Valued commenter Gin & Tonic asked if I plan to write on the end of the INF Treaty. I hadn’t intended to – there’s an enormous amount of good commentary (Twitter threads here and here) on it – but as I thought about it, I have some thoughts beyond the standard commentary.
First, an overview of the situation.
The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty was concluded between the US and the USSR in 1987. Both countries had been emplacing missiles in Europe in such a way as to dangerously shorten the warning time for a nuclear attack on Europe or Moscow. The treaty banned a whole class of missiles and largely ended the nuclear terrors of the early 1980s.
John Bolton despises arms control treaties. His rationale seems to be that the United States should give up no scrap of sovereignty for any reason whatsoever, and agreeing to limit nuclear weapons is an unjustified violation of sovereignty. Donald Trump has no idea of treaties, but if there are going to be treaties, they should only be the greatest treaties that only he could negotiate.
Russia has been violating the INF Treaty for several years now. In my opinion, the Obama administration should have tried harder to meet with Russia over the violations and resolve them. But they didn’t. All treaties have provisions for dealing with alleged violations, and the INF Treaty was no exception. But neither the Obama administration nor the Trump administration took that path.
In addition to Bolton’s hatred for treaties and Trump’s narcissism, others have suggested that China’s increasing military power justifies leaving the treaty so that the US can build missiles to use in a war against China. It’s hard for me to write that with a straight face. A US war with China is highly improbable, and that such missiles would be useful is moreso. That’s all I’ll say about that in this post.
And, of course, there is the influence of the defense industry and academic types who like to see yet another way to blow things up. So the treaty ended yesterday.
That’s the overview. The INF Treaty has some emotional overtones for me that I think have more general reverberations.
As the INF Treaty was developing, various parts of the government, particularly the military services, were looking at how to dispose of the Pershing II missiles that would be brought home. Treaties like this have massive implications for action and require coordination across the government, which is why Trump’s belief that all it takes is a handshake and some love letters between him and another head of state is so absurd.
At the same time, I was leading a program on a method of destroying hazardous wastes. The Air Force was interested in it for destroying the propellant in those missiles. So I had to learn about the treaty and how the military made contracts and lots of other things.
It was my introduction to arms control. At the same time, the Chemical Weapons Convention was coming into force, and they were interested in my program too. So I learned about chemical weapons.
Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed the INF Treaty. By 1987, there were demonstrations, ostensibly for environmental issues, in the Baltic States, where Gorbachev’s ideas on perestroika and glasnost would be used as a cover for development of political parties. The Soviet Union would be gone in four years.
One of the features of the INF Treaty was mutual inspections of the destruction of the missiles. Soviet inspectors came to the US, and American inspectors went to the USSR. This was more intrusive than earlier arms control treaties had been. Since then, mutual inspections are assumed as part of arms control. The next step would have been actual counting of warheads. But then Donald Trump was elected.
Those mutual inspections, and Gorbachev’s and Reagan’s willingness to open their nuclear weapons work up, even a little, also led in another direction.
Underground nuclear tests were still being done in the 1980s, and both sides wanted calibration data so they could measure the other’s tests more accurately. In the Joint Verification Experiment, Soviet team came to the Nevada Test Site to measure an American explosion with their instruments, and an American team took their instruments to the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site.
I was close organizationally to some of the participants in the Joint Verification Experiment, and they came back from Kazakhstan enthusiastic about working with their Soviet colleagues.
Treaties do more than regulate numbers of weapons. In order to verify a treaty – to be sure that the other side is doing what it says it will do – numbers are exchanged, and sites are visited. People from both sides get together in regular meetings. They work with and get to know each other and the other country. They get out of their bubbles.
A manager at the Hercules plant in Utah, where the Pershing II missiles were destroyed, told me a story about the Soviet inspectors who came to witness the destruction. He showed them around the city to orient them. They balked at the supermarket.
“Please show us where you actually buy groceries. This is obviously one of your show stores.”
“This is where we buy groceries.”
The inspectors learned something about America that they hadn’t known.
The trust built that way allowed the US nuclear weapons laboratory directors to be on a plane to Russia a little more than a month after the Soviet Union was dissolved, to work with their colleagues and bring a great many of us along eventually to help deal with the now-insecure state of the Soviet nuclear weapons enterprise.
And that cooperation went well too.
Vladimir Putin’s nationalism and kleptocracy, along with George W. Bush’s abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty (with Bolton’s help) ended much of the cooperation. A tiny bit of cooperation continues on securing nuclear materials, and I am sure that there are individual points of cooperation, although I haven’t heard much about them for some time.
What happens next? I think predictions of an arms race are overblown. The Russian missiles that violated the INF Treaty are real, but other weapons Putin has bragged about are in the future or nonexistent. (See nuclear-propelled cruise missile, for example.) The US Secretary of Defense has said that steps toward production of our cruise missiles will begin immediately, even if there is no mission for those missiles. (He didn’t say the last part, I did.)
The New START Treaty, which limits numbers of deployed (ready to go) nuclear weapons and provides for extensive data exchanges, expires in February 2021, with an option to extend for five more years. Since Russia and the US have not been negotiating it, extension is the only choice, and work on that needs to start yesterday. Since the US has been willing to take the mantle of withdrawing from the INF Treaty, Russia will feel it appropriate to tack on other issues, like sanctions, to any New START negotiations, which will make them more difficult. But we won’t know for sure until we negotiate. John Bolton would be happy to see New START go down the tubes too.
The worst part of what is happening is that connections that were built are being severed and new connections are not being built. We know less about Russia, and they know less about us. Fewer individuals have seen up close that folks on the other side are a lot like us.
Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner
As I have thought before, everything Trump touches is the worse for it. He has the reverse Midas Touch, perhaps even with money. Why hide his taxes if they would display his business acumen.
You could say this about almost any subject.
Thanks for the thoughtful write-up.
Now, on to Flori-duh Woman… ?
I’m imagining that typing Trump and acumen of any kind in the same paragraph renders one both speechless and laughing one’s ass off at the same time.
Grocery stores and pharmacies – my favorite way to check the zeitgeist when traveling.
John Bolton and baby dick Cheney, the smiling faces of the grift that is the mic.
Cold War, I hardly had a chance to miss ye.
@Ruckus: Absolutely! My tongue was so far in my cheek, I wouldn’t have been able to talk!
@laura: Whenever I think about how the Cold War ended, I remember that people in the Soviet Bloc countries didn’t have access to bananas! Some leader from Romania or somewhere was amazed by the bounty of American produce departments, and mentioned bananas particularly!
Mike in NC
Putin whispered in Fat Bastard’s ear and convinced him to spend hundreds of billions on useless missiles, to the detriment of our economy. Nothing more complicated than that.
I suspect that nowadays, Russians are most likely to be impressed with the level of surveillance and the amount of data collection and analysis conducted by supermarkets. Which will only increase when Amazon takes over the grocery business.
But, seriously, I think the INF treaty is an artifact from an earlier era– ‘Trust, but verify’ is not the Way of Trump.
Thank you for this personal take.
And speaking of Cheney, now we have Liz being promoted by the Republican party.
The nanosecond the Wyoming senate seat opened up, strobelights and klaxon horns went off in the Cheney Strategery and Doom-planning Bunker. “We have a Cheney in the Senate” was declared, and celebratory virgin blood cocktails served.
She’s a special kind of awful. And her status and power are about to increase by an order of magnitude.
The absolute best thing GHW Bush did in office was this.
Fewer nukes is not just the best policy, it’s the only policy.
I’m sure this is fine.
Thanks, Cheryl, good to know.
She’ll be the republican presidential nominee in 2024.
@leeleeFL: Yes, they had no bananas.
The company I was working for in the 90s hired a Russian programmer, and after months waiting for his visa, and at the end spending weeks literally camped out at the airport so he could go immediately when it arrived, he finally got here.
The company had arranged an apartment for him, and one of our admins was helping him get settled in. They went to the grocery store, and in the vegetable section, he was trying to ask something. His English was not great, and in addition to a heavy accent he had a long ago broken nose that made him even harder to understand. After a while, she figured out he was asking what day he had to come to the store to get vegetables like this. When she told him they were there every day, he practically broke down and cried.
Thanx for this Cheryl, quite instructive. I had to laugh at this:
Back in the ’80s some Russian cavers came over to see how our karst differed from theirs (a lot warmer) and they had the exact same reaction of utter disbelief at our grocery stores.
What a fascinating poat, Cheryl, thank you. I had no idea we were still detonating nukes underground in the 1980s.
A lot of great progress has been thrown away. Twitler’s love of dictators might be a blessing in disguise. He would never nuke his good friend Vlad.
@Mary G: The last American underground nuclear test was in 1992.
Here’s a great visualization of all nuclear tests over time.
Has anyone in the administration or the military put forth any reason for this, other than the laughable “because China”?
Bolton hates treaties, and Trump hates anything that tells him he can’t do whatever he wants, even if he/we get something in return. (And he thinks it’s no big deal to casually talk about using nukes.) Is this just a thing that Republican hawks have always hated, so they’re getting rid of it while they have the chance? Are they even making a pretense of a justification?
In addition to the obvious awfulness of it in practical terms, the whole thing makes me sad. Bolton and his ilk remain certain, in the face of all evidence, that soft power, trust, and respect count for nothing, and if you have the biggest bombs, everyone will fear you and have to do what you demand.
35 years ago today, one man saved us from world-ending nuclear war
On September 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov saved the world.
(An article from last year)
Thanks for writing about this Cheryl. In my early life I was a nuclear missile launch officer on ground launch cruise missiles based in the U.K. I was proud of this and considered trying to get into arms control work when I left the military. I actually ended up going into healthcare policy work. It’s truly disheartening that 25 years later we seem to be going backwards in arms control and it’s just another symptom of the dangers of the right wing obsession with dominance and specifically military dominance. Coming from a military family, I used to believe the US was a force for good in the world. It’s impossible to believe this now. Truly sad about this development.
I recall that Senator Obama got strongly involved with efforts to help secure nuclear resources within the former Soviet Union. I suppose that might be one big reason Trump wants to undo such controls.
Insane. How is California even standing?
Back in the 80s I knew 2 Russian immigrants. One was a large diesel truck engine mechanic who worked in the shop next to our machine shop and the other owned the hot truck that came by every day for lunch. The two of them got into a discussion one day about the +/- of the two different governmental systems and life therein and it was interesting that the business owner was amazed with the opportunities that existed here and the mechanic thought that he would be better off in Russia and was thinking of going back. It took about 20 seconds for the lunch truck owner to totally shut down the mechanic, render him speechless. And the gist was that unless you were an extremely high up party official in on the grift and corruption there was nothing better in Russia.
Not a good example for our conservative grifters about the systematic differences……
Anyone who wants to work in NatSec should have to sign a simple oath: if they decide to start a nuclear war, then their families are immediately rounded up and shot. Not “if they start one and lose”, if they start it at all. They should know with absolute certainty that the first casualties of the war they’re choosing to start are their own.
Of course they would never sign – these men are cowards. They’d kill a billion people over there to avenge a hangnail.
@Matt: I’m reminded of Roger Fisher’s idea:
@debbie: That’s the Nevada Test Site, northwest of Las Vegas.
@Mike in NC: I was so glad when [family-blog] General Curtis LeMay died, but his descendants have stayed in government and are now in the ascendant. John R. Bolton is a lunatic and has dozens of allies and supporters throughout the bureaucracy. These [family-blog] idiots actually think America will win a nuclear war, and that after the (radioactive) dust has settled America will then rule a wonderful world where we will be rich and everyone else will be poor. They have never seen war and have no idea what nuclear weapons do. Yes, Fortress America is protected by oceans on both sides and huge friendly neighbors on north and south, so we cannot be occupied, but many warheads are going to reach their targets in America. Even if none do, it only needs about 20 devices the size of Hiroshima to produce a nuclear winter that will kill off most humans on Earth, and in a first strike we would likely use several thousand.
@OldDave: I guarantee there would be people clamoring to become President so they could get to stab that guy.
Thanks, Cheryl! I was hoping you’d weigh in on this.
I think that if you mention supermarkets in the 1980’s and the like, you should mention the followup. I think that by 1990 or so most educated Russians knew that basic living conditions were typically much better in the West – the supermarkets here had lots of food, and so on. There was an expectation that, if and when the Communist regime was removed, conditions would rapidly improve. Instead, in what I regard as one of the greatest strategic blunders of all time, living conditions under Yeltsin rapidly and severely degraded. This happened under the advice of the Chicago school of economics, and IFAICT is widely assumed in Russia to have been intentional, an attempt to remove Russia from the ranks of the great powers. Regardless of intentions, this was blamed on the West, and serves as the foundation of Putin’s power.