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

“parity,” even as unilateral Soviet strategic and INF buildups continued. Soviet and “freeze” pressure was also in tune with 1970s U.S. (e.g. Mansfield Amendment). Congressional demands (largely from Democratic Party leaders) for large unilateral U.S. withdrawals of troops and weapons from NATO. With anti-INF pressure increasing during the 1980 U.S. election year, the Carter Administration faltered in its NATO defense and arms control policies, notably on INF and Carter’s self-inflicted “neutron bomb” controversy (see Chapter 6).

By October 1980, further SS–20 deployments brought the Soviet INF ballistic missile warhead total for SS–20s, SS–4s, and SS–5s to about 900, while the U.S. remained at zero, with the first potential U.S. GLCM or Pershing deployments still three years away from potential deployment. Yet Soviet leaders continued weekly deployments of new SS–20s while claiming “parity” and “balance” and accusing the U.S. of conducting a nuclear “arms race.” With the approach of the November U.S. national election between Carter and Reagan, Soviet propaganda fanned global fears about new nuclear war threats from NATO and Reagan.

European Divisions and Changing Politics—1979–1980. With this Soviet pressure and the growth of the nuclear freeze movement, support for the second NATO track of potential new INF deployments dropped in the streets and parliaments of NATO countries including the U.S. In West Germany, Social Democratic Party (SPD) Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was rejected by his own party and forced to resign because of his continued full support of the NATO decision, even while the opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its leader Helmut Kohl, continued supporting NATO. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher supported NATO’s decision. In the Netherlands and throughout Western Europe, anti-INF opposition mounted in fractious parliamentary debates and angry mass demonstration that often involved hundreds of thousands of people in national capitals and at U.S. military bases. Absent effective U.S. leadership from President Carter, anti-INF and anti-U.S. Soviet propaganda gained political momentum throughout Western Europe, notably including societies experiencing the illusory Socialist-Communist parliamentary partnership efforts known as “Euro-Communism.” At the same time, however, the confidence crises taking place in the Western democracies also brought forward principled anti-Communist leaders and future Reagan allies like Thatcher and Kohl who were determined to take the lead in their nations and NATO to defend peace and freedom.

A Soviet Misjudgment about a Reagan Election Victory and New Cold War Strategy. During the U.S. election year 1980, the Soviet regime appeared to expect Carter’s reelection in November, and Carter was ahead in the national polls as late as August. The Soviets agreed to U.S.-Soviet INF arms control discussions to start in September 1980 in Geneva, possibly wanting to enhance Carter’s diplomatic image and election chances. Yet, while the Soviets stepped up their anti-INF propaganda, Carter fell far short in the nationally televised presidential debates and his economic and foreign policy failures became more obvious.

The Soviet Union, like Reagan’s domestic “politically correct” opponents, caricatured Reagan as a right-wing warmonger. Having underestimated his election chances, the Soviets also misjudged the nature and potential effectiveness of a Reagan Revolution that would quickly begin to restore U.S. and allied economic and military strength, confidence, and diplomacy. The Kremlin had long exploited the faltering strategies of U.S. establishment leaders who would not fully take on the Soviet Union’s aggressive ideological and imperial challenge. The totalitarian apparatchiks did not anticipate that Reagan, his supporters, and U.S. allies could change the terms of the Cold War conflict to expose and overcome moral and military asymmetries, including those relating to Intermediate Nuclear Forces.

2. Reagan Decides on the “Zero-Zero” INF Arms Control Option—November 1981

During the post-election presidential transition following Reagan’s November 1980 election, and increasing after Reagan’s inauguration in January 1981, pressure rose among Reagan’s opponents in Congress, NATO, and within the U.S. bureaucracy to “face reality.” In the contentious INF area, this meant he was urged to end the 1979 “dual track” policy of U.S. INF missile deployments—to accept the Soviet SS–20 deployments at current levels and to leave a “zero” level for the United States and NATO. Such a “zero,” also pushed by the Soviet Union and winning support in Europe, was comparable in its unilateral impact to the “nuclear freeze” advocated to block INF and other U.S. nuclear force modernization programs without eliminating massive recent Soviet deployments. As the Soviets continued their weekly SS–20 deployments, Brezhnev declared in February 1981 that “there is approximate equality now.” But to the consternation of the Soviet Union and “freeze” supporters, Reagan in March 1981 reaffirmed his support for NATO’s dual track decision.

[Book pg. 242]