Stemming the Tide: Arms Control in the Johnson Years
What will historians say when they start writing about the 1987 INF Treaty, and about the disarray into which it threw the Western alliance? Continuing dissent over the treaty is either genuinely designed to clarify certain issues about verification or, as some commentators suggest, to delay or even frustrate ratification by the Senate. NATO, too, has not as yet resolved its problems about the post-INF “restructuring” of its remaining and vast arsenal. But however these matters are sorted out, and whatever aspect of the story on which historians may choose to concentrate, the signing of the treaty will emerge as a watershed in international relations and a moment when the nuclear strategies of both East and West were exposed in all their nakedness. My guess is that most scholars will conclude that the specific provisions President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev agreed upon—to dismantle and destroy costly nuclear rockets—were the least important outcome of the long negotiations in which the two had been engaged. Some will judge that what was more significant was that agreement was reached despite the powerfully nurtured belief that the Russians can never be trusted, that they would never allow a sufficient measure of intrusive on-site inspection to satisfy the critics that they could be trusted—not that people such as Senator Jesse Helms could ever be satisfied. No doubt there will be a few who consequently ask whether the issue of “verification,” of which so much has been made in the arms-control negotiations of the postwar years, has not been exposed for what it has sometimes seemed—a political smoke-screen to hide the fact that one or the other side never wanted the negotiations to succeed.
Other historians may regard as more significant the fact that the agreement revealed the emptiness of the previously held belief that it was necessary to deploy particular categories of nuclear armaments in order to deter one side from attacking the other or, if it came to war, to match nuclear blow with nuclear blow. That was the view that General Bernard Rogers, NATO’s Supreme Commander until June 26, 1987, had repeatedly expounded. As he saw it, INF weapons with a range of 300 to 3,400 kilometers—the ones to be eliminated under the treaty—were essential to the security of the Western powers. It did not matter what the Russians did with their SS20s. Were NATO’s Pershing IIs and cruise missiles to be removed, compensatory additions would have to be made to the West’s nuclear armory.
Bernard Rogers was repeating the doctrine of an earlier Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). During the late Fifties and early Sixties, General Lauris Norstad was SACEUR. He also wanted INF weapons—then styled Medium Range Ballistic Missiles. He had the support of President Eisenhower and the State Department. But the European partners of the US failed to see any military jutification in what was being proposed. The decision twenty-five years later to deploy cruise and Pershing IIs …