Abstract This research paper examinesthe problem of the Soviet missiles on the European territory of the SovietUnion, that began in 1979 and continued until 1983. It tries to explain why the talks between theSoviets and the Americans failed despite the many proposals on both sides thatcould have solved the problem. The role of strategy and politics in those talksis the main element on which this paper depends in finding an answer to the problemin question.
Background: During the cold war period thetwo poles of world system, the Soviet Union and the United States, were at acontinuous game of negotiations and talks to try limit the expansion andcapabilities of each other. Thenuclear and military power of both sides created the need to limit the armsrace in order to avoid any increased tension that could lead to war. It is worth mentioning thatother arms limitation talks were in process even before the SS-20 deployment;the SALT I and SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) came as a result ofthe symmetry between the strategic forces of the Soviet Union and the UnitedStates. SALT talks began in the late 1960s. Both sides had developed massivenumbers of strategic weapons and there was a need to stop the manufacturing anddeployment of more weapons. The SALT talks called for the limitation and ban onthe production or stockpiling of different weapons. As a result of round one ofSALT, limits were placed on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), andinter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM), bombers and other weapons. Banswere placed on heavy ICBM, SLBM and other weapons.
Between 1969 and 1972 thefirst round of SALT talks (SALT I) took place and resulted in the ABM treaty. After that began the secondround of talks. SALT II 1972-1979 was a 7-year labour that “produced an armscontrol mouse” as Leslie H. Gelb a senior US Defense and State Departmentofficial puts it.
Gelb explains that the”soviets never gained military superiority against … the Americans, but itwas part of the psychodrama in America to use that issue to galvanise Americansabout this larger legitimate question of the strategic competition between …the two countries and two philosophies”. The second round of SALT talks was afailure. Ronald Regan, who carried out a clear anti-carter policy, saw that “SALT II is nota strategic arms limitation; it is a strategic arms buildup with the SovietUnion authorised to add a minimum of 3000 nuclear warheads to their alreadymassive inventory.
The Carter administration’s principle argument for ratifyingSALT II more is like ‘no one will like us if we don’t’. You know? it is time wemade … Carter understand that we don’t really care whether they like us ornot! We want to be respected!” Eventually, the SALT II treaty was submitted to the US Senate but wasnever ratified, and President Jimmy Carter removed it from the Senateconsideration in January 1980 after the Soviets had entered Afghanistan in1979. That period was one of the mostsensitive periods of the Cold War as negotiations were not leading anyoneanywhere and there seemed to be no hope of a solution. Military figures,diplomats, experts, and politicians were involved, but strategic thinking wasnot the moving force of that period of time. European Missiles Problem During the late 70s, therelation between the Soviet Union and the NATO in Europe seemed to be stable tosome extent, but the United States was not considerate of the Soviet-Americanstrategic balance of advanced nuclear capabilities of the United States’European allies in the NATO like France and Great Britain. In that context, the Soviet Union started in the late 1970s to modernizeits intermediate-range missiles. TheSoviets deployed hundreds of intermediate range missiles that were an improved version of intermediaterange ballistic missiles; they had better accuracy thanthe older missiles which carried one warhead each and were immobile. However,the Soviet new missile system in Europe could not reach American territory byany means, while the American missiles system in Europe could hit the Sovietterritory, namely Moscow region.
In thelight of the technological advancement of the American missiles in Europe andtheir accuracy, the Soviet administration found a reasonable basis for itsfears of a geostrategic imbalance that pushed them to play a pressure card onEurope by deploying their new missiles to deter the danger of the Americanmissiles in Europe. In 1976 the Soviet Uniondeployed hundreds of intermediate-range SS-20 missiles. Before that, the SS-4and SS-5 missiles that carried one warhead each and were immobile, were alreadythere on soviet territory- both in Asia and Europe- but the new developedmissiles were more advanced and could carry 3 warheads per-missile with longerrange and were road mobile. Such an advanced mobile system was seen by the NATOas a war-fighting nuclear threat and as a Soviet attempt to dominate WesternEurope. Those new missiles were capable of reaching almost any target inWestern Europe and were thus considered as a threat to European territory asthey could possibly delink NATO from the United Sates and this in turn wouldmake it difficult for Washington to reassure its allies. In this sense, thestrategic balance was altered with this deployment.
The number of Soviet intermediate-rangemissiles was approximately 600, 500 of them in Europe alone with three warheadseach, while Britain and France together had a total of 178 missiles with onewarhead each. The SS-20 could carry three warheads in addition to having amobile launching platform. The fact that those new SS-20 missiles were mobilemeant that targeting them by NATO was almost impossible. This modernization andexpansion of the nuclear missiles made the NATO feel threatened. Although thosemissiles could not reach the United States, but the United States felt alarmedas well as it was in a position where it was not capable of protecting itsAllies.
The pressure was big and theproblem of the Soviet European nuclear weapons pushed the United States and theSoviet Union to start negotiations. The negotiations process was complicatedand did not lead to any results. Negotiations It was in 1977, when the WestGerman Chancellor Helmut Shcmidt in a lecture at the International Institute ofStrategic Studies in London brought forward the issue of the Soviet deploymentof the SS-20 and called for a response on the part of the NATO. With thatdeployment and European pressure, the Americans met with the Allies early 1979to reach a clear stand, and they did agree that the NATO needed to modernizeand install its intermediate-range ballistic missiles in response to the Sovietdevelopment of USSR’s nuclear systems. On 12 December 1979, a specialmeeting for Western Foreign and Defense ministers –except for those of France–was held in Brussels. They very first point in the official text of thatmeeting is the “Warsaw Pact military build-up” which had “developed a large andgrowing capability in nuclear systems that directly threaten Western Europe.” It is obvious from the recordof that meeting that the trends of modernization and expansion in Soviet theatrenuclear forces (TNFs) worried the alliance, they “prompted serious concerns”towards the “Soviet superiority in theatre nuclear systems” as they couldpossibly subvert “the stability achieved in inter-continental systems and castdoubt on the credibility of the Alliances deterrent strategy by highlightingthe gap in the spectrum of NATO’s available nuclear response to aggression.
” In that December meeting, theministers made what came to be known as the NATO Double-Track Decision. Thisdecision implicated that the NATO would modernize its long range theatrenuclear force (LRTNF) by deploying Pershing II missiles and GLCMs with a singlewarhead each, and at the same time the NATO would hold negotiations with theSoviets to limit their theatre nuclear arms in Europe. Those negotiations had a4-year deadline by the end of which there were two options: either the soviet”threat” is eliminated diplomatically, or 572 medium-range NATO missiles wouldbe deployed in western Europe. During the whole negotiations period, preparationsby the Americans and the NATO for deployment was ongoing. Preparinginfrastructure, improving the missile system, launching system etc. all thatwas proceeding apace; Washington was at that time developing a parallel system,extending the range of West Germany’s Pershing missile while simultaneouslypushing negotiations with the Soviet Union over intermediate range missiles.
Negotiating teams were formedon both sides, the Soviet side was headed by Yuli A. Kvitsinsky, and on theother side was Paul Nitze, the chief American negotiating team. The negotiationssystem was based on the SALT talks, the negotiators held 6 rounds in total,each round was two months long. Negotiations were in a race with the 4-yeardeadline for arms control progress, but both sides looked at each other asnegotiating in bad faith so to speak. This double-track decisionstarted a wave of anti-nuclear weapons campaigns across Europe against the NATOdecision that reached their peak in 1983. People took to the streets in westernEurope demanding to end the arms race pressuring European governments to closeAmerican military basis in Europe by 1983 when the negotiations failed andWestern Governments suffered to keep the unity of the Alliance in the middle ofpublic protests and the Soviet propaganda supporting it. Suggested Solutions for the European Missiles Problem Both sides proposed possibleoptions to reach an agreement that would end this missiles crisis.
However,each and every suggestion put forward by all sides was obstructed be eithersides. By 1980, the Soviet Union suggested the “freezing” of the deploymentprocess on its side and on the side of the NATO. Later in 1981 they proposed decreasingthe number of intermediate-range missiles in Europe to 300 missiles on eachside. After that followed the suggestion of establishing an equal number ofmissile launchers in Europe conditioning that the number of the Soviet missilesin Europe would be equal to that of France and Britain together. Along with many other suggestions put forwardby the Soviets, the American administration rejected all the aforementionedproposals. On the other side, theAmericans proposed what was known as the “Zero-option”. Ronald Regan came to office in January 1981and he continued with the double-track decision and proposed the completeelimination of Soviet intermediate-range missile in Europe.
In this proposal,Ragan called for a complete disposal of all Soviet SS-20, SS-4 and SS-5 inEurope and Asia, in return the United States would not continue headway withthe preparations for the deployment of the 572 new GLCMs and the Pershing IIsin Europe, but that would not include the British and French forces as part ofthe NATO forces. This proposal was not even thinkable for the Soviets for thefacts that first, the Soviets had to dismantle all their missiles while theAmericans would only promise not to deploy the ones that they already have.Second, it would violate the principle of equality and equal security asGromyko put it. Third, this option was not acceptable because it would notinclude the French and the British forces. Many propose that Regan seemed to be trying to gain public sympathy ashe was suggesting a total annihilation of nuclear force. It did not reallymatter how many Soviet missiles were there, the Americans were trading zero forwhatever number of missiles really existed.
The Soviet side took thissuggestion to be putting sticks in the wheels since it was too clear that theSoviets would not accept it whatsoever. Another proposal that waspresented was the Zero-plus option. It was put forward by the west Germans andit indicated that the dismantling of all missiles would be preferable, butkeeping some would be acceptable also. In other words, some but not all of the SovietSS-20s would be dismantled, and some but not all of the planned NATO missileswould be deployed. Again, this solution was rejected by the Soviets, and evenwhen it was made the Americans were always stressing that the “zero” would bestill the best option to consider. Later came the “interimsolution”.
This one proposed equal ceiling for both sides at a level higherthan zero but lower than 572 on the NATO side, but still the French and Britishmissiles were not included. This ceiling was not only to be imposed on theSoviet missiles in Europe, but also those in Asia were included in the Europeanarms control. This solution was declined in a press conference conducted byGromyko with a clear restatement that unless the proposed solution would fitinto the Soviet terms they would still be rejected. Public exchange of proposalsand rejections became a casual practice, and the Soviets negotiating tacticswhich went down to small details and numbers exhausted the American side thatin his book Deadly Gambits, Strobe Talbott mentions the anecdote thatNitze took on reading the history of negotiations of Jesuits’ endeavors to talkon the part of the Poles with Ivan the Terrible. Talbott writes that “Nitzewas finding it harder to derive even the compensatory intellectual pleasure of out-arguingthe Soviets: the arguments themselves had become so familiar, tedious, andsterile; the Soviet position was becoming in some respects more subtle, inother respects more blatant, but in all respects more unyielding.” As negotiations got stuck atthe point of including the British and the French forces as NATO forces or not,two men from both negotiating teams proved to be more rational than everyoneelse. The head of the Soviet negotiating Yuli Kvitsinsky, and the head of theAmerican negotiating team took the initiative and held a meeting on their ownand set on reaching a proposal that they would later present to theirgovernments.
That package deal was later known as the “Walk in the Woods”. It calledfor an equal reduction in intermediate range forces with an equal ceiling forboth sides for submarine systems and a reduction in aircraft bombers. Theyreached a solution where the United States would not deploy the Pershing IIs,but would have a number of GLCMs, and the Soviets in their turn would haveSS-20s in equal numbers to those cruise missiles but the British and the Frenchsystems would not count. Nitze later said that his and Kvitsinsky’s goal was toagree to certain concessions that would allow for a summit meeting Brezhnev andReagan later in 1982. While the “walk in the woods” deal was never implemented,it gave many other countries hope that there could be a defrosting in the ColdWar. Nitze, was attacked by pointsout, went even beyond his instructions to work out a deal with his Sovietcounterpart, Yuli A.
Kvitsinsky, but the working document they produced was neverofficial, and also not accepted by either governments when it was passed in thebackstage. The White House was skepticalabout Nitze’s initiative, and many turned against him suggesting that he wasundermining the authority and person of the President taking on the endeavor towork individually. Interestingly enough,Nitze was of the biggest opponents to SALT II, yet he came to a leading figurewho worked wholeheartedly to make a compromise to solve the European missilescrisis. In a declassified document from president Regan’s library was found adocument which reported on the Nitze-Kvitsinsky deal. In this document, Nitze’s”unorthodox route” by going beyond the instructions given to him by PresidentRegan.
His walk in the woods with Kvitsinsky and their package deal seemed tobe undercutting the proposal toward which the Americans were negotiating towardfrom the very beginning, namely the “zero option”. Although Nitze was against SALTII ratification in 1979, he worked so hard to make negations over the Europeanmissiles problem succeed. He together with Kvitsinsky were the only ones whothought strategically. Their “walk in the woods” proposal would have solved thewhole problem before reaching the deadline, but participants in the negotioansapparently did not want that to happen. Even when the Americans yielded andconsidered taking the “walk in the woods” package deal, the Soviet reply wasthat there was no official proposal of that deal in the first place. Negotiaions where moving towarda closed end that in a dinner at Nitze’s apartment Kvitsinsky even told he wifeof one of the American delegation’s members as she was complaining how annoyingit has become moving between the United States and Geneva not knowing whenwould the negotiations end. According to Talbott, Kvitsinsky’s answer simplycame out thath the Soviet walk out would happen between November 15 and 22,which were the dates of the expected arrival of the American missiles toBritain. Looking at the details of thenegotioans, all the proposals, all the rejections and arguments, and theattitude from Nitze’s and Kvitsinsky’s strategic deal that was presented in thesummer of 1982, more than a year before the deployment, that those negotiationswere doomed to fail even before they began.
Why did the negotiations fail? With the complicated negotiationsbetween 1979 and 1983, there were many points at which the European missilesproblem could have been solved with both sides remaining satisfied. AllAmerican proposals were met by Soviet military objection because the aimed atthe belittling Soviet capacities. On the other hand, Americans viewed the Sovietproposals as a monopoly of the missiles as mere attempts to postpone thedeployment of the Pershing IIs and cruise missiles in Western Europe and todominate Europe and undermine the capacities of NATO. The Nitze-Kvitsinskypackage- could have ended the dilemma and put an end to all that nucleartension, but did not.
Eventually the talks sopped in November 1983 when the WestGerman parliament, the Bundestag approved the deployment of the Pershing IIs. Although the missiles werestill not fully ready and there were some technical problems to solve, but theAmerican administration was running toward that deadline. The deployment of theAmerican missiles was no longer a military issue but a political one aseveryone was aware that chances of war are almost null. It was Richard Burt,the Assistant Secretary of State for the European and Eurasian Affairs, whosaid that “We don’t care if the goddamn things work or not. After all, thatdoesn’t matter unless there’s war.
What we care about is getting themin”. The United States pursued thedeployment of its missile system in Europe, the Soviets walked out of thenegotiations as a result of failing to reach an agreement or even to answer thequestion put to discussion. As a counter action, the Soviet Union unilaterally announcedcancelling the suspension of the deployment of intermediate- range missiles inEurope and even worked on increasing the numbers its tactical missiles Temp-Sin Czechoslovakia and East Germany and announced the decision to develop newmobile intermediate missiles to place in them in Europe, and to relocate someof its missiles to new locations from which it can target the North-Westernparts of the United States. Ideologiesof both the Soviet Union and the United States, failed to lead to armsreduction by the end of the assigned deadline, on the contrary it led to abuildup on armaments. Both sides were aware of how things would end up and sawthe closing scene pretty much before it came, simply because they were bothaware of the path they were taking by allowing politics over-rule strategicthinking. In the European missilesproblem, politics had power over strategy, not strategy over politics.
Kvitsinsky and Nitze were the only ones to think strategically but in the endtheir solution was not adopted and they themselves ended their “relationship”on bad terms that was nothing like their walk in the woods earlier. Ironicallyenough, Moscow under Gorbachev eventually realized that it would rathereliminate the SS-20s than have to deal with the Pershing IIs, therefore bothsides ended up signing the Zero-option in 1987 which. Conclusion In that period, the SovietUnion and the United States did not manage to resolve their contradictions onthe arms race and tension through negotiations while there was an opportunityto find a compromise. Negotiators whohandled the problem of missiles in Europe managed to elaborate an agreementwhich was mutually accepted, but the governments did not accept thosecompromises. While Nitze and Kvitsinsky were artefully paving the way for astrategic solution, politicians thought the opposite and stood in the way ofany compromise.
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