Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bilateral Relations: Washington Summit - Gorbachev was willing to go much further than the Americans expected

Previously secret Soviet Politburo records and declassified American transcripts of the Washington summit 20 years ago between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev show that Gorbachev was willing to go much further than the Americans expected or were able to reciprocate on arms cuts and resolving regional conflicts, according to documents posted by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

The postings include the internal Soviet deliberations leading up to the summit, full transcripts of the two leaders’ discussions, the Soviet record of negotiations with top American diplomats, and other historic records being published for the first time.

The documents show that the Soviet Union made significant changes to its initial position to accommodate the U.S. demands, beginning with “untying the package” of strategic arms, missile defense, and INF in February 1987 and then agreeing to eliminate its newly deployed OKA/SS-23 missiles, while pressing the U.S. leadership to agree on substantial reductions of strategic nuclear weapons. Gorbachev’s goal was to prepare and sign the START Treaty on the basis of 50 percent reductions of strategic offensive weapons in 1988 before the Reagan administration left office. In the course of negotiations, the Soviet Union also proposed cutting conventional forces in Europe by 25% and starting negotiations to eliminate chemical weapons.

The documents also detail Gorbachev’s desire for genuine collaboration with the U.S. in resolving regional conflicts, especially the Iran-Iraq War, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Nicaragua. However, the documents show that the U.S. side was unwilling and unable to pursue many of the Soviet initiatives at the time due to political struggles within the Reagan administration. Reading these documents one gets a visceral sense of missed opportunities for achieving even deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals, resolving regional conflicts, and ending the Cold War even earlier.

The documents paint the fullest declassified portrait yet available of the Washington summit which ended 20 years ago today and centered on the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – the only treaty of its kind in actually eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons. By eliminating mainly the missiles based in Europe, the treaty lowered the threat of nuclear war in Europe substantially and cleared the way for negotiations on tactical nuclear and chemical weapons, as well as negotiations on conventional forces in Europe.

Under the Treaty, the Soviet Union destroyed 889 of its intermediate-range missiles and 957 shorter-range missiles, and the U.S. destroyed 677 and 169 respectively. These were the missiles with very short flight time to targets in the Soviet Union, which made them “most likely to spur escalation to general nuclear war from any local hostilities that might erupt.” (Note 1) These weapons were perceived as most threatening by the Soviet leadership, which is why the Soviet military supported the Treaty, even though there was a significant opposition among them to including the shorter-range weapons.

The Treaty included remarkably extensive and intrusive verification inspection and monitoring arrangements, based on the “any time and place” proposal of March 1987, which was accepted by the Soviets to the Americans’ surprise; and the documents show that the Soviets were willing to go beyond the American position in the depth of verification regime. The new Soviet position on verification not only removed the hurdle that seemed insurmountable, but according to then-U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Jack Matlock, became a symbol of the new trust developing in U.S.-Soviet relations, which made the treaty and further progress on arms control possible.

The documents published here for the first time give the reader a unique and never-previously-available opportunity to look into the process of internal deliberations on both sides and the negotiations both before and during the summit in December 1987

Documents can be accessed HERE