Military history

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When George Shultz entered the pressroom on the evening of October 12, 1986, in Reykjavik, the secretary of state had disappointment etched in his face. Shultz opened his remarks with a strained voice. Max Kampelman, one of the American negotiators, was nearly in tears. The two leaders had come so close to a deal—and then departed empty-handed. The Washington Post carried a two-line banner headline the next morning: “Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Talks Collapse as Deadlock on SDI Wipes Out Other Gains.” Lou Cannon of the Post wrote that the summit ended “gloomily” and Gorbachev was described as giving a “bleak assessment” of the prospects for the future. But in capturing the drama of the moment, the press corps failed to grasp the long-term significance. Reagan and Gorbachev had debated, negotiated and in some cases reached agreement on the most sweeping disarmament proposals of the nuclear age. Both men realized very quickly they had reached a turning point in the Cold War. “Let us not despair,” Gorbachev told Chernyaev on the plane home to Moscow, saying he was still a big optimist.1

Gorbachev reported to the Politburo two days later that the negotiating positions of the past had been “buried” once and for all. “A totally new situation has emerged,” he said, a “new, more elevated plateau from which we now have to begin a struggle for liquidation and complete ban on nuclear arms … This is a strong position. It reflects new thinking.”2 Chernyaev quoted Gorbachev as saying in the weeks that followed: “Before, we were talking about limitations on nuclear arms. Now we are talking about their reduction and elimination.”3

Yet for all his optimism, Gorbachev knew a huge opportunity had been missed at Reykjavik. Not a single nuclear warhead had yet been dismantled, not a single treaty had been signed. Gorbachev needed results—and he felt time was slipping away. His dreams of nuclear disarmament were driven by very genuine fears of the danger. But there were other, pragmatic reasons, too. His tentative efforts at perestroika had failed to improve Soviet living conditions, and a gathering storm loomed over the economy. Oil prices tumbled in 1986, and so did hard currency revenues. The country was forced to import grain and meat and borrow heavily from abroad. A huge budget deficit opened up. Gorbachev acknowledged at a Politburo meeting: “Now the situation has us all by the throat.”4

The overriding goal for Gorbachev was to transform the Reykjavik summit talk into concrete gains that might alleviate the military burden. Gorbachev seized the brake handles on the hurtling locomotive and threw himself into bringing about real change. Internal documents and evidence from memoirs suggest that it was not at all evident to the generals, or the weapons builders, or the old guard in the leadership, how radical a turnabout Gorbachev was contemplating after Reykjavik. After Gorbachev’s report to the Politburo, the ruling body acted cautiously. They issued an instruction to the military to prepare for possible deep cuts in strategic arms. But at the same time, the Politburo considered it entirely possible the Soviet Union would remain locked in Cold War competition, that there would be no deep cuts and they would have to retaliate against Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, “especially its outer space components.” For all Gorbachev’s enthusiasm, they thought, the arms race might not end soon.5

Although the Politburo members did not see where Gorbachev was headed, Akhromeyev, the chief of the General Staff, most certainly did. Akhromeyev was above reproach by the military elite for his long service to the country, and he gave Gorbachev the cover and legitimacy he needed to attempt a radical farewell to arms.

In 1986, after helping Gorbachev with the January 15 proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons, Akhromeyev concluded that it was time to create a new Soviet military doctrine to match Gorbachev’s era.

The military doctrine was the foundation of all the assumptions, goals and preparations of the sprawling Soviet defense machine, from frontline troops to the General Staff, from research institutes to arms factories. The old doctrine declared that the United States and NATO were the main adversaries of the Soviet Union; that the Soviet Union must strive for parity with the West in weapons. In the late autumn and early winter of 1986, Akhromeyev tore up the old doctrine. This was an excruciatingly difficult moment for him, requiring a reversal of all he had been taught. “The doctrine that had existed before 1986 was an indisputable truth for me and the General Staff,” he recalled. “It was bequeathed to us by the World War II commanders … who taught and molded me and people like me, whose names we pronounce when we take an oath to serve our Fatherland! How can all this be changed? Everything I had been taught for many years in the academies, on maneuvers. To change things I myself had been teaching to the younger generation of generals and officers, for many years already. A substantial segment of our military experience, theory and practice was being ditched.”

Just after Reykjavik, Akhromeyev delivered a lecture on the new doctrine at the Academy of the General Staff in Moscow, where the best and brightest officers studied. He spoke to an elite audience, which included military specialists, professors and strategists. The changes were stark. While the United States would still be the main adversary, Akhromeyev said, “we are prepared to dismantle the mechanism of military confrontation with the United States and NATO in Europe.” While a war would still be contemplated with nuclear and conventional weapons, he said, “we stand for complete liquidation of nuclear weapons in the world.” Instead of striving for parity, he said, the Soviet Union would reduce its forces, either by agreement or unilaterally if necessary.

“While I was speaking, there was absolute silence in the hall,” Akhromeyev recalled. “The faces reflected incomprehension, bewilderment and alarm.” When he was finished, “all restraints broke loose. The decorum of our military scientists was gone! Many of them seemed to forget that it was the head of the General Staff who was speaking to them. Accusations just short of treason were hurled at me. A number of points of the report were called erroneous and unacceptable.” What had taken months for Akhromeyev to think over was delivered in about ninety minutes. “One could understand why they were in a state of shock,” he said. “I had to answer questions for another two hours.”6

A grand retreat had begun.

Right after the Reykjavik summit, Reagan was at the top of his game. In a nationally televised speech October 13 and in campaign appearances across the country before the November election, Reagan launched one of the most extraordinary—and persuasive—public relations campaigns of his presidency. He boasted that he had stood up to Gorbachev. On the campaign trail, he evoked enthusiastic cheers from audiences when he declared that at Iceland, “I just said, ‘No!’” Reagan portrayed his refusal to give up the Strategic Defense Initiative as a triumph, even though SDI did not even exist.

Soon, however, Reagan was plunged into a season of troubles. Serious questions were raised about what was actually said at Hofdi House. Gorbachev noted in a televised speech from Moscow on October 22 that he and Reagan had agreed to the complete elimination of all strategic offensive weapons by 1996.7 This seemed to differ from Reagan’s claim, in his own televised speech after the summit, that he had discussed elimination of all ballistic missiles in ten years.8 In an embarrassing moment for Reagan, the Soviets made public part of their note takers’ minutes of the summit, showing that in fact Reagan had discussed elimination of all strategic weapons. The White House reluctantly acknowledged that Gorbachev was right, saying it was a goal, not a proposal. Reagan was lambasted by critics for sloppy handling of nuclear policy. Next, it turned out he had gone to Reykjavik without consulting the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., about the sweeping proposals made to Gorbachev, nor had anyone reported back to the nation’s military leaders about what happened at Reykjavik. The joint chiefs were apparently never notified of Reagan’s July 25 letter containing the Weinberger formula for “zero ballistic missiles.” After the summit, Crowe asked the other service chiefs what they thought. “The unanimous answer was that from a national security perspective it was completely unacceptable. The chiefs were quite disturbed,” he recalled. Crowe lost sleep for several nights worrying about how to proceed.

Although Crowe feared he would lose his job, he decided to speak up at the White House National Security Planning Group meeting October 27. It was unusual for a military man to rise at such a meeting, but Crowe delivered a four-page statement. “Mr. President,” he said, “we have concluded that the proposal to eliminate all ballistic missiles within 10 years time would pose high risks to the security of the nation.” This was a bombshell—the nation’s top soldier telling the president he had risked the nation’s security by giving away too much. Crowe waited for the reaction.9

“Admiral,” the president said, “I really love the U.S. military. I have always loved it. Those young men and women do a wonderful job for our country, and everywhere I go I tell people how proud I am of our armed forces.” The meeting ended.

“If the president was angry, it was not obvious to me,” Crowe recalled later. “If he had heard my remarks, it was not obvious to me. If he simply did not wish to respond, that was not clear to me either. Nor did I know where the controversial proposal stood now.” Reagan had not only heard Crowe, but thought he had answered him. That night in his diary, Reagan wrote, “The Joint Chiefs wanted reassurances that we were aware of the imbalance with the Soviets in conventional arms & how that would be aggravated by reduction in nuclear weapons. We were able to assure them we were very much aware & that this matter would have to be negotiated with the Soviets in any nuclear arms reduction negotiations.”10 Once again, Reagan kept his eye on the very big picture and blithely skipped over the unpleasant details.

On November 4, Republicans lost the Senate majority they had held for six years. And in the weeks and months that followed, Reagan was engulfed by the biggest scandal of his presidency. The Iran-Contra affair centered on secret operations, run in part out of the White House National Security Council, in which the United States sold missiles and missile parts to Iran to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon, and then diverted some of the proceeds from the arms sales to help the Nicaraguan contras, circumventing a ban on aid imposed by Congress. The scandal went to the heart of a contradiction in Reagan’s thinking. In rhetoric, he stood tall on principles and pledged never to make deals with terrorists or the states that backed them. But in private, he could be deeply moved by individual human suffering, and sold the weapons to Iran out of his emotional reaction to appeals from the families of the American captives. The diversion of aid to the contras also reflected the wild and woolly side of the CIA under Casey, which seemed eager to launch swashbuckling covert wars against communism on every continent, blatantly disregarding laws passed by Congress. The scandal caused Reagan’s popularity at home to drop suddenly in late 1986 and early 1987. His presidency went into a deep freeze.

Gorbachev was puzzled and irritated. He thought he had put Reagan in a box at the summit. He had made an irresistible all-or-nothing offer, and he was sure Reagan would come around to accept it. Gorbachev repeatedly called it the “package”: concessions on the intermediate-range missiles and on the long-range weapons must be contingent on limiting the Strategic Defense Initiative. “We will stand on this, firmly,” Gorbachev confidently told the Politburo on October 14. “We do not need any cheap tricks, only the package.” But to Gorbachev’s consternation, Reagan gave no signs of flexibility in the weeks after the summit. “What is it that America wants?” Gorbachev asked at the Politburo on October 30. “I have more and more doubts about whether we can achieve anything at all with this administration.”11

Gorbachev also had his own troubles, especially the war in Afghanistan.12 The war had become a morass for the Soviets, and provided a fresh test of whether Gorbachev could withdraw from the military burdens he inherited. On November 13, 1986, a restless Gorbachev told the Politburo he wanted to get out of Afghanistan. “We must not waste time!” he said. “We have been fighting for six years! Some say, if we continue the same way, it may be going on for another 20 or 30 years. And this is what’s going to happen. People have raised the question: are we going to stay there forever? Or should we end this war? If we don’t it will be a complete disgrace. Our strategic goal is to wrap up the war in one, maximum two years, and pull out the troops.”

Yet, as Chernyaev recalled later, “We carried the heavy burden of Afghanistan into the new year. For all of Gorbachev’s determination to end the war … no significant steps were yet taken. And this, like the aftermath of Chernobyl, was a huge weight on all his further reform activities. It greatly restricted his freedom of political and economic maneuver, including his efforts to realize the idea of Reykjavik.”13

Another setback for Gorbachev came on his nuclear testing moratorium. The Soviet test sites had been silent for eighteen months, but the United States refused to join, and conducted some twenty tests during the period. The moratorium was good for propaganda, but it brought Gorbachev no tangible results. The Soviet nuclear weapons establishment was eager to resume explosions. On December 18, Gorbachev threw in the towel. The Soviet Union announced it would resume testing in 1987, right after the next American weapons test. Gorbachev was discouraged by having to give up one of his cherished initiatives, and dispirited at the continued signs of backsliding by Reagan on other issues.14 Gorbachev said the Iran-Contra scandal “pushes them to do it in order to save the president.” He worried about more surprises from Reagan. “We are dealing with political dregs,” he said. “One can expect anything from them.”

In December, Gorbachev approved the new military doctrine Akhromeyev had forged, but he heard grumbling from the military. “We should not become like the generals, who are trying to scare us,” Gorbachev said. “They are already hissing among themselves: what kind of leadership do we have? ‘They are destroying the defense of the country.’ They say that Ogarkov is very upset. To him it is just give, give more. Cannons should be longer!”15

With small steps, those around Gorbachev began slowly to reverse the secrecy and deceit so deeply woven into the hypermilitarized Soviet system. Fresh streams of candor began to run through the corridors of the Kremlin. The new thinking—honest, but still cautious—was evident in the detailed reference papers that Vitaly Katayev prepared for his superiors in the Central Committee defense department, especially Lev Zaikov, the Politburo member in charge of the military-industrial complex. The style of the typewritten reports reflects Katayev’s precision and background as an engineer: three neat columns across, often many pages long, each row addressing a new issue, or question. At the top, he typed “S P R A V K A,” or information.

On December 24, 1986, Katayev finished another spravka that showed he was candid—at least to his bosses in the system—about shortcomings in the Soviet military machine. In this document, Katayev carefully dissected the points in a speech made in San Francisco four weeks earlier by Gates, the deputy CIA director. Gates claimed that a radar station being constructed north of Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia, violated the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty, a charge the United States had made before in the glossy annual booklet Soviet Military Power.16 The Americans claimed the station could be used for “battle management” of a nationwide anti-missile system. This was not the case. The Soviets claimed the radar was for civilian space tracking. This was also not true. In fact, it was a permitted type of radar for early warning against missile attack, but the Soviets had put it in a prohibited location. The treaty said that early-warning radars could only be built around the periphery of a country, facing outward. The Soviet leaders had put this radar station inland, 1,669 miles from the Pacific Ocean and nearly five hundred miles north of the border with Mongolia, clearly not at the perimeter. The radar antenna faced northeast, too, which was not exactly outward. The real reason it faced this way was to plug another Soviet shortcoming, a hole in the early-warning network—to watch out for American missiles coming from submarines in the northern Pacific Ocean. Katayev candidly acknowledged the Soviet violation in his spravka: “The building of the radar in the city of Krasnoyarsk indeed contradicts the Article 6b of the ABM Treaty because the antenna curtain is oriented toward the inside of the territory.” Although Katayev had admitted it internally, it was a violation the Soviets would not acknowledge publicly for more than two years.

On another point in the speech in San Francisco, Gates warned that the Soviet Union was “laying the foundation” for a nationwide missile defense system, which would be prohibited by the treaty, and pursuing advanced technology to do it, such as laser, particle beam, kinetic energy and microwave electronics. This argument was often made by U.S. officials to build support for the Strategic Defense Initiative. But it was hype. Katayev wrote in his spravka the Soviets were in fact way behind the level of technology suggested by Gates. The alarmist charges were greatly exaggerated. The most advanced Soviet research on laser and other exotic technology “are at the initial stage of laboratory stand experiments,” he said. Prototypes of such weapons could not be created any sooner than the year 2000. The Soviets were unable to shoot down anything with a laser.17

Another important voice for glasnost, and against the long tradition of military secrecy, was Velikhov, the open-minded physicist and adviser to Gorbachev. In January 1987, four weeks after Katayev’s spravka, Velikhov came up with an idea. He wrote to the Central Committee defense department—Katayev’s office—proposing to challenge the misleading American statements about Soviet laser weapons. A showcase nuclear disarmament conference was scheduled for later in the month in Moscow, and Velikhov was one of the organizers. Scientists, celebrities and antinuclear activists were being brought in from all around the world. Velikhov suggested: what if Gorbachev himself announced at the conference that the Soviet Union would open up the top-secret test facility at Sary Shagan that was so often at the center of American propaganda? What if the Americans were invited to see for themselves that Gates and Soviet Military Power were wrong? Velikhov suggested that a group of five to eight American scientists and journalists be taken on a “spontaneous” four-hour visit. Contrary to American claims about the lasers, their actual power was “thousands of times less than required” for shooting down missiles, he said. “There exists a complete and unique chance to demonstrate the false nature of the official American claims,” Velikhov insisted. “An exposure of the lie with one concrete example may have big political consequences.”

Velikhov was a vice president of the Academy of Sciences, and his proposal immediately commanded the attention of top security and defense officials, including Zaikov, Akhromeyev and the head of the KGB, Viktor Chebrikov. A staff report dumped cold water on Velikhov’s idea, saying the American visitors would quickly realize the Soviet equipment was really quite old. The two lasers at the complex were experimental samples using components from the early 1970s, the staff report said. The visiting scientists and journalists might think the Soviets were insincere, or covering up something, the report added. Akhromeyev worried that the Americans—seeing the size of buildings and the nature of the test range—might try to prove that the Soviets were planning to build missile defenses in the future. There was also worry that the visitors might see a secret project called “Gamma” to build an anti-satellite weapon in the future. In fact, Gamma never materialized. The only thing to hide at Sary Shagan was the painful truth: Soviet technology was way behind.

On February 12, the Central Committee answered Velikhov: proposal rejected. No Americans could see the secret test range. But Velikhov had opened the door a crack, and did not give up.

Another key moment in Gorbachev’s drive for change came December 16, 1986, when he telephoned Andrei Sakharov, who was watching television with his wife, Yelena Bonner. Sakharov, the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner and dissident physicist who had helped design the Soviet hydrogen bomb, was banished to Gorky in 1980 without trial for speaking out against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Soviet human rights violations. Reagan had raised the question of Sakharov in a letter to Gorbachev delivered at the Reykjavik summit. Gorbachev did not want to seem to be under pressure, but in December he told Sakharov on the phone, “You can return to Moscow.” Sakharov stepped off the train in Moscow at the Yaroslavl station on December 23.

In February, Sakharov appeared in public for the first time since his return, attending the international disarmament conference, “The Forum for a Nuclear-Free World and the Survival of Mankind.” The conference was jam-packed with celebrities invited from around the world, but Sakharov’s presence cast a special glow. Even more significant was Sakharov’s message: it was time to get on with reducing dangerous missiles and break the deadlock over the Strategic Defense Initiative. It was time to crack open the Gorbachev “package” from Reykjavik.18

Gorbachev had earlier been certain the package deal would bring results. But now, in late February 1987, the Soviet Union was preparing to set off its first nuclear explosion since the end of the moratorium. Gorbachev needed something new, and bold. Sakharov’s speech at the conference has been credited by some as pushing Gorbachev to move. But there was another strong impetus. On February 25, Gorbachev’s influential adviser, Alexander Yakovlev, wrote an extensive memo to him, arguing the time had come to unbundle the “package” and make separate deals to reduce nuclear weapons.

Yakovlev, the paragon of new thinking who had walked with Gorbachev in the orchard in Canada, said Gorbachev needed to pay attention to the political dynamics. “In politics, maximum freedom of maneuver is always valuable,” he wrote. “The ‘package’ in its present form only ties our hands.” At the top of Yakovlev’s list of priorities, if the package were dropped, was to seek a separate agreement on the intermediate-range missiles that would ease the threat posed by the American Pershing II missiles in Europe. “For us, this would be tantamount to removal of a very serious threat,” he said. Yakovlev expressed a sense of urgency. “It is extremely important now not to lose the tempo we have developed, and not to lose time. If we want to untie the package, we need to do it right now, because later the effect of it will be much weaker.” A public speech making the announcement “could compensate, in the eyes of the world public, for the fact of our reciprocal resumption of nuclear testing.”19

If Gorbachev untied the package, it would mean the very real concessions he made at Reykjavik—such as eliminating all the Pioneers—would be pocketed by Reagan, without any slowdown in the missile defense plan. But Gorbachev also realized that, since Reykjavik, they had been treading water. His package tactic wasn’t working. Gorbachev desperately wanted to get results, not shadow-box over the future.

On the day after Yakovlev’s memo, February 26, 1987, the Soviet Union set off its first nuclear explosion since 1985, in tunnel No. 130 at the Semipalatinsk testing range in Kazakhstan. Gorbachev had absorbed Yakovlev’s argument by the time he addressed the Politburo that day. “The biggest step that would make an impression on the outside world, on public opinion, would be if we untie the package and agree to cut 1,000 of our most powerful missiles,” he said.

“Let’s untie the package.”

On February 28, he made the announcement. “The Soviet Union suggests that the problem of medium-range missiles in Europe be singled out from the package of issues, and that a separate agreement be concluded on it, and without delay.” Reagan took the news cautiously, saying it was “progress” toward a “new opportunity,” speaking to reporters in his first visit to the White House pressroom since disclosure of diversion of the Iran money to the contras two months earlier.

The Pioneer missile had a brutish silhouette and carried three warheads, each 150 kilotons and independently targetable. The missile’s range was called intermediate or medium: less than the giant missiles that flew across the oceans, but more than those designed for use on battlefields. The Pioneer was a modern, mobile missile, transported on huge six-axle vehicles, which could keep the weapon in a state of constant combat readiness and launch it. Between 1978 and 1986, 441 Pioneer systems were deployed, including a version with improved accuracy and range in 1980, but they created a terrible problem the Soviet leadership had not anticipated. “The Soviet leadership at the time failed to take into account the probable reaction of the Western countries,” Gorbachev recalled. “I would even go so far as to characterize it as an unforgivable adventure, embarked on by the previous Soviet leadership under pressure from the military-industrial complex.” The NATO response—the Pershing IIs and the ground-launched cruise missiles—became “a pistol held to our head,” as Gorbachev put it. “Not to mention the exorbitant and unjustifiable costs of developing, producing and servicing the SS-20—funds swallowed up by the insatiable Moloch of the military-industrial complex.”20

Katayev, the Central Committee staff man with long experience in the missile design bureaus, knew how the Soviet leaders fell into such a blunder. As he toured the archipelago of factories, bases and institutes under his supervision, Katayev found excess everywhere. Missiles were built because the design bureaus and factories needed to keep production lines open, not because the military wanted them. He recalled meeting with the directors of two factories building submarine-launched missiles. When he suggested they were wasting money manufacturing weapons no one would use, the factory bosses objected. “The order for missiles is given, it is included in the plan, funds are given, and so we make them,” Katayev recalled of their response to his protest. “And the way these missiles are used by the military—this is not our problem.”

The navy was the worst. At one point Katayev calculated there were between four and eight missiles manufactured for each submarine launching tube, compared to a ratio of 1.2 or 1.3 missiles per tube in other countries. “A vast number of sea-launched missiles in the Soviet Union were kept in poor conditions, reducing the combat reliability of the weapons,” Katayev said. He took a three-day voyage on a Project 941 submarine, the Typhoon, a huge vessel with two separate pressure hulls, which carried twenty solid-fuel missiles with a range of more than six thousand miles. As he watched, the crew launched four missiles toward the test range in Kamchatka. Katayev turned to the Typhoon chief designer, Sergei Kovalyov.

“Sergei Nikitich, four missiles flew, this is roughly the cost of a residential building of 200 apartments. What do you need this for?” Katayev asked.

Kovalyov replied simply that it was a training exercise. But he admitted that once the missile left the tube, he was finished with it. The point was just to train for the launch. Katayev said a concrete-filled trainer missile would work just as well, and make no difference for the crew. As Katayev recounted the conversation, Kovalyov replied, “Why not? Somehow this idea never occurred to me. There were always plenty of missiles, we didn’t give it a thought. Because this new solid-fuel missile is certainly a little expensive for training novices.” From then on, they started to use a concrete-filled missile for training.

Katayev, precise and careful, loved lists and charts. He filled his notebooks with them, in neat handwriting, often accompanied by notes and drawings. He saw in his own records proof that missile production was excessive. He took the charts to his superiors. He implored Zaikov: they had far more missiles than the country needed. The missile overproduction was not increasing the security of the country; rather, in the case of the Pioneers, it had led to a “dangerous, strategic dead end.” But Katayev knew that his conclusion was not shared by either the generals or the legendary missile designers. The Pioneers were the newest Soviet missile, the best technology, with twenty or thirty years of useful service duty ahead of them—and all those involved were appalled at the idea of sacrificing them. Katayev recalled one particularly emotional meeting in 1985 when the idea of reducing the missile arsenal was debated. There were shouts of protest: “Sabotage!” and “The Fifth Column!” and “Remember Khrushchev!” (for the Cuban missile crisis fiasco). “I tried in vain to defuse the emotions with the help of technical arguments in favor of reducing the number of missiles,” Katayev recalled. After the stormy meeting, he remained in the conference room with one of Akhromeyev’s deputies. Katayev attempted in earnest to argue his point. “Unbeknownst to everybody,” Katayev told the deputy, “the time has arrived when the accumulation of nuclear weapons has outgrown its own level of safety and when it reached the zone where both our own nuclear weapons and those of the Americans have turned from being a means of deterrence into an instrument of increased danger. And first of all, for the Soviet Union, not for the Americans. Nobody in this country has considered it! They thought, the more missiles the better. We are the ones who have to step away from the danger—not Reagan.” They talked past midnight. Katayev recalled that although Akhromeyev’s office was right next door, he never once came into the room.21

If Akhromeyev heard the discussion, he must have been personally torn. He hated to think they were wasting what they had built at such cost. But he was committed to Gorbachev, and perhaps even more important, Akhromeyev understood the folly of the original decision to deploy the Pioneers aimed at Western Europe. Chernyaev concluded, “As a military professional, he realized the danger Pershing II missiles posed to us, and he had always disapproved of the policy of targeting SS-20s on the U.S.’s NATO allies. A ‘local nuclear war’ was by definition impossible.”22Other military leaders were not so farsighted. “Gorbachev had to go through a difficult struggle with his own generals,” Chernyaev said. “It took a long time to convince them to get rid of the SS-20s in Europe.”

When Thatcher came to Moscow, March 23 to April 1, 1987, she told Gorbachev that it was folly to eliminate nuclear weapons. Sitting across the table from each other in Saint Catherine’s Hall, they had a vigorous argument, not unlike their first one at Chequers. “You, Madam Thatcher, with your stance on nuclear weapons, hamper the negotiations and hinder efforts to start a process of genuine disarmament,” Gorbachev said. “When you solemnly declare that nuclear weapons are beneficial, it’s clear that you are an ardent supporter of them—prepared to accept the risk of war.”

Thatcher “got very tense, blushed, and her expression hardened,” Chernyaev recalled. “She reached out and, touching Gorbachev’s sleeve, began to talk without letting him get in a word.” She insisted that nuclear weapons had kept the peace. “She became so excited that the discussion got completely out of hand. They started to interrupt each other, repeat themselves, assure each other of their best intentions.” When Thatcher flew home, she described it as the most fascinating and important overseas visit she had ever taken; she realized “the ground was shifting underneath the communist system.”23

Gorbachev revealed his deep frustrations to Shultz on April 14. At a Kremlin meeting, he complained the Reagan administration was behaving as if nothing was going on in the Soviet Union, when in fact it had a better opportunity to improve relations than any U.S. administration in decades. “Where do we go from here?” he wondered.24 They immediately began to wrestle over details of how to eliminate the Pioneer and Pershing II missiles. The negotiations to eliminate intermediate-range missiles were to cover those with a range of between approximately 300 and 3,500 miles. The Pershing IIs had a maximum range of 1,100 miles, and Pioneers about 3,100 miles. The Soviet Union had also deployed a relatively new short-range missile, the SS-23, named after the Oka, a Russian river. The single-stage, solid-fueled Oka was easily moved around on trucklike launchers, which could erect and fire it. The Soviet military calculated the range of the SS-23 as only 250 miles, and thus felt it should not be included in negotiations on intermediate-range missiles. American experts guessed it might have greater range, given the size of the projectile.25 The missile was prized by the Soviet military because of its mobility, and it was capable of carrying either nuclear or conventional warheads. Earlier, Gorbachev had offered to freeze the level of these missiles, and he went still further and proposed negotiating deep cuts, and ultimately elimination.

But in the Kremlin meeting, Shultz suggested the United States first wanted to build up its arsenal of short-range systems to match Soviet levels, after which they could negotiate.

Gorbachev unexpectedly offered, on the spot, to eliminate the Oka missiles altogether, if the United States would agree to a “global zero,” or none on either side.

When Gorbachev made the offer, Akhromeyev, the chief of the General Staff, was not in the room. He was scheduled to arrive only later, after a break.

Shultz replied to the offer by saying he would consult with the NATO alliance.

“Why can’t you make a decision?” Gorbachev insisted.

Shevardnadze interjected, “I am amazed that the United States is objecting to unilateral Soviet elimination of operational short-range missiles.”

Gorbachev had just made an extremely sensitive concession. By the time Akhromeyev entered the hall later for a discussion of strategic weapons, Gorbachev had abandoned a whole weapons system. Akhromeyev only found out the next day, when he saw his name was on the list of attendees at the meeting, put there because Gorbachev wanted to show he had approved. Akhromeyev later said the concession was a “miscalculation” that infuriated the generals. “The military leadership was indignant at the incident with the Oka,” Akhromeyev recalled. “The Foreign Ministry didn’t give any appropriate explanation of the one-sided deal. The first serious split appeared between the military and Shevardnadze.” The generals tried to fight back in the months that followed, but were reprimanded. Gorbachev had maneuvered skillfully to get his way against his own military, but he still lacked any tangible result from the Americans. Appearing before the Politburo days later, Gorbachev sputtered in frustration that Shultz could not make a decision on the spot. The conversation was good, he said, but “essentially empty—we did not move anywhere.”26

“We have to recapture the initiative,” said Shevardnadze.

From his office at the Central Committee, Katayev, the precise and careful staffer, slowly came to a profound conclusion: the leadership of the country—hierarchical, centrally planned, rigid and hidebound by long practice—simply had no process for deciding how to abandon and destroy the weapons it had built at such enormous cost, even if disarmament had been a propaganda line for decades. The previous strategic arms control treaties from the Nixon and Carter era had only limited the growth of weapons, and destroyed none of them. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention had outlawed an entire class of weapons and the Soviet Union secretly built them anyway. There was no road map for retreat. Katayev recalled it was an enormous psychological barrier, as well as a practical roadblock to decisions.

Katayev, who understood the excesses, quietly set about changing the way defense decisions were handled in the Kremlin. In the Brezhnev years, designers and builders filled the power vacuum. Once Gorbachev came into office, specialists like Katayev and others gained a greater voice. For the most part, in their private discussions, Katayev found the specialists favored disarmament, and were cognizant of the Soviet overkill. At the top, a group of powerful decision-makers remained from earlier times. They were known as the “Big Five”: the Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry, KGB, the Military Industrial Commission, and the Central Committee. Katayev elevated the role of technical experts like himself as a “working group” serving the Big Five. It marked a shift in the way arms control was handled in the Kremlin, giving the technocrats and specialists more input, although few knew about it outside. All the documents describing the change were stamped “Top Secret.” On May 6, 1987, members of the Big Five sent Gorbachev a recommendation to make Katayev’s arrangement permanent. Gorbachev signed it.27

Another shoot of fresh thinking about how to brake the arms race came to the surface at the military’s General Staff headquarters in Moscow. Valery Yarynich had been assigned to work at the headquarters of an internal think tank, the Center for Operational-Strategic Research, established just as Gorbachev took power. Yarynich, the communications expert who had once witnessed the Cuban missile crisis panic, arrived at the center in 1985 after finishing with Perimeter, the semiautomatic nuclear missile retaliatory system. As glasnost blossomed, Yarynich enjoyed a freedom to raise issues with relative openness inside the heart of the Soviet military, and he devoted himself to analyzing the risks of nuclear war. “We had a chance to think and say what we thought without fear of punishment,” he said. The research center was given a difficult task—to find the theoretical justification to support lower levels of nuclear weapons. It was a forward-thinking idea born of Gorbachev’s new era. He was assigned to run a research project called Kupol. The project used mathematical models to study scenarios of a possible first-strike nuclear attack from the United States.

Yarynich and his coworkers on Kupol found a very important insight in the mathematical models. When considering a possible nuclear attack, it was not enough to just measure the number of warheads that would probably reach their targets, or the number that could retaliate. The Soviet command and control systems, which were reliable and split-second, also had to be figured into the calculation. If one took command and control into account, then mathematical models showed the goal of deterrence could be guaranteed with a drastic reduction of nuclear arsenals. This was because it was likely there would always be at least some retaliation for an attack. Even the smallest retaliation in a real nuclear war meant pretty massive destruction. The attacker always faced this uncertainty. Thus, Yarynich concluded, the massive overkill of the arms race was unnecessary.

Yarynich was seized with an idea—what if the two superpowers could open up and share such mathematical models? What if the leaders could see what he and his coworkers had discovered in Kupol? But the reaction from Soviet military leaders was not very encouraging. They could not imagine exchanging top-secret command and control data with the United States. “The old thinking prevailed over the new,” Yarynich recalled.

At the same time, he saw on the streets that the “new thinking” and glasnost of Gorbachev were spreading. Barriers were collapsing everywhere. One day, the experts, including Yarynich, got a translated copy of a book published in the United States in 1985. The book, The Button: America’s Nuclear Warning System—Does It Work? by Daniel Ford, questioned whether command and control was the weak link in the American nuclear deterrence. Yarynich said the Russian experts were “astounded by the degree of openness, detail and healthy criticism which the author used to describe the American system. And it dealt no harm to America whatsoever!” Yarynich suggested that his staff prepare a similar work. Once again, his suggestion went nowhere.28

By summer 1987, nearly two years had passed since the space designers and rocket builders had put on Gorbachev’s desk their blueprints for a sprawling Soviet version of the Strategic Defense Initiative. To see their handiwork, Gorbachev flew to the Soviet cosmodrome at Baikonur, in Kazakhstan, on May 11. The next day, he toured the launch pad for the giant two-stage, four-engine heavy space booster, Energia. Wearing a hard hat and in a business suit, Gorbachev walked in a broad circle clockwise around the enormous white booster, which stood 190 feet tall and weighed 2,400 tons fully fueled. It was full at that moment. For weeks, the launcher had been kept in two-day readiness for takeoff. The Energia had never flown before and was built to carry the Soviet space shuttle, the Buran, but the shuttle was not ready, so designers planned instead to use the first launch of the Energia to carry aloft a mysterious black cylinder. On the black vehicle was painted the name Polyus, or Pole, in white letters on the outside, but inside it carried the Skif-DM, the demonstration model of the space laser weapon, the most tangible result so far of the drive to build a Soviet Star Wars. The Skif-DM was among those projects that had been touted to Gorbachev by the space designers in 1985, shortly after he took office. Since then, work had been rushed. In fact, there was no laser inside; the Skif-DM was a mock-up, a placeholder for a possible future weapon. The Soviet builders had not mastered the technology.

Gorbachev had spent the last two years warning the United States against weapons in space—precisely the purpose of Skif-DM. As Gorbachev was briefed, walking around the huge booster on May 12, with other Politburo members trailing behind, examining the white rocket and black cylinder, he abruptly told the designers: “The Politburo is not going to allow you to launch this rocket.” Gorbachev had said many times he did not want an arms race in space—and he meant it.

Boris Gubanov, the chief designer, was dumbfounded, but tried to carry on. He explained to Gorbachev details of the heavy launcher: fuel, tremendous pressures and temperatures at launch. In the next hour or so, Gorbachev softened. He asked if they could wait a few months. Gubanov said it was impossible: the rocket was ready, it was fueled, people worked around the clock, they could not sustain such a pace. At lunchtime, Gubanov recalled, the word came back: permission to launch. The next day, Gorbachev praised the workers at Baikonur. And he reminded them, as he had done so often before, “We are categorically against moving the arms race into space.”

Gorbachev left the cosmodrome on May 14. At 9:30 P.M. the next day, the Energia roared into the night sky with the Skif-DM payload inside the mysterious black container, Polyus.

The Energia booster performed flawlessly. Four hundred and sixty seconds after launch, the Polyus separated from the Energia.

Then something went wrong. The Polyus was supposed to turn 180 degrees and fire engines to push itself into higher orbit. Instead, it kept turning all the way to 360 degrees, so when the engines fired, it was in the wrong direction. It shot itself back down toward Earth. The Polyus flew straight for the Pacific Ocean.

The black Polyus cylinder fell into the sea. All work on the Skif project came to a halt.

Gorbachev did not attempt to revive the Skif. He did nothing—another step toward his goal of slowing the arms race.29

The most devastating defeat for the Soviet military in 1987 came not directly from Gorbachev, but he exploited it. It came at the hands of a dreamy nineteen-year-old youth who lived in Hamburg, Germany. Mathias Rust was deeply disappointed by the failure of Reagan and Gorbachev to make a deal at Reykjavik. He decided to make a personal protest. He rented a single-engine Cessna 172P, a sports airplane, and told his family he was going to tour Scandinavia. He flew it to the Faroe Islands on May 13, and the next day to Keflavik, Iceland, the airfield from which Reagan and Gorbachev had departed after the summit.

After further travel, on May 28, he took off from Helsinki, having filed a flight plan for Stockholm. Twenty minutes into the flight, he switched off his communications gear and turned east. Finnish air traffic controllers feared he had crashed and launched a rescue effort. Rust disappeared into the clouds.

It was a holiday in the Soviet Union: “Border Guards Day.”30 At 2:25 P.M., the Cessna, with a small German flag on the tail, flying low, crossed a beach into Estonia and Soviet airspace. Thirty-one minutes later, Rust passed near the town of Kohtla-Yarve, at approximately three thousand feet. He set a course for Moscow. The Soviet air defense system picked up the plane, alerted the antiaircraft batteries and scrambled a fighter jet. The Soviet jet pilot zoomed past the small Cessna—flying seven times the speed of the small craft—and reported that it was a light plane, white, with a blue stripe, at under three thousand feet. Rust saw the Soviet jet, recognized the red star, and could spot the oxygen mask and coveralls of the pilot. He feared he would be shot down. “My heart fell into my pants,” he recalled. But then nothing happened, the fighter disappeared and Rust flew on toward Moscow.

On the ground, Soviet air and ground defenses, built up over decades to warn of American bomber fleets bearing nuclear weapons, went limp. Radar operators made no effort to determine the type of airplane that had just invaded their space. They made no immediate report to the headquarters of the Air Defense Forces. The rapidly changing weather and a certain blurriness on the radar screen caused the operators to doubt whether it was a plane at all; they thought it might be a flock of birds.31The fighter jet had only forty minutes of fuel at low altitudes, and could not remain aloft longer to search. Another group of jets were scrambled; one spotted Rust, but they did nothing. Then the radar operators lost track of Rust altogether at 3:58 P.M. No further action was taken. At 6:38 P.M., the Moscow regional air defenses switched to “routine watch duty.”

At exactly that moment, Rust was approaching Moscow, confused by its sprawling size. He spotted the cubelike Rossiya Hotel, and near it, Red Square. He approached for a landing, but there were people in the square, and he feared casualties, so Rust pulled up and circled again, and again.

On the third approach, Rust spotted a wide, open road bridge, and landed on it at 6:45 P.M., taxiing the plane toward Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral. A crowd gathered around as Rust, with oversized aviator eyeglasses and an orange jacket, climbed out and announced he was on a mission of peace. He was arrested by the KGB and taken away.

Rust’s solo flight riveted the attention of the country and the world. Jokes were told in Moscow in the days that followed: a group of citizens gathered in Red Square with their luggage. When a policeman asked why they were there, they answered, “We are waiting for the flight to Hamburg.” But Rust’s daring stunt was no joke for the military. It came at the dawn of the age of low-flying, radar-evading cruise missiles. If he could make it all the way to Moscow and be mistaken for a flock of birds, then what of the country’s defenses against cruise missiles? The Soviet military was red faced. The rules after the Korean Air Lines disaster in 1983 were not to shoot at civilian intruders, but to force them to land. They had not even tried.

Gorbachev was in Berlin meeting with Warsaw Pact leaders—telling them of the new Soviet military doctrine—when he got word. He told the Soviet allies that Rust’s stunt “was no reason to doubt the efficiency of our technology or the reliability of our defense,” but in private, he was floored. “I was utterly shaken and completely at a loss as to how this could have happened,” he recalled.32 As Gorbachev stepped off the plane back in Moscow, Chernyaev recalled, his eyes were “flashing with anger.” Chernyaev wrote Gorbachev a note before a Politburo meeting the next day. “A great military power was reduced to a joke in the space of a minute,” he said. “What happened forces us to reflect again on the state of the army. Our equipment wasn’t at fault. To spot such a tiny aircraft, 1930s-era technology would suffice. Rather it was a broader carelessness and lack of responsibility that was to blame, not an episodic problem but something endemic that reflects a much more serious illness in the armed forces.” Chernyaev pleaded with Gorbachev to consider undertaking a reform of the military and to fire the defense minister, Sokolov. “Maybe I’m blinded by anger and emotion over this shameful incident, which, in one moment, devalued not only our air defenses but our entire military structure. But I believe that perestroika and new thinking cannot be successful without a reform of the army.”33

At the Kremlin, the Politburo meeting was tense. Gorbachev, mocking and furious, said the Rust intrusion showed the impotence of the defense ministry. The first deputy minister of defense, Pyotr Lushev, began to brief the Politburo on what happened. He described how the plane had flown undetected toward Moscow.

Gorbachev: And this lasted for two and a half hours during which time the intruder aircraft was within the zone of the 6th Army? Did they report it to you?

Lushev: No. I learned about it after the aircraft’s landing in Moscow. Gorbachev: Learned from the traffic police?

Lushev described the existing orders not to shoot down a civilian plane but force it to land. The jet fighters were going too fast to do this. Ryzhkov, the head of the government, asked, “And helicopters, wasn’t it possible to use them?” Lushev replied, “There are no helicopters” in the Air Defense Forces.

Summing up, Lushev said the reasons for the episode were “a loss of vigilance and a dulled sense of responsibility, especially on duty shifts,” and “carelessness of the duty officers, who had grown used to routine action and were unprepared to operate in non-standard circumstances.”

Gorbachev: “And then how are we going to operate in combat conditions, when non-standard situations occur?”

Gorbachev fired the head of the Air Defense Forces and accepted Defense Minister Sokolov’s resignation on the spot. About 150 senior officers were also fired. Dmitri Yazov, a mild-mannered former deputy defense minister, was appointed to succeed Sokolov. The one top military man who was untouched by the affair was Akhromeyev.

Gorbachev called Chernyaev at home that evening. “We discredited the country, humiliated our people,” Gorbachev said, according to Chernyaev’s account. Gorbachev wondered if he should have resigned too. Then he added, “But fine, at least everyone here, and in the West, will know where power lies. It is in the hands of the political leadership, the Politburo. This will put an end to gossip about the military’s opposition to Gorbachev, that he’s afraid of them, and they are close to ousting him.”34

On June 12, 1987, in Berlin, Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Europe’s division between East and West, and addressed Gorbachev directly. “We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness,” he said. “Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West or to strengthen the Soviet state without changing it?

“General Secretary Gorbachev,” Reagan declared, “if you seek peace—if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe—if you seek liberalization, come here, to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The speech was classic Reagan, infused with his powerful faith in freedom and prosperity and the link between the two. Reagan recalled in his memoir that when he saw the wall, he spoke with genuine anger in his voice. Gorbachev still did not entirely understand Reagan, nor his rhetoric, and called Chernyaev a few days later. “He is trying to provoke us, to make us snap, which would help them get the Soviet threat back. If, like Reagan, I was giving interviews every week, I would say that he hasn’t forgotten his previous occupation over these eight years.”35

Gorbachev’s retreat from the arms race led to confusion not only in the military but in the prestigious defense institutes and design bureaus. They needed to find new justifications for their programs. And Reagan’s missile defense dream still flummoxed some of them. Katayev recalled that in August, Alexander Nadiradze, the missile designer who created the Pioneer, sent a panicky letter to the Central Committee. Four years after Reagan had first announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, Nadiradze declared he had figured out the truth: it was a plan to use space to shoot a nuclear warhead back down to Earth! This was worse than first strike. He said the missile defense plan should be exposed as an “aggressive weapon that gives the USA a new possibility to deliver an instant nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.” He claimed his research showed “an undersized missile ‘Space-Earth’ will be capable of carrying a nuclear charge of 0.1–0.15 megaton, a solid-fueled rocket engine will allow it to accelerate toward Earth–at about 4–5 kilometers per second–in 30 seconds.” He added, “From the moment of the order to launch, the time of the rocket’s flight to Earth will be only 1–2 minutes.” Nadiradze said if Reagan’s program were deployed, then the Soviet Union should destroy American satellites in space. The Polyus and the Skif might be dead, but the hopes of the missile designers burned on.36

In early September, Velikhov, the open-minded physicist, struck another hammer blow against Soviet military secrecy.

Thomas B. Cochran, the American scientist who had set up the seismic monitoring stations around Semipalatinsk, was traveling with three members of Congress, several aides and a New York Times journalist, showing them the equipment. On a stopover in Moscow, Velikhov telephoned Cochran at the Sovietskaya Hotel, about 6 P.M., and told him to get the delegation to the airport by midnight. Velikhov had won permission to take them to see the disputed Krasnoyarsk radar that the Reagan administration said was a treaty violation.

Velikhov was attempting exactly the kind of glasnost gamble the Central Committee had rejected in February. The group took off for Siberia at 4 A.M., reached the radar site in late afternoon and slowly circled the entire radar site by helicopter, looking down on two large concrete structures, one a transmitter and the other a receiver. The receiver, nearly thirty stories tall, had a long, sloping side, facing northeast. Both structures were unfinished; the receiver’s radar face appeared to be partially covered with corrugated metal sheets. At first the Soviets said the Americans could not go inside the structures. After a meal of roasted pig, fruit and vodka toasts in a large white tent, the Americans pleaded for a chance to go inside, and the Soviets relented. The Americans discovered the project was years from completion, just empty shells, empty rooms and no electronics. Judging by what they could see, the visitors concluded it would not be a battle management system, as the Reagan administration claimed. For one thing, a battle management system would be hardened against a nuclear blast; this structure was not. Nor did it look like it was dedicated to space-tracking, as the Soviets claimed.37 Although they could not be sure, the visitors surmised it was probably an early warning radar, pointing in the wrong direction. It was not facing outward, as required by the ABM treaty. What was most remarkable was that the congressmen got an eyewitness look at a top-secret site. The team took over one thousand photographs and made an hour of video, and no one tried to interfere. Velikhov’s openness undercut both the American propaganda and the Soviet lie. “It’s the beginning of military glasnost,” said Representative Tom Downey, D-N.Y., who led the delegation. In their report, the congressmen said the chances that it was a battle management radar were “extremely low.” Yet even with such an extraordinary firsthand look, Downey and the others did not change the Reagan administration’s view.

In Moscow, the top level of the Soviet leadership was privately at a loss about what to do with Krasnoyarsk. They knew the radar was a violation of the treaty, but they had not admitted it. They also knew that their public explanation of its purpose (space-tracking), as well as Reagan’s claims (battle management), were both untrue. On October 23, Gorbachev told Shultz that there would be a one-year moratorium on construction. Shultz replied that the United States would accept nothing short of dismantlement. A month after that, on November 21, an internal memo from the Big Five ministers suggested that the Soviet Union should continue to attempt to pressure the United States for some concessions in exchange for giving up the radar. The prospect of dismantling the whole thing was already being discussed internally. But the memo did not suggest an admission that the radar was in violation of the treaty.38

When Shultz saw Gorbachev in Moscow in October, the Soviet leader seemed feisty, and there was more acrimony in their discussion than in the past. Shultz failed to secure agreement on a summit date to sign a treaty on intermediate-range weapons. Shultz wrote in his memoirs that Gorbachev appeared to have been through a tough period.39 In the days before Shultz arrived, Gorbachev had suffered a major crisis, an outbreak of open criticism in the Politburo. On October 21, Yeltsin, in a rushed, short speech before a Central Committee plenum, complained that reform was moving too slowly, and that Gorbachev was starting to enjoy the adulation of a “cult of personality,” a reference to Stalin. Yeltsin resigned on the spot from the Politburo. His speech and resignation stunned the hall. Gorbachev found himself squeezed between Yeltsin’s demands for faster reform and Politburo member Yegor Ligachev, who resisted it.40 Then, a few days after Shultz left Moscow, Gorbachev agreed to the summit dates. “The Soviets blinked,” Reagan wrote in his diary.

The yawning gulf of misunderstanding between Washington and Moscow had remained. Despite all that happened in 1987—the new military doctrine, the Rust affair and its aftermath, the abandonment of the Oka missile, the failure of the Soviet Star Wars, the achievement of eliminating the INF weapons–the Defense Intelligence Agency sent a report to Congress stating that “all evidence points to continuity in the Soviet Union’s military policy.”41

Two weeks before Gorbachev arrived in the United States, Gates, the deputy CIA director, wrote a memo to Reagan about the Soviet leader that failed to grasp the essence of Gorbachev’s attempts to reverse the arms race, and miscast his goals and motivations. There is a “continuing extraordinary scope and sweep of Soviet military modernization and weapons research and development,” Gates said, offering not even a brief acknowledgment of Gorbachev’s efforts to change course. “We still see no lessening of their weapons production. And, further, Soviet research on new, exotic weapons such as lasers and their own version of SDI continues apace.” In fact, the Soviet version of SDI was a shambles and would never be built. Gates concluded that despite “great changes underway” in the Soviet Union, “it is hard to detect fundamental changes, currently or in prospect, in the way the Soviets govern at home or in their principle objectives abroad.” Gates told the president, amid the summit excitement, that “a sober–even somber—reminder of the enduring features of the regime and the still long competition and struggle ahead will be needed.”42

Still, the December summit in Washington was far from somber, and crackled with energy. Gorbachev spontaneously stopped his limousine on Connecticut Avenue and began shaking hands with thrilled passersby. Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty with a brisk exchange of pens and handshakes in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The treaty would eliminate 1,846 Soviet Pioneers and 846 American Pershing Ils, the first time in the nuclear age that an entire class of Soviet and U.S. weapons was wiped out, and under stringent verification provisions. It was not the end of nuclear danger, but it was the most concrete joint accomplishment of Reagan, the dreamer, and Gorbachev, the radical, nuclear abolitionists who found each other at the right moment. In remarks before they signed the treaty, Reagan said, “We have listened to the wisdom of an old Russian maxim, doveryai, no proveryai—trust, but verify.”

“You repeat that at every meeting,” Gorbachev said.

“I like it,” Reagan replied, smiling.

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