Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

The INF Treaty: a survivable document

By John P. Barker / May 19, 1988

THE US-USSR Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty now being debated by the Senate includes many outstanding features. It would lead to the destruction of almost 2,700 missiles, introduce innovative verification methods, and enhance stability between the superpowers. The treaty also has a hidden strength, which would transcend the initial political and military advantages: its superior drafting.

Skip to next paragraph

In producing the agreement, the superpowers had the benefit of 15 years of experience with following bilateral arms control treaties. The superpowers used this experience to draft a durable agreement that will be more difficult to circumvent than past treaties. While no treaty can ensure compliance, the INF Treaty's detailed provisions and clear structure reduce the possibility that either the United States or the Soviet Union will attempt to avoid its commitments.

Inadequate detail in past arms control agreements resulted in compliance disputes. The first strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) produced an agreement that suffered from incomplete definitions. The agreement, which prohibited the introduction of new ``heavy missiles,'' caused a major dispute over the deployment of a Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile. During the negotiations, the Soviets refused to assent to the inclusion of definitions for ``light'' or ``heavy'' missiles, omissions President Nixon reluctantly accepted. Two years after they signed the SALT I accord, the Soviets exploited the deliberate ambiguity by deploying the SS-19, a missile almost 50 percent larger than the ``light'' SS-11. By taking advantage of an unclear treaty provision, the Soviets increased the size of their missile force, accomplishing exactly what the US had sought to prevent. The US protested, but eventually assented to the Soviet deployment, because the Soviets acted within the exact wording of the document.

The INF Treaty will suffer from fewer definitional problems than did SALT I. The INF Treaty's Article II provides specific definitions to the 15 key treaty terms, and Article III explicitly lists the missiles covered. This specificity reduces the possibility for circumvention.

The exchange of detailed data bases will also enhance the treaty's effectiveness. The SALT II Treaty, unratified by the US but adhered to for seven years by both superpowers, contained only a limited exchange of data bases. The SALT II data bases included the numbers of missiles, launchers, and bombers covered, but the Soviets refused to provide precise descriptions of their missiles. This led to a dispute concerning the deployment of the SS-25 missile. The treaty prohibited the deployment of more than one ``new'' missile, but permitted the upgrading of old ones. The countries defined upgrading as an increase in missile size of 5 percent or less. When the US accused the Soviets of deploying the ``new'' SS-25, the Soviets claimed it was permissible as a modified ``old'' SS-13 missile. The absence of an agreed base line of the original SS-13 dimensions precluded the US from proving that the Soviets violated the agreement. The detailed data bases of the INF Treaty should reduce problems with weapons identification.