The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed by President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev on December 8, 1987, is certainly a success if measured against the West’s proclaimed arms control objectives during the 1980s. In the face of opposition from both the Soviet Union and West European peace movements, NATO carried out its 1979 decision to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in five West European countries. Later, after the deployment was completed, NATO succeeded in securing Soviet agreement to all of its arms control goals, including the global elimination of Soviet SS-20 missiles and acceptance of very intrusive verification measures.

Nevertheless, the INF treaty has provoked considerable unease in the West, by its provisions as well as by its implications for the future. Will NATO’s strategy of flexible response remain credible? Will the imbalance between conventional forces in Europe now become more dangerous? Will the treaty unleash political forces leading to the denuclearization of the continent and American disengagement from NATO? It would be both ironic and tragic if this NATO success became the vehicle for a future alliance crisis.

The story of the negotiation of the INF treaty is well known. What is important now is to consider the critical lessons of the INF experience.


The INF saga began in the late 1970s as a result of two West European worries. First, the Soviets were deploying new SS-20 missiles, which were mobile, accurate, equipped with multiple warheads, and targeted on Western Europe. Second, the Americans were ignoring European interests in negotiating the second Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) Treaty, seeking limits only on the nuclear threat to the United States. President Carter’s inept handling of the neutron bomb affair in 1978 exacerbated European concern, rekindling doubts about the American commitment to Europe and the credibility of the American nuclear guarantee.

Finding it difficult to address these underlying doubts directly, West Europeans and Americans focused on confronting the expansion of the Soviet nuclear threat to Europe and the deficiencies in the U.S. nuclear arsenal in Europe. In 1979 NATO decided to modernize its nuclear capabilities by deploying 572 Pershing 2 and ground-launched cruise missiles, and simultaneously to begin negotiations to reduce the Soviet SS-20 threat.

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, and that only a new generation of INF missiles could provide such an assured capability. Because of their range, these missiles would also allow the United States to threaten the Soviet Union without immediately subjecting its territory to an all-out nuclear war. Critics of the INF deployment, on the other hand, suggested that the missiles were provocative and could undermine deterrence by theoretically permitting the United States to confine a war within Europe and to postpone or even avoid using its strategic nuclear weapons.

Underlying the 1979 decision was also the view that an American willingness to use its nuclear weapons would depend importantly on the location and type of nuclear weapons—hence the attraction of missiles based in Europe, compared with strategic weapons based at sea. An alternative view is that a decision to use nuclear weapons will be based on how Americans assess their interests and vulnerabilities rather than on the particular kind of nuclear weapon system. How one judges the strategic consequences of eliminating all U.S. INF missiles therefore depends in large part on which of these competing theories one believes. Supporters of the treaty argue that NATO’s strategy of flexible response does not depend on any single weapon system.

The missiles represented a response to the political and military situation at the time. But their deployment created such serious divisions over nuclear weapons within many West European countries that NATO may in the future find it desirable, or even necessary, to look for alternatives to new U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe to assure the credibility of the American nuclear guarantee.


Soviet actions played a central role in the INF drama. Without the prior Soviet deployment of the SS-20s, NATO would almost certainly not have decided to deploy American INF missiles. After 1979 the Soviets undertook a varied but sustained campaign to prevent the U.S. deployment and, although their initial tactics failed, the Soviets succeeded in the end through the INF treaty. What changed was not their objective but their willingness to pay the U.S. price.

The Soviets initially sought to persuade Western publics that NATO, by introducing new INF missiles, was upsetting the balance of forces in Europe. They claimed that a rough equivalence existed if U.S. forward-based aircraft and British and French nuclear systems were included in comparative calculations of strength. They called for a freeze on new INF deployments but showed no willingness to give up their own sizable monopoly. When the first U.S. INF missiles were deployed in 1983, the Soviets walked out of the Geneva negotiations and announced that they would station SS-12 missiles in East Germany and Czechoslovakia. After negotiations resumed in 1985, Secretary Gorbachev—to most everyone’s surprise—changed tactics and over the next two years acquiesced, in turn, to American demands for an agreement covering missiles and not aircraft, to establishing equal ceilings, to eliminating all INF missiles in Europe, to excluding limits on British and French nuclear forces, to including collateral constraints on shorter-range missiles, to banning INF missiles in Asia, and to requiring on-site inspections.

The Soviets were obviously determined to prevent the United States from deploying any INF missiles in Europe. Moscow argued that the missiles were destabilizing because of their long range and accuracy and, in the case of the Pershing 2, because of its short flight time. How seriously the Soviets viewed this threat is difficult to assess, particularly as U.S. strategic nuclear weapons pose a similar threat. A long-standing Soviet goal, however, is for the United States to withdraw all its nuclear weapons from Europe. The eventual Soviet willingness to eliminate all its SS-20s suggests that this was the overriding Soviet motivation. Soviet strategic nuclear weapons and medium-range aircraft can threaten all the targets currently covered by their INF missiles. Nevertheless, under the treaty the Soviets will destroy hundreds of existing ballistic missiles, thereby removing the threat that initially provoked the 1979 NATO decision.

The Soviets certainly saw opportunities for creating divisions in the West through their INF initiatives. Their intransigence in the years leading up to the U.S. missile deployments, their walkout from the negotiations and their attempt to link INF with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in the end all failed to destroy NATO’s solidarity. But it was a close call, and the political debate in Europe over INF has left serious wounds. Finally, Gorbachev probably saw the treaty as a means to enhance his international stature, to promote political and economic relations with the West and perhaps to free up, over time, resources in the Soviet Union for his economic reform.

The INF experience has shown what a formidable challenge the new Soviet leadership poses for the West and has demonstrated Gorbachev’s personal skill and dexterity as a participant in Western public debate. He succeeded in putting the West on the defensive through his initiatives, even though he was the one making concessions. The treaty also shows that the Soviets, to promote their fundamental objectives, were willing to pay a high price; the West must be prepared for the possibility that the Soviets will agree to radical Western demands. As for Soviet strategic objectives, the INF experience suggests that there has been no significant change, for through the treaty they have taken a step toward their goal of removing all U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.


The NATO decision in 1979, called the dual-track decision, involved parallel modernization and arms control policies. Implicit was a bargaining chip theory: NATO’s missile modernization program would provide the foundation and leverage for achieving an arms control agreement; arms control, if successful, could at the same time modify the requirements for the modernization program.

Such a mixed approach was new for NATO. Politically there was really no alternative, as the Reagan Administration learned in 1981 when its reluctance to proceed with negotiations helped provoke mass public demonstrations in Europe. But Western political leaders, particularly President Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, believed that arms control would not succeed without the INF deployments. The public debate focused on whether multilateral negotiations or unilateral restraint best promoted peace. Within NATO, the issue was whether arms control talks should be given a chance before any firm decision was made to deploy. In both debates, the INF missiles became inseparably linked with arms control.

Some critics of the dual-track decision suggest that missile deployments were held hostage to arms control and Soviet manipulation. It is true that, by proposing negotiations, the West gave the Soviets a voice in determining whether the missiles would be deployed. The critical point is that the Soviets did not have the final say, because the 1979 NATO decision committed member governments to deployments unless arms control succeeded. In 1983, when the Soviet Union blocked progress in Geneva, the missiles were deployed; in 1988 they will be eliminated because the Soviets agreed to NATO’s conditions. The bargaining chip approach worked.

The dual-track decision also represented a change in the responsibility of West Europeans for U.S. nuclear weapons and arms control policies. NATO collectively defined the elements of the modernization program as well as the overall negotiating objectives. Only after the NATO decision did the United States commit funds for the development and procurement of the INF missiles. As a result, four years elapsed before deployment, which many have criticized as providing too much time for public opposition to arise. Yet it is simply not possible to have both a real European role in decisions on new weapons and instant U.S. implementation.

However, the United States had responsibility for the actual negotiations, and at various times it took initiatives that left West Europeans with little choice but to agree. The most important was taken during the 1986 Reykjavik summit, when President Reagan retreated from his position that all INF missiles should be eliminated and agreed in principle to remove the INF missiles in Europe while leaving 100 SS-20s deployed in Asia. Few in Europe actually cared about the Asian deployments, but Reagan’s step effectively foreclosed any possibility of an agreement that would permit some U.S. INF missiles to remain in Europe.

The lesson seems to be that nuclear modernization and arms control policies in the West are inevitably linked, politically as well as substantively. This means the West will be vulnerable to Soviet manipulation, however formal or informal the link. That vulnerability was reduced in the INF case because the decisions on the two tracks were reached and implemented collectively by Americans and West Europeans.


NATO’s principal problem during the debate over INF was its inability to agree on a consistent set of strategic and arms control objectives. The INF missiles were in the first instance a response to Soviet SS-20s and the political and military challenge they represented. For some, the missiles were simply a symbol of the American political commitment to defend Western Europe. Others argued that the missiles would fill a gap in NATO’s land-based long-range nuclear capabilities, taking over some of the tasks of dual-capable aircraft and thereby augmenting NATO’s conventional capabilities. American strategists were attracted to the flexibility of these missiles and their capability for militarily effective and discriminate nuclear strikes: the projected survivability of the missiles would promote stability by reducing pressures on both sides to preempt. And the opportunity which they presented for wide allied participation in their basing in five West European countries was seen as a major political attraction.

Discussions in NATO’s High Level Group of senior defense officials failed to produce a more precise strategic rationale that was acceptable to both West Europeans and Americans. Everyone could agree that NATO’s nuclear weapons aim to deter an attack by posing the threat of an incalculably costly response. To be credible, the enemy must view these weapons as militarily capable of inflicting those costs. But it is difficult to devise plausible scenarios for using nuclear weapons in Europe, and no one expects that a nuclear war could be "won" in the classic military sense. Some commentators saw the missiles as serving the military objective of repelling an invasion. Others posited a political objective: to demonstrate to the adversary the immediate and potential costs of continuing to fight, with the hope—though not the assurance—that he would reconsider his goals and stop fighting. Questions then arose as to whether the new missiles were to threaten primarily the SS-20s or some other types of military targets. The High Level Group simply enumerated multiple rationales and strategic objectives for the INF missiles. Political leaders in Western Europe and the United States found it easiest to sell the INF missiles as a response to the SS-20s.

As a result, the 1979 decision was ambiguous as to the precise relationship between its modernization and arms control tracks. If the strategic rationale was to reduce deficiencies in NATO’s capabilities, then modernization was necessary regardless of the SS-20 deployments. But if these Soviet missiles were the stimulus, then arms control could provide a solution through reductions. The language of the 1979 decision itself tilted strongly toward the former argument, but in response to pressures from the West Germans and Dutch, it included the "theoretical possibility" that arms control could provide an alternative to any missile deployments. More recently, advocates of the treaty, not surprisingly, have emphasized the latter position.

In 1981 the Reagan Administration, with strong support from the West German government, proposed that the West’s arms control objective be the worldwide elimination of INF missiles. This "zero option" had many attractions. It was dramatic, it responded to public opposition to INF missiles, and it put the Soviets on the defensive. It committed the Reagan Administration to arms control negotiations at a time when it preferred simply to build up the West’s arms. The zero option was easy to explain and radical in its goal. No one seriously thought the Soviets would agree, so few worried about the strategic implications. But simultaneously with achieving a consensus on its arms control objectives, the West defined, by implication, the strategic rationale for the INF missiles: to respond to the SS-20 missiles.

European governments were always uneasy about the zero option, but they were never in a position to challenge the strong commitment of the Reagan Administration. Prior to 1983, setting a level other than zero would have had the effect of committing them to some deployments, come what may. It was easier to sell the missiles on the basis that they might not be necessary. That possibility remained attractive to European publics even after 1983, though the peace movements were highly skeptical. European leaders could not afford politically to be in favor of less arms control than President Reagan. They also feared that any criticism they might make could jeopardize his support for the negotiations themselves. Nevertheless, many privately hoped for an agreement leaving some U.S. missiles in Europe.

Opportunities later arose for the West to return to arms control objectives consistent with the other strategic arguments for the INF missiles. From 1983 to 1986 the West pursued an "interim" goal of reducing INF missiles to as low a level as possible. But in 1986, when Gorbachev offered to eliminate all Soviet SS-20s in Europe, the West was trapped. President Reagan did renew his call for a global ban, but this tactic did not in the end provide an escape from the zero option. For the Soviets simply refused to agree to any U.S. INF deployments.

In short, if the West now believes that the elimination of INF missiles undermines its strategy, it has only itself to blame for wasting six years of opportunities to revise its negotiating objective. The most important lesson of the INF experience is an obvious one: that the West should think in advance about the strategic as well as political implications of its arms control proposals. Simplicity in strategic rationales and arms control proposals will be attractive when responding to Soviet initiatives and public pressures. But dangers will arise when the West’s arms control policies are inconsistent with its strategic requirements. In arguing that the INF treaty is a success because it has eliminated a whole class of nuclear weapons on both sides, the West now risks undermining public support in the future for strategies requiring the retention of some nuclear weapons irrespective of Soviet deployments and for less radical arms control proposals—specifically for options above zero.


Political imperatives were primarily responsible for the West’s other major objectives in negotiating the INF treaty. The British and French governments were adamant in their opposition to any inclusion of their nuclear forces. Despite certain sympathies on the left in West Germany and the United States for Soviet demands in this regard, NATO refused and the Soviets acquiesced. NATO solidarity was essential, but the Soviets probably also concluded (as they had in past SALT negotiations) that gaining constraints on U.S. nuclear forces was the more important goal.

The West’s strategy does not require it to match the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons, and the NATO program of 572 INF missiles was far below the projected number of Soviet SS-20 missile warheads. But politically the West had no choice but to seek equality of rights and limits in any arms control agreement. The INF treaty not only established equal ceilings of zero, but required that the Soviets make much larger reductions—especially since the U.S. deployment was by no means completed.

The Reagan Administration, having accused the Soviet Union of violating previous arms control agreements, insisted upon very intrusive verification measures, and in this sense the treaty represents an extraordinary success. The Soviet Union agreed, albeit only at a very late stage in the negotiations, to an extensive exchange of data, far more detailed than in any previous treaty or negotiation. The data will cover the locations, numbers and technical characteristics of each side’s intermediate- and shorter-range missile systems, and will be updated after the treaty enters force, as well as when the systems are removed from declared sites and destroyed.

The treaty provides for a specific number of on-site inspections of declared sites in the territory of the United States, the Soviet Union and their allies. These inspections will allow each side to count the other’s missiles, launchers and support structures, to observe their destruction, to determine that no more are left, and (for 13 years) to check formerly declared facilities on short notice to ensure that no missiles have secretly returned. Each side will also have the right to station resident inspectors to monitor continuously a location where INF missiles have in the past been assembled, for the United States the SS-20 facility at Votkinsk and for the Soviet Union the Pershing missile facility at Magna, Utah.

The verification provisions are extremely detailed and include a schedule for reductions, procedures for removing the nuclear warheads and destroying the missiles, a description of the rights and responsibilities of the host and inspecting nations, and cooperative measures to ensure that no SS-20s are concealed within SS-25 garages. A Special Verification Commission will also be established to resolve problems relating to treaty compliance.

The verification regime will not remove all uncertainties or guarantee that the Soviets are not hiding INF missiles. The U.S. intelligence community does not know how many spare missiles the Soviets actually have. Short-notice inspections are limited to declared sites known to have housed the missiles. They cannot be required for any merely suspect site. The veteran arms negotiator, Paul Nitze, acknowledged that "only ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspection without a possibility of refusal would provide hope of such a guarantee, and we believe ceding the same right in the INF treaty to Soviet inspectors on our territory is not in our interest." In fact the United States backed off its initial sweeping inspection demands (put forward in the context of a proposed agreement allowing some INF deployments, production and testing) in order to protect sensitive facilities in the United States and Western Europe. Although some clandestine stockpiles of non-deployed systems are possible, the inability to test or train with these missiles would make secret retention of them militarily unattractive. According to Nitze, the verification provisions in the INF treaty aim to prevent the Soviets from moving beyond the limits in a militarily significant way without being detected.

The INF treaty, at the West’s behest, spares the nuclear warheads and guidance systems of the missiles. Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) has asked why the treaty does not eliminate "the part of nuclear weaponry that kills people and destroys property." The answer is that the United States wanted to recover the nuclear material and safeguard secret information about the warhead designs.

The West also resisted Soviet pressures for a restrictive non-circumvention provision. The treaty simply states that the parties "shall not assume any international obligations or undertakings which would conflict with its provisions." One should nevertheless expect that the Soviets will continue to argue—as they have already begun to do—that NATO’s modernization of its nuclear forces undermines the spirit, if not the letter, of the treaty.

A lesson of the INF treaty is that questions concerning nuclear weapons can no longer be debated and decided in the secrecy of NATO meetings. Publics became actively involved, and Western governments had to win their support. Critical to the West’s success in the negotiations was NATO’s solidarity and its success in persuading Western publics of the validity of its arguments. Whether the various precedents can be sustained in future negotiations will depend upon the circumstances, for the Soviets can be expected to renew their objections.


The INF treaty singles out for elimination all land-based missiles of a specified range, once again accomplishing the West’s goals of giving priority to the SS-20 threat and of reducing the complexity of the negotiations. The problem is that nuclear weapons of intercontinental range and those of shorter range, if in the right location, constitute an almost identical threat.

For this reason, NATO was particularly anxious in 1979 for SALT II to be ratified and for reductions in strategic nuclear weapons to accompany any limitations on INF. But Soviet-American differences over the future of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty have blocked progress in Strategic Arms Reductions Talks. While Gorbachev periodically sought to link the INF treaty with achieving constraints on SDI, he acceded in 1987 to the West’s preference to proceed separately. As a result the Soviets have thousands of strategic warheads which can threaten the same targets in Western Europe as those previously covered by the missiles being eliminated.

When tabling the zero option, the United States included collateral constraints on shorter-range missiles (with ranges of 500-1,000 kilometers) to prevent the Soviets from circumventing an INF agreement through a shorter-range deployment in Eastern Europe. Subsequently the West indicated a preference for equal global ceilings on shorter-range missiles at unspecified levels. By the same logic, the United States should have proposed constraints on the residual short-range missiles (ranges less than 500 kilometers), but instead called for a commitment to further negotiations.

Gorbachev initially resisted Western efforts to limit shorter-range missiles. But once again the West’s proposal provided him with the opportunity to promote his goals of ridding Europe of U.S. nuclear weapons and of creating divisions within NATO. He proposed a global shorter-range ban, including the destruction of American warheads on the 72 West German Pershing 1A missiles. U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz favored the global ban on U.S. and Soviet shorter-range systems, as the Soviets had over 350 deployed missiles and the United States none. He let it be known that a West European rejection of a global ban would need to be accompanied by a commitment to deploy new U.S. missiles instead. West Europeans, and especially the West Germans, faced competing pressures. They were anxious to reduce the Soviet threat, but they were worried about the strategic implications of eliminating another category of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. In the end, public support for the "double-zero" option and prospective opposition to new U.S. missiles proved decisive. They really had no choice but to agree.

As for the West German Pershing 1As, the United States argued that these were third-party systems with U.S. warheads, and neither were subject to limits in the INF treaty. But West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, responding to both domestic and Soviet pressures, agreed to dismantle the launchers "with the final elimination" of U.S. and Soviet INF missiles. Separately and outside the INF treaty, the United States made a commitment that the warheads would be subject to the procedures specified in the Protocol on Elimination. In both these cases, serious strains developed within the West. The agreement also established the dangerous precedent of a bilateral Soviet-American agreement including a separate understanding on third-country nuclear forces.

Because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of distinguishing between missiles carrying nuclear warheads and those with conventional warheads, the treaty bans both. In return for the West’s giving up the possibility of new conventionally armed missiles, the Soviets will destroy over 300 of their deployed shorter-range missiles. In light of the fact that worries about the threat posed by these and short-range Soviet missiles had over the past few years led some to recommend that NATO deploy an antitactical ballistic missile, the banning of all INF missiles seems to be to the West’s advantage. It does, however, set a precedent for banning conventionally armed missiles in future nuclear agreements.

Over the course of the negotiations the West accomplished all its objectives. The political and military reasons for each of these can be explained by the circumstances at the time, and they remain persuasive. To reject the treaty now would risk undermining the public support which the West achieved for its strategic and arms control policies, and that public support is far more important to the credibility of the West’s strategy than any INF missiles. Nevertheless, the worry now is that the net effect of the INF treaty may serve the longer term strategic goals of the Soviet Union more than those of the United States—hence the sense of unease.


Drawing the correct conclusions from the INF experience is certainly important, but the West does not have the luxury of calm reflection. The treaty has provoked a debate over how best to promote peace and security in Europe over the next decade. Americans and West Europeans are both questioning past strategies and approaches.

Americans have always been ambivalent about the central role nuclear weapons play in NATO’s strategy. Most recently this has been manifested in calls by liberals for pledges of no first use and by conservatives for new nuclear weapons capable of limited and discriminate attacks. Putting aside the controversy over SDI, President Reagan reflected the preference of many Americans in seeking to make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete" and in suggesting during the Reykjavik summit the possibility of eliminating all nuclear weapons. Support is also increasing for reductions of American troops in Europe because of constraints on defense spending, frustration with West European defense efforts, and a desire to protect American interests in other parts of the world.

West Europeans are anxious about these developments and critical of many American foreign and economic policies. Once again they are searching for ways to promote their own military as well as economic cooperation. The Western European Union (WEU) has been revived, and in its recent "Platform on European Security Interests" called for "a more cohesive European defense identity." The French and West Germans have formed a Council on Defense and Security to coordinate defense policy and are planning to establish a joint army brigade. The British and French are considering cooperative programs on nuclear as well as conventional weapons, and they are studying the problems facing their nuclear forces. But many obstacles exist, and the rhetoric is still far ahead of concrete steps.

The WEU platform also affirmed the need for a strategy based on both nuclear and conventional forces, "only the nuclear element of which can confront a potential aggressor with an unacceptable risk." But West Europeans do not share a common view on the future role of nuclear weapons. Both the left and the right in West Germany favor follow-on negotiations on short-range nuclear weapons in Europe, while the British and French are strongly opposed. The INF treaty has reduced support for unilateralism among West European publics, but pressures will almost certainly arise for further reductions in nuclear weapons as the Soviet disarmament campaign proceeds.

The problem is that while Americans and West Europeans are both searching for a new approach to promoting peace and security in Europe, the West has no real alternative but to proceed on the basis of its current strategy. The Soviet Union and its allies will continue to possess large numbers of nuclear and conventional weapons, and with these they will be able to threaten Western Europe. The West too will have nuclear and conventional forces and in its military strategy will wish to have flexibility and options. American interests in Europe will remain vital, and West Europeans cannot alone provide for their own defense. Changes can therefore only be made on the margin of what is the current strategy of flexible response. Some changes are, nevertheless, inevitable.

In thinking about how best to proceed, the West needs to appreciate what the INF treaty will in fact mean for Europe. While eliminating all their intermediate- and shorter-range missiles, the United States and Soviet Union will each retain thousands of other strategic and theater nuclear weapons. These can all be modernized. The United States will have some 4,600 nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, including dual-capable aircraft, short-range missiles and artillery. Some 320,000 American soldiers are currently stationed in Europe, along with equipment for two or three more army divisions.

What is uncertain is how the West wishes to respond to growing pressures on both sides of the Atlantic to reduce reliance upon U.S. nuclear and conventional forces for the defense of Western Europe. Lacking is an overall approach defining a consistent set of strategic and arms control policies.

If the past is any guide, few will be attracted to defining an overall approach to these issues. Immediate problems always take priority. But such an approach would help the West in tackling all the specific questions now raised by the INF treaty and in responding to Gorbachev’s arms control initiatives. Even more important, such an approach could provide the basis for gaining the support of Western publics for the measures that will be required in the future to assure peace and stability in Europe.

In the absence of agreement on a new approach, Western governments are simply making pronouncements about the need for improvements in nuclear and conventional forces without any clear objectives or concept of sufficiency. In arms control, they are setting up a variety of roadblocks to future agreements. Secretary Shultz, for example, has stated that reductions in battlefield nuclear weapons cannot be made until the Soviets make large cuts in conventional forces. The risk, to draw on the lessons of the INF treaty, is that Gorbachev will seize the opportunity to promote his goal of eliminating U.S. nuclear weapons and offer such a trade. He is not likely to agree to reductions sufficient to establish an overall conventional balance. But the West will again be on the defensive, not knowing whether it favors further reductions in nuclear weapons but facing public pressures to agree.

The most important lesson of the INF treaty is therefore quite simple: the West needs to define strategic and arms control objectives which are mutually consistent and serve alliance interests. An important first step would be to design an overall approach to assuring the security of Western Europe based on new judgments as to the respective roles of Americans and West Europeans.

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  • Lynn E. Davis is a Visiting Research Fellow at Kings College, London, and was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Plans from 1977 to 1981.
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