CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

'GORBACHEV'S VIEW OF THE SS–20s'

Mikhail Gorbachev: Memoirs – First published, 1995
(English translation: Doubleday, London, 1996, pp. 442–4)

[This extract, though not involving Julian directly, is included because of its historic relevance to the anti-nuclear campaign.]

START 1 and START 2 were to come later, but the [December 1987] INF treaty set the whole process in motion. It is doubtful whether we would ever have been able to sign the subsequent agreements without it – the INF treaty represented the first well-prepared step on our way out of the Cold War ...

Back at home the INF treaty eventually came under fire, a number of hotheads and amateur politicians claiming that the agreement had undermined the Soviet Union's security and upset the balance of weaponry between the superpowers. The only reason Gorbachev accepted the treaty, according to this theory, was to score a success for his 'new thinking'.

The decision to deploy SS–20 missiles in Eastern Europe had reflected the style of the Soviet leadership at the time, decision-making fraught with grave consequences for the country. I had arrived at the sad conclusion that this step, fateful both for our country and Europe and for the rest of the world, had been taken without the necessary political and strategic analysis of its possible consequences. [Emphasis added]

It was Soviet Defence Minister Ustinov who had suggested to Brezhnev replacing the missiles based in the European part of the Soviet Union. But it was not merely a question of replacing 'obsolete' equipment. Technological progress allowed the creation of SS-20 missiles far superior to their predecessors in terms of range, precision, guidance and all other properties. Essentially they had the characteristics of strategic weapons. Whatever the arguments advanced at the time to justify the deployment of such missiles, the Soviet leadership failed to take into account the probable reaction of the Western countries. I would even go so far as to characterise it as an unforgivable adventure, embarked on by the previous Soviet leadership under pressure from the military-industrial complex. They might have assumed that, while we deployed our missiles, Western counter-measures would be impeded by the peace movement. If so, such a calculation was more than naive. [Emphasis added]

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt often returned to this question in our later meetings, openly expressing his amazement at our decision. He remembered that in his time as West German Chancellor, he had a talk with one of Kosygin's deputies during a brief stop-over at Moscow airport (on his flight to Japan or another Far Eastern country). Schmidt had warned that the deployment of SS-20 missiles by the Soviets would force the West to take serious counter-measures, such a move altering the entire military and political situation.

In fact, our decision to deploy the SS-20s suited America's interest in the Cold War. Even more important is the fact that the counter-measures adopted by NATO resulted in a serious threat to Soviet security – the most densely populated part of the USSR suddenly finding itself within reach of the Pershing II. Since the American missiles would take a maximum of five minutes to reach their targets, we were practically unprotected against a possible strike.

By signing the INF treaty we had literally removed a pistol held to our head. 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.

Incidentally, our military experts were fully aware that to deploy the SS-20 was a dangerous venture, since we would be unable to protect ourselves against the Pershing II. Marshal Akhromeyev also shared this view. An expert in the field and a straightforward person, he did not conceal his negative view of this fatal adventure – and he later contributed greatly to the removal of the hazard we had brought upon ourselves. I had the opportunity to form an impression of the potential dangers during a briefing with top experts at a defence installation near Moscow. I was accompanied by representatives of the political leadership, the military-industrial complex, and the USSR Council of Ministers. We spent the whole day listening to their reports. I inquired about possible defence systems that could ward off a Pershing attack – and was told that we did not have any. [Emphasis added]

In short, we had to make haste to prevent full implementation of the American Euromissile programme. It is doubtful whether NATO would have given up their newly acquired advantage once all the missiles had been deployed. I would venture to say that it certainly would have been far more difficult to reach an INF agreement under such conditions.

Hence I deemed it my duty to avert the deadly danger to our country and to correct the fatal error made by the Soviet leadership in the mid-1970s. In a sense, I believe this to be as important an achievement as the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. [Emphasis added]