Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Evan Burke
March 22, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Soviet Inspection of American Pershing II Missiles in 1989. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On December 8th, 1987, Ronald Reagan, President of the the United States of America, and Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The treaty required the eradication of ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,000 kilometers, their launchers and associated support structures within three years after it entered force. [1] The treaty also established on-site inspections in both countries (Fig 1). These inspections, in effect for 13 years, served to monitor the deconstruction of intermediate-range arsenals by allowing each side to count the other's missiles, launchers, and support structures and ensure proper closeout of facilities at which INF activity was ceasing. [2] This was a milestone in US-Soviet relations as it was the first treaty in US history that permitted US inspectors on Soviet soil. [3] The US received the right to station inspectors continuously at the former SS-20 facility at Voktinsk while the USSR could do the same at a Pershing missile factory in Magna, Utah. [2]

Negotiations on Intermediate-Range nuclear weapons came about for two reasons. One was the Soviet deployment of mobile, highly accurate, intermediate-range nuclear warheads known as SS-20s to which NATO had no equivalent. The second was a European fear that the US would be unwilling to risk nuclear attack on its own soil to defend Europe, which had developed over the negotiations of the SALT II talks during the administration of President Carter, Reagan's predecessor. [2] NATO relied on a theory of strategic coupling for its European nuclear defense, meaning that an attack on a member of the organization risked not only an appropriate nuclear response from that country, but also an attack from US-based systems. The emergence of the SS-20s challenged this philosophy, as European countries feared that their own short-range missiles that could not touch Soviet territory would be insufficient deterrents, and that the US, in the event of a nuclear attack in western Europe, would be unwilling to respond with an attack of their own. [3] NATO modernized its own nuclear arsenal in response to this new Soviet threat and deployed Pershing IIs and ground based cruise-missiles that could reach Soviet territory in Western Europe in 1979. [2] While deploying these new missiles as a deterrent to Soviet aggression, US diplomatic efforts were simultaneously concentrated on forging an agreement with the Soviet Union that would mandate the destruction of this new class of intermediate-range missiles, including the SS-20s and Pershing IIs. The INF treaty was the result of these efforts.


Over time,controversy over nuclear weapons has faded from the international limelight, in part because of the breakup of the Soviet Union not long after the treaty was signed. However, at the time, the INF treaty was a landmark achievement and its effects continue to be seen to this day. The nuclear presence in Europe was significantly reduced, and the treaty lay the groundwork for more comprehensive nuclear disarmament agreements like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). [3] As the first nuclear arms control agreement of its kind between the US and the USSR, the INF treaty was also a significant breakthrough in foreign relations between the two countries, and was a harbinger of the end of the Cold War. [3]

© Evan Burke. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] G. McK. Kinahan, "Ratification of START: Lessons from the INF Treaty," J Soc. Polit. Econ. Studies 14, No. 4, 387 (Winter 1989).

[2] L. E. Davis, "Lessons of the INF Treaty," Foreign Affairs 66, No. 4, 721 (Spring 1988).

[3] R. Gottemoeller, "Looking Back: The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty," Arms Control Today 37, No. 5, 41 (2007).