The US withdrawal from the INF Treaty: a European History (first part)

The Cold War, the subsequent détente, the dissolution of the USSR have always left, on the subject of armaments, what the experts called at the time a “grey area”, a grey area in which the nuclear wars become possible. Is that of weapons variously called: Nuclear forces of theatre, tactical nuclear forces, short-range weapon systems, medium-range. However you want to call them, are the weapons that could allow targeted and powerful attacks, but sufficiently circumscribed to think of a political use as well as military, thus exiting the logic of “mutual Assured destruction” (Mutual Assured Destruction), which to this day seems to have prevented the use of atomic weapons after August 1945.

The Euromissile Affair

The power policy conducted by the United States of America after the victory in the Second World War, behind the now evident screen of the defense of the values of the West, involved in fact, just when the process of détente was now initiated, on End of the seventies of last century, an afterthought about the use of strategic weapons.

The defeat in Vietnam, the diffusion of low-intensity conflicts followed by decolonization, the opportunities to exploit the imminent crisis of the USSR, of which many symptoms were already clear-all this pushed the US to consider new How to use the nuclear weapon, just think of the Neutron Bomb (ERW), of which in 1977 it was hypothesized by North American dislocation in Europe. The news on this decision provoked the activation of a pacifist movement in Europe, whose wide mobilization in the squares was directly proportional to its inability to build a political alternative in Europe.

The subsequent installation of the first euromissile in Muttlangen, Germany, and Sigonella in Italy, demonstrated the substantial velleitarianism and precariousness of a conception of world peace based on the power logic typical of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When in fact, in 1979, it was reported that nuclear missiles of the RSD-10 Pioneer intermediate radius, known in the West as the SS-20, would be deployed on the territory of European Russia, it was Germany who cared to remain the only possible victim designated Even as the United States and the USSR were discussing arms limitation (SALT – Strategic Arms Limitation Talks; announcement of the ABM – Anti-balistic Missiles).

If at world level the SALT predicted the reduction of the strategic nuclear weapons mutually aimed at the USA and the USSR, they threatened in fact to make of Europe, and in particular of the German territory, the area of possible use of nuclear ordnance to medium-short range, left out of those negotiations. All this while the USA had successfully started not only the development of the so-called cruise missiles (cruise missiles), which made for the most part ineffective any theoretical limitation of nuclear weapons, but also of the already remembered neutron bomb, as well as theatre communication control systems (AWACS) that made it “feasible”, thanks to new electronic technologies, a targeted use of tactical nuclear weapons.

For this reason, it was Germany who asked the US and other Nato allies that, in order to counter the Soviet SS-20, parallel to the installation of 572 weapon Systems Pershing II and Cruise, the Euromissiles precisely (then installed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom), an agreement on the nuclear weapons of theatre was also proposed to the USSR.

In 1983 risk of a World war

What many people still ignore today, however, is that the start of the European dislocation of the Euromissiles, in November 1983, was inserted in a context that only today we know had represented the absolute most dangerous moment for world peace of the whole second postwar.

An articulated and coherent series of documents that have come to the surface from the US and USSR archives provide in fact now the certainty that in the year 1983 a risky military confrontation, spying and prudent misinformation has been played on the edge of the razor: so it is still difficult to distinguish how the techniques of deception tested by the Anglo-Saxons in World War II were accompanied or not by actual preparations for war, as the Soviets believed at the time.

During that year, in fact, the United States, in the muscular form imprinted to their war apparatus by the presidency of Ronald Reagan, found themselves at the center of a series of events that constituted multiple risks of a direct military confrontation:

  • 23/03/83: Reagan announces the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), the so-called Star Shield, then demonstrated a colossal technological hoax, which however severely contrasts the logic of the treaty against anti-missile missile Systems (ABM);
  • March-April 1983: The largest aero-naval exercise Usa (FleetEx 83-1) Since the end of the Second World War takes place in the North Pacific near the Soviet Kurili Islands;
  • 04/04/83: In the context of this ominous demonstration of force, six US military aircraft fly over the Soviet territory of the Kuril Islands, where the most advanced Soviet alert and first defence installation is present;
  • 18/04/83: Terrorist attack on the US embassy in Beirut (63 deaths);
  • 01/09/83: The South Korean flight of KAL-007 line in flight from Alaska, for reasons not yet clarified, is defled from the planned route and flies over the Soviet territory for a long time, including the Kamchatka Peninsula, which is also full of Soviet military installations. Having never responded to requests for identification by Soviet-alerted fighters, he is shot down, causing 296 civilian casualties.
  • 26/09/83: Not even one month later, the Air Surveillance centre of the USSR Serpukhov-15, near Moscow, receives from the observation satellites signals indicating the launch by the US of an intercontinental missile, followed by four other similar signals , whose origin will never be convincingly explained. Only the coldness of the Soviet officer on duty prevents the prescribed immediate response procedure from being execute.
  • 13/10/83: A lorry laden with Tritol, approaching the headquarters of the U.S. mission in Lebanon, exceeds the perimeter of security and explodes (241 deaths). Simultaneously, another bomb vehicle destroys a French base in Lebanon, causing the deaths of another 58 soldiers.
  • 25/10/83: The Usa invade the island of Grenada in the Caribbean, to overthrow a regime considered pro-Soviet.
  • 2-11/11/83: Imposing naval exercise (Autumn Forge), which envisages in its final phase (Able Archer) The simulation of a nuclear attack against the USSR in response to the formation of a military government in that country and following the invasion by Soviet Union of Yugoslavia. This exercise, which in Able Archer adopted procedures typical of a real nuclear attack, led the Soviets to believe that a true Western first strike was underway, to the point that the night between 8 and 9 November 1983 (when Nato initiated measures to The use of nuclear weapons) the headquarters of the KGB in Moscow informed all the stations present in Europe that the US forces in Europe had been put in a condition of maximum alert and that some units of the Atlantic Alliance had begun the mobilization. The Kremlin then considered the Nato maneuvers as an unequivocal signal of the beginning of an offensive against the forces of the Warsaw Pact.
  • 20/11/83: The American ABC Network aired in the early evening the documentary film The Day After, whose plot focused on the effects of a Soviet nuclear attack against the U.S. territory. The film was later re-proposed in many countries, including Italy.
  • 23/11/83: The first Pershing II arrives in Germany; on the same day, the Soviet representatives in Geneva for the negotiations on the regulation of medium-range nuclear devices (specifically on the INF) abandon the work.
  • 08/12/83: The Soviet delegation leaves discussions on the reduction of Strategic weapons (START) for the Christmas break, but does not indicate the date of its return; the same is the case on 15 December with the negotiating committees on conventional armaments regulation in Europe.

According to some reconstructions, on which doubts are allowed to advance (starting from the same memories of Ronald Reagan), only at this point the US summit would have realised how much we had approached a real clash, which would have pushed the US president, on 16 January 1984, to declare to the hour secretary of the PCUs, Juri Andropov, that «1984 is a year of opportunity for Peace» and that relations with the USSR would be based on the values of «realism, strength and dialogue», citing for the First time in his mandate the word «compromise» as a goal to be achieved with the Soviets.

More realistic it seems to us, from the reading in particular of the Soviet documents, which clearly show the real panic that had spread to the summits of the USSR in front of the prospect of a military confrontation with the West, that the speech of Reagan came precisely when it was assured at the highest levels of the U.S. administration that the succession of hard military force tests during the 1983 had placed the Soviets in a condition of psychological inferiority ideal to open negotiations: without forget that, in these same months, we were very sure of how much the military situation in Afghanistan and that political one in Poland were putting a strain on the entire Soviet system.

(1 – to be continued)

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