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Gorbachev accepts ban on intermediate-range nuclear missiles

Gorbachev accepts ban on intermediate-range nuclear missiles

In a dramatic turnaround, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev indicates that he is willing to negotiate a ban on intermediate-range nuclear missiles without conditions. Gorbachev’s decision paved the way for the groundbreaking Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the United States.

Since coming to power in 1985, Gorbachev had made it clear that he sought a less contentious relationship with the United States. His American counterpart, President Ronald Reagan, was a staunch anticommunist and initially harbored deep suspicions about Gorbachev’s sincerity. After meeting with Gorbachev in November 1985, however, Reagan came to believe that progress might be made on a number of issues, including arms control. In subsequent summit meetings, the two leaders focused on the so-called intermediate-range nuclear missiles that both nations had massed in Europe and around the world. In late 1986, it appeared that the two nations were close to an agreement that would eliminate the weapons from Europe.

Negotiations stumbled, however, when Gorbachev demanded that the elimination of the missiles be accompanied by U.S. abandonment of its development of the strategic defense initiative (the “Star Wars” plan). The talks broke down while Reagan and Gorbachev traded accusations of bad faith. On July 22, 1987, Gorbachev dramatically announced that he was ready to discuss the elimination of intermediate-range missiles on a worldwide basis, with no conditions. By dropping his objection to the strategic defense initiative (which was one of Reagan’s pet projects), Gorbachev cleared the way for negotiations, and he and Reagan agreed to meet again.

Gorbachev’s change of mind was the result of a number of factors. His own nation was suffering from serious economic problems and Gorbachev desperately wanted to cut Russia’s military spending. In addition, the growing “no-nukes” movement in Europe was interfering with his ability to conduct diplomatic relations with France, Great Britain, and other western European nations. Finally, Gorbachev seemed to have a sincere personal trust in and friendship with Ronald Reagan, and this feeling was apparently reciprocal. In December 1987, during a summit in Washington, the two men signed off on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons.

Days before President Reagan’s scheduled Geneva summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985), Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger attempts to sabotage the meeting by leaking to the press a letter he had recently written to Reagan outlining what he called systematic Soviet violations of existing arms treaties, and warning Reagan that if he makes any deal with Gorbachev, he implicitly accepts those infractions. Author J. Peter Scoblic will call it “a clumsy attempt to undermine the talks,” and one that angers the more moderate administration officials. Instead of undermining the negotiations as he had intended, Reagan takes Weinberger off the Geneva delegation. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143]

Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva summit meeting. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library] The long-awaited summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in Geneva. The meeting, later known as the “fireside summit,” comes after months of Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR—“glasnost,” or openness to government transparency “perestroika,” a retooling of the moribund Stalinist economy and a dogged anti-alcohol campaign, among others. Gorbachev has packed the Kremlin with officials such as new Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze and chief economist Alexander Yakovlev, who back his reform campaigns. (Yakolev has even proposed democratization of the Soviet Communist Party.) Reagan and Gorbachev have exchanged several letters which have helped build relations between the two leaders. Reagan, unlike some of his hardline advisers, is excited about the summit, and has diligently prepared, even holding mock debates with National Security Council member Jack Matlock playing Gorbachev. Reagan has also quietly arranged—without the knowledge of his recalcitrant hardline advisers—for an extension of the scheduled 15-minute private meeting between himself and Gorbachev. The two actually talk for five hours. Nothing firm is agreed upon during this first meeting, but as Reagan later recalls, it marks a “fresh start” in US-Soviet relations. Gorbachev returns to the USSR promoting his and Reagan’s agreement on the need to reduce nuclear arms Reagan presents the summit as a “victory” in which he did not back down to Soviet pressure, but instead emphasized the need for the Soviets to honor basic human rights for their citizens. Gorbachev realizes that Reagan’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons and his desire for a reduction in nuclear arms (see April 1981 and After) is personal and not shared by many of his administration’s officials, much less the US defense industry. As a result, he focuses on personal contacts and appeals to Reagan, and puts less stock in formal negotiations between the two. [National Security Archive, 11/22/2005 Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139-140 Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 1/23/2008]

May 1982 and After: START Talks Supplant SALT Negotiations, Make No Progress

President Reagan, giving a speech at his alma mater, Eureka College, renames the US-USSR SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) negotiations START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks). The renamed negotiations reflect profound dissension within the administration for and against arms limitation talks (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After). State Department official Richard Burt, formerly opposed to arms negotiations, wants to ramp up the SALT talks and seek reductions in warheads and launchers. Defense Department official Richard Perle, the neoconservative who is working to block another arms limitation with the Soviet Union (see September 1981 through November 1983), wants to focus on payloads and “throw weight.” The administration’s compromise between the two positions—START—“ma[kes] no sense whatsoever,” according to author J. Peter Scoblic.
Initial Proposal Unacceptable to Soviets - START’s initial position—reducing each side’s deployment to 850 nuclear missiles and 5,000 warheads, of which no more than 2,500 can be on ICBMs—sounds like a significant reduction on paper, but many experts on all sides of the nuclear arms issue worry that such an agreement, putting so many warheads on so few missiles, would actually encourage each side to consider a first strike in a crisis. Arms control proponent Paul Warnke says, “If the Russians accept Mr. Reagan’s proposal, he’ll be forced to reject it himself.” But because of the disparity in missile configurations between the US and the Soviets, such an agreement would require the Soviets to drastically reduce their nuclear arsenal by 60 percent, while the US would lose almost nothing therefore, the Soviets would never agree to such a proposal. Scoblic will note that as an opening gambit this proposal might be successful, if the Americans were prepared to back down somewhat and give the Soviets something. But the US negotiators have no intention of backing down. The Soviets are keenly interested in the US agreeing to reduce the number of cruise missiles it has deployed, but Reagan signs a National Security Directive forbidding US negotiators from even discussing the idea until the Soviets made significant concessions on “throw weight,” essentially tying his negotiators’ hands.
Chief US Negotiator Insults Soviets - The negotiations are made more difficult by the US team’s chief negotiator, Edward Rowny. Rowny, a former national security adviser to hardline Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), does not believe in diplomacy with anyone, particularly the Soviets. According to Scoblic, Rowny believes in “telling it like it is” to his Soviet counterparts, which Scoblic calls “insulting one’s negotiating opponents.” As he has no real negotiating latitude, Rowny’s diplomacy consists of little more than insults towards his Soviet counterparts. He tells them they do not understand the issues, boasts of his own Polish (i.e. anti-Russian) heritage, even stages walkouts over the seating arrangements. Rowny feels that he is opening a new era in negotiations, but in reality, the START talks are making no progress. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 123-124]


In March 1976, the Soviet Union first deployed the RSD-10 Pioneer (called SS-20 Saber in the West) in its European territories, a mobile, concealable intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) containing three nuclear 150-kiloton warheads. [13] The SS-20's range of 4,700–5,000 kilometers (2,900–3,100 mi) was great enough to reach Western Europe from well within Soviet territory the range was just below the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II (SALT II) Treaty minimum range for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), 5,500 km (3,400 mi). [14] [15] [16] The SS-20 replaced aging Soviet systems of the SS-4 Sandal and SS-5 Skean, which were seen to pose a limited threat to Western Europe due to their poor accuracy, limited payload (one warhead), lengthy time to prepare to launch, difficulty of concealment, and a lack of mobility which exposed them to pre-emptive NATO strikes ahead of a planned attack. [17] While the SS-4 and SS-5 were seen as defensive weapons, the SS-20 was seen as a potential offensive system. [18]

The US, then under President Jimmy Carter, initially considered its strategic nuclear weapons and nuclear-capable aircraft to be adequate counters to the SS-20 and a sufficient deterrent against possible Soviet aggression. In 1977, however, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany argued in a speech that a Western response to the SS-20 deployment should be explored, a call which was echoed by NATO, given a perceived Western disadvantage in European nuclear forces. [16] Leslie H. Gelb, the US Assistant Secretary of State, later recounted that Schmidt's speech pressured the US into developing a response. [19]

On 12 December 1979, following European pressure for a response to the SS-20, Western foreign and defense ministers meeting in Brussels made the NATO Double-Track Decision. [16] The ministers argued that the Warsaw Pact had "developed a large and growing capability in nuclear systems that directly threaten Western Europe": "theater" nuclear systems (i.e., tactical nuclear weapons). [20] In describing this "aggravated" situation, the ministers made direct reference to the SS-20 featuring "significant improvements over previous systems in providing greater accuracy, more mobility, and greater range, as well as having multiple warheads". The ministers also attributed the altered situation to the deployment of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-22M strategic bomber, which they believed had "much greater performance" than its predecessors. Furthermore, the ministers expressed concern that the Soviet Union had gained an advantage over NATO in "Long-Range Theater Nuclear Forces" (LRTNF), and also significantly increased short-range theater nuclear capacity. [21]

The Double-Track Decision involved two policy "tracks". Initially, of the 7,400 theater nuclear warheads, 1,000 would be removed from Europe and the US would pursue bilateral negotiations with the Soviet Union intended to limit theater nuclear forces. Should these negotiations fail, NATO would modernize its own LRTNF, or intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF), by replacing US Pershing 1a missiles with 108 Pershing II launchers in West Germany and deploying 464 BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs) to Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom beginning in December 1983. [15] [22] [23] [24]

Early negotiations: 1981–1983 Edit

The Soviet Union and United States agreed to open negotiations and preliminary discussions, named the Preliminary Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Talks, [15] which began in Geneva, Switzerland, in October 1980. On 20 January 1981, Ronald Reagan was sworn into office after defeating Jimmy Carter in the 1980 United States presidential election. Formal talks began on 30 November 1981, with the US negotiators led by Reagan and those of the Soviet Union by General Secretary, Leonid Brezhnev. The core of the US negotiating position reflected the principles put forth under Carter: any limits placed on US INF capabilities, both in terms of "ceilings" and "rights", must be reciprocated with limits on Soviet systems. Additionally, the US insisted that a sufficient verification regime be in place. [25]

Paul Nitze, an experienced politician and long-time presidential advisor on defense policy who had participated in the SALT talks, led the US delegation after being recruited by Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Though Nitze had backed the first SALT treaty, he opposed SALT II and had resigned from the US delegation during its negotiation. Nitze was also then a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, a firmly anti-Soviet group composed of neoconservatives and conservative Republicans. [19] [26] Yuli Kvitsinsky, the well-respected second-ranking official at the Soviet embassy in West Germany, headed the Soviet delegation. [18] [27] [28] [29]

On 18 November 1981, shortly before the beginning of formal talks, Reagan made the Zero Option or "zero-zero" proposal. [30] It called for a hold on US deployment of GLCM and Pershing II systems, reciprocated by Soviet elimination of its SS-4, SS-5, and SS-20 missiles. There appeared to be little chance of the Zero Option being adopted, but the gesture was well received by the European public. In February 1982, US negotiators put forth a draft treaty containing the Zero Option and a global prohibition on intermediate- and short-range missiles, with compliance ensured via a stringent, though unspecified, verification program. [27]

Opinion within the Reagan administration on the Zero Option was mixed. Richard Perle, then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, was the architect of the plan. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who supported a continued US nuclear presence in Europe, was skeptical of the plan, though eventually accepted it for its value in putting the Soviet Union "on the defensive in the European propaganda war". Reagan later recounted that the "zero option sprang out of the realities of nuclear politics in Western Europe". [30] The Soviet Union rejected the plan shortly after the US tabled it in February 1982, arguing that both the US and Soviet Union should be able to retain intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Specifically, Soviet negotiators proposed that the number of INF missiles and aircraft deployed in Europe by each side be capped at 600 by 1985 and 300 by 1990. Concerned that this proposal would force the US to withdraw aircraft from Europe and not deploy INF missiles, given US cooperation with existing British and French deployments, the US proposed "equal rights and limits"—the US would be permitted to match Soviet SS-20 deployments. [27]

Between 1981 and 1983, US and Soviet negotiators gathered for six rounds of talks, each two months in length—a system based on the earlier SALT talks. [27] The US delegation was composed of Nitze, Major General William F. Burns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Thomas Graham of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), and officials from the US Department of State, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and US National Security Council. Colonel Norman Clyne, a SALT talks participant, served as Nitze's chief of staff. [18] [31]

There was little convergence between the two sides over these two years. A US effort to separate the question of nuclear-capable aircraft from that of intermediate-range missiles successfully focused attention on the latter, but little clear progress on the subject was made. In the summer of 1982, Nitze and Kvitsinsky took a "walk in the woods" in the Jura Mountains, away from formal negotiations in Geneva, in an independent attempt to bypass bureaucratic procedures and break the negotiating deadlock. [32] [18] [33] Nitze later said that his and Kvitsinsky's goal was to agree to certain concessions that would allow for a summit meeting between Brezhnev and Reagan later in 1982. [34]

Nitze's offer to Kvitsinsky was that the US would forego deployment of the Pershing II but limit the deployment of GLCMs to 75. The Soviet Union, in return, would also have to limit itself to 75 intermediate-range missile launchers in Europe and 90 in Asia. Due to each GLCM launcher containing four GLCMs and each SS-20 launcher containing three warheads, such an agreement would have resulted in the US having 75 more intermediate-range warheads in Europe than the Soviet Union, though SS-20s were seen as more advanced and maneuverable than GLCMs. While Kvitsinsky was skeptical that the plan would be well received in Moscow, Nitze was optimistic about its chances in Washington. [34] The deal ultimately found little traction in either capital. In the US, the Office of the Secretary of Defense opposed Nitze's proposal, as it opposed any proposal that would allow the Soviet Union to deploy missiles to Europe while blocking US deployments. Nitze's proposal was relayed by Kvitsinsky to Moscow, where it was also rejected. The plan accordingly was never introduced into formal negotiations. [32] [18]

Thomas Graham, a US negotiator, later recalled that Nitze's "walk in the woods" proposal was primarily of Nitze's own design and known beforehand only to Burns and Eugene V. Rostow, the director of ACDA. In a National Security Council meeting following the Nitze-Kvitsinsky walk, the proposal was received positively by the JCS and Reagan. Following protests by Perle, working within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Reagan informed Nitze that he would not back the plan. The State Department, then led by Haig, also indicated that it would not support Nitze's plan and preferred a return to the Zero Option proposal. [18] [33] [34] Nitze argued that one positive consequence of the walk in the woods was that the European public, which had doubted US interest in arms control, became convinced that the US was participating in the INF negotiations in good faith. [34]

In early 1983, US negotiators indicated that they would support a plan beyond the Zero Option if the plan established equal rights and limits for the US and Soviet Union, with such limits valid worldwide, and excluded British and French missile systems (as well as those of any other third party). As a temporary measure, the US negotiators also proposed a cap of 450 deployed INF warheads around the world for both the US and Soviet Union. In response, Soviet negotiators proposed that a plan would have to block all US INF deployments in Europe, cover both missiles and aircraft, include third parties, and focus primarily on Europe for it to gain Soviet backing. In the fall of 1983, just ahead of the scheduled deployment of US Pershing IIs and GLCMs, the US lowered its proposed limit on global INF deployments to 420 missiles, while the Soviet Union proposed "equal reductions": if the US cancelled the planned deployment of Pershing II and GLCM systems, the Soviet Union would reduce its own INF deployment by 572 warheads. In November 1983, after the first Pershing IIs arrived in West Germany, the Soviet Union walked out of negotiations, as it had warned it would do should the US missile deployments occur. [35]

Restarted negotiations: 1985–1987 Edit

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher played a key role in brokering the negotiations between Reagan and new Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 to 1987. [36]

In March 1986, negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union resumed, covering not only the INF issue, but also the separate Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) and space issues (Nuclear and Space Talks). In late 1985, both sides were moving towards limiting INF systems in Europe and Asia. On 15 January 1986, Gorbachev announced a Soviet proposal for a ban on all nuclear weapons by 2000, which included INF missiles in Europe. This was dismissed by the US and countered with a phased reduction of INF launchers in Europe and Asia with the target of none by 1989. There would be no constraints on British and French nuclear forces. [37]

A series of meetings in August and September 1986 culminated in the Reykjavík Summit between Reagan and Gorbachev on 11 and 12 October 1986. Both agreed in principle to remove INF systems from Europe and to equal global limits of 100 INF missile warheads. Gorbachev also proposed deeper and more fundamental changes in the strategic relationship. More detailed negotiations extended throughout 1987, aided by the decision of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in August to unilaterally remove the joint US-West German Pershing 1a systems. Initially, Kohl had opposed the total elimination of the Pershing missiles, claiming that such a move would increase his nation's vulnerability to an attack by Warsaw Pact Forces. [38] The treaty text was finally agreed in September 1987. On 8 December 1987, the treaty was officially signed by Reagan and Gorbachev at a summit in Washington and ratified the following May in a 93–5 vote by the United States Senate. [39] [40]

The treaty prohibited both parties from possessing, producing, or flight-testing ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500–5,000 km (310–3,110 mi). Possessing or producing ground-based launchers of those missiles was also prohibited. The ban extended to weapons with both nuclear and conventional warheads, but did not cover air-delivered or sea-based missiles. [41] Existing weapons had to be destroyed, and a protocol for mutual inspection was agreed upon. [41] Each party had the right to withdraw from the treaty with six months' notice, "if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests". [41]

Implementation Edit

By the treaty's deadline of 1 June 1991, a total of 2,692 of such weapons had been destroyed, 846 by the US and 1,846 by the Soviet Union. [42] The following specific missiles, their launcher systems, and their transporter vehicles were destroyed: [43]

    United States
      (decommissioned) (decommissioned) (decommissioned)
      (decommissioned) (decommissioned) (decommissioned) (decommissioned) (decommissioned)

    After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the United States considered twelve of the post-Soviet states to be inheritors of the treaty obligations (the three Baltic states are considered to preexist their annexation by the Soviet Union). Of the six having inspectable INF facilities on their territories, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine became active participants in the treaty process, while Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, having less significant INF sites, assumed a less active role. [44] As provided by the treaty, onsite inspections ended in 2001. After that time, compliance was checked primarily by satellites. [45]

    Initial skepticism and allegations of treaty violations Edit

    In February 2007, the Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin gave a speech at the Munich Security Conference in which he said the INF Treaty should be revisited to ensure security, as it only restricted Russia and the US but not other countries. [46] The Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Army General Yuri Baluyevsky, contemporaneously said that Russia was planning to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in response to deployment of the NATO missile defence system and because other countries were not bound to the treaty. [47]

    According to US officials, Russia violated the treaty in 2008 by testing the SSC-8 cruise missile, which has a range of 3,000 km (1,900 mi). [48] [49] Russia rejected the claim that their SSC-8 missiles violated the treaty, and claiming that the SSC-8 has a maximum range of only 480 km (300 mi). [ citation needed ] In 2013, it was reported that Russia had tested and planned to continue testing two missiles in ways that could violate the terms of the treaty: the road-mobile SS-25 and the newer RS-26 ICBMs. [50] The US representatives briefed NATO on other Russian breaches of the INF Treaty in 2014 [51] [52] and 2017, [48] [53] and in 2018, NATO formally supported the US accusations and accused Russia of breaking the treaty. [12] [54] Russia denied the accusation and Putin said it was a pretext for the US to withdraw from the treaty. [12] A BBC analysis of the meeting that culminated in the NATO statement said that "NATO allies here share Washington's concerns and have backed the US position, thankful perhaps that it includes this short grace period during which Russia might change its mind." [55]

    In 2011, Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute wrote that the actual Russian problem with the INF Treaty was that China was not bound by it and continued to build up their own intermediate-range forces. [56]

    According to Russian officials and the American academic Theodore Postol, the US decision to deploy its missile defense system in Europe was a violation of the treaty as they claim they could be quickly retrofitted with offensive capabilities [57] [58] [59] this accusation has in turn been rejected by US and NATO officials and analyst Jeffrey Lewis. [59] [60] Russian experts also stated that the US usage of target missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-4 Triton, violated the INF Treaty [61] which has also in turn been rejected by US officials. [62]

    US withdrawal and termination Edit

    The US declared its intention to withdraw from the treaty on 20 October 2018. [7] [9] [10] Donald Trump mentioned at a campaign rally that the reason for the pullout was because "they've [Russia has] been violating it for many years". [9] This prompted Putin to state that Russia would not launch first in a nuclear conflict but would "annihilate" any adversary, essentially re-stating the policy of "Mutually Assured Destruction". Putin claimed Russians killed in such a conflict "will go to heaven as martyrs". [63]

    It was also reported that the US need to counter a Chinese arms buildup in the Pacific, including within South China Sea, was another reason for their move to withdraw, because China was not a signatory to the treaty. [7] [9] [10] US officials extending back to the presidency of Barack Obama have noted this. For example, Kelly Magsamen, who helped craft the Pentagon's Asian policy under the Obama administration, said China's ability to work outside of the INF treaty had vexed policymakers in Washington, long before Trump came into office. [64] A Politico article noted the different responses US officials gave to this issue: "either find ways to bring China into the treaty or develop new American weapons to counter it" or "negotiating a new treaty with that country". [65] The deployment since 2016 of the Chinese DF-26 IRBM with a range of 4,000 km (2,500 mi) meant that US forces as far as Guam can be threatened. [64] The United States Secretary of Defense at the time, Jim Mattis, was quoted stating that "the Chinese are stockpiling missiles because they’re not bound by it at all". [7] Bringing an ascendant China into the treaty, or into a new comprehensive treaty including other nuclear powers, was further complicated by relationships between China, India and Pakistan. [66]

    The Chinese Foreign Ministry said a unilateral US withdrawal would have a negative impact and urged the US to "think thrice before acting". On 23 October 2018, John R. Bolton, the US National Security Advisor, said on the Russian radio station Echo of Moscow that recent Chinese statements indicate that it wants Washington to stay in the treaty, while China itself is not bound by the treaty. [64] On the same day, a report in Politico suggested that China was "the real target of the [pull out]". [65] It was estimated that 90% of China's ground missile arsenal would be outlawed if China were a party to the treaty. [65] Bolton said in an interview with Elena Chernenko from the Russian newspaper Kommersant on 22 October 2018: "we see China, Iran, North Korea all developing capabilities which would violate the treaty if they were parties to it. So the possibility that could have existed fifteen years ago to enlarge the treaty and make it universal today just simply was not practical." [67]

    On 26 October 2018, Russia unsuccessfully called for a vote to get the United Nations General Assembly to consider calling on Washington and Moscow to preserve and strengthen the treaty. [68] Russia had proposed a draft resolution in the 193-member General Assembly's disarmament committee, but missed 18 October submission deadline [68] so it instead called for a vote on whether the committee should be allowed to consider the draft. [68] On the same day, Bolton said in an interview with Reuters that the INF Treaty was a Cold War relic and he wanted to hold strategic talks with Russia about Chinese missile capabilities. [69]

    Four days later at a news conference in Norway, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to comply with the treaty saying "The problem is the deployment of new Russian missiles". [70] Putin announced on 20 November 2018 that the Kremlin was prepared to discuss the INF Treaty with Washington but would "retaliate" if the United States withdrew. [71]

    Starting on 4 December 2018, the US asserted that Russia had 60 days to comply with the treaty. [72] On 5 December 2018, Russia responded by revealing their Peresvet combat laser, stating the weapon system had been deployed with the Russian Armed Forces as early as 2017 "as part of the state procurement program". [73]

    Russia presented the 9M729 (SSC-8) missile and its technical parameters to foreign military attachés at a military briefing on 23 January 2019, held in what it said was an exercise in transparency it hoped would persuade Washington to stay in the treaty. [74] The Russian Defence Ministry said diplomats from the US, Britain, France and Germany had been invited to attend the static display of the missile, but they declined to attend. [74] The US had previously rejected a Russian offer to do so because it said such an exercise would not allow it to verify the true range of the missile. [74] A summit between US and Russia on 30 January 2019 failed to find a way to preserve the treaty. [75]

    The US suspended its compliance with the INF Treaty on 2 February 2019 following an announcement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the day prior. In a statement, Trump said there was a six-month timeline for full withdrawal and INF Treaty termination if the Russian Federation did not come back into compliance within that period. [76] [66] The same day, Putin announced that Russia had also suspended the INF Treaty in a 'mirror response' to Trump's decision to suspend the treaty, effective that day. [ citation needed ] The next day, Russia started work on new intermediate range (ballistic) hypersonic missiles along with land-based 3M-54 Kalibr systems (both nuclear armed) in response to the US announcing it would start to conduct research and development of weapons prohibited under the treaty. [77]

    Following the six-month US suspension of the INF Treaty, the Trump administration formally announced it had withdrawn from the treaty on 2 August 2019. On that day, Pompeo stated that "Russia is solely responsible for the treaty's demise". [78] While formally ratifying a treaty requires the support of two-thirds of the members of the US Senate, because Congress has rarely acted to stop such actions a number of presidential decisions during the 20th and 21st centuries have established a precedent that the president and executive branch can unilaterally withdraw from a treaty without congressional approval. [79] On the day of the withdrawal, the US Department of Defense announced plans to test a new type of missile that would have violated the treaty, from an eastern NATO base. Military leaders stated the need for this new missile to stay ahead of both Russia and China, in response to Russia's continued violations of the treaty. [78]

    The US withdrawal was backed by several of its NATO allies, citing years of Russian non-compliance with the treaty. [78] In response to the withdrawal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov invited the US and NATO "to assess the possibility of declaring the same moratorium on deploying intermediate-range and shorter-range equipment as we have, the same moratorium Vladimir Putin declared, saying that Russia will refrain from deploying these systems when we acquire them unless the American equipment is deployed in certain regions." [78] This moratorium request was rejected by NATO's Stoltenberg who said that it was not credible as Moscow had already deployed such warheads. [80] On 5 August 2019, Putin stated, "As of August 2, 2019 the INF Treaty no longer exists. Our US colleagues sent it to the archives, making it a thing of the past." [81]

    On 18 August 2019, the US conducted a test firing of a missile that would not have been allowed under the treaty. [82] [83] [84] The Pentagon said that the data collected and lessons learned from this test would inform its future development of intermediate-range capabilities while the Russian foreign ministry said that it was a cause for regret, and accused the US of escalating military tensions. [82] [83] [84]

    Reactions to the withdrawal Edit

    Numerous prominent nuclear arms control experts, including George Shultz, Richard Lugar and Sam Nunn, urged Trump to preserve the treaty. [85] Gorbachev criticized Trump's nuclear treaty withdrawal as "not the work of a great mind" and stated "a new arms race has been announced". [86] [87] The decision was criticized by the chairmen of the United States House of Representatives Committees on Foreign Affairs and Armed Services who said that instead of crafting a plan to hold Russia accountable and pressure it into compliance, the Trump administration had offered Putin an easy way out of the treaty and played right into his hands. [88] Similar arguments had been brought previously on 25 October 2018 by European members of NATO who urged the US "to try to bring Russia back into compliance with the treaty rather than quit it, seeking to avoid a split in the alliance that Moscow could exploit". [68]

    NATO chief Stoltenberg suggested the INF Treaty could be expanded to include countries such as China and India, an idea that both the US and Russia had indicated being open to, although Russia had expressed skepticism that such an expansion could be achieved. [89]

    There were contrasting opinions on the withdrawal among American lawmakers. The INF Treaty Compliance Act (H.R. 1249) was introduced to stop the United States from using Government funds to develop missiles prohibited by the treaty, [90] [91] while Republican senators Jim Inhofe and Jim Risch issued statements of support for the withdrawal. [92]

    On 8 March 2019, the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine announced that since the US and Russia had both pulled out of the treaty, it now had the right to develop intermediate-range missiles, citing Russian aggression as a serious threat to the European continent, and the presence of Russian Iskander-M nuclear-capable missile systems in Russian-annexed Crimea. [93] Ukraine was home to about forty percent of the Soviet space industry, but never developed a missile with the range to strike Moscow, [94] only having both longer and shorter-ranged missiles, but has the capability to develop intermediate-range missiles. [95] Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said "We need high-precision missiles and we are not going to repeat the mistakes of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum", which had provided security assurances relating to the accession of Ukraine and other former Soviet states to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. [94]

    After the US withdrew from the treaty, some commentators wrote that it may allow the country to more effectively counter Russia and China's missile forces. [96] [97] [98]

    Is China obliged to honor the I.N.F. Treaty?

    No, and it may be a greater concern to the Trump administration than Russia.

    While the Chinese military is carving out a greater sphere of influence in the Western Pacific, the I.N.F. Treaty constrains the United States from placing short- and intermediate-range missiles on land near China as a deterrent.

    For this and other reasons, Mr. Trump and his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, have called the I.N.F. Treaty outdated.

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    Gorbachev’s situation paralleled Reagan’s in several ways. He, too, wanted to serve as an agent of societal and political transformation, taking on the alcoholism rampant in Soviet society as well as its faltering economy. Like Reagan, he relied on his own experience more than on the bureaucratic apparatus beneath him. He shared Reagan’s aversion to the logic of mutually assured destruction. Around the same time that Reagan told Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko he wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons, Gorbachev said the same thing in a speech in London. And where Reagan had Secretary of State George Shultz to encourage his evolution, Gorbachev had Eduard Shevardnadze, whom he selected to replace Gromyko as foreign minister.

    The chief obstacle to the relationship Reagan wanted with the new Soviet leader was Reagan’s cherished fantasy of a space-based missile-defense program, the Strategic Defense Initiative. In the run-up to their summit meeting in Geneva in November 1985, the first meeting of American and Soviet leaders in six years, Gorbachev sent Reagan a letter proposing a 50 percent cut in intercontinental ballistic missiles, contingent on a complete ban on space weapons. In negotiating sessions, Gorbachev went even further: If the United States gave up the militarization of space, he would be willing to reduce all nuclear forces to zero. Shultz now realized how frightened the Soviets were of SDI, which depended on technology they didn’t know how to develop and couldn’t afford, and he saw missile defense as a crucial bargaining chip to trade for Soviet concessions.

    What Shultz did not yet realize was that Reagan would under no circumstances give up the space initiative. Although missile defense had yet to be successfully invented, Reagan viewed SDI as the key to realizing his dream of eliminating nuclear weapons. “We believe that it is important to explore the technical feasibility of defensive systems which might ultimately give all of us the means to protect our people more safely than do those we have at present, and to provide the means of moving to the total abolition of nuclear weapons, an objective on which we are agreed,” he wrote to Gorbachev on April 30, 1985. “I must ask you, how are we ever practically to achieve that noble aim if nations have no defense against the uncertainty that all nuclear weapons might not have been removed from world arsenals? Life provides no guarantee against some future madman getting his hands on nuclear weapons.”

    Over the next year, a remarkable transformation took place as Gorbachev and Reagan became jointly enraptured with the idea of ending the balance of terror, and they pursued that end over near-universal objection inside their own governments. In January 1986, Gorbachev wrote Reagan with a proposal: eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2000. “Why wait until the year 2000?” Reagan responded to aides in the Oval Office. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and CIA Director William Casey, who had done their best to sabotage earlier nuclear treaties, were appalled. Few others inside the Reagan administration took the idea of nuclear abolition seriously. But Shultz did. He ordered the State Department’s arms-control group to get to work on the question of “what a world without nuclear weapons would mean to us” and how to get there. “I know that many of you and others around here oppose the objective of eliminating nuclear weapons, but the president of the United States doesn’t agree with you, and he has said so on several very public occasions,” he told his colleagues. After much back-and-forth, Weinberger and Shultz were able to agree on a proposal to eliminate ballistic missiles, which Reagan sent to Gorbachev in July 1986.

    Gorbachev’s anti-nuclear feelings only intensified after the calamitous accident at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in April 1986, which left the Soviet leader all the more eager for an agreement. So, too, did the Soviet Union’s deteriorating economic situation. In the fall of 1985, Saudi Arabia announced plans to increase oil production. By the spring of 1986, the world price of oil plummeted from more than $30 a barrel to less than $10. Without hard-currency oil revenue, there was no way for the Soviets to pay for imports of grain and other basic commodities while servicing their foreign debt and keeping up militarily. “The United States has an interest in keeping the negotiations machine running idle, while the arms race overburdens our economy,” Gorbachev told a colleague. “That is why we need a breakthrough we need the process to start moving.” In September 1986, Gorbachev wrote Reagan offering a number of unilateral concessions and proposing a meeting ahead of his planned visit to the United States the following year. Shultz encouraged Reagan to meet Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, the following month.

    Gorbachev arrived at Reykjavik intending to put a significant disarmament package on the table, contingent on Reagan’s agreement to slow down the development of space weapons. In fact, Gorbachev’s proposal was essentially the one he had originally proposed in the run-up to the Geneva summit: a 50 percent cut in the ICBMs that were the core of the Soviet nuclear arsenal and the total elimination of intermediate-range missiles in Europe. But now Gorbachev was willing to treat limited research on space-based missile defense as compatible with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The United States had only to agree to confine its SDI research to the laboratory for ten years and commit not to withdraw from the ABM Treaty for five years after that.

    Over dinner with his advisers, Reagan returned to the even more sweeping idea that he’d raised previously: why not the complete elimination of ballistic missiles? The next day, with Gorbachev, the sky was the limit. When the Americans laid all their ICBMs on the table, Gorbachev called and raised by proposing the elimination of all strategic nuclear weapons, including submarines and bombers, over ten years. His bid was still contingent on ten years of adherence to his narrow interpretation of the ABM Treaty and its limits on missile defense, but he indicated he’d be willing to negotiate on that point. This seemingly minor disagreement about how long SDI research would stay confined to the laboratory blocked what would have been the most sweeping arms-control agreement in history. Knowing his own bottom line and grasping Gorbachev’s, Reagan realized that they could go no further. The meeting, so close to a momentous transformation, ended when the president got up and walked out with Shultz while Gorbachev was still decrying the destabilizing effects of SDI.

    “This meeting is over,” he said. “Let’s go, George.”

    “Can’t we do something about this?” Gorbachev pleaded.

    “It’s too late,” Reagan replied.

    This article has been adapted from Jacob Weisberg’s forthcoming book,Ronald Reagan.

    Gorbachev accepts ban on intermediate-range nuclear missiles - HISTORY

    ( S ) If I may, being on the other side of the world on the eve of your meeting with General Secretary Gorbachev , 2 I would like to summarize briefly the views I have presented to you from time to time. I know this is unsolicited advice, but it is offered only to help serve the ultimate objectives I know we share. I do believe your Reykjavik meeting with Mr. Gorbachev offers an ideal opportunity to advance your vision for reducing the risks of nuclear war. I am glad you intend to stress other issues as well: human rights, the Soviet responsibility for regional conflicts, and, in particular, their continuing warfare against the Afghan people. But in the interest of brevity, I will confine this message to the issue of security and arms reductions.

    ( S ) With your latest, major proposal to Gorbachev on SDI and strategic missiles, you have shown how missile defenses would, in fact, complement and support deep reductions in offensive arms. Until now, [Page 1266] Gorbachev has not seemed to realize the seriousness with which you advanced the proposal, and your determination in securing it.

    ( S ) As you have said, it would be difficult for the Soviets to explain why they are against the elimination of offensive ballistic missiles. That is why I do not think Gorbachev will reject your U.N. proposal out of hand. In fact, Shevardnadze , in his speech following yours in the U.N., 3 pretended that the Soviet Union was proposing the complete elimination of nuclear missiles “whether strategic, medium-range or any other.” Yet, they have, of course, objected to eliminating intermediate range missiles (zero option), and have still not responded to your proposal for eliminating strategic missiles. The record should be clear as to who wants to eliminate missiles, and who insists on keeping them.

    ( S ) Mr. Gorbachev ’s arguments against SDI collapse in the face of your proposal: If missiles are eliminated , then our missile defenses could in no way diminish the Soviet deterrent the defenses would only protect against cheating or third countries. And if, as you propose, we include firm and verifiable guarantees that SDI will never be used to deploy weapons in space that can cause mass destruction on Earth, Mr. Gorbachev ’s complaint about “space strike weapons” is answered.

    ( S ) As you know, I think verification is all-important and thus, agreement on real verification should be achieved before we take up numbers of warheads or any other topic. It is too easy for the Soviets to spend all the time on numbers, and then refuse to agree to any real verification, as they did in Stockholm. As we already emphasized in connection with your zero-zero INF proposal, a ban on missiles is far more verifiable than a numeric ceiling. For this reason, your U.N. proposal is more realistic and more achievable than most of the proposals the Soviets have been advancing. At the same time, it shows how to remove the most urgent danger of nuclear war—the continuing confrontation of hair-triggered, unrecallable missile forces—and it would do so in a more fundamental way than all the other arms control proposals combined.

    ( S ) On intermediate range missiles, as well as on our other proposals, I feel that verification is the most important issue. It will be most useful for Mr. Gorbachev to hear from you the reaffirmation that real verification must be settled (including on-site inspection) before anything else can be settled.

    ( S ) Also, as you know, I feel strongly we should not have the Soviets with SS–20s in Asia that are not effectively countered. If Gorbachev does not want to get rid of their SS–20s in Asia, or at least reduce them as much as in Europe on the way to zero, I can see no more effective [Page 1267] negotiating tactic than your idea of hinting that we might have to deploy Pershings in South Korea, or—who knows—even offer them to China. In no event, in my opinion, should we agree to Soviet demands that we not ever keep our missiles in Alaska.

    ( S ) Lastly, on nuclear testing, I hope the Soviets will accept our proposal for new verification measures for the Threshold Test Ban, so that we can ratify that treaty. I also hope Mr. Gorbachev can be disabused of the notion that he could ever push us to give up nuclear testing, as long as we need to rely on nuclear arms. An effective, deployed SDI is the only way we could give up testing. Our test program is now at its minimum effective level.

    Gorbachev and Belfer Center Combine Forces to Overcome Nuclear Danger

    "If you ask yourself which single individual contributed most to the resolution without war of four decades of Cold War between the U.S.-led free world and the Soviet Union, it was Mikhail Gorbachev. Fifty years into the future, when the Oxford University Press one-volume history of the 20th century is published, only two people on earth today will be the subject of an entire chapter in that book: Mikhail Gorbachev is one."
    -- Graham Allison

    Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev visited Harvard's John F. Kennedy School on December 4 and told an overflow crowd at the JFK Jr. Forum that the time has come to rejuvenate efforts to eliminate the danger from nuclear weapons and materials.

    "Russia alone cannot do anything to stop the spread of nuclear danger. " Gorbachev said. "This is our common task the task of the entire world community. If current processes in nuclear policy continue the way they have gone over the past years, then it is very difficult to say what will happen 100 years from now, whether mankind will survive 100 years."

    The day after his Forum speech, Gorbachev led a select group of experts in a day-long closed discussion of the challenges of nuclear weapons and how to address them. The conference "Overcoming Nuclear Danger" was co-sponsored by the Belfer Center and the World Political Forum and hosted by Belfer Center Director Graham Allison. Sixty Russian, American, and international specialists came together to examine the historical lessons of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty - signed by then President Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev to eliminate all U.S. and Russian intermediate range nuclear missiles - and to explore ways to leverage those lessons in the future to eliminate nuclear threats. Among the participants were former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock, former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, past commanders of U.S. and Russian intercontinental rocket forces, and many nuclear and defense experts. Gore Vidal, who has written about the danger from nuclear weapons, was also present.

    Joining the discussion by video teleconference from California, former Secretary of State George Shultz echoed Gorbachev's call for fresh ideas on reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons. Shultz, a distinguished fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute, led a conference last October entitled "Reykjavik Revisited," examining the lessons of the 1986 Reykjavik Summit between Gorbachev and Reagan and their failed attempt to reach agreement on eliminating all nuclear weapons. The Harvard conference built on the Stanford conference and the vision and agenda of actions proposed by the "Four Horsemen" George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and William Perry.

    In a letter to the Stanford conference, Nancy Reagan, the widow of former President Reagan, wrote, "It was always Ronnie's dream that the world would one day be free of nuclear arms. He felt that as long as such weapons were around, sooner or later they would be used. That would be catastrophic."

    California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger noted to the Stanford conference, "If you Google. 'Britney Spears,' you will find 2,490,000 entries. if you Google 'nuclear annihilation,' you will get 17,400. Something is wrong with that picture."

    Gorbachev told conference participants in Cambridge that eliminating nuclear arsenals and addressing the danger from nuclear materials will require resolving not just technical military issues, but political ones as well. He said that initial steps should focus on improving U.S.-Russian relations to a level that will allow resolution of several political differences. He noted that there exists already some consensus on important issues like nuclear terrorism, nonproliferation, lowering of nuclear alert status, and ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

    “All of these [arms] agreements were concluded by the previous generation of political leaders," Gorbachev said. "It's very important to make sure that the new presidents of the United States and Russia have available to them a conceptual basis and specific proposals for new agreements. These new agreements cannot be a simple extrapolation of the existing agreements, because too much has changed in the world over the past decades. Therefore, the role of the expert community is even greater."

    Gorbachev proposed that a small working group be formed from among the conference participants, which would develop an agenda of steps that national decision makers could draw on to renew the effort to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons. Participants solidly endorsed Gorbachev's proposal and committed to working together to develop the agenda he requested. The Belfer Center, together with the World Political Forum, is facilitating the work of the small group with the intent to develop recommendations for U.S. and Russian leaders by autumn of 2008.

    Brigadier General (ret) Kevin Ryan led the organization of the Overcoming Nuclear Danger conference.

    “A New Nuclear Arms Race Has Begun”

    Over 30 years ago, President Ronald Reagan and I signed in Washington the United States-Soviet Treaty on the elimination of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles. For the first time in history, two classes of nuclear weapons were to be eliminated and destroyed.

    This was a first step. It was followed in 1991 by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the Soviet Union signed with President George H.W. Bush, our agreement on radical cuts in tactical nuclear arms, and the New Start Treaty, signed by the presidents of Russia and the United States in 2010.

    There are still too many nuclear weapons in the world, but the American and Russian arsenals are now a fraction of what they were during the Cold War. At the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference in 2015, Russia and the United States reported to the international community that 85 percent of those arsenals had been decommissioned and, for the most part, destroyed.

    Today, this tremendous accomplishment, of which our two nations can be rightfully proud, is in jeopardy. President Trump announced last week the United States’ plan to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and his country’s intention to build up nuclear arms.

    I am being asked whether I feel bitter watching the demise of what I worked so hard to achieve. But this is not a personal matter. Much more is at stake.

    A new arms race has been announced. The I.N.F. Treaty is not the first victim of the militarization of world affairs. In 2002, the United States withdrew from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty this year, from the Iran nuclear deal. Military expenditures have soared to astronomical levels and keep rising.

    As a pretext for the withdrawal from the I.N.F. Treaty, the United States invoked Russia’s alleged violations of some of the treaty’s provisions. Russia has raised similar concerns regarding American compliance, at the same time proposing to discuss the issues at the negotiating table to find a mutually acceptable solution. But over the past few years, the United States has been avoiding such discussion. I think it is now clear why.

    With enough political will, any problems of compliance with the existing treaties could be resolved. But as we have seen during the past two years, the president of the United States has a very different purpose in mind. It is to release the United States from any obligations, any constraints, and not just regarding nuclear missiles.

    The United States has in effect taken the initiative in destroying the entire system of international treaties and accords that served as the underlying foundation for peace and security following World War II.

    Yet I am convinced that those who hope to benefit from a global free-for-all are deeply mistaken. There will be no winner in a “war of all against all” — particularly if it ends in a nuclear war. And that is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. An unrelenting arms race, international tensions, hostility and universal mistrust will only increase the risk.

    Is it too late to return to dialogue and negotiations? I don’t want to lose hope. I hope that Russia will take a firm but balanced stand. I hope that America’s allies will, upon sober reflection, refuse to be launchpads for new American missiles. I hope the United Nations, and particularly members of its Security Council, vested by the United Nations Charter with primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, will take responsible action.

    Faced with this dire threat to peace, we are not helpless. We must not resign, we must not surrender.

    Recently Released Letters Between Reagan and Gorbachev Shed Light on the End of the Cold War

    RONALD WILSON REAGAN, the 40th president of the United States, went to sleep on the night of March 10, 1985 unaware that relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. In Moscow, Konstantin Chernenko, the general secretary of the Soviet Union, lay dying in bed. Although his successor had yet to be chosen, since news of Chernenko's ill health had surfaced months before, western leaders like Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were quietly hoping that Mikhail Gorbachev, a young soviet reformer, would be made the next general secretary of the Soviet Union.

    The significance of Chernenko's death was lost on the 40th president. Reagan's diary entry for March 11, 1985 simply noted that he was woken at 4 AM and told of Chernenko's death. In the days that followed, Reagan, in his own words, "decided not to waste any time in trying to get to know the new Soviet leader." Perhaps more than anything, Chernenko's death frustrated the 40th president.

    "How am I supposed to get anyplace with the Russians if they keep dying on me," he asked his wife upon hearing the news.

    Never did Reagan imagine that Chernenko's death would later be seen as a turning point in the Cold War. Instead of electing another septuagenarian on his death bed, the leaders of the Soviet Union, perhaps echoing Reagan's frustration, realized they might never get anywhere with the Americans if their leaders kept dying on them. So they went for change, which came in the form of 54-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev, the youngest member of the Soviet Politburo and the first general secretary of the Soviet Union born after the Russian Revolution.

    If change is what the Politburo wanted, Gorbachev did not disappoint.

    "In Gorbachev we have an entirely different kind of leader in the Soviet Union than we have experienced before," Secretary of State George Shultz thought after meeting Gorbachev for the first time.

    "In his first 100 days, Gorbachev has demonstrated. that he is the most aggressive and activist Soviet leader since Khrushchev."

    But Reagan needed some convincing.

    "I can't claim that I believed from the start that Mikhail Gorbachev was going to be a different sort of Soviet leader," Reagan wrote in his autobiography. "Instead. I was wary."

    Reagan was right to be wary. It was his job to protect Americans, and in 1985 no threat to American interests seemed to be greater than of Soviet efforts for world domination. Reagan's friend and director of central intelligence, William Casey, concurred, telling the president that Gorbachev and those around him are "not reformers and liberalizers either in Soviet domestic or foreign policy."

    Time has shown that those who questioned Gorbachev's sincerity were wrong. The openings of the Soviet archives have shown that Gorbachev was not out for Soviet world domination. Instead, his ascendency to general secretary signified that the Soviet Union would be contracting, not expanding. Gorbachev's rise to power meant the Soviet Union would no longer try to keep pace with the American military industrial complex. Instead of focusing on spreading ideology, the Soviet Union would now be focusing on reforming communist ideology at home. Nuclear weapons could now be reduced, Soviet thinking probably went, because 30,000 active nuclear warheads would hardly make them any safer than 3,000 if they now believed, as Gorbachev and Reagan did at the first meeting in Geneva, that a nuclear war could not be won and would not be fought.

    But Reagan would not accept Gorbachev's claims without action, and made a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan a requirement for improved U.S.-Soviet relations. It was no different in arms control negotiations. Whereas Gorbachev practically threw the kitchen sink at Reagan in exchange for sweeping nuclear arms reduction treaties, Reagan's continued fear of Soviet expansion prevented him from accomplishing one of his life-long goals: the elimination of nuclear weapons.

    Perhaps this was because Reagan and Gorbachev were treading in new territory. The Cold War was not like the first or second world wars. The advent of nuclear weapons had changed the paradigm of "winner take all." Nuclear weapons provided cover for the Soviet Union to abandon the Cold War without surrendering. At the same time, Reagan likely did not realize that the United States could win the Cold War without a Soviet surrender. Even if Reagan realized the Soviet's were in fact retreating, his experiences in the second world war, like his characterization of détente as an opportunity for the Soviet Union to secretly rearm, meant nothing more than an opportunity for the U.S. to step up the offensive to deliver an overdue knock out punch to the Soviet enemy.

    How was Reagan then to respond to Gorbachev's calls for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons if he could not recognize that the Soviet Union was bowing out of the Cold War? How could he agree to negotiate away the one thing - nuclear weapons - that he believed had kept the United States from finding itself fighting a third world war?

    Historians continue to debate the impact that individuals can have on their time period. In looking at the period 1985-1989, specifically the overlapping of Reagan's second term with the rise to power of Gorbachev, and the almost immediate easing of tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, the reasons for the subsequent end of the Cold War have varied from Reagan's consistent economic pressure that allegedly bankrupted the Soviet Union to Gorbachev's internal reforms that allowed for private ownership and governmental transparency. Many have argued that Reagan single-handedly won the Cold War. Others that Gorbachev deserves all the credit.

    But those arguments, though important to the story of the end of the Cold War, leave out, I think, the most important factor in bringing the cold war to an end. Instead of Reagan's economic pressure and massive defense spending that bankrupted the Soviet Union, or Gorbachev's internal reforms that westernized the Soviet Union, the private and mostly top-secret correspondence between Reagan and Gorbachev forced the two leaders to continue to talk, debate, argue, disagree, but also offer proposals even when they thought no agreement would be possible. Both Reagan and Gorbachev recognized that change was coming, and both wanted to be on the right side of history. But they needed to find a way to overcome forty years of Cold War ideology. They needed to find a way to trust each other. It was this trust, established through twelve detailed and frank letters that provided the basis for their first meeting in Geneva, in November 1985, just eight months after Gorbachev came to power. And 15 more letters that provided the basis for their next meeting, in Reykjavik, not even a year later. Though the Geneva and Reykjavik meetings failed to produce any arms control agreements, or really agreements on anything, their shared belief that they needed to continue to do everything in their power to prevent a nuclear war kept them talking, and kept them writing.

    Yes, this is a simple argument. Almost exactly two-years before Gorbachev came to power, Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire." Two weeks after the "evil empire" speech, Reagan announced that the United States would need a way to protect itself from this "evil empire." "Star Wars" or the Strategic Defense Initiative was borne. Reagan and his team didn't immediately realize it at the time, but Star Wars freaked the Soviets out. Not only because the Americans might create a missile shield, but because Reagan had just called them an "evil empire," ordered the deployment of intermediate range nuclear weapons to western Europe, conducted a NATO operation simulating an attack on the Soviet Union, and was now building a defense, which could be used both as a defense against a first-strike, but also against a second-strike - that was just in 1983.

    To be clear - from the first day Reagan took office, he made it his goal to do everything he could, short of a nuclear war, to destroy the Soviet Union. His principal weapon of attack, thus, was economic sanctions. Those sanctions had little long-term impact - the Soviet Union still built their trans-Siberian oil and gas pipeline despite Reagan's best efforts to restrict Soviet access to western technology needed to complete the pipeline. And though he never said it, Reagan may have been hoping that Star Wars would force the Soviet Union into a bankrupting arms race. But, of course, that was not the case. Gorbachev would not bite -- he wisely told Reagan that all the Soviet Union would need to do to defeat his shield is just build more missiles. Gorbachev was right - when you are talking about nuclear war, what good is a shield as a deterrent when it is only 50%, or 75% effective?

    So what changed from Reagan's "evil empire" speech in March 1983 to his standing in Red Square, in May 1988, and declaring that when he called the Soviet Union an evil empire five years earlier he was talking about a different era? It was trust, built through over 40 letters and four one-on-one meetings, all in just over three years. Reagan supporters like to say that in Gorbachev, Reagan had found a wiling partner, that Reagan had wanted all along to establish a strong working relationship with the Soviet leaders but they weren't willing to do so. But, that wasn't the case. Brezhnev, then Andropov, and then Chernenko all wrote Reagan, offering arms control proposals and other measures to build better relations between the two countries. But Reagan just was not interested. Between 1981 and 1985 he was not interested in compromise, he was interested in achieving his "strength through peace" agenda. Plus, his hard-line anti-communism kept him from trusting these hard-line communists. Gorbachev, though Reagan refused to recognize it at first, was different. He was young, energetic, clearly a reformer, and at a time of heightened tensions he went public with his proposals to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons. Reagan had no choice but to try and keep up. So despite their vast differences, they kept writing, and they kept meeting, and finally they had a breakthrough. In their third meeting, in Washington in December 1987, they signed the first nuclear arms reductions treaty to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons. The 1987 intermediate range nuclear forces treaty eliminated the most destabilizing class of nuclear weapons. Weapons based on mobile platforms in Europe and Asia, and capable of destroying a major European city in just a few minutes. But Reagan and Gorbachev were not done - after signing the INF Treaty they spent the rest of their time in Washington negotiating a START treaty, which called for a 50% reduction in offensive ballistic missiles. Reagan and Gorbachev were optimistic that the START Treaty would be signed when they met a few months later in Moscow. But, like earlier negotiations, as long as Gorbachev tied any arms control agreement to limiting research and development of the SDI, Reagan would never agree. It took until 1991, when the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, for Gorbachev to finally drop his objections to SDI. That year, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Bush and Gorbachev finally agreed to the START Treaty based on a 50% reduction in ballistic missiles -- the same premise that Reagan and Gorbachev had started with at their 1986 meeting in Reykjavik.

    Perhaps then the real story of the end of the Cold War is just a simple tale of how an old hard-line anti-Communist president of the United States and a young Soviet reformer discovered that, despite their vast differences, all they needed to do was find one common area of agreement to change the world. The elimination of nuclear weapons became their focus.

    Reagan's first letter to Gorbachev extended an invitation to the new Soviet leader to come to Washington so they could meet and discuss issues like working towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. Gorbachev immediately agreed to a summit "to search for mutual understanding on the basis of equality and account of the legitimate interests of each other." Gorbachev also told Reagan that the United States and Soviet Union had to do everything in their power to avoid a nuclear war.

    Reagan and Gorbachev succeeded in that ultimate goal thanks to their courage to trust each other at a time when no one else thought they should. That trust, however, did not come easy for either of them.

    "I realize those first letters marked the cautious beginning on both sides of what was to become the foundation of not only a better relationship between our countries," Reagan reflected in his autobiography, "but a friendship between two men."

    With the fate of a combined U.S. and Soviet population of over 500 million people at stake, word-by-word, Reagan and Gorbachev started the process that led to the peaceful end of the Cold War.

    Click here to purchase Dear Mr. President. Reagan/Gorbachev and the Correspondence that Ended the Cold War.

    Click here to see all the original documents from this book, as well as thousands of other recently declassified documents from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

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    Watch the video: The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev full interview - BBC News (January 2022).