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1981

The United States and U.S.S.R. open talks to reduce intermediate-range nuclear forces

Representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union open talks to reduce their intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe. The talks lasted until December 17, but ended inconclusively.SALT I (1972) and SALT II (1979) reduced the number of strategic nuclear weapons held by the two superpowers, but left unresolved the issue of the growing number of non-strategic weapons-the so-called intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. By 1976, the Soviets began to update their INF systems with better SS-20 missiles. America’s NATO allies called for a U.S. response, and the United States threatened to deploy cruise and Pershing II missiles by 1983 if no agreement could be reached with the Soviets concerning INFs.However, by 1981, the situation changed. No-nuke forces were gaining strength in western Europe and there was a growing fear that President Ronald Reagan’s heated Cold War rhetoric would lead to a nuclear showdown with Europe as the battlefield. The United States and U.S.S.R. agreed to open talks on INFs in November 1981.Prior to the talks, President Reagan announced the so-called “zero option” as the basis for the U.S. position at the negotiations. In this plan, the United States would cancel deployment of its new missiles in western Europe if the Soviets dismantled their INFs in eastern Europe. The proposal was greeted with some skepticism, even by some U.S. allies, who believed that it was a public relations ploy that would be completely unacceptable to the Soviets. The Soviets responded with a detailed proposal that essentially eliminated all of the INFs from Europe, including French and British missiles that had not been covered in Reagan’s zero option plan. Of course, such a plan would also leave west Europe subject to the Soviets’ superior conventional forces. Neither proposal seemed particularly realistic, and despite efforts by some of the U.S. and Soviet negotiators, no compromise could be reached. An INF treaty would not be signed until December 1987, when President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev finally hammered out a plan acceptable to both sides.

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