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

Five U.S. INF Criteria. In preparing extensive U.S.-NATO military consultations, the Department of Defense and the INF Interdepartmental Group took the lead by establishing five key INF criteria, all blessed by Reagan early in his Administration. These were: 1) equality in limits and rights; 2) strictly bilateral U.S.-Soviet (i.e., exclude UK and French systems); 3) limitations on a global basis; 4) no adverse effect on NATO’s conventional defense capabilities; and 5) effectively verifiable.

NSC Meeting—October 1981. Extensive Interdepartmental Group work was undertaken in the months before the INF negotiations were to start on November 30, with Paul Nitze as the U.S. Ambassador, or head of delegation. NSC 22—Meeting on Theater Nuclear Forces on October 13, 1981 revealed a measure of Cabinet consensus as well as significant differences on the path ahead. The declassified notes report general interdepartmental agreement on:

(1) . . . a phased, comprehensive approach that seeks reductions to the lowest possible levels on land-based TNF missiles . . . (2) . . . equal limits for like systems, and these limits must be global; (3) we will negotiate only U.S. and Soviet systems and will not even compensate for these Allied systems . . . (4) we will insist on stringent verification procedures that will almost certainly go beyond National Technical Means (NTM). More specific elements include IG [Interdepartmental Group] agreement that: (1) Soviet SS–20’s, 4’s, and 5’s must be limited and that here must be also constraints on shorter systems, including SS–21’s, 22’s, and 23’s; (2) warheads on launchers will be the unit of account; (3) we want to ban refires.6

Unresolved Issues. Issues identified at the meeting as remaining to be resolved included: 1) levels of reductions (i.e., ceilings and floors); 2) limits on shorter-range INF missiles; and 3) verification issues. Other differences emerged on the TNF-SALT (or INF-START) relationship, such as: potential aircraft limitation discussion (which the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned about); and newly strengthened verification requirements, with Secretary of State Haig warning about: “Allied perception that we are scuttling the talks at the outset by insisting on verification criteria the Soviets are unlikely to accept; we must treat the Allies gingerly on this matter.”

 Historical Background on the U.S. “Zero Option.” As the October 13, 1981 NSC discussion continued, Reagan asked the participants about a U.S. “zero option,” an option not explicitly on the table and fraught with far-reaching policy implications. Such an option had been recommended in the spring of 1981 as a possible Reagan initiative by two NSC and Department of Defense officials. It would involve a radical U.S. “zero-zero” redefinition of NATO’s agreed “lowest possible levels” policy and of the “zero” U.S. INF missile deployment demand inherent in Soviet moratoria and Nuclear Freeze Movement proposals. The officials were greatly concerned about a U.S. bureaucracy, Congress, and NATO alliance increasingly appearing to lean toward a “freeze” or “floor” that would cancel any NATO deployment plans and would undercut Reagan’s new arms control strategy that included effectively verifiable steep Soviet arms reductions to lower and equal U.S.-Soviet levels of capability.

The officials reasoned that the U.S. should take the moral and diplomatic high ground for truly meaningful arms control. After communicating with their superiors, they proposed a “close-hold” look at eliminating the most potent INF missile systems and the most destabilizing Soviet INF “first-strike” forces. The U.S. would consider trading its potential and/or actual U.S. Pershing and GLCM counter-deployments in exchange for the total Soviet elimination of its SS–20, SS–4, and SS–5 INF missiles.

Moving to “Zero-Zero.” The proposed move from Double-Track to Double-Zero was seen by its proponents as a revolutionary win-win U.S. and NATO policy change that would assure either unprecedented, verifiably deep reductions to equal levels or would renew fast-eroding European support for INF modernization. If accepted by the Soviet Union at the negotiation table, the U.S. “zero-zero” could set an important arms control precedent of highly asymmetric reductions to the point of eliminating a higher number of deployed Soviet systems in exchange for a U.S. pledge not to deploy any Pershing or GLCM missiles in the future. It would also be far simpler to verify a zero level than any numerical limit, especially for mobile missiles such as the SS–20s. If, on the other hand, the U.S. “zero-zero” was rejected by the Soviets, this would highlight the truth about the unilateral nature of the Soviet SS–20 missile build-up; the lack of any actual required Soviet arms reductions in the Soviet “moratorium” and Western “nuclear freeze” proposals; and the traditional Soviet opposition to any real reductions in arms. Exposure to such realities would encourage Western resolve to sus-

[Book pg. 245]