12/08 – The INF Treaty

Secretary General Gorbachev (L) and President Reagan (R) sign the INF Treaty. (DOD)

On this day in 1987, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and American President Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF. The treaty was a significant step towards cooperation and disarmament between the two Cold War superpowers. Under the treaty, all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles and all weapons with a range between 500 and 5,500 km (310-3,420 miles) were banned.

Starting in the late 1970s, the Russians had employed an intermediate-range missile launcher called the SS-20 Saber. The weapon – which was nuclear capable – was truck-mounted and capable of striking targets in North America from anywhere in the Soviet Union. In response, NATO adopted the “Dual Track” policy, where member nations would ramp up their own arsenals of ballistic (nuclear capable) missiles if the Soviets failed to cut back their own supply. The initiative failed, and the 1980s became one of the most tense periods in the Cold War. But with Gorbachev’s takeover of the USSR in 1985, a bit of a thaw occurred. The new premier recognized the need for reform within the crumbling Union, and knew that a continued arms race would bankrupt his country. His talks with the US president eventually led to the INF, and the end of the Cold War. By 1991, both nations had eliminated nearly 3,000 of their missiles. The INF was a huge leap of faith, exactly the kind of brave and decisive action required to end the absurdity of the Cold War stalemate.

In response to perceived threats from China, and possible treaty violations by Russia, the United States withdraw from the INF in 2017. The withdrawal from such a significant and meticulously-planned treaty signalled a new era of dangerously carefree nuclear policy.

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