and Slovak governments do not take a decision on SS-23 elimination.

1994 — November 3I – NF MULTILATERALIZATION The United States and representatives from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine sign a document ensuring the continued implementation of the INF Treaty.

07 December 1987 was the last day of the Cold War. After INF was signed, the specter of nuclear war lifted as every Pershing II was slated for demolition. If a picture is worth a thousand words:

This was Reagan’s finest hour:

Reagan visited Moscow for the fourth summit in 1988. A journalist asked the president if he still considered the Soviet Union the evil empire. “No,” he replied, “I was talking about another time, another era.”


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