Chapter 11- Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) Deployments and "Zero Option" vs. "Nuclear Freeze"

was ultimately accepted when on December 8, 1987 in Washington D.C. Mikhail Gorbachev signed an INF Treaty draft strengthened by subsequent negotiatiated and changed final Soviet agreement to Reagan-style data and verification requirements set by the U.S. Senate. It achieved ratification on May 27, 1988

1. Historical Context: Soviet SS–20, NATO’s “Dual Track,” and “Nuclear Freeze” Before Reagan

As in other key areas of U.S.-Soviet Cold War conflict during the 1970s détente period, the Soviet Union’s build-up in INF forces was aggressive and unilateral.

The Carter Legacy. During Jimmy Carter’s term as U.S. president from 1977 to 1981, the U.S. and its NATO allies decided as an important gesture of “détente” to carry out unilateral U.S. withdrawals of 1,000 nuclear-armed INF Thor and Jupiter ballistic missiles and nuclear artillery pieces from Europe. During the same period, the Soviet Union increased NATO-Warsaw Pact nuclear force asymmetries by deploying a new class of long-range INF (LRINF) ballistic missiles, designated as SS–20s, as well as new INF/strategic Backfire bombers and new submarines. At the same time, the Soviets also increased their conventional and chemical force advantages by deploying new armor, artillery, aircraft, ships, and chemical systems in quantities far beyond NATO’s, which were useful in supporting Soviet intimidation policies and the Soviet “first strike” attack doctrine directed against Western Europe (see Chapter 14).

Soviet SS–20 Deployments Begin—1977. The Soviet INF buildup began in Carter’s first year as President, in December 1977, with new SS–20 ballistic missiles at the rate of one triple-warhead missile per week. The SS–20s brought an order-of-magnitude increase in Soviet INF capabilities compared to the 350 older Soviet INF ballistic missiles that had shorter ranges and less powerful, less accurate warheads. The older deployed missiles included 315 SS–4s with a 1,900 km range and 35 SS–5s missiles with a range of 4,100 kilometers, all silo-based with one nuclear warhead each.

SS–20 Capabilities. In contrast with the older Soviet SS–4s and SS–5s, the SS–20 missiles were not fired from silos, i.e., from static fixed targets. They were instead mounted on mobile launchers that could be readily moved by truck or train to concealed prepositioned sites from which the missiles (including extras or “refires”) could be launched rapidly. An SS–20 could fly at 17,000 kilometers per hour to deliver three exceptionally destructive, independently-targetable nuclear warheads on targets 4,400 to 5,000 kilometers away. Their reach covered all of Europe and large swaths of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

SS–20s as “First Strike” Weapons. As very fast, very high-flying ballistic missiles, the SS–20s existed in the face of the 1972 ABM Treaty ban on national anti-ballistic missile defenses (see Chapters 5 and 13). In addition, the SS–20 warheads had a strategic-level nuclear destructive power of over 200 kilotons (many times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb). The power, accuracy, and numbers of these warheads would have been sufficient to destroy NATO’s hardest fortified missile silos and deep-underground command bunkers, of which NATO had far fewer than did the Warsaw Pact. In sum, the Soviets were rapidly expanding their “prompt hard-target killing,” or “first strike” INF capabilities. Together with the expanding Soviet strategic force capabilities, including the new SS–18 land-based Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), the SS–20s demonstrated an annihilating Soviet nuclear first strike capability against NATO.

Reagan and the U.S./NATO Allies did not have, and did not seek or try to match, the destabilizing Soviet first-strike capabilities deriving from the power, accuracy, and numbers of the land-based ballistic missile systems that were to become the focus of Reagan’s INF arms control proposal. Regional sea-based ballistic missiles, which the Soviets long sought to bring into the INF talks, were fired from moving ship platforms and were both too small and inaccurate to destroy the Warsaw Pact’s hundreds of silos, bunkers, and other hard targets. In addition, they were far more difficult to monitor than land-based systems. The West’s cruise missiles, however launched, were slow subsonic systems subject to potential detection and shoot-down by aircraft or anti-aircraft defenses.

The SS–20’s Regional Impact in Europe on NATO’s “Flexible Response Doctrine.” The “first-strike” threat of the expanding SS–20 missiles directly challenged NATO’s core “flexible response” nuclear doctrine, designed to deter, and if necessary to respond, to attack from superior regional Soviet nuclear, conventional or chemical/biological forces. As detailed in Chapter 14, the existing force asymmetries in Europe greatly
                                                                                                                        [Book pg. 240]