7 December 2012, 13:24

Washington, December 1987

Washington, December 1987

Twenty-five years ago, on December 8, 1987, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Compared to the early 1980s, by 1987 the relations between the Soviet Union and the United States began to change for the better. The United States rarely referred to the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire and Washington’s campaign to develop the Strategic Defense Initiative began to lose steam. The SDI envisaged the deployment of weapons, first of all those directed against the Soviet Union, in outer space. Gorbachev met with Reagan in Geneva and Reykjavik in 1985 and 1986 accordingly. Even though the Geneva and Reykjavik talks produced no important agreements, the dialogue on further reductions of nuclear weapons resumed, even though after a long break.

On December 7, 1987 Mikhail Gorbachev arrived in Washington, with his first official visit to the US. Surprisingly, the Soviet leader received a hearty welcome in the US. Wherever he went, he was met with slogans “Welcome, Gorby”. ‘Gorby’ became his nick in many countries. To demonstrate their friendly relations, Reagan and Gorbachev lit the Christmas Tree in front of the White House together.

However, the main purpose of Gorbachev’s visit was to sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Signed on December 8th, the treaty provided for the elimination of nuclear and conventional medium and short-range missiles within a period of three years. Under the treaty, the Soviet Union was to destroy nearly 2,000 missiles, while the US had about 1,000 missiles to eliminate in accordance with the treaty. This triggered numerous disputes in later years as to which party had derived more benefit from the treaty.

Gorbachev’s talks with Reagan and the signing ceremony sparked enormous interest. Over 7,000 journalists from various countries – a record number for those days – gathered at the main press center in Washington. To seat them all, the organizers had to find additional rooms and fit them out with screens and sound equipment. Not all were able to attend the final news conference to hear Ronald Reagan’s opinion about the treaty.

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25 years have passed since that day. The two countries have definitely learned to check and verify since then. As for trust, it’s still difficult to acquire and put into action. The Soviet Union, and then Russia, on the one hand, and the United States, on the other, have signed seven nuclear disarmament agreements since the start of the disarmament process in 1972. The 1987 Treaty was the third. A mere four treaties to this effect have been signed in the 25 years that have passed. This is not because there are no weapons to cut but because the parties concerned still mistrust one another. The current differences over the European missile defense system prove that.

Regrettably, only Russia and the US have been exerting efforts to cut nuclear arsenals. Other nuclear powers prefer to sit on the sidelines and watch.

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