On January 26, 1988, Ambassador Maynard Glitman, the chief U.S. negotiator at the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty talks, wound up his testimony in support of the treaty with the following:
It remains fundamentally true that improved East-West relations cannot be based solely on arms control…. To be of lasting benefit, movement in arms control must be paralleled by the resolution of problems in other areas, such as human rights and regional issues. Nevertheless…the knowledge that agreement can be achieved in a sensitive area despite major obstacles should be among the most important legacies of the INF negotiations and Treaty.
Twenty years after its signing, it is worthwhile to reflect on the INF Treaty’s legacies. The treaty was unique when negotiated and remains so. It was designed as a global ban on all U.S. and Soviet missiles having a range of 500-5500 kilometers and, for the first time in U.S. treaty history, contained verification measures that permitted the presence of U.S. inspectors on Soviet soil, and vice versa. The fact that inspectors could for the first time enter sensitive U.S. and Soviet missile facilities was a breakthrough and harbinger of the end of the Cold War.
Glitman’s words have a special resonance now, when the mood in Moscow and Washington is sour and at times seems to be turning back toward the Cold War. Major disputes have sprung up over several issues, including U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe, the independence of Kosovo, and Russian accession to the World Trade Organization. In addition, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced during his State of the Nation address in April 2007 that Russia would cease to implement the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, pending resolution of a dispute with NATO over ratification of an adapted version of the treaty, which is linked in turn to disagreements about the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and Moldova.
The INF Treaty has received some knocks as well, with Russian military leaders calling for Russia to withdraw from the treaty in order to free up the possibility of deploying intermediate-range missiles against certain neighbors, such as China. They also argue that this step would be an appropriate response to U.S. deployments of missile defenses in Europe. Thus, the INF Treaty could become a source of tension between the United States and Russia, despite its reputation as a major stepping stone on the road to ending the Cold War.
Looking back at the history and legacies of the INF Treaty thus provides an opportunity to reflect on how far the United States and Russia have come since the end of the Cold War. It also allows us to measure how much farther we must go to address the key security issues that remain between the United States and Russia. Many of these issues are still linked to the detritus of the Cold War, whether nuclear weapons, fissile material, chemical and biological weapons, or vast stocks of unneeded missiles and conventional weapons. Finding enough mutual confidence to come to grips with these security issues despite worsening relations between Russia and the West is a critical and urgent matter.
The legacies of the INF Treaty are remarkable. The treaty not only eliminated an entire class of nuclear missiles but also “brought about a new standard of openness by creating a 13-year on-site verification regime of unparalleled intrusiveness.” Furthermore, the treaty came about during a period when publics were incensed by their governments’ nuclear-weapon decisions. The INF Treaty negotiators displayed a responsiveness to those concerns that is today difficult to imagine, mostly because the public has lost interest in nuclear issues. Most importantly, the INF Treaty proved the main principle of what is required in international negotiations: the outcome might not be symmetrical, but each side must see that it has gained a result that is right for its own national security.
The Ghosts of Old Issues
When one considers the period during which the INF Treaty took shape and was negotiated, 1979 to 1987, it is enlightening to see how few of the ghosts of old issues remain. The demise of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact had a profound effect, rendering some issues immediately obsolete but in some cases having a follow-on effect that has taken a longer time to unfold. Changing attitudes toward NATO’s role and missions and the whole U.S.-European relationship is a good example of this phenomenon. It would be ironic if Russia’s temper tantrum over the CFE Treaty drove the United States and Europe back into each others’ arms.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the security elites on each side of the Atlantic were gripped by the notion of “strategic coupling,” ensuring that the United States would be linked to its NATO allies not only through a standard conventional alliance, but also through the presence of nuclear weapons on the territory of Europe. Under the theory of flexible response, if the Soviet Union attacked NATO, it would receive an appropriate response from nuclear systems in Europe, but it also risked an attack from U.S.-based systems. The link would extend from the nuclear systems in Europe directly back to U.S. strategic nuclear systems. The Europeans feared that if any link in this chain were broken, then the United States might not respond to an attack on Europe. Some feared the United States would not be willing to risk a nuclear attack on its territory to defend Europe from Soviet aggression.
In fact, that fear underlay one of the original reasons why the INF issue arose: when the Soviets began deploying the highly accurate, intermediate-range SS-20 missiles in the 1970s, they disturbed the logic chain, for NATO had no missiles of the same range or accuracy. In theory, the Soviets could have attacked NATO with the SS-20 and, having a choice between a short-range response that would not touch Soviet territory and a response involving U.S. central strategic systems, NATO would be left with no choice at all. Again, the Europeans feared that the United States might not be willing to respond to an attack. As Lynn Davis wrote in 1988, “NATO governments argued that the capability to strike the Soviet Union with systems based on land in Western Europe was necessary in order to convey to the Soviet Union a real sense of risk from any aggression on the continent.”
Today, strategic coupling involving nuclear weapons has receded as an issue in Europe, partially as a result of the INF Treaty, which allowed the Soviets to achieve a part of one of their key strategic goals: a significant denuclearization of NATO Europe. Their accomplishment was tempered by what the United States and NATO were able to achieve through the treaty: the dismantlement of a class of highly accurate Soviet missiles that had threatened Europe. Just as in any good treaty, the INF Treaty allowed both sides in the negotiation to succeed.
All that is left in NATO Europe is a small number of nonstrategic nuclear weapons that can be delivered by aircraft; estimates place the number of warheads at about 480. To be sure, the United States and its NATO allies have shied away from removing this final nuclear link between them, seeing it as a sign of continuing political ties and a hedge against Russian revanchism. Meanwhile, the Russians continue to deploy a large number of strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons that could be delivered against NATO Europe in a conflict. In fact, Russian military doctrine has in latter years put a greater emphasis on a possible range of nuclear responses to aggression against Russian territory. This resurgence of flexible response, however, this time in Russian hands, has not generated a desire to mirror-image the policy in NATO Europe.
Instead, NATO is today obsessed about its future as an alliance. Members argue about the ways in which it should operate outside of Europe, how far it should enlarge, what to do about terrorist threats, and what the relationship should be with the United States. NATO’s future has little to do with nuclear weapons. They have faded from the policy calculus.
Public Interest, Public Protest
Another legacy of the INF Treaty is the limited debate on NATO nuclear policy that is now the norm. Nowadays, rather than stumping the strategic value of such arms, European governments prefer to keep quiet about them, concerned that public opinion could be aroused against the continuing deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons “close to home.” This tendency appears to reflect the loud and politically painful protests that took place around the deployment of new intermediate-range missiles in NATO countries during the buildup to the treaty.
The role of the public in the INF debate was quite pronounced from the mid-1970s, when the United States and its European allies first broached the idea of deploying offensive systems to balance the new Soviet SS-20s. In part to respond to public concerns, President Jimmy Carter in 1979 suggested a policy that was unique at the time, the so-called dual-track decision. Strobe Talbott described it succinctly: “The U.S. would offset the Soviet missiles by deploying a new generation of its own ‘Euromissiles’—the Tomahawk cruise missiles and Pershing II ballistic missiles—while at the same time making a good-faith effort to negotiate with the U.S.S.R. a compromise that would scale back the missiles on both sides.” Thus, the United States and its NATO allies would be deploying weapon systems only to hope to bargain them away in an arms control negotiation.
This “bargaining chip” approach was one facet of U.S. and NATO strategy throughout the INF Treaty negotiations, although the dual track was tempered in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan’s offer of a “zero option.” Always the great communicator, Reagan apparently told his negotiators that he wanted a proposal “that can be expressed in a single sentence and that sounds like real disarmament.” Reagan did not like the notion of deploying some missiles in Europe in exchange for Russian restraint in deploying the SS-20, the proposal that was being touted by the Department of State as “negotiable” with the Soviets. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle posed a one-sentence idea: the United States would cancel its Tomahawk ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) and Pershing II deployments if the Soviet Union would dismantle its SS-20, SS-4 and SS-5 intermediate-range missiles.
Perle’s rationale was that this zero option would not be negotiable with the Soviets, but it perfectly fit Reagan’s demand for a simple, succinct disarmament proposal. In the next few years, the Soviets did respond angrily to the proposal because it would have required them to give up already deployed missiles for systems that had not yet been built. Thereafter, Undersecretary of State Richard Burt engineered a marriage between the dual-track strategy and the zero option that became known as the “interim solution”: the United States would deploy some missiles in Europe, with the goal of negotiating them all away in the future.
In retrospect, Reagan had the right idea in making a proposal that was comprehensible and appealing to the public. His instincts were important because publics in the United States and Europe had been angered over U.S. plans to deploy a new neutron bomb in Europe, and their protests extended quickly and seamlessly to new NATO INF deployments. In the 1980s, this led to well-orchestrated, long-lasting protests. The best known of these took place at Greenham Common, the British air base that was to be the site of the deployments of GLCMs under the interim solution. Colin Powell, who at the time of the protests was national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, recalled them in a 2002 interview when he was secretary of state for George W. Bush:
Greenham Common...It’s where we put the GLCM, the ground launch cruise missile. And nobody knows what a GLCM is anymore. But in those days...every capital in Europe was in arms over this problem. Remember the ladies at Greenham Common? Surrounding the place and marching—don’t you dare bring these missiles here. We brought the missiles there, and we survived that, and the alliance was strengthened. And what did we do about it four years later? We took the missiles out when the INF Treaty was signed. I was proud to sign that one, to be one of the negotiators in that one.
As Powell so clearly expressed it, “nobody knows what a GLCM is anymore,” and that is the crux of the difference today. The INF interim solution did produce results, in part because of strong public engagement.
It is interesting to consider how greater indifference to nuclear weapons might also influence legislative decision-making. In the 1970s and 1980s, the interplay between Congress and parliaments in European countries made for some interesting outcomes in the INF debate. In 1979 the German Social Democrats took an explicit decision to tolerate the NATO dual-track approach as long as the West would forgo deployment in exchange for substantial reductions of Soviet INF. The Soviets in their turn attempted to influence this dynamic, proposing a moratorium on INF deployments while negotiations were ongoing. NATO rejected this proposal.
Reagan’s zero-option decision also produced a powerful dynamic. As Michael Gordon reported, few experts thought that the proposal could actually be implemented, but they welcomed it as an opening gambit in the play for Western European public opinion. Congress, moreover, backed up the effort. “Congress hastened to support a popular president in his first arms control initiative by passing a supportive, nonbinding resolution.”
Today, such involved interplay among governments, parliaments, and publics is difficult to imagine. Nuclear decisions, such as they are, are played out in national environments with relatively few interested parties. Examples of this phenomenon were the recent British parliamentary decision on Trident submarine modernization and the congressional decision not to proceed with the new nuclear warhead known as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or RNEP. Although they attracted a great deal of attention in expert communities, these decisions generated relatively little public or legislative attention and certainly not much in the way either of protest or celebration. They also did not draw attention among other parliaments, even those who should have been interested, such as the Russian Duma.
Effective Verification: Necessity or Mania?
Verification is a third critical legacy of the INF Treaty that has since faded from view. In his 1988 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State George Schultz took care to portray how unique the INF verification regime was at the time:
We are breaking new ground with this treaty. On-site inspection is a major forward step in the U.S./Soviet nuclear arms control agreements. We shouldn’t be surprised if the process is not always smooth…. When differences surfaced we worked them out. Some of these problems were resolved at the working level, others required attention from more senior people…. [D]uring my meetings with Foreign Minister [Eduard] Sheverdnadze last week, we ironed out the nine key technical details related to the onsite inspection regime.
The INF Treaty was helped by the fact that it was a total global ban on short- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles, which made the treaty easier to verify. The Soviet SS-4, SS-5, and SS-20 missiles and the NATO Pershing-2 and GLCMs were to be totally destroyed. Although other long-range, land-attack cruise missiles would remain in deployment in both countries, they could be air- or sea-launched but not ground-launched.
Thus began a rapid move to more intrusive verification, which culminated in the 1991 START and its 500-page Verification Protocol. START came into force in 1994 and played a vital role in the stable downsizing of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals during what could have been a chaotic period after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Without the existence of START and its verification regime, the denuclearization of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine would have been difficult, perhaps even impossible. The INF Treaty paved the way for this accomplishment, establishing many important precedents, especially in the realm of on-site inspections.
With the advent of the administration of President George W. Bush, however, intrusive verification fell out of favor. Since coming to office in 2001, Bush has essentially embraced two principles in his arms control policy: emphasize unilateral action and be willing to discard arms control mechanisms perceived as outdated.
Verification fell victim to both principles very early, with the president and his top officials stating repeatedly that, unlike during the Cold War, the Russians are currently friends of the United States. The administration argued that legally binding treaties are not needed among friends, nor are strict verification measures. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), signed in 2002, was a partial expression of this model. It was a legally binding treaty without any verification measures attached. In 2006 this argument further evolved into a U.S. unwillingness to extend START beyond its expiration at the end of 2009.
Bush was no doubt correct to challenge the arms control assumptions of the Cold War and to consider how to simplify and expedite the U.S.-Russian relationship in this sphere. There is danger, however, in too much revolutionary activity of this sort. As I have argued in other writings, “[W]ithout broad consensus in both capitals that U.S.-Russian cooperation is vital, the two countries might be tempted to walk away from interaction in sensitive arenas such as nuclear arms reduction once the binding regimes are lost.” Today, with the United States willing to let the START regime lapse and Russia taking aim at the INF Treaty and with relations between the two countries at a new post-Cold War low, the two countries seem perilously on the brink of this outcome.
Thus, the concern for effective verification that was a hallmark of the INF Treaty has been forced out in recent years by a strong policy drive that has had some logic to it, needing to balance the stringent verification mechanisms of the Cold War with some recognition that our relationship has changed. Even if the mood between Moscow and Washington has turned sour, we still have far greater mutual access and transparency than we had during the Cold War. That logic, although imperfect and unevenly implemented, in part guided Bush administration policies in the area of verification.
As a result, the policy community needs to look forward, beyond the arms control assumptions of the Cold War—this was the partial accomplishment of the Bush administration—and back, to the major arms reduction agreements achieved during the 1980s and 1990s. The search should be twofold. The first goal should be to look for constants to provide a firm foundation for mutual confidence and cooperation; the second should be to look for innovations that will help the agenda to move forward quickly and efficiently, without the burden on operating flexibility that Cold War-era measures sometimes carried with them. These goals should apply to cooperative efforts regarding arms reduction and control as well as nonproliferation. Here, once again, the legacies of the INF Treaty are important to consider.
Stocktaking on INF Legacies
For most of the years since he uttered the phrase, Reagan’s admonishment to “trust but verify” has been a watchword in U.S. and Soviet/Russian arms negotiations. Both sides recognized the value of the simple concept, but both also recognized its limitations. As Schultz said during his Senate testimony in support of the INF Treaty, “There is no such thing as absolute, 100 percent verification. But it is our judgment that this treaty, through its successive layers of procedures, contains the measures needed for effective verification…. The bottom line is that the verification provisions of this treaty get the job done.”
Today, with many years of mutual experience in implementing new programs that have taken shape since the Cold War, it makes sense to consider whether we now have the correct layers in place. Some no doubt can be discarded, while others adjusted and still others strengthened. The programs that should be considered for the roles that they already play in enhancing mutual confidence are cooperative threat reduction, military-to-military contacts, and the science and technology programs carried out under the aegis of the Warhead Safety and Security Exchange Agreement and other laboratory-to-laboratory contacts.
Taking stock of the relationship that the United States and Russia have established under these programs would provide some perspective on the greater mutual knowledge accumulated during the 15 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union and would also enable an assessment of continuing problem areas. Military-to-military contacts, for example, have often fallen prey to political differences between the two capitals and therefore might have only a limited value for modernizing verification concepts. Others, however, particularly the science exchanges, might provide some new ideas for verification technologies that could simplify and benefit not only U.S.-Russian verification efforts, but also broader multilateral efforts to enhance safeguards in any number of arms control and nonproliferation regimes. These would be “new layers” in the model that Schultz described for effective verification.
These new layers, however, should be designed to take account of the new realities, in particular the more open and extensive interactions between Russia and the United States. Again, even if we are not great friends, our relationship is far more mutually transparent than it was during the Cold War. New layers of effective verification should therefore have one basic characteristic: to ease the burden that Cold War intrusiveness placed on operations in the U.S. and Russian armed forces. For example, a number of notifications of missile and aircraft movements required by START could be streamlined or eliminated at this time.
Yet, the base layers—data exchanges, on-site inspections—will continue to play a role and so should not be discarded. In this sense, the INF Treaty was in itself a vital innovation, and its legacy continues intact.
Another important legacy of the INF Treaty is the basic rule that drove the negotiations: asymmetric reductions may result in equal security. Glitman stated it succinctly when he said, “[R]ecognition of the principle of equal rights and limits and of asymmetrical reductions to reach equality can be useful precedents in other arms control negotiations.”
Today, this rule will be important if the United States and Russia are to consider further reductions in nuclear systems that would begin to touch nuclear warhead stocks. Up to this point, the elimination of central strategic weapons as well as intermediate-range nuclear weapons has focused on launch systems rather than on warheads. The two countries have been free to stockpile warheads or eliminate them per national policy, with no impact or influence from arms control negotiations.
This was a judicious approach while the numbers of deployed systems still remained high. As deployed numbers of warheads have come down under successive treaties—the INF Treaty, START, and SORT—imbalances have emerged that have given rise to tension between the two countries. For example, Russia has complained that the United States is converting launchers removed from strategic nuclear missions to conventional missions but stockpiling all of the warheads. According to the Russian argument, the conventional launchers could therefore be returned to nuclear missions at any time.
The U.S. side counters that technical and operational changes to the launchers would preclude this from happening. Furthermore, the United States argues that its policy and budgetary processes are quite transparent and the Russians would have considerable warning if such a reversal were to be contemplated. Both of these arguments have truth to them.
Russian concerns have been exacerbated by decisions they took with regard to their own nuclear warhead elimination program. When negotiating the withdrawal of nuclear weapons systems from Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine in 1993-1994, the Russians committed to eliminate all the strategic nuclear warheads that were returned from Kazakhstan and Ukraine, a number that amounted to more than 3,000 warheads. As a result, the Russian warhead elimination program has focused on strategic warheads, resulting in the elimination of warheads from some of the most powerful and effective Soviet-era nuclear systems, the SS-18, the SS-19, and air-launched cruise missiles.
Now, when the Russians observe that the United States is not destroying but stockpiling warheads from the U.S. counterpart systems, Trident and Minuteman, they are concerned, even though there were no mutual commitments to eliminate particular warheads. The United States, for its part, argues that it has been destroying a large number of nonstrategic nuclear warheads while the Russian Federation has not or at least has not provided information about its destruction program for nonstrategic warheads, as was agreed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev and later confirmed by President Boris Yeltsin under the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNI) of the early 1990s.
Thus, with regard to warhead elimination, the United States and Russia have arrived at a complicated juncture in which discussion, never mind negotiation, is difficult. This is a good example of a situation where the INF legacy rule that asymmetric reductions may result in equal security is important. If the United States and Russia could begin a consultation aimed at a better mutual understanding of their warhead elimination programs, they might be able to proceed in the future to agree that reductions will continue in a way that is asymmetric but will produce equal security results.
Such agreement may or may not result in a legally binding arms control treaty. The two sides might come to an understanding that because of continuing sensitivity to access at warhead-elimination facilities, they would proceed on unilateral tracks to eliminate warheads while providing for a greater exchange of information on the activities. They might decide that they are ready to negotiate a transparency arrangement that would accompany such unilateral elimination activities. They might decide that they are ready to negotiate a legally binding treaty with a full verification regime.
The final legacy of the INF Treaty that has powerful resonance today is the understanding that INF systems were never central to deterrent capabilities for the United States or Russia. After all, theater targets can be covered by strategic missiles. This is a notion that was quite well understood when the INF Treaty was completed. Gordon commented at the time that “eliminating American missiles from Western Europe is such a desirable foreign-policy objective (for the Soviet Union) that it is worth accepting a disproportionate cut in deployed weapons that are not central to its deterrent capability.” Gordon also commented that “it would be easy for the Soviet Union to circumvent an INF pact by deploying more strategic missiles.”
Some Russian experts who have been insisting that the country should withdraw from the INF Treaty have ignored this reality, focusing on the fact that other countries around the Russian periphery—China, North Korea, Iran—are acquiring intermediate-range missiles while Russia, constrained by the treaty, has none. More recently, however, the Russian debate on the INF Treaty has begun to recognize the argument and, further, to acknowledge that a Russian withdrawal from the treaty could negate the security gains that the Soviet Union realized in Europe after its entry into force. Whether this realization will prevent the Russians from taking action to withdraw from the treaty is another matter. Much will depend on political dynamics between Moscow and Washington and Moscow and European capitals.
The INF Treaty’s Contribution
Looking back on the INF Treaty, its story mirrors the history of U.S.-Russian relations and European security policy during the transition from the Cold War. Many of the legacy issues of the INF Treaty have faded in importance because of the radical changes in geopolitical circumstances, particularly the breakup of the Soviet Union and demise of the Warsaw Pact. Issues such as the need for strategic coupling, which so drove INF deployments in the 1970s and 1980s, have largely disappeared.
It is possible that they could return to importance if, for example, Russia insists on withdrawing from the INF Treaty and redeploying intermediate-range missiles facing Europe. With that step, however, the Russian government would undo one of its great negotiating coups of the Soviet era, which was to put NATO Europe well on the road to denuclearization. The Kremlin should see its interests served in continuing down that road rather than reversing course. A focus on gaining the exit of the remaining nonstrategic nuclear weapons from Europe would much better serve Russia’s strategic interests, especially if it is truly concerned, as the Russian General Staff insists, about nuclear weapons being deployed in the new NATO countries of Eastern Europe. This remains an open question.
Some INF issues deserve new attention. The future of verification and transparency is especially fertile ground and demands attention, given the Bush administration’s preference to see START and its verification protocol go out of force at the end of 2009. Although some in the administration seem to prefer that nothing replace it, others have embraced the notion that some new transparency approaches should be developed.
Jolting the process with the Russians seems to be one goal of the meetings that have been urged at the ministerial level in September 2007. This date is late in coming, given the looming demise of START, and it behooves the expert community to think urgently and creatively about how to address this problem.
Of course, START’s very complexity underlies a number of frustrations in the bilateral relationship and has led to calls for a simpler approach more in line with post-Cold War realities. Even given current tensions between Moscow and Washington, this is a goal worth pursuing. We should be paring verification requirements to the essence and at the same time considering what additional transparency and mutual confidence can be gained through other mechanisms, such as joint technology cooperation and