For the Reagan Administration, 1983 was to be "the year of the missile." It was to be the moment of truth in the American effort to introduce new intermediate-range weapons into Western Europe and to "modernize" the U.S. strategic arsenal, primarily with the development of the MX intercontinental missile. Until this buildup in defenses was well under way, nuclear arms control would be a matter of keeping up appearances, of limiting damage, of buying time, and of laying the ground for possible agreement later.

Perhaps an agreement might be reached in 1984. By then, it was anticipated, the United States would be able to negotiate from strength. The Soviet Union would be impressed by the resolve of the U.S. leadership and by the solidarity of the Western Alliance. An American presidential campaign would have begun. Ronald Reagan would be a strong candidate for reelection, but he would also be under political pressure to prove himself a statesman and a peacemaker. Calculating that they could get a better deal before the election than after, the rulers in the Kremlin would move to an agreement early in 1984. Reagan would get an arms-control accord that met his high standards; he would vindicate the tough line he had been following throughout his term; and he would outflank the Democrats on the war-and-peace issue. The year of the missile would have paved the way for the year of the summit.

That was the Administration's hope and its timetable well into 1983. Events, however, followed quite a different course. By the end of the year, the Soviet Union had suspended its participation in all the principal arms negotiations. For the first time since early 1969, arms control was, at least temporarily, shut down across the board. While the United States had succeeded in stationing a few of its new weapons in Britain and West Germany, the issue of whether they should be there and whether others should follow was as divisive as ever, both within those countries and within the Alliance as a whole; and while the Administration had beaten back a number of congressional challenges to its strategic modernization program, support for the MX was still extremely shaky. In response to the American deployments, the U.S.S.R. escalated its side of the military competition, complicating the arms race and arms control alike.

Instead of the hoped-for breakthrough, diplomacy between the superpowers seemed on the verge of a breakdown.


Ronald Reagan entered office with a deep-seated distaste for arms control as it had been conducted in the past. His inclination was summed up succinctly by his counselor, Edwin Meese, early in 1981: arms control should be subject to "benign neglect" while the United States went about the business of rearming. That distaste and that inclination, however, were not shared by the majority of the Administration's partners in government on Capitol Hill, nor by America's allies in Europe. Reagan and his advisers realized that in parallel with the enhancement of Western defenses, they would have to continue the pursuit of agreements with the Soviet Union.

But what kind of agreements? From the outset the Administration was divided within its own ranks over ends and means in arms control, and these divisions were never clearly resolved. The President and his National Security Council knew they wanted to pursue a more ambitious program than their predecessors', with more stringent consequences for the Soviet Union. But, as they sought to practice the art of the possible, they were less certain of what they would settle for, and their instincts differed.

Drift and disagreement persisted at the highest level of the government, and a fractious bureaucracy was dominated by second-echelon officials who fought and refought battles over issues that impeded coherent policymaking. These ranged from highly technical questions to highly ideological ones, such as whether the United States ought to be seeking any accommodation whatsoever with an aggressive, deceitful, tyrannical adversary.

In 1983, the Reagan Administration found itself hard up against three facts of life. One was the U.S. government's need to negotiate with itself and with its allies simultaneously as it negotiated with the U.S.S.R. Another was the need for a certain degree of civility in the overall relationship between the superpowers if their diplomats were to have any chance of engaging each other usefully. A third fact of life was that any Administration must be perceived to be reconciling defense with diplomacy-preparedness for war with the search for peace. It must achieve, or at least seem genuinely committed to achieving, a synthesis in what one participant in the debate called "the dialectic of hope and fear" that drives the quest for national security.1 Without such a synthesis, a dovish Administration is almost sure to find its arms-control policies in political jeopardy, while a hawkish one will discover its military programs in trouble both on the home front and on what should be the friendly territory of the Alliance.

All three of these challenges had confronted earlier American leaderships, but never before had they loomed so large, or seemed so obstructive, as they did in 1983.

Arms control has always been a multilayered, often multilateral exercise. While the focus of public attention has usually been on the familiar scene of Soviet and American negotiators sitting across from each other at green-felt-covered tables in Helsinki, Vienna or Geneva, their work has depended on other encounters, other bargaining sessions, other compromises in Washington and the capitals of Western Europe. But in 1983, the politics of arms control overwhelmed diplomacy.

In two sets of negotiations-those on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF)2 and the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START)-political pressures caused the United States to alter its position. In INF, the Administration finally dropped an unrealistic opening proposal and made some tentative moves toward compromise in order to shore up the allies' willingness to accept new missiles. In START, it amended its opening proposal in order to demonstrate the realism and flexibility that Congress was demanding in exchange for continued funding of the MX. In the middle of 1983, some key officials of the State Department and White House were tantalized by the possibility of an agreement and a summit the following year, when it would do the President and the Republican Party the most good; they began making plans, and modifying negotiating strategy accordingly.

But these politically motivated adjustments did not begin to close the gap that separated the Soviet and American positions in Geneva. The military dimension of the Soviet-American relationship was allowed to eclipse whatever opportunities there might have been for genuine negotiation. Even as it looked over its shoulder at Congress and the allies, or ahead to 1984, the Administration's driving preoccupation was to get the new missiles past the "peace camps" and protesters in Europe and the MX past its opponents on Capitol Hill. It would worry later about how to make progress with the Soviets.

There was nothing new-and, some would say, nothing wrong-with subordinating arms control to the imperative of keeping up with the Soviets in the arms race. When it came to a crunch between the ideals of disarmament and the demands of rearmament, the Administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter all gave priority to the nation's military requirements. From the multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) to the cruise missile, few American innovations in nuclear weaponry have been sacrificed on the altar of arms control. Indeed, conservative and liberal critics alike have long complained that the record of arms control has left us with too many arms and too little control, while many advocates of the enterprise have replied that arms control, in its most realistic and prudent form, complements and enhances national security.

But the Reagan Administration seemed, in deeds if not in words, skeptical about even that minimalist rationale for arms control. It conveyed to domestic constituents and foreign allies alike (not to mention to the Soviets) the impression that it considered arms control a holding action if not a diversionary tactic.

Also, it was the first U.S. leadership ever to make a negative net assessment of the overall military balance the starting point of its approach to the bargaining table; it was the first to insist on reaching the bottom line of an agreement by a process of American addition and Soviet subtraction. In both INF and START, it was operating from the assumption that the Soviet Union enjoyed significant, potentially decisive military advantages. This view fortified the conviction that the United States must apply unilateral military remedies before bilateral negotiated ones would be possible or even desirable. For the United States and the West, building up was a matter of catching up, and the U.S.S.R. must stand still in the meantime. Either that, or it must accept the premise that it had sinned against parity and do penance by building down to a level that the United States recognized as equality.

The U.S.S.R. quite simply refused to negotiate on that basis. To be sure, there were disparities favoring the U.S.S.R. in both categories of weaponry, intermediate-range and strategic. But only very late in 1983 did the Reagan Administration begin to revise its assessment of the military balance so as to incorporate the concept of offsetting asymmetries-American advantages that might be traded off against Soviet ones.

Then there was linkage. Again, it was not a new concept, or a new fact of life. From the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, which impeded the opening of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), to the invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, which prevented the ratification of the SALT II treaty, arms control had always been vulnerable to fallout from Soviet misbehavior. Initially, the Reagan Administration had vowed to make an improvement in Soviet-American relations conditional on an improvement in Soviet behavior in the Third World. It later abandoned that goal as a mechanistic principle of policy, but atmospheric linkage remained, and the atmosphere of Soviet-American relations went from sour to poisonous in late 1983.

Even if other circumstances had been more auspicious and American management had been more sure-handed, it would have been difficult for arms control to advance in a year marked by mutual vituperation at the highest levels, with the President calling the U.S.S.R. an "evil empire" and Soviet spokesmen calling him and his advisers "nuclear maniacs." There was also the escalation of the avowedly anti-Soviet U.S. military campaign in Central America and the Caribbean; the rise in tensions in the Middle East, where U.S. Marines and Soviet military advisers were only a few miles apart; by the Soviet downing of a Korean airliner; and by Yuri Andropov's extraordinary declaration, on September 28, that he and his comrades had given up on being able to do business with this particular American leadership.


In the INF, the Administration had inherited a dilemma from its predecessors: how to induce five members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to accept new weapons while simultaneously trying to induce the Soviet Union to accept significant reductions in its existing forces, particularly the SS-20 mobile, MIRVed ballistic missile that threatened Western Europe.3 NATO's so-called dual-track decision of December 1979-negotiating while preparing to deploy-put the United States at a multiple disadvantage. The American weapons on the bargaining table were still under development, while the Soviet ones were already in place. The American policymakers had to take account of the evolving, and sometimes conflicting, wishes of their allies, while the Kremlin had no similar concern.

The 572 Pershing II ballistic missiles and Tomahawk ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) were intended largely as political symbols. There was no vital military mission for them that could not be performed by other weapons already committed to NATO. Because they were based on the ground in Europe, they were supposed to provide tangible evidence of the credibility of the U.S. promise to treat an attack on its allies as an attack on the United States itself and to be able to retaliate from Europe with American nuclear weapons against the Soviet homeland.

But the symbolism backfired. To many West Europeans, the new missiles looked not so much like safeguards of peace as the means whereby the United States could fight a limited nuclear war-in defense of Europe, perhaps, but also confined to Europe.

The deadline for deployment by December 1983 was intended to put pressure on the Soviets to come to an agreement, but it had the effect of putting even more pressure on the United States and its allies. There were already cracks in Western resolve in 1979-1980, and these were sure to grow as the deadline drew nearer. The situation was a virtual invitation to the Soviets to concentrate their energies not on the text of a joint draft treaty in Geneva but on the volatile European political context in which the negotiations would be taking place. They would have minimal incentive to compromise with the United States and maximum incentive to wield their own carrots and sticks in a campaign to persuade the West Europeans to postpone or, better yet, to repudiate deployment.

For the United States, the objective in INF was to prove that the allies could resist Soviet pressure and carry out a promise they had made to themselves. For that reason, no matter who became President in January 1981, he would have had great difficulty turning INF into a genuine arms-control negotiation that would produce a meaningful compromise by 1983.4 Ronald Reagan's principal advisers essentially decided not even to try. They would concentrate on INF strictly, in the phrase favored by a number of them, as "an exercise not in arms control but in alliance management." In practice, this meant that both the opening proposal and subsequent adjustments should serve the goal of making sure that the deployments began on schedule.

The Zero Option, advanced by the President in November 1981, would have required the Soviets to dismantle all their SS-20s throughout the U.S.S.R., including those aimed at targets in Asia, as well as the obsolescent single-warhead missiles the SS-20s were meant to replace. In exchange, the United States would cancel its cruise missile and Pershing II deployments. The all-or-nothing character of the Zero Option dramatized the Administration's ulterior motive: it was inconceivable that the Soviets would do away with one of their most modern, cost-efficient, and formidable weapons systems; therefore the proposal would seem to make deployment in NATO inevitable.

The Soviets' rejection of the Zero Option was abrupt and adamant. Their own proposal in the talks-no new American missiles in Europe in exchange for a freeze on the number of Soviet intermediate-range weapons there-reflected their claim that parity existed between the superpowers, and it established a bedrock Soviet objective: to exclude intermediate-range American missiles from Europe as a matter of principle.5

The two sides stuck stubbornly to their opening positions throughout 1982. The Zero Option was so obviously non-negotiable that many West Europeans began to question American sincerity, while the Soviet proposal of a moratorium, however specious, appealed to their desire for a halt to the arms race. Thus, the deadlock in Geneva underscored the disadvantages under which the United States was laboring. All the Soviets had to do was play on West European hopes that as long as the superpowers were talking, there might be no need to deploy. At the same time, they could exploit West European fears that if deployment proceeded on schedule, the talks would break down and a dangerous new round of competition would begin. As early as mid-1982, Soviet officials began dropping dark hints that they might walk out of the Geneva negotiations and come forward with new weapons of their own to offset the new ones on the NATO side.


It was against this backdrop that Paul Nitze, the chief American negotiator in INF, undertook in mid-1982 to break the deadlock in the negotiations and produce an agreement that would rescue the West from its own largely self-inflicted dilemma. He did so on his own, without the authorization or even the knowledge of his government. That a distinguished, disciplined official with decades of experience as a policymaker and negotiator should feel it necessary to embark on such a controversial and risky venture was itself extraordinary. Nitze was motivated by two conclusions: first, that failure to reach agreement would be far more costly to the West than to the Soviet Union, since European popular opposition to deployment in the absence of an agreement could traumatize and perhaps paralyze the Alliance for years to come; and second, that the Reagan Administration was too shortsighted to see that danger and too divided to give him formal permission in advance to explore a negotiable compromise.

Therefore he decided to seek such a compromise on his own and then present the Administration with a solution to its political and military problems in INF. Nitze made his move in July 1982, in a series of private discussions with his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky. The climactic encounter took place during a walk in the Jura Mountains outside Geneva.

Even though the episode played itself out the year before, it was not until early 1983 that some of Nitze's colleagues publicly revealed what had happened. The impact of the revelation was immense and protracted. As deployment drew closer, the INF debate in the West kept coming back to differing interpretations of the "walk in the woods" and to speculation about whether some revived, perhaps revised, version of the arrangement worked out between the two men might still form the basis of a last-minute agreement between their governments.

The basic formula would have permitted a partial deployment of new American missiles in NATO in exchange for a significant reduction of SS-20s in Europe. There would have been major concessions on both sides. The Soviets would have dropped their insistence that they be explicitly compensated in an INF agreement for the independent nuclear deterrent forces of Britain and France; they would also have dropped their refusal to sanction any new American missiles on the continent. In return, the United States would have agreed to accept a freeze on SS-20s in Asia, rather than treating them as part and parcel of the threat to Western Europe because of their mobility. As the clinching element, NATO would deploy only cruise missiles; the Pershing IIs, destined only for West Germany, would be cancelled altogether. The Soviets professed to fear the Pershing II more than the GLCM because its short flight time made it, in their view, a potential first-strike weapon and because they had a neuralgia about German fingers anywhere near nuclear triggers.

The United States would have had the right to 75 GLCM launchers, each with four missiles, totaling 300 GLCMs; the Soviets would be obligated to reduce their 243 SS-20 launchers in Europe to 75, each with three warheads, totaling 225. The differential in war-heads favoring the United States would help make up for two advantages of ballistic over cruise missiles: the far greater speed with which ballistic missiles can reach their targets and their invulnerability to antiaircraft defenses. While the U.S.S.R. would have preserved its regional monopoly in intermediate-range ground-launched ballistic missiles, the United States would keep an offsetting monopoly in intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles; the Soviets would have agreed not to develop such weapons. Asian SS-20s were to be frozen at 90.

Nitze and Kvitsinsky agreed that this was to be a "package deal," a comprehensive, final agreement, not the basis for further haggling. But the haggling was intense back in Washington when Nitze confronted his government with what he had done. Initially, the scheme received cautious but favorable consideration by all the key officials, including the new Secretary of State, George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and General John Vessey, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But it has been one of the hallmarks of the Reagan Administration's conduct of arms control that while decisions are ratified at the Cabinet level, they have been made-and unmade-at the so-called "working level" of assistant secretaries. The two most influential figures in the Administration in this regard were Richard Burt, the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Richard Perle, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy. For different reasons, they were both left out of the preliminary deliberations over the walk in the woods. However, in the decisive discussions Perle weighed in heavily to thwart Nitze, and Burt did likewise subsequently in supporting and maintaining a negative position.

While "the two Richards," as they were often called, were rivals and opponents on many issues, they both argued strenuously that the sacrifice of the Pershing II would be unacceptable for the United States, primarily because it was to be deployed in West Germany, and if West Germany was freed from its obligation to deploy the Pershing II on schedule, the other West European nations would abandon their commitment to accept cruise missiles.

During the intense, sometimes acrimonious intramural struggle, political and military arguments over the Pershing II and its expendability became confused. President Reagan, who had understandable difficulty grasping the subtleties of the debates raging among his subordinates, became fixated on the military question of whether the United States could counter ballistic SS-20s with a force made up exclusively of cruise missiles-disregarding that U.S. strategic ballistic missiles by the thousands could reach the same potential targets as the Pershing IIs.

In mid-September 1982, the President ruled that Nitze could continue his discussions with Kvitsinsky, exploring possible compromises between the formal U.S. and Soviet positions, but any compromise that left the Soviets with SS-20s must also give the United States the right to deploy Pershing IIs as well as cruise missiles. Thus, the deal that Nitze and Kvitsinsky had agreed to in the woods was, from the American standpoint, no longer a package; contrary to the condition Nitze had impressed on Kvitsinsky, their arrangement was open to further haggling, and the ingredient that probably most interested the Soviets-the cancellation of the Pershing II-had now been removed.

Rumors soon began to circulate in Washington, reaching the Soviet Embassy, that Nitze had been reprimanded by the White House for exceeding his instructions, and on September 28, during a meeting in New York, Shultz indicated to Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko that the package as such did not have the Administration's endorsement. The next day, after two and a half months of silence, the Soviets formally and categorically rejected the deal themselves.

Subsequently, for very different reasons, both the Soviets and Nitze's opponents within the American government claimed that the whole scheme was Nitze's doing; that Kvitsinsky's role had been limited to that of a delivery man who conveyed an American initiative back to Moscow; and that nothing Kvitsinsky said or did implied even tentative Soviet acceptance of the package.6

In fact, however, while most of the contents of the package was the result of Nitze's brainstorming, Kvitsinsky did insist on substantive changes (such as freezing rather than reducing the number of SS-20s in Asia), and he agreed to the package as amended. Also, he had been in close consultation with Gromyko during the private discussions with Nitze, including on the eve of the walk in the woods itself. That fact, along with the fact that he remained in his job afterwards, suggested that he, unlike Nitze, was under instructions throughout. At the same time, Kvitsinsky made no promise that he would be able to deliver his government's formal support, and the long silence from his side may have indicated that there was division in Moscow over how to respond to the initiative.

It is quite possible, too, that Kvitsinsky and his masters were just leading Nitze on, smoking out possible fallbacks in the U.S. position. But it is also possible that in allowing Kvitsinsky to associate himself with the deal, the Kremlin may have tipped its hand, providing the briefest glimpse of its own fallback. Leonid Brezhnev was still alive, but he was on his last legs. Nitze had broached the possibility of a breakthrough in INF as a pretext for a Reagan-Brezhnev summit. Kvitsinsky had once remarked that his side was "hoping for a miracle" by the fall of 1982, so that Reagan and Brezhnev might meet and set guidelines for an agreement, much as Gerald Ford and Brezhnev had done at Vladivostok during SALT II. As a result of Nitze's initiative, Brezhnev may have been sufficiently tempted by the prospect of a last hurrah for him to have Gromyko instruct Kvitsinsky to approve the package.

In any event, by the time the Administration was willing and able to offer concessions in INF, nearly another year had passed; Brezhnev was dead; and whatever chance had existed for an agreement was now probably gone.

The revelation of the walk in the woods at the beginning of 1983 greatly complicated the Reagan Administration's conduct of INF for the rest of the year. In repudiating Nitze, whom the West Europeans had come to regard as the champion of their interests in Washington, the Administration exacerbated suspicions about its sincerity in arms control and about its sensitivity to the allies. Also, President Reagan had issued a formal directive in September 1982 setting in stone the proposition that the Pershing II could not be sacrificed as part of any compromise agreement. That made the Pershing II virtually non-negotiable in 1983, further tying Nitze's hands.

In making the dubious determination that the Pershing II was unexpendable, the Administration had never consulted with the West Europeans, particularly the West Germans, and most particularly with Helmut Schmidt, who was chancellor until October 1982. He had provided much of the impetus for the December 1979 dual-track decision and had, at considerable political risk, kept his government and his country on the deployment track.

When Schmidt learned about the aftermath of the walk in the woods, he was furious. He regarded the deal as sound on its merits and the arguments used to defeat it in Washington as spurious. The notion that the Pershing II must serve as a test of West German fidelity to the Alliance was downright insulting to him, especially since the Federal Republic had also agreed to accept GLCMs and could have done so on an accelerated schedule under the terms of the Nitze initiative. The incident prompted all the more concern in Europe, including among some colleagues of the new chancellor, Helmut Kohl, that the Reagan Administration was so obsessed with the goal of deployment that it was blind to opportunities for negotiation.


Ironically, 1983 saw the gradual evolution of the American proposal in INF away from the Zero Option toward something quite similar to Nitze's walk-in-the-woods formula, minus, of course, the offer to cancel the Pershing II altogether.

"It takes two to tango," Ronald Reagan had once said, speaking of the need for reciprocity if there was to be Soviet-American cooperation. As it happened, he and Andropov did indeed engage in a curious sort of dance with each other. Andropov led, and Reagan followed, as each announced alterations in his side's proposal. Andropov's demonstrations of flexibility were meant to persuade the West Europeans to postpone deployment, while Reagan's were meant to demonstrate that the United States was fulfilling its obligation to negotiate in good faith so that the Europeans would feel obliged to keep their end of the 1979 bargain and deploy on schedule.

In the last days of 1982, Andropov offered to reduce Soviet SS-20s in Europe from the 243 already deployed to 162, the level of the British and French ballistic missiles. There were also hints that some of the 81 SS-20s to be reduced might be dismantled rather than merely redeployed to Asia whence they could always be moved westward again in a crisis. While the proposed Soviet concession seemed at first blush significant, it had a number of strings attached that led to prompt rejections from Washington, London and Paris. Andropov was playing a variation on the old theme of prohibiting any new American missiles in Europe while keeping a substantial number of Soviet ones. The Soviets' claim to compensation for the British and French weapons implied that since the Europeans had their own deterrents, they neither needed nor were entitled to the presence of American weapons in Europe. The United States, in short, should stay on its own side of the Atlantic, "de-coupled" from its allies. And finally, the proposal served to establish the principle that the U.S.S.R. could match the arsenals of Britain and France if and when those countries acquired additional weapons.

The United States was slow in responding with a counterproposal. Nitze and the State Department wanted to abandon the Zero Option sooner rather than later. So did the governments of Helmut Kohl in West Germany and Margaret Thatcher in Britain. They were stalwarts on the need for the new missiles, but they were also facing elections and domestic protests against deployment. That made them eager for Washington to neutralize the public-relations advantage Andropov seemed to have gained. The new buzz word on the far side of the Atlantic was "interim solution": a partial reduction in the Euromissiles to be deployed and a partial reduction in the SS-20s already in place.

The Pentagon and the National Security Council staff favored holding firm on the Zero Option, arguing that the United States should not let its negotiating tactics toward the Soviet Union be driven by the vagaries of West European politics. In the end, the Administration decided to stand pat until after the West German elections in early March. To assuage the impatient allies, Vice President George Bush traveled to Europe in February. He invited suggestions, put the best possible face on the Zero Option, hinted at American gestures of flexibility still to come and stressed that deployment would not necessarily be irreversible: missiles that went in on the deployment track could later be withdrawn if there were progress on the negotiating track.

With Kohl's government safely reelected by a comfortable margin, Reagan did come forth on March 30 with a variant of the interim-solution proposal. While still formally committed to the eventual goal of "zero-zero" (no intermediate-range missiles on either side), the United States would accept, for the time being, equal "global" ceilings on warheads. For example, this might mean 300 single-warhead Pershing IIs and cruise missiles in Europe matched against 100 triple-warhead SS-20s throughout the U.S.S.R. (that is, including in the Soviet Far East). Or it could mean that the full NATO deployment of 572 new missiles would allow the Soviets to keep about 200 SS-20s, which would have required a reduction of about 150 from their existing force.

The Soviets' rejection was as firm as ever: they still demanded cancellation of the NATO modernization program and compensation for British and French forces; and they continued to object to the American concept of global ceilings, which in practice meant that SS-20s in Asia were to be counted and limited as part of European arms control.

During the summer and fall, the tempo of the Andropov-Reagan tango picked up. It was during this period that the State Department and White House most seriously considered the possibility of an agreement and a summit in 1984. The Soviet leader met a long-standing U.S. objection by proposing, on August 26, that the U.S.S.R. would "liquidate" all the SS-20s that he had previously offered to remove from Europe; the Soviets would keep 162 European SS-20s to offset the British and French ballistic missiles, but the 81 extra SS-20s would be taken out of service entirely rather than redeployed to Asia. This implied a freeze in Asia.

Nitze and the State Department were preparing to respond with a new American offer of equal warhead ceilings when, on the night of August 31, Soviet air defense forces intercepted and destroyed a Korean airliner that had strayed over Soviet territory in the Far East.

The incident put an abrupt halt to an incipient warming trend in the relationship between the superpowers. It also influenced the climate in which policy was being made in Washington. Those in the Administration who opposed further concessions in INF-indeed, who were skeptical about any diplomatic dealings with the U.S.S.R.-felt vindicated and emboldened; the international outcry over the downing of the airliner had, they concluded, eased the pressure on the United States to make any more moves before deployment.

The West Europeans were outraged by the airliner incident, but they were only momentarily distracted from their growing anxiety about deployment. They were eager not just for more public-relations gestures in Washington but, if at all possible, for an agreement in Geneva. The West Germans had been pressing the Administration to resurrect the Nitze-Kvitsinsky walk-in-the-woods scheme, including the sacrifice of the Pershing II. The Soviets coyly hinted they might be interested. That was one move, however, that the Reagan Administration was not going to make. It had by now become a matter of principle that the United States must have the right to deploy ballistic as well as cruise missiles and that initial deployment of both systems must precede a negotiated agreement.

On September 26, in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Reagan amended the interim-solution proposal, borrowing many features of the walk-in-the-woods while at the same time preserving the Pershing II. The United States would make "proportional reductions" in the Pershing II (proportional, that meant, to the reduction in the overall deployment package); it would continue to demand a global, or U.S.S.R.-wide, ceiling on SS-20s, but the United States would not deploy as many warheads in Europe as the Soviets had throughout the U.S.S.R.7

Two days after Reagan's speech, a statement was released in Andropov's name in Moscow. It contained the most categorical and comprehensive high-level Soviet denunciation of an American Administration that had appeared in decades. Andropov's rejection of Reagan's latest concessions in INF went beyond the issues at hand. He denounced what he called the "essence" of the Administration's approach to arms control. The original Zero Option of November 1981 and the interim-solution proposal of March 1983 both come down to the same thing, according to Andropov:

The proposal to agree, as before, on how many Soviet medium-range missiles should be reduced and how many new American missiles should be deployed in Europe in addition to the nuclear potential already possessed by NATO. In brief, it is proposed that we talk about how to help the NATO bloc upset to its advantage the balance of medium-range nuclear systems in the European zone.

This statement had the ring of being the last word addressed to the United States, but, surprisingly, Andropov still had one final gesture of flexibility to make toward the West Europeans. He offered, on October 26-the day after the U.S. invasion of Grenada-to reduce the European SS-20 force from 243 to about 140 and to cease further deployments of SS-20s in Asia. Even with the new, lower numbers on his side, Andropov's offer was still contingent on cancellation of the Pershing IIs and GLCMs and to a freeze on the level of British and French forces.8

But Andropov combined this offer of a new carrot with another, more emphatic wave of the stick. The tango, he was saying, was coming to an end. Echoing in public from the highest level what other Soviets had been saying for more than a year, Andropov warned that the U.S.S.R.'s next move would be to walk out of the Geneva talks if deployment continued on schedule.

American officials like Burt and Perle, who had previously dismissed the Soviet threat of a walkout as a bluff, prepared to turn the event to their own advantage. The Administration began emphasizing one of the messages Bush had carried to Europe in February: the United States had every intention of talking past deployment; the new American missiles would still be negotiable once they were in place; in fact, they would give the United States all the more leverage precisely because they were in place.

The denouement of the INF drama in 1983 was frantic, bitter, and in some respects puzzling. The Soviet side put out a last burst of what seemed to be mixed signals about whether it would walk out of the talks at all, if so on what pretext, and whether it would return. On October 26, Pravda quoted Andropov himself as vowing that the negotiations would end with the "appearance" of new American missiles in Europe; yet when the British government announced the arrival of the first GLCMs on November 14, the Soviet delegation in Geneva stayed at the table.

Kvitsinsky made an eleventh-hour attempt to engage Nitze in another round of private discussions, much along the lines of the walk in the woods. The Soviet negotiator said that if the United States were to propose cancellation of the American deployments in exchange for a reduction from 243 to 120 SS-20s in Europe, rather than the figure of 140 in Andropov's last offer, the U.S.S.R. would agree and would also defer the issue of compensation for future increases in British and French forces to START. Nitze rejected the Soviet formulation but probed for possible additional flexibility.

Then, on the very eve of the West German Bundestag's vote to approve the deployment of the Pershing II, Soviet diplomats in NATO capitals made a formal démarche asserting that Nitze had in fact made the proposal that Kvitsinsky was trying to elicit. A day later, the Defense Minister, Dmitri Ustinov, denied that his government was willing to concede anything on the issue of the British and French forces. The motives on the Soviet side were obscure. The incident may have reflected intramural machinations and disarray associated with Andropov's long illness and apparent incapacity. The consequences, however, were plain enough: the unusual, durable, and at times remarkably promising and useful relationship that Nitze and Kvitsinsky had developed was all but ruptured.

The Bundestag approved the Pershing IIs on November 22, and Kvitsinsky and his delegation terminated the negotiations in Geneva the next day. The Reagan Administration adopted a tone more of sorrow than of anger and predicted that the Soviets would soon be back. However, it seemed rather to contradict that optimism by publishing at the end of the year a detailed, though selective and self-serving, version of the negotiating record.9 The purpose was to portray the Soviets as the spoilers, but the effect was to reinforce the impression that the talks were over. A series of high-level statements from Moscow ruled out a resumption of the talks unless the United States withdrew the missiles it had begun to deploy. At the same time, Soviet spokesmen spelled out the military "counter-measures" that the U.S.S.R. was planning to take in response to the arrival of the American missiles. These included the stationing of ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe and the development of long-range cruise missiles and new ballistic missiles for submarines that would operate off the coast of the United States, posing a threat that the Soviets claimed would be "analogous" to the one they felt from the Pershing IIs and GLCMs.


While INF was an inherited dilemma for the Reagan Administration, its conduct of START-the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks-was beset by problems much more of the Administration's own making.

The President entered office committed to the proposition that the SALT II treaty was "fatally flawed," therefore not worthy of ratification. Yet the Joint Chiefs of Staff and more experienced, moderate officials of the government, including Secretary of State Alexander Haig, persuaded Reagan that the United States would be worse off militarily if the constraints on Soviet missiles in SALT II were relaxed. Therefore, in the spring of 1982 the Administration declared it would "not undercut" its terms as long as the Soviet Union showed similar restraint. This informal, non-binding arrangement was intended to be a stopgap until the Administration negotiated a better agreement.

Yet by the end of 1983 no new treaty was in sight, and it became apparent that the two sides' adherence to SALT might well break down before there was anything to take its place. The initial deployment of American ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe made a dead letter of the protocol to SALT II, which banned such systems. The United States took the position that the protocol had already lapsed anyway; but the Soviets retorted that since the unratified treaty had never gone into force, the expiration of the protocol, originally set for December 31, 1981, was, by implication, indefinitely postponed.

Meanwhile, the Soviets were engaged in a number of activities that called into question their compliance with the SALT agreements. They were making extensive use of codes in the tests of intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (ICBMs and SLBMs) and thus playing close to the rather fuzzy margins of what was permissible under SALT II (the treaty banned the use of any codes that impede the other side's ability to verify compliance); they appeared to be developing two new types of ICBM, while only one was permitted under SALT II; and most troubling of all, they were operating a large radar facility in Siberia that strained even the most lenient interpretation of what was allowed under the SALT I treaty limiting anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defenses.

The Reagan Administration raised questions, and the Soviets offered answers, on all points. The Soviets claimed that what appeared to be a second new type of ICBM was in fact a modernization of an existing type (the SS-13); that their use of codes was permissible under the rather ambiguous language of SALT II; and that the Siberian radar was for tracking satellites in space, not for tracking enemy warheads. Besides, they continued, moving onto the forensic offensive, what right had the United States to nitpick over the fine points of compliance when it was the Americans themselves who had "sabotaged" SALT II and who refused to negotiate "seriously" on a new strategic arms treaty to take the place of the one they refused to ratify?

Whatever the sincerity of the Administration in strategic arms control, it was its competence that was more legitimately in doubt. The President had settled easily enough in 1981 on the idea of substituting START for SALT, replacing the L of mere limitations with the R of far more ambitious reductions. There was also the deliberate connotation of a clean break with the past, a new, bold start in an old, bankrupt enterprise. But the terms of a proposal for a new treaty proved harder to devise than an acronym.

Not until May 1982, a third of the way through his first term, did Reagan's advisers close ranks behind a proposal. This was nearly six months after the President had unveiled his Zero Option proposal in INF. In both negotiations, the Administration had to be pushed to the bargaining table by political forces, and pressure had built up more quickly from across the Atlantic than from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

By the spring of 1982, however, a number of trends in public opinion were beginning to coalesce. A wide variety of religious and academic leaders were questioning the wisdom of the Administration's policies. Their concerns were partly a backlash against controversial statements the year before by high government officials, including the President himself, about whether a limited nuclear war could be fought and won. The beleaguered MX program appeared to be in more trouble than ever on Capitol Hill because of rising sentiment in favor of a negotiated agreement with the Soviet Union that would stop all further testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons. It was largely to blunt the so-called freeze movement and to stem the growing opposition to the MX that the Administration belatedly came forward with its START proposal in May 1982.

It was an offer that the Soviet Union could do nothing other than refuse. The original proposal-which remained more or less intact for another year, until mid-1983-would have required the Soviets to reduce the number of land-based warheads allowed under SALT II by about 60 percent under the first phase of an agreement. A longer-term provision would have required in a second phase that the Soviets reduce their ballistic missile throw-weight-a measure of destructive capability by which the Soviets were far ahead of the United States because of their reliance on large, land-based rockets-to a level equal to that of the United States. An unpublicized presidential directive mandated that Soviet throw-weight must be reduced by more than 50 percent in the first phase of an agreement. To achieve that end, the proposal stipulated drastic reductions in specific categories of the latest Soviet ICBMs.

For their part, the Soviets tabled a proposal in mid-1982 that preserved the structure of SALT II but reduced somewhat the ceilings and subceilings on various kinds of launchers, or delivery systems, for strategic nuclear weapons (ICBM silos, SLBM tubes and intercontinental bombers). It was probably very close to the offer that the Soviets would have made in SALT III, had SALT II been ratified.

There were four features that made the Soviet proposal unacceptable to the Reagan Administration: first, like SALT, it was based on launchers as the principal currency for bargaining, or unit of account, rather than missile warheads (the number of warheads could have actually increased); second, also like SALT, it permitted trade-offs between bombers and ballistic missiles, rather than concentrating exclusively on ballistic missiles; third, there was no provision for limitation of ballistic missile throw-weight per se; and fourth, the entire Soviet proposal was conditioned on the cancellation of American plans to deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe. Those weapons could reach the U.S.S.R. and were therefore, in Soviet eyes, a "strategic" threat. Thus the Soviet position in START was explicitly linked to its position in INF, and the deployment of U.S. missiles was sure to complicate START as well.


At the beginning of 1983, it was apparent that START was going nowhere. Congress was growing impatient, and some members were suspicious that the stagnation was not only terminal but, on the Administration's part, deliberate. Confidence was hardly restored when, in January, Eugene Rostow was fired as director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. This paragon of neoconservatism and founding member of the Committee on the Present Danger had managed to cast himself in the role of the Reagan Administration's house moderate, a champion of flexibility and, on his way out the door, as a victim of hardliners and stonewallers in the government. His post was filled by Kenneth Adelman, who was widely challenged as the least experienced, least qualified director in the 22-year history of the agency.

In the midst of a vigorous debate in the Senate over Adelman's qualifications, it emerged that he had received a confidential memorandum from Edward Rowny, the chief START negotiator, sharply criticizing members of his own delegation for their allegedly excessive and unseemly desire for progress in the talks. Rowny was already the object of considerable mistrust among advocates of arms control in Congress because he had resigned as the representative of Joint Chiefs of Staff on the SALT II delegation in 1979 to campaign against ratification of the treaty.

Meanwhile, the American Catholic bishops were preparing a pastoral letter on the moral and theological dimensions of nuclear deterrence. The bishops had been debating the question over many months, both among themselves and with representatives of the Administration, who feared that the document would harm public support for its defense policies. The bishops' deliberations aroused considerable attention in the media, and they were generally applauded for the conscientiousness and sophistication of their approach. The message of the letter was, "We must continually say no to the idea of nuclear war"; the United States must find a way to reconcile a dilemma that had concerned strategists for decades: how could the United States effectively deter nuclear war without developing a "war-fighting" capability in order credibly to threaten retaliation "if deterrence fails"?

The bishops wanted the United States to strive for what might be called pure deterrence, eschewing as much as possible reliance on war-fighting weapons. One draft of the letter identified the MX as such a weapon. The final text, published in the spring of 1983, was less explicit, noting that "stability requires a willingness by both sides to refrain from deploying weapons which appear to have a first-strike capability," but a number of the bishops, speaking as individuals, opposed the MX on those grounds.10

The MX was under fresh attack in Congress for reasons similar to those that the bishops had in mind. Critics of the weapon felt it carried with it a double jeopardy: its highly accurate multiple warheads made it seem to threaten the Soviet Union with preemptive attack, yet at the same time basing it in stationary silos would also make it theoretically vulnerable to Soviet preemption. With the MX deployed, the superpowers might be all the more likely to have their most destructive weapons on hair-trigger in a crisis. In short, the MX was seen as every bit as destabilizing as the large, multiple-warhead Soviet ICBMs that START was seeking to reduce or eliminate.

The Pentagon and numerous outside experts had been trying in vain for some years to devise an invulnerable basing mode for the MX that would be both politically acceptable and militarily feasible. By 1983, its proponents had, for all intents and purposes, given up on finding a foolproof scheme, and Congress seemed increasingly of a mind to cut off funding for the program. Rowny and other Administration officials argued that the United States needed the MX for leverage in START, but that point was unpersuasive to congressmen who saw the negotiations deadlocked.

In order to save the MX in particular and, more generally, to build up a bipartisan consensus of support for his rearmament and arms-control policies alike, Reagan in early January established a presidential commission on strategic forces chaired by Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft (USAF, Ret.), who had served as national security advisor to President Gerald Ford.

In its first report, released in April, the commission offered a wide-ranging, thoughtful, and artfully crafted compromise between the desires of the Administration and those of many members of Congress. The report denied that the United States was already facing a "window of vulnerability" to Soviet preemptive attack, a phrase and a notion that the Administration had espoused. The commission recommended proceeding with the MX in the short term, but in the longer term developing a small, mobile, single-warhead ICBM that would neither threaten nor invite a first strike. This weapon, nicknamed Midgetman, was much favored by the arms-control lobby in the House of Representatives, led by three Democratic congressmen-Les Aspin (Wisc.), Albert Gore, Jr. (Tenn.), and Norman Dicks (Wash.). In the course of debate over the MX in the House, they conditioned authorization for the MX program on the accelerated development of Midgetman.

The commission also recommended that the Reagan Administration work harder to achieve a strategic arms agreement with the U.S.S.R. that would decrease the ratio of warheads to launchers on both sides, thus diminishing the plausibility and temptation of a first strike and increasing strategic stability. In order to encourage an evolution from large, heavily MIRVed ICBMs like the MX and the principal Soviet rockets toward small, single-warhead missiles like Midgetman, the commission called on the Administration to alter one feature of its START proposal, a ceiling of 850 on ballistic missile launchers. This number had been tailored to a future American arsenal made up largely of MXs. There was, quite simply, no room under the 850-launcher ceiling for a sizable force of Midgetman-like weapons.

The Administration took the commission's advice to the extent of tinkering with some of the details in its proposal, including the 850 ceiling, but there was little sign that it was moving toward an approach that would be more likely to produce an agreement. In fact, there were some signs to the contrary. In the flurry of interagency logrolling, the Pentagon succeeded in increasing the prominence of throw-weight as a unit of account.

During the summer, it was all the more obvious that START was stalled. Pressure from the Hill began to build again, and the MX seemed more vulnerable than ever to congressional budget-cutting. The President extended the Scowcroft Commission's charter, and Scowcroft personally set about to broker a fundamentally new approach to START that would accomplish a number of goals: accommodate the Congress's desires for a sound, feasible arms-control proposal; save the MX; and, if possible, engage the Soviets in a genuine negotiation. Scowcroft was primarily concerned with establishing a framework for an arms control policy that had genuine bipartisan support and that could be sustained from one Administration to the next, without the pendulum swings that had proved so disruptive in the past.

In addition to the enthusiasts for Midgetman in the House, Scowcroft and the Administration had to take account of a powerful group of Senators who favored a so-called guaranteed mutual build-down: a plan whereby the addition of new weapons must be accompanied by the retirement of a larger number of old weapons.

The principal advocates of this scheme, which was supported in a number of resolutions passed by the Senate, were two Republicans, William Cohen (Me.) and Charles Percy (Ill.), and a Democrat, Sam Nunn (Ga.). All were advocates of arms control. They were critical of what they saw as the intransigence and unrealism of the Administration's position in START, but they were also against both the freeze and the groundswell of sentiment to kill the MX. They conceived of the build-down as a moderate alternative to the freeze; it would allow the United States simultaneously to reduce and to modernize its arsenal.

Thus the build-down was consistent with the Administration's own professed commitment to reductions in arms control and to modernization in its strategic programs. Its advocates contended that the build-down was actually more true to the goal of reductions than the Administration's own START proposal, which would have permitted a vast proliferation of cruise missiles and thus quite likely have yielded a net increase in strategic weapons by the 1990s. Under the build-down scheme, cruise missiles would be subject to reductions as well as ballistic warheads.

The build-down acquired considerable support in the Senate not just because of its conceptual merits, but because, like the de-MIRVing or Midgetman scheme, it filled a vacuum. The Administration had not been able to come up with an arms-control policy that had broad support, and partly for that reason, its rearmament program was foundering. The Congress stepped in and offered ideas that seemed to make sense for both halves of national security, diplomacy and defense.

Scowcroft found himself in the middle of a negotiation busier and more complicated than anything going on in Geneva. He had to help the advocates of Midgetman in the House and the enthusiasts for the build-down in the Senate work out a joint position, then quietly try to induce the Administration to accept a synthesis between that common congressional approach and some extensively modified version of START.

As it happened, there was already a move afoot within the State Department to develop a different, and arguably more pertinent, sort of synthesis-between the U.S. and Soviet proposals on the table in Geneva. The plan, which took shape under the auspices of Richard Burt and the director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, Jonathan Howe, would have involved reconciling some version of the Soviet proposal, which featured ceilings and subceilings on missile launchers, with a parallel hierarchy of ceilings and subceilings on missile warheads and bomber armaments (i.e., bombs and air-launched cruise missiles).

The scheme had the advantage that it might have prompted the Soviets to enter into genuine give-and-take in the negotiations since it preserved elements of their own proposal and of SALT II. Precisely that feature, however, constituted an overwhelming political disadvantage. Its detractors were quick to tag it "SALT II1/2," a devastating label in the Reagan Administration.

The State Department option for a new approach to START also suffered from an accident of timing. It came to the attention of Secretary Shultz himself in August, shortly before the Soviets blew the Korean airliner out of the sky over the Sea of Japan. That incident made the Administration in general, and Shultz in particular, less inclined than ever to bend very far in the direction of compromise with the U.S.S.R.

Compromise with Congress, however, was still very much in order for the sake of saving the MX. The controversial weapon system faced a series of votes during the year and survived each by a narrower margin than before. Just as the Administration sought to shore up support for the Euromissile deployments by means of carefully timed gestures of flexibility in the INF talks, so it managed to sustain congressional support for the MX by embracing recommendations from the Scowcroft Commission and announcing cosmetic adjustments in its START proposal just before key votes.

None of those changes, however, broke the deadlock in Geneva. The only scheme on the horizon that might have accomplished that task was the State Department's SALT II1/2, and the State Department was isolated; its plan was neither widely known on the Hill nor similar to the plans favored there. Partly for that reason, those in the Pentagon, like Perle, and in the National Security Council staff who believed that throw-weight must figure prominently in START ended up dominating the Administration's side of the elaborate negotiations with Scowcroft and the congressmen. Two of Scowcroft's right-hand men-R. James Woolsey, a lawyer and former Pentagon official in the Carter Administration, and Glenn Kent, a retired Air Force general and nuclear weapons expert-were also strong believers that throw-weight must be taken into account.

After feverish consultations with the White House and with the so-called Gang of Six on the Hill (Congressmen Aspin, Gore, and Dicks, and Senators Percy, Cohen and Nunn), Scowcroft, Woolsey and Kent came up with what amounted to a new START proposal. It was called double build-down because it combined the original build-down idea-more weapons must come out of each side's arsenal than went in-with two schedules of reduction: one would require that ballistic missile warheads be lowered over time from approximately 8,000 on each side to 5,000, and another would require a similar scaling down of overall "destructive potential." The reduction of warheads might be dictated by a system of variable ratios, whereby more warheads on MIRVed ICBMs than those on single-warhead ICBMs or SLBMs would have to be removed to make room for new weapons.

Similarly, destructive potential was to be calculated in a way that aggregated bombers and ballistic missiles, but that also made missiles, especially large MIRVed missiles of the sort the Soviets favored, more costly to retain than the smaller land- and sea-based missiles and bombers favored by the United States. Thus, the formula for measuring and limiting destructive potential included incentives to develop small, Midgetman-like ICBMs and penalties for retaining large, multiple-warhead ICBMs.

There were different versions of the double build-down scheme, varying in intellectual elegance and complexity. Some had the significant virtue, in the eyes of their proponents at least, of recognizing the existence of offsetting asymmetries between the force structures of the two sides and of providing opportunities for equitable trade-offs in arms control. In that respect they were more realistic and promising than the Administration's original May 1982 approach, which put the onus of reduction almost exclusively on those weapons where the Soviets had their largest investment and discounted those where the United States was strong.

But in another respect, the double build-down in all its iterations was similar to START: the Soviets would have to give up most of the ICBMs that made up the core of their strategic forces. Moreover, because of the large throw-weight of their rockets, their missiles would "cost" more than roughly corresponding American weapons. For example, the Soviet SS-18 heavy ICBM would, under Glenn Kent's formula favored by the Gang of Six and the Scowcroft Commission, count as more than 20 units of destructive potential, while the MX, with the same number of warheads, would count as ten.11

For that reason alone, the Soviets were unlikely to accept such a scheme any time soon. There were other reasons as well. The double build-down, as much as the Administration's long-standing position, required them to abandon the structure and units of account of SALT II and of their own proposal in START. It is another fact of life of arms control that the Soviet Union is a sluggish, hidebound, suspicious partner in negotiations. Sooner or later negotiability must be a factor in the formulation of American policy and proposals-not the only criterion, to be sure, or even the main one, but a criterion nonetheless. The Soviets were sure to find it hard to abandon the old groundwork laid by more than a decade of negotiation and join the United States in a bold venture based on new concepts, calculus and vocabulary.

If the double build-down were accepted by the Soviets, the resulting treaty would unquestionably be an improvement on SALT. The plan contained what should have been attractions in Soviet eyes, particularly an American willingness to accept meaningful limits on cruise missiles.12 The build-down might have had more promise as the basis for negotiation if it had been coupled with the State Department approach: SALT II1/2 as a first stage to tide the superpowers over while the United States slowly but steadily sought to lay new groundwork for a longer-range agreement incorporating the means and ends of the build-down.

But what happened was quite different: the Administration treated the build-down as a quick fix to the immediate problem of getting MX through the year-long gauntlet of votes. The negotiations between the executive and legislative branch ended in early October with a jury-rigged compromise whereby the double build-down would not replace the START proposal but would accompany it on the table when Rowny returned to Geneva for the autumn round of talks. Woolsey was added to the START delegation in order to assure the congressmen that their interests would be represented.

The legislators, members of the Scowcroft Commission and officials of the Administration were nearly unanimous in congratulating themselves and each other for having truly achieved a bipartisan consensus. A few even claimed that now the President had the basis for an arms control agreement that could definitely be ratified by the U.S. Senate. The episode was a triumph not only of the outsiders over the insiders, but of domestic politics over diplomacy. Jimmy Carter had, according to his critics, worried too much about getting SALT II negotiated and too little about getting it ratified. Now the American leadership, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, had gone to the opposite extreme.

The legislative branch of the government had, in effect, fired the executive branch for gross incompetence in arms control; then the legislators had dictated the substitution of their own proposal for the Administration's; then they had conspired with the Administration to put the best possible face on what had happened, covering up the nature and depth of the fractiousness that remained.

There were those in the Administration who saw the old START proposal as the real one and the build-down as an ornament to placate the Hill. The Gang of Six hoped that the build-down would become the real proposal and that the original START approach had been retained only as a sop to the Administration. The Soviets were justifiably confused, although they quickly made clear, in diplomatic channels and in press commentaries, that they regarded the double build-down as unacceptable. Viktor Karpov, the chief negotiator, said that the build-down, as much as the old START proposal, would have the effect of "emasculating" the U.S.S.R.'s strategic forces. The State Department, meanwhile, harbored hopes that neither half of the hybrid position on the American side of the table would turn out to be the ultimate proposal and that SALT II1/2 still had a chance.

The United States quite simply no longer knew what it wanted in strategic arms control, much less how to get it.


As 1983 came to an end, the prospects were dim for an upturn in the fortunes of arms control in 1984. If anything, the approach of the presidential election at home and the continued hand-wringing over deployment in Europe increased political pressure on the Administration. But there were fewer channels in which it could move even if it was inclined to do so-and greater obstacles in the channels that remained.

One indication of foreign concern was the personal initiative launched by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau of Canada in November and December. Mr. Trudeau has always been both an idealist and a canny politician, in proportions varying from time to time, and in official Washington's eyes the initiative seemed to stem at least partly from his faltering political position as Canada looked to its own 1984 elections; he had weathered some controversy over his willingness to let the United States test cruise missiles in Canada.13 But he pressed ahead with a round of visits designed to elicit ideas and, apparently, to stir up international pressure for progress. It was an effort not likely to produce concrete results, but certainly symptomatic of much foreign sentiment that the impasse was an extremely serious matter and that not all the fault lay on the Soviet side.

The Europeans pressed hard for Secretary Shultz to meet with Foreign Minister Gromyko at the Conference on Disarmament in Europe (CDE) at the end of January 1984. Shultz was willing to oblige, but more out of deference to the allies than out of expectation that anything substantive could be accomplished. Multilateral European arms-control enterprises, such as CDE and the Mutual Balances Force Reduction talks between the Warsaw Pact and NATO in Vienna, were hostage to the superpowers' bilateral negotiations over INF, and by the end of the year, MBFR had been suspended.

The Europeans hoped that even if the INF talks as such could not be resumed, they might be merged into START. That way, the Soviet advantage in intermediate-range weapons might be subject to trade-offs against intercontinental arms, and the sticking point of the British and French nuclear forces might also be resolved or finessed. But the Administration resisted that possibility, at least in the near term. In November, the White House decided that a merger would only make it easier for the Soviets to work mischief and exert pressure on the allies in START just as they had in INF; therefore the Administration was inclined to oppose merger even if the Soviets suggested it.14

Another presidential decision at the end of the year cast a shadow over the viability of arms control in the longer run. In December, Reagan approved a major increase of funds for research and development on means to defend the United States against nuclear attack. He believed the United States should move toward realizing the vision of a comprehensive, space-based system of strategic defenses that he had unveiled in his March 23 "Star Wars" speech. A step in that direction, he believed, was a step away from relying for deterrence on offensive weapons that threatened catastrophic civilian destruction and very possibly global suicide as well.

To many, however, the President's decision seemed to bring the superpowers closer to the militarization of space and a surge in the vicious spiral between offensive and defensive competition. Here may have been another lost opportunity for arms control. Andropov had called in April for an international agreement banning weapons in space and the Soviet Union circulated a draft treaty at the United Nations. In August, Andropov declared a unilateral moratorium on Soviet launches of anti-satellite devices. The United States showed little interest in these initiatives. The Administration had at least tentatively concluded that on the so-called high frontier of satellite-killers and space-based strategic defenses, it must give priority to catching up where necessary and staying ahead where possible by dint of American technological superiority: here was a lane in the arms race where the United States could win.

Yet even the Administration's top military scientist, Richard DeLauer, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, had pointed out on May 18, about six weeks after Reagan's Star Wars speech, that the proposed defensive system could be overcome by Soviet offensive weapons unless it was to be coupled with an offensive arms control agreement. "With unconstrained proliferation" of Soviet warheads, said DeLauer, "no defensive system will work."

Yet at the very time that the Administration decided to press ahead with the Star Wars concept, constraints on Soviet weapons contained in SALT were eroding; and the START negotiations are going nowhere. Moreover, despite Administration disclaimers to the contrary, an all-out research and development program on military space technology would surely bring the United States sooner or later into violation of all the nuclear arms-control agreements still formally in force between the two countries, the 1972 SALT I Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which prohibited the development, testing and deployment of ABMs in space, as well as the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty and the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

Thus, on the high frontier, as in the more down-to-earth arena of intermediate-range and strategic offensive arms, the timing of Administration policy was as ominous as its substance was dubious: a buildup of the military competition seemed to coincide with the breakdown of arms control.

2 The designation INF was introduced during the Reagan Administration; earlier the accepted term in the West had been Theater Nuclear Forces, or TNF. The Soviets had their own term: medium-range nuclear forces in Europe. For the sake of simplicity, INF is used throughout this article, both for the weapons and the negotiations.

3 The five NATO members due to receive new American weapons were Britain, West Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.

4 This view was expressed by Paul H. Nitze, before his appointment as negotiator, in "Strategy in the 1980s," Foreign Affairs, Fall 1980, p. 98.

5 The Soviet assertion of a balance was not only disputed by Western analysts-it suffered from the fact that the Soviets continued to deploy SS-20s even as they proclaimed a moratorium. In December 1979, at the time of the NATO decision, the U.S.S.R. had roughly 140 SS-20s deployed; by the time the Reagan Administration entered the INF talks, there were 230; a year later, 315; by the end of 1983, there were 360. In their rebuttal to the charge that they were ahead and still not quitting, the Soviets claimed that the SS-20s were merely replacements for old SS-4 and SS-5 missiles that were being retired and that some of the new SS-20s were in Asia, therefore out of bounds for European arms control.

6 See Yuli A. Kvitsinsky, "Soviet View of Geneva," The New York Times, January 12, 1984, p. A31.

7 What this rather subtle and complex feature meant in practice was that the United States would keep back in the United States a certain number of warheads to offset those that the Soviets had on their SS-20s in Asia. If the Soviets were so inclined, they might regard this as a promising American concession, since it would allow them a way of keeping Asian weapons that might be formally counted under the agreement but that were not matched by U.S. weapons in Europe; it also might allow them to claim, on their own, that the differential between the total number of weapons they were allowed under an INF agreement and the number of new weapons NATO actually deployed represented some sort of compensation for the British and French forces. The Soviets were not, however, so inclined.

8 There were 162 British and French ballistic missile launchers, a few on land and the rest on submarines. Hence the earlier Soviet offer to reduce the European SS-20s to 162. The new offer of "about 140" was based on the apparent willingness, which the Soviets had been hinting at for some time, to match the British and French missiles warhead for warhead rather than launcher for launcher. By the Soviets calculations, there were 434 warheads on the British and French missiles, although the actual number was considerably lower. A reduced force of 144 SS-20s with three warheads each would approximately equal the British and French forces on that basis.

The good news in this Soviet initiative was that it suggested the U.S.S.R. was now willing to limit warheads rather than launchers, something the Reagan Administration had been advocating all along. The bad news was that the British and French were modernizing their submarine-launched missiles, adding multiple warheads. The effect of the Soviet proposal, if adopted, would be either to stop the British and French modernization program in its tracks or to allow the Soviets to build up their SS-20s as that program went ahead.

9 "INF: Progress Report to Ministers," prepared for Allied foreign ministers and defense ministers by a Special Consultative Group of NATO, December 8, 1983; available from U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Washington.

10 For a thorough account of the evolution of the pastoral letter, see Jim Castelli, The Bishops and the Bomb: Waging Peace in a Nuclear Age, New York: Doubleday, 1984.

11 For an excellent argument in favor of the build-down approach, including a somewhat simpler and arguably more negotiable version of it, see Alton Frye, loc. cit. footnote 1.

12 The Administration's rather tentative embrace of the build-down seemed to be limited to air-launched cruise missiles. Some proponents of the build-down urged the inclusion of sea-launched missiles, large numbers of which are now in prospect on the U.S. side. The range and capabilities of these would appear to make them "strategic" by any reasonable definition.

14 The Soviets had always linked START and INF insofar as their proposed reduction was conditioned on no deployment of the Pershing IIs and GLCMs. Once deployment began, the Soviet START delegation in Geneva put the U.S. negotiators on notice that the Kremlin would reassess and revise its proposal, probably by adding a new subceiling, and very likely a prohibition, on intermediate-range systems that could reach the territory of the other side. That would apply to the American missiles in Europe but not to the SS-20s.




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  • Strobe Talbott is Diplomatic Correspondent of Time magazine. He is the translator-editor of Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs and the author of Endgame: The Inside Story of SALT II. His history of the START and INF negotiations will be published by Alfred A. Knopf later this year.
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