What Really Happened at Reykjavik
If observers sometimes regard the everyday practice of diplomacy as cold and bloodless, no one could possibly miss the drama of a summit. There the decision makers face each other. No safety screen stands between the issues and the highest authorities. But what produces drama can also lead to problems and risks.
Unpredictability was not a comforting prospect for meetings between the leaders of the two nuclear superpowers in an era of cold war antagonism. So the practice arose of choreographing every move and reaching agreement in advance on virtually every substantive detail of U.S.-Soviet summits. The events themselves were significant, but they were so highly programmed that the space reserved for innovation by the leaders was carefully circumscribed. Replete with ceremonial pomp and the focus of a vast media spotlight, summits had become something of a theatrical performance on a grand scale.
Ronald Reagan did not like the format of a summit fully stage-managed from the bottom up. He had objected to his experiences in 1981 and 1982 at the economic summits held in Ottawa and Versailles with the heads of the seven leading industrial countries of the world. He found himself in the midst of a foregone conclusion, consumed by communiqués negotiated before the event, and barred from personal interchange with other leaders on whatever he, rather than his staff, wanted to discuss. Ronald Reagan wanted to talk, to get to know his counterparts, to understand them and have them understand him. I had helped him break out of the programmed pattern at the economic summit he chaired in Williamsburg in 1983: there was no prenegotiated communiqué; much more time than in the past was given for the leaders to meet alone and engage in real conversation. With this new pattern, the leaders reached real agreement on policy at the end of the meeting. Reagan and Gorbachev followed the same top-down pattern in Geneva in November 1985, and despite tense moments at the end, the result was excellent.
Even for Ronald Reagan , however, Reykjavik broke the mold. The site was selected so that protocol and ceremony could be avoided; the media were put on hold by a strict news blackout; both leaders knew that they would be engaging on the hard questions face-to-face without the script available beforehand. We had little more than a week between the announcement of this meeting at the end of the Daniloff affair and our departure for Iceland. The event was not even supposed to be called a summit; this was to be a “meeting.” But in the eyes of the world, Reykjavik would become the epitome of the very word “summit.”
Preparations for Reykjavik
Despite the short interval between announcement and event, preparations for a summit had been going on for a long time: every issue that might arise had been placed on the table, and most had been debated extensively over a period of years, in the case of strategic arms, for decades. Meetings with the Soviets on arms control during the summer in Moscow and in early September in Washington and on other issues during Shevardnadze 's mid-September visit in Washington had served to recapitulate where matters stood across the board and moved some positions forward. We had consulted carefully with our allies throughout the negotiation process and arranged for authoritative meetings with them just before the event in Reykjavik. We had on hand a big black book of fully cleared U.S. positions on every conceivable proposal. We were ready for anything, certainly ready to put forward our own positions with confidence and to respond to whatever the Soviets might put on the table. This summit would not be prenegotiated. But we were prepared.
On the American side, I had established a new pattern for these high-level meetings with the Soviets, going back to my negotiations with Gromyko in Geneva in January 1985 and solidified at the November Reagan - Gorbachev summit meeting in Geneva. Representatives from all concerned agencies were included in the U.S. delegation, and everyone was briefed immediately after each meeting of the Soviet and American leaders. I felt experts should be on hand to help evaluate whatever might arise. I also wanted to encourage the sense of inclusion that comes from being present at, and part of, such key events. The president's talking points were available to each person on the delegation, and each was invited to make comments and suggestions. It was, frankly, the only way to keep the internecine fighters and leakers of the bureaucracy under some semblance of control.
The prospect of a summit hastened the pace of ongoing negotiations so that completed documents or agreed frameworks would be on hand to lend content and purpose to these events. The danger, I was very well aware, was that the drive to meet a deadline would lead to unwise compromise or ambiguous language.
There was a unique sense of uncertainty in the air. The meeting had come about so suddenly. Nothing seemed predictable. The midterm elections were only three weeks away, and the president had been on the road campaigning. Republican prospects in some key Senate contests did not look good. At the same time, the president was having trouble with Congress: his veto of a bill applying heavier sanctions on South Africa had been overridden in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives was trying to force a sharp curtailment of nuclear testing and was challenging President Reagan 's decision to abandon SALT II. The atmosphere was one of hectic pace, divided opinion on important issues of foreign policy, and challenge to the political preeminence of the president.
I studied every aspect of our four-part agenda as I prepared myself to be of maximum assistance to the president at Reykjavik. Arms control would be central. I looked over this landscape with particular care. Initial proposals and a long history of counterproposals from each side, most recently in General Secretary Gorbachev 's letter of January 15, 1986, in President Reagan 's letter of July 25, 1986, to Gorbachev , and Gorbachev 's letter of September 15, 1986, to Reagan . The exchange had placed an immense amount of detailed content on the table. That was especially true in the START and INF areas.
The area of space and defense was the most difficult and contentious and also the least worked over in prior negotiations. Both sides engaged heavily in research on how to defend against ballistic missiles, and the Soviets had deployed and modernized a ground-based ABM system around Moscow. Such a deployment was allowed under the ABM Treaty. But a dispute raged within the United States and with the Soviets about the nature of permitted research under the ABM Treaty. The Soviets wanted to restrict our Strategic Defense Initiative effort. The president wanted to conduct the research, development, and testing needed to establish whether a survivable and effective system of defense against ballistic missiles was possible. That could be accomplished consistent with the traditional interpretation of the ABM Treaty but no doubt could be done more cheaply and with greater confidence if that treaty was interpreted broadly. Debate about the appropriateness of the “broad interpretation” was intense in the United States.
There was also a doctrinal and operational problem with the difficult transition from offense-based to defense-based deterrence. The prospect of defense would lead – or so the Soviets threatened and many arms control experts argued – to increases in offensive weapons so that defenses could be overwhelmed, exactly the opposite of our objectives in the Strategic Arms Reductions Talks (START). Furthermore, the argument went, the deployment of an effective strategic defense would leave the side that first deployed it in a position to launch a first strike on the other without fear of effective retaliation. Deterrence would be undermined since Mutual Assured Destruction would no longer be mutual, much less assured. Under these circumstances, the emergence of a credible and deployed strategic defense would, unless managed in a mutually agreeable way, create a transition period of uncertainty and potential danger. The side without potential defenses might be tempted to use its weapons before they became obsolete.
Two additional ideas had come forward to deal with these doctrinal dilemmas. The Soviets proposed that each side agree not to exercise the right of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty for an extended period, thereby forgoing for that period the ability to deploy. The Soviets first proposed fifteen to twenty years, with an indefinite period for negotiation about what could happen after this nondeployment period. The president accepted this idea but proposed seven and a half years.1
The president proposed this in his July 25, 1986, letter to Gorbachev .The other idea dealt with offensive forces. Gorbachev in his letter of January 15, 1986, had proposed the elimination of nuclear weapons by the end of the century, including the missiles that would deliver those weapons. The president, in a little noted but deeply felt proposal, had put forward in his correspondence to Gorbachev on July 25, 1986, the idea that the side that wished to deploy defenses be obligated to present a plan for “sharing the benefits of strategic defense” and for eliminating offensive ballistic missiles.2
The president's plan recognized that if such a program was agreed to with the Soviets, then other nuclear powers would need to be drawn into agreement as well.If ballistic missiles were eliminated before deployment of defenses against them, then no capability for a first strike would exist. The doctrinal dilemma would disappear, and the original objective of the president's Strategic Defense Initiative, freeing the United States from the threat of attack by ballistic missiles, would be attained. The deployment of defenses would be justified, anyway, the president argued, as an insurance policy against cheating or against some other power that might acquire offensive strategic missiles. I had pointed out many times to the president that ballistic missiles were the only area of Soviet advantage and represented the first real external threat to our homeland since the time of the American Revolution.
I told the president that we were in a strong position, that the handling of the Daniloff case had shown the Soviets that we could be tough and creative. We were entering the crucial phase, I said, in his effort to achieve deep reductions in nuclear forces.
We heard rumors that Gorbachev would come to Reykjavik with a blitz of proposals, but there were no official exchanges about the agenda except on the timing and composition of the meetings. After a preliminary one-on-one between Reagan and Gorbachev , Shevardnadze and I would join the two (along with note takers and interpreters) for three sessions: morning and afternoon the first day and morning on the second. No social events were scheduled. This would be a working occasion.
Arrival in Iceland
The town of Reykjavik had the compact build and serious, energetic manner of the northern fishing village it was and essentially still is. The president took over our ambassador's residence. I stayed at the Holt Hotel, which fronts on a narrow street not far from the water. The rooms were small and taut, as if to give the cold, dark, outer world as little space to penetrate as possible. I had been to Iceland before; I found it a comforting yet exhilarating place. The air was cold and fresh and stimulating. Yet, at this time of year, it was also foreboding, with its endless hours of darkness.
The past is a living presence for Icelanders: the sagas of the medieval settlers of the island comprise almost a bible, constitution, literary masterpiece, and cultural icon woven together. When I visited the Iceland Museum and viewed the ancient bundles of brown sealskin pages curled in a thick roll under glass, I felt a certain awe at the hardiness of both mind and body of those who settled this rugged land.
Late in the evening, Thursday, October 9, I met with Paul Nitze and Roz Ridgway , who had just come from Brussels, where they had briefed the NATO allies in detail about our approach to Gorbachev . They found “deep desperation” there among the allies, who considered our stance on virtually every issue to be too difficult for Gorbachev to accept. They hoped, and let Roz and Paul know they expected, that we would show more flexibility in the direct meetings to come.
Friday morning, before meeting with the president, I convened our entire delegation in our embassy's cramped conference room. With representatives from all the Washington agencies involved in arms control and others dealing with human rights, regional issues, and bilateral problems, the room was jammed. I went over procedural plans and listened to suggestions. The size of our diplomatic delegations was a joke to some. The “core thirty-four,” someone dubbed the Reykjavik team. The key working members of the delegation actually numbered about twelve. It was a far cry from the small, intimate, secret talks between envoys in the era of classic diplomacy, but this approach of mine was working effectively to ease the contentious atmosphere within our “team.”
I argued that everyone should be on the inside, to feel a sense of participation and responsibility and to be part of an effort to produce something significant for ourselves and our allies. I also successfully argued for a rule of silence: no one was to talk to the press. We would report to the public when we had something to say and then only through our official delegation spokesman. Anyone who violated this rule would be expelled from the delegation. In this way I hoped to avoid leaks to the press designed to stimulate outside pressures on the negotiations as they were under way.
The press accepted this approach so long as the blackout was observed impartially and the news was made available at the conclusion of the meeting. But reporters did not like the blackout. They had no one to quote for colorful inside detail on the talks; they could not play one assessment of a delegation member against that of another, thereby highlighting dissension in the team. They were “out of the action.”
The response of someone in the press corps was to produce a little tin can like those used by Icelandic fisheries. The label read, “Iceland Waters Blackout.” The instructions: in the event of a total news blackout, open the can; the ingredients: the substance of the Reagan - Gorbachev talks. The can was empty. If the press wasn't getting anything, there must not be anything there.
In sharp contrast, the Soviets were conducting a full-scale media blitz in the days before the summit. When we arrived at Reykjavik, we found that the composition of their delegation differed markedly from that of previous times. Usually, as Paul Nitze had pointed out, about half the Soviets' delegation could be linked to the KGB, but this time they numbered only a handful. Instead, the Soviet team was packed with officials associated with the media and propaganda. But as the substantive talks began, the Soviets agreed to our news embargo: neither side would tell the press what was transpiring in the negotiations until the sessions were concluded.
Friday evening, October 10, marked the culmination of tense negotiations with congressional leaders. The House of Representatives, with strong support from the Democratic leadership, was about to hand the Soviets two big gifts on the eve of the Reykjavik summit. One would mandate U.S. observance of the unratified SALT II Treaty, thereby handing the Soviets a victory over the president. The other would impose on us a moratorium on nuclear tests, once again a victory for the Soviets. The president's position, after extensive pulling and hauling within the administration, was that (1) as long as we had nuclear weapons, we needed to test them so as to improve them and ensure their safety and reliability; (2) verification measures needed to be strengthened in the signed but unratified Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (PNET), after which the president would submit the treaties to the Senate for consent to ratify; and (3) we were prepared to negotiate a step-by-step approach to limiting nuclear tests as the number of nuclear weapons declined. (The Soviets advocated a comprehensive test ban, reflecting in part their lead in the testing process, and had instituted unilateral moratoria on testing.)
Finally, in a telephone call from Reykjavik, President Reagan persuaded Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill to agree to withdraw the two proposals for House votes. “I'm delighted that now we can go forward united,” the president told Tip. It was a great relief to get that problem behind us, at least for a time.
The Summit Begins
Saturday, October 11, was day one. My morning began with an intelligence report called “The President's Daily Brief.” Collected and put together on a regular overnight basis, this document was brought to the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, and the national security adviser each morning by an experienced CIA briefer. This day, the briefer called attention to a veiled message the CIA was sending to the president and me. The Soviet army, we were told, was opposed to Gorbachev because he was open to making agreements with the United States. Soviet commanders were even contemplating assassinating him. The only way Gorbachev would survive, according to the message, was for him to be perceived as successful at the summit.
I left the Holt Hotel in a driving rain. As we approached the embassy, I could see the American flag snapping in the wind. I joined the president there for a final review and at 10:20 we left for Hofdi House, arriving before Gorbachev , as the president was host for the first meeting. Hofdi House, a grim structure set on a bare plain at the edge of the North Atlantic, looked like the haunted house Icelanders proclaimed it to be. The British had sold it in 1952 after pictures had unaccountably fallen off walls and an alarmed ambassador decided to move. The Iceland government had proposed a local hotel for the meeting site, but security people on both the U.S. and Soviet sides preferred this isolated structure, which could be guarded more easily. I was happy to get inside, where everyone was shedding dripping raincoats and blowing on their hands to warm them.
Gorbachev and his party arrived at 10:30 a.m. After a brief session for photographers, the two leaders met alone, and the rest of both delegations moved to the second floor. Each delegation had two small rooms and a bathroom with a shared large meeting room in between. Our rooms were on the left as you ascended the stairs, and theirs were on the right. After about thirty minutes, Eduard Shevardnadze and I joined Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in a small room off to the right of the entry hall. The meeting table was set near a window, giving a vista of the gray and turbulent sea beyond. President Reagan sat at one end of the small table, and General Secretary Gorbachev at the other, with Shevardnadze and me diagonally across from each other, close enough to our leaders to whisper or pass notes back and forth. There were two interpreters and two note takers.
In their private session, the president, as host, invited Gorbachev to speak first. I learned from the president and our note taker at lunchtime that Gorbachev had told the president that he wanted to present new Soviet proposals as soon as Shevardnadze and I joined them. President Reagan had pointed up at the outset of his remarks the critical importance of human rights and regional issues. He also said, with respect to arms reductions, “There is a Russian saying: doveryai no proveryai, trust but verify. How will we know that you'll get rid of your missiles as you say you will?” Gorbachev had replied that he accepted strict verification, including on-site inspection.
President Reagan had pushed for large cuts in the warheads on strategic arms, to 4,500 for ballistic missiles as compared with the Soviet proposed limit of 6,400–6,800, adding that even 4,500 should be seen as an interim goal on the way to the complete elimination of ballistic missiles. He and Gorbachev had confirmed to each other their mutual objective of eliminating all nuclear weapons, with parity and equality at each of the steps of reduction along the way.
With Shevardnadze and me now present, Gorbachev launched into a lengthy presentation of sweeping proposals on strategic and intermediate-range arms, space and defense, and nuclear testing. When he finished, he handed President Reagan a paper entitled, “Directives for the Foreign Ministers of the USSR and the USA Concerning the Drafting of Agreements on Nuclear Disarmament.” Gorbachev was brisk, impatient, and confident, with the air of a man who is setting the agenda and taking charge of the meeting. Ronald Reagan was relaxed, disarming in a pensive way, and with an easy manner. He could well afford to be, since Gorbachev 's proposals all moved toward U.S. positions in significant ways.
Gorbachev proposed that strategic weapons be cut in half: land-based and sea-based missiles, including the heavy ICBMs that gave us the greatest concern, and bombers as well.3
Both leaders had said they wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons, and both had called, in the START negotiations, for a reduction by 50 percent in offensive strategic arms. The position of the two sides differed substantially on what was meant by 50 percent, partly as a matter of bargaining tactics but more importantly because the makeup of strategic weapons possessed by each side varied greatly. The differences between these weapons systems made for difficulty in how to equate them, how to count a strategic bomber, for example, as compared with a ballistic missile with strategic range, and therefore in how to calculate 50 percent. In addition, particularly in view of the Soviet lead in the number of ballistic missiles deployed, we naturally insisted that the end result must be equality.On INF, he would accept our definition of strategic weapons, thereby equating missile systems by their range rather than by their presumed target.4
The Soviets had defined strategic to mean any weapon belonging to one side that could hit the other, thereby including our INF missiles deployed in Europe but excluding theirs deployed in the Soviet Union and aimed at targets in Europe and Asia. Before Reykjavik, in the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) negotiations, the president's original proposal that this class of weapons be totally eliminated remained our stated goal, but we had proposed many interim steps on the way to such an agreement. Always, however, we held to the principles that the outcome must be equal and the limits global in scope. We also insisted that intermediate-range weapons systems of shorter range than the principal ones at issue (the longer-range INF weapons) be covered by any prospective INF agreement and that the same principles of equal outcome and global scope must apply. We had no short-range INF missiles deployed, whereas the Soviets had about 120 deployed. The Soviets had not wanted to discuss their missile deployments in Asia and wanted to count the small but growing numbers of warheads on British and French systems. We insisted, as did the British and the French, that the negotiation concerned only U.S. and Soviet weapons.He proposed the total elimination of all Soviet and American missiles in Europe. He dropped what had once been a firm demand to include British and French weapons as part of the American count or in some other implicit way to be included in an INF agreement between us. He emphasized that this was a major concession on his part, since British and French systems were sizable, growing in number, and improving in quality. He argued that with massive reductions in nuclear weapons under way, agreement on a comprehensive test ban should be possible. He proposed a freeze on deployment of short-range INF systems, knowing that we had none deployed. The freeze would be followed by negotiations to reach some permanent understanding about these weapons. I thought to myself, if we have none and they have 120 and the deployments are frozen, we would be frozen into a permanent disadvantage. “What it really amounts to,” Gorbachev said to Reagan , “is your own zero option proposal of 1981.” He was in part right, but also critically wrong. He did not want to include intermediate-range nuclear systems in Asia, only in Europe.
Ronald Reagan listened quietly to Gorbachev 's dynamic presentation of “Soviet proposals,” which amounted to, in reality, his significant movement toward our proposals. Gorbachev went on to address the critical subject of SDI and the ABM Treaty: “We propose a compromise in which we adopt the U.S. approach of a nonwithdrawal commitment and a period of negotiations following it.” While the commitment and negotiation period were in effect, “both sides would observe the ABM Treaty strictly and in full. What is important here is to get a mutual understanding that permits research and testing in laboratories, but not outside of them, covering space weapons that can strike objects in space and on earth.” His “compromise” was a nonwithdrawal period of “not less than ten years” followed by “a period of negotiations of three to five years concerning how to proceed subsequently.” Gorbachev concluded, “The Soviet Union is interested in effective verification by any means necessary, including on-site inspection.”
When President Reagan got his turn, he commented briefly on various shortcomings of Gorbachev 's proposals. He reacted particularly to the ABM proposals. “The point is,” he said, “that success with SDI would make the elimination of nuclear weapons possible.” He went on: “Representatives of each side should be able to be present at tests, and if testing shows that a defensive system is practical, there would be an obligation to share and to agree on the elimination of ballistic missiles.”
“The pursuit of SDI will necessitate a buildup of strategic arms,” Gorbachev interjected.
“We are accused of wanting a first-strike capability,” Reagan responded, “but we are proposing a treaty that would require the elimination of ballistic missiles before a defense can be deployed; so a first strike would be impossible.”
Gorbachev seemed to me somewhat taken aback at President Reagan 's pleasant but argumentative reaction to his sweeping proposals. Gorbachev acknowledged that he had put many new ideas on the table and suggested that since the time for the end of this morning session had come, we should take a break. He hoped, he said, that the president would study the Soviet proposals carefully. The president agreed to do so.
I was relieved. Gorbachev had introduced new and highly significant material. Our response, I knew, must be prepared with care, capturing the extensive Soviet concessions and pointing up deficiencies and difficulties from our standpoint. I was glad we had on hand a knowledgeable team with all the expertise we needed. They could rework the president's talking points during the break. Excitement was in the air. I felt it, too. Perhaps we were at a moment of breakthrough after a period, following the Geneva summit, of stalemate in our negotiations.
Gorbachev 's Strategy: Concede and Press
I assembled our team in the claustrophobic quarters of our embassy's “security bubble,” a small, vaultlike enclosure mounted on blocks between the floor and ceiling of the room in which it was installed. There weren't enough chairs to go around. I reviewed the morning's session and the Soviet proposals. Everyone was surprised. Gorbachev 's proposals were heading dramatically in our direction. He was laying gifts at our feet – or, more accurately, on the table – concession after concession. The president joined us, joking. “Why did Gorbachev have more papers than I did?” Looking at the transparent walls, floor, and ceiling of the “bubble,” he laughed. “If there was water in here, could we keep goldfish?”
“This is the best Soviet proposal we have received in twenty-five years,” Paul Nitze said. Richard Perle pointed out that by accepting the zero option in Europe, the Soviets had conceded a great deal to us. But they could simply shift those missiles to Asia for a time and then move them back to Europe whenever they wished. I dispatched a team to work on the president's talking points to help frame his responses in the afternoon session. Included in his responses, the president agreed, would be his suggestion that a working group meet that evening to review carefully what had been accomplished during the day and, possibly, to prepare some agreed documents setting out the progress made. Nitze , Kampelman , Linhard , and Matlock did not go to Hofdi House that afternoon; they used the time to prepare for the evening session.
That afternoon, beginning at 3:30 and running until 5:45, President Reagan spoke from the heart, explaining why the United States would go forward with research on a strategic defense system in space. He vividly described his horror of a nuclear ballistic missile attack against which there was now no defense. The American people, he said, should not be left defenseless. SDI would eventually make possible the elimination of all nuclear ballistic missiles, he felt. Any testing of SDI would take place in the presence of observers from the other side. If tests showed that the system worked, the United States would be obligated to share it with the Soviet Union. Then an agreement could be negotiated on the elimination of all ballistic missiles and on sharing SDI. Ronald Reagan presented a visionary, revolutionary, far-reaching concept, and his presentation made clear how devoted he was to that vision.
Gorbachev was highly irritated by the president's presentation. “You will take the arms race into space,” he said, “and could be tempted to launch a first strike from space.”
“That's why I propose to eliminate ballistic missiles and share SDI with you,” replied President Reagan .
Gorbachev said regretfully that he did not believe that the United States would share SDI with the USSR. “If you will not share oil-drilling equipment or even milk-processing factories, I do not believe that you will share SDI,” he scoffed.
“We are willing to eliminate all ballistic missiles before SDI is deployed, so a first strike would be impossible,” the president declared again. Gorbachev , Reagan continued, was refusing to see that if SDI research was successful, it would become possible to eliminate all nuclear weapons. The president said he was willing to sign a treaty that would bind future American administrations, one that could supersede the ABM Treaty.
Tempers flared. Gorbachev hotly supported the ABM Treaty as the one agreement that had kept the world from nuclear war, and Reagan firmly pointed out that the treaty held vast populations hostage to a balance of terror.
Gorbachev asked for answers to his proposals. START? The president welcomed the Soviet proposals, responded to them, and suggested that a joint working party deal with the subject that evening. Zero option for INF? The president said Soviet missiles in Asia must be included. The two men agreed that this issue should also be referred to the joint working party. The ABM Treaty? The president spoke eloquently again about the need to free humanity from fear. “I'm older than you are,” President Reagan said. “When I was a boy, women and children could not be killed indiscriminately from the air. Wouldn't it be great if we could make the world as safe today as it was then?” Gorbachev reiterated his proposal. Again, they decided to refer the question of defense and the ABM Treaty to the working group.
The discussion turned to regional issues and human rights, with the president emphasizing, as he had at Geneva, the importance of these issues. “We arm because we don't trust each other,” the president argued, “so we must get at the human rights problems and regional disputes that are the sources of distrust.” Gorbachev pointed up human rights problems in the United States: crime, unemployment, discrimination. Yet he also seemed more ready than Soviets had been in the past to discuss these issues, on a reciprocal basis.
President Reagan again suggested that we each put a group of our senior people to work that night on arms control issues. Agreement was quick on a meeting at Hofdi House at 8:00 p.m. I made an urgent suggestion to the president that a second working group be convened on human rights, regional issues, and bilateral problems. The president agreed and proposed that to Gorbachev , who also agreed without hesitation. And so the first day ended.
We had not made any concessions but had received more movement from the Soviets than anyone had thought possible. President Reagan stood his ground effectively. He had advocated radical ideas: the elimination of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. These were ideas that he had put forward on other occasions, public and private. There was a tendency within our own government and among our allies not to take these ideas seriously. But Ronald Reagan was serious. So was Mikhail Gorbachev . Two serious men agreed that, as President Reagan said, “significant progress is possible.”
A Marathon Begins
The whole nature of the meeting we had planned at Reykjavik had changed. The working groups meant that a U.S.-Soviet negotiation had been launched. The president had informed Gorbachev of the composition of our working groups. Paul Nitze would chair our side of the arms control negotiations and Roz Ridgway the negotiations on other issues. Roz would bear down particularly on human rights, seeking to elevate that subject so that it would become a recognized part of our joint agenda. We knew that her counterpart would be Aleksandr Bessmertnykh . Over dinner, we speculated about who would chair the Soviet side on arms control.
A new face had appeared in the Soviet delegation, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev , the top military man in the Soviet Union, comparable in rank to the chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nitze had chatted with him in the Hofdi House room shared by the two delegations. Paul was impressed with the acuity of his mind and his command of the issues.
“I'm the last of the Mohicans,” Akhromeyev said to me in an informal moment.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked him, puzzled, as my mind flashed instantly to James Fenimore Cooper 's book. He explained that he was the last active commander who had fought the Nazis in World War II. “But that phrase, ‘the last of the Mohicans,’ where did you get that?” I asked.
“In boyhood,” he replied, “I was raised on the adventure tales of James Fenimore Cooper .” Literature can bridge cultures, I saw. This Soviet military man seemed far more at ease with himself, more open, more ready for real conversation, than had the professional negotiators of times past with whom we customarily dealt. We took Akhromeyev to be a man with a sense of history and an awareness of the American way. Our Soviet experts thought he would not be in their working group. He wound up as its chairman and did practically all the talking.
At 2:00 a.m., sound asleep at my hotel, I was awakened by Paul Nitze . He, along with Kampelman , Perle , Linhard , Hill , and Timbie , crammed themselves into my small sitting room. The Icelandic chill pervaded the room. I put a sweater on over my pajamas and over that a bathrobe. Nitze was agitated. He saw a chance to make real progress, but Rowny in particular in our delegation objected to any show of flexibility on our part: the Soviets would have to meet our positions entirely. Nitze went on, “On START, they would reduce by 50 percent in every category, but we could not agree to the unequal outcome that such a process would yield.” Nitze had insisted on equal numerical end-levels on warheads and delivery vehicles. We proposed a limit of 6,000 warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles. “On INF, Asia is still a problem.” Paul paused. “ Akhromeyev is a first-class negotiator. Communism is a flawed system and it will fail, but Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev is a man of great courage and character. If anyone can help the USSR toward its best aspirations, he can. But he is a good man in a bad system.”
“ Akhromeyev was agreeable,” Richard Perle said. “Then they caucused, and Karpov , we judged, argued with Akhromeyev for departing from Gorbachev 's proposal: 50 percent reductions, category by category, resulting in unequal outcomes.”
“So the military man is reasonable, and the Foreign Ministry man blocked him,” I said with a laugh. That was just the opposite of the message provided in the CIA's “intelligence” report of twenty-four hours ago.
“We're supposed to reconvene at 3:00 a.m.,” Richard Perle noted. “The problem is that 50 percent cuts across the board will leave the Soviets with more than we would have in every category where they now have more on their side.”
“We must stand our ground on equal outcomes,” I told them. Everyone agreed. “They have put something new on the table. We shouldn't be bound by the detail of our old position,” I said. “Sunday's discussion will be less precise, but potentially bolder, because Reagan and Gorbachev will be bargaining with each other, not with their hard-line advisers. What the president will need from us in the morning is boundaries of positions and words he should stick to.”
On INF, I told the group, “try to get to the point where we agree in a precise way on everything but Asia.” On START, “your job is to make use of – not just reject – their offer of a 50 percent cut in heavy ballistic missiles. Apply the 50 percent cut, then say that equality is their long-standing position. But we can't seek strict equality, as there are asymmetries in the two force structures. You guys have got to get loose from just restating our old position. Get SDI deployment worked into the equation so that continuing reductions in offensive weapons are clearly the result of a continuing SDI program.”
To Nitze I said, “This is your working group, and you're the boss. It's not a meeting in which everybody has a veto. There's no rule or requirement for unanimity on our side.” So, shortly before 3:00 a.m., Nitze led the group back to Hofdi House.
“I'm really sorry to have disturbed your sleep, Mr Secretary,” Nitze said.
“Who do you think Akhromeyev woke up?” I laughed. Nitze went back to work. I went back to bed. But I tossed and turned, mulling over how to handle the coming day's inevitable pressure – and potential.
At 7:10 a.m., Nitze reported in. The working parties had agreed on START: big reductions in heavy ballistic missiles and equal outcomes of 6,000 warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles on each side. And Nitze had achieved a critical breakthrough with Akhromeyev on bomber counting rules: a strategic bomber would count as one, no matter how many gravity bombs or short-range attack missiles were on board.5
This was a genuine breakthrough, since the “bomber counting” rule was a real stumbling block in deciding the meaning of an equal outcome when the force structures were sharply different. We had more bombers than the Soviets, but one gravity bomb on a bomber could not remotely be equated to a warhead on a ballistic missile.
“Damn good! It's what we came for!” I said, and pumped Nitze 's hand.
“The last sentence on sea-launched cruise missiles took an hour and a half,” Paul said. And they had come close to agreement on INF except for the Asian question.
“A terrific night's work, Paul ,” I told him.
“I haven't had so much fun in years.” He beamed. “ Akhromeyev is very sound,” Nitze said. “Great guy. We had a good exchange. Karpov was fuming. Arbatov was terrible. On our side, Rowny was negative.”
The long night's work was coming our way. We had won a 50 percent cut in strategic weapons to equal numerical outcomes, and, on INF, the Soviets had held to their new position that British and French systems need not be included. “The president's call for the total elimination of all ballistic missiles is the crucial point of our position,” I told Nitze , “because the more they cut, the less need there is for a full SDI; and if they cut entirely, there is no need for argument about SDI. Gorbachev is making these proposals and will expect credit for them. Fine, let him keep making them. His proposals are the result of five years of pressure from us.”
For the Sunday morning session we took our whole delegation to Hofdi House. People wandered about the upstairs sitting rooms, where huge oil paintings of subjects such as American astronauts in surreal landscapes hung on the walls. The president, in our premeeting discussion, agreed that our working group had made great progress in fleshing out and strengthening material developed during the first day. But the president also saw, as we all did, that much work remained.
When the president and the general secretary reviewed the night's work, their faces fell. The president said the group had done well on START and on human rights and bilateral issues, but nothing had been pushed forward in other areas. President Reagan said he was disappointed. What about INF? Gorbachev said he was very disappointed. The agreement on START was good, but what about the ABM Treaty and SDI?
I thought, here are stunning breakthroughs in Soviet-U.S. arms control negotiations – they both know that – and they are both disappointed! I was far more impressed with the accomplishments so far than they were. But I also agreed with the president that now was the time to press Gorbachev in order to get as much out of this meeting as possible before the negotiators returned to the traditional framework in Geneva.
The weather was alternating every half hour or so between dark, driving rain and brilliant sunshine, and the course of our work mirrored the weather. Round and round we went. On INF, the president finally won from Gorbachev agreement to limit Soviet missiles in Asia to 100 warheads, matched by our right to deploy 100 in the United States, presumably in Alaska, aimed at targets in the Asian part of the Soviet Union. The Soviets also recognized that short-range INF missiles would need to be dealt with as part of any final agreement. The president agreed to this outcome as an interim step but put Gorbachev on notice that he would continue to press for the elimination of all long-range INF weapons.
At one point I needed copies of a text I had drafted for us and for the Soviets. I asked for copies to be made, only to discover there was no copier in Hofdi House. Observing Charlie Hill frantically and fruitlessly searching the basement of the building, a helpful Soviet security agent offered us the use of Soviet carbon paper. “Ah,” Akhromeyev commented upon receipt of his carbon copy, “another triumph of Soviet technology!”
By the end of the session, which went from 10:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., well beyond the scheduled two-hour time, important developments were in hand: a refinement of language from the night before setting out accomplishments in START; resolution of the Asian aspects of INF so that we now had a package with the earmarks of the kind of agreement we had been seeking; the makings of an approach to the prickly issue of nuclear testing that had caused the president so much trouble in Congress; and forward movement on the issues of space and defense, though without approaching anything that could be called an agreement. Gorbachev , I could see, was totally dissatisfied with where matters stood on the space and defense issues.
The exchange between Reagan and Gorbachev on INF had been particularly interesting, with argument and movement from both sides. The atmosphere was one of constructive problem solving. Gorbachev talked about his huge concession in agreeing not to count British and French systems in what he viewed as the U.S. total. The president insisted that he must address the issue of missiles in Asia. When Gorbachev finally agreed to a limit in Asia of 100 on each side, the president looked over at me with a questioning look. I whispered to him, “We should keep after complete elimination, but this is a good deal, better than we were willing to accept before we came here.” The president then agreed to Gorbachev 's proposal.
An immense amount of difficult work remained before an INF agreement, in all its thorny detail, could be completed, but Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev achieved the essence of what became the INF Treaty there at Reykjavik. I wondered why Gorbachev held on to the 100 missiles in Asia. I came to feel that this was a test of sorts. Would President Reagan settle for something that was less than precisely what he wanted? An answer of yes would mean to Gorbachev , I speculated, that Ronald Reagan was truly willing to reach an agreement with the country he had once called an “evil empire.”
The language Roz Ridgway and Aleksandr Bessmertnykh had worked out the night before held up and provided an outstanding breakthrough: the Soviets had acquiesced by agreeing to recognize human rights issues as a regular, open, and legitimate part of our agenda. That was a magnificent triumph.
With so much in the works and so close to fruition – but with the SDI-ABM issues totally up in the air – Gorbachev said at one point, “We've accomplished nothing. Let's go home.”
Finally, the two leaders agreed, after a rather testy exchange, to add one more meeting. It would begin at 3:00 p.m. They designated Shevardnadze and me, with teams of advisers, to meet at two o'clock to try to work out agreed language that captured the progress made so far and develop a better way to handle the contentious space and defense issues. As the president was the host for the morning session, the Soviets left Hofdi House first. We had much work to do, I knew, so I stayed at Hofdi House with a key group while the president and Don Regan returned to the embassy for lunch. With me were Paul Nitze , Max Kampelman , Richard Perle , Bob Linhard , Ken Adelman , General John Moellering , and John Poindexter .
The president earlier had proposed to Gorbachev an approach to space and defense issues that posed three questions for our Geneva negotiators to address. The questions had not sparked interest from Gorbachev , but he had not brushed them off entirely. Maybe, I thought, we could instruct our negotiators to address those questions in a way that would allow us to move our positions forward and closer together. The questions were: How can activities with respect to the investigation of strategic defenses be synchronized with our shared goal of eliminating ballistic missiles? What should the conditions and time frame be for increased reliance on strategic defenses? Until these conditions are met, what common understanding can be reached on activities under the ABM Treaty on advanced strategic defenses?
Just then I got word that the Soviet side had broken the press embargo and had released a statement that the two sides were close to agreement on deep cuts in strategic weapons and a zero-zero outcome on INF.
President Reagan was back in his quarters in our ambassador's residence, and Gorbachev had returned to his delegation's headquarters in a Soviet cruise ship that lay offshore. We had agreed, I told members of my working group, to zero INF nuclear weapons in Europe. That would come as a shock to many people. We had to get word out to our European allies and to Japan and Korea: the Europeans had worried that we were not serious enough about arms control. Now they would need reassurance of a continuing U.S. commitment to Europe and the courtesy of hearing this information from us before any public announcement.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl had fought the battle of his political life to get Pershing II missiles deployed in West Germany. His had been an especially difficult fight. And the idea of ballistic nuclear missiles on German soil capable of hitting targets well inside the Soviet Union, maybe even Moscow, was a particularly sensitive point, a raw nerve, to the Soviets. Kohl had felt their pressure and stood up to it. His success had played a major part in obtaining Soviet agreement to our proposal in INF. I told Roz Ridgway to get on the phone to Horst Teltschik , Kohl 's equivalent to our national security adviser, to counterparts in the other basing countries, and to Japan (which had sent a special representative to Reykjavik).
At this point the global INF limit we had agreed on was 100 INF missiles on each side, with the Soviets' in Asia and ours in the continental United States. We would go to work on eliminating the last 100 and achieving agreement on a zero-zero outcome globally. West Germany, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Japan – all would have to be told right away what was happening here. I directed delegation members to get the word out: we had broken through the problem of INF in a manner totally consistent with our guiding principles and original objectives.
That afternoon, we were back at the negotiating table. Shevardnadze and I sat on opposite sides of a long table, each of us flanked by our delegations, protagonists in the long cold war struggle over nuclear arms and ballistic missiles. I opened our discussion with what I regarded as a solvable drafting problem: the issues in nuclear testing. I found Shevardnadze cold, almost taunting. The Soviets had made all the concessions, he said. Now it was our turn: there was no point in trying to perfect language on other issues. Everything depended on agreement on how to handle SDI: a ten-year period of nonwithdrawal and strict adherence to the terms of the ABM Treaty during that period. That was their bottom line.
Bob Linhard , an air force colonel and arms control expert assigned to the NSC staff, with Perle looking over his shoulder, was scribbling away on a draft, which he then passed to the other American delegates, who one by one nodded in assent. Then Poindexter passed it to me. I read the draft carefully. Linhard had combined in an interesting way ideas we had put forward earlier. Richard Perle had tried out something close to this on me before we came to Reykjavik. Poindexter had suggested to the president during our private dinner the night before, reflecting our feeling that something bold from us might be called for, that we should consider using in a dramatic way Weinberger 's idea of eliminating ballistic missiles. The president had not objected.
I said to Shevardnadze , “I would like to explore with you an idea that I have not discussed with the president, but please hear me out. This is an effort by some of us here to break the impasse. I don't know how the president will react to it. If, after we break, you hear some pounding in our area, you'll know that is the president knocking my head against the wall.” I then read:
Both sides would agree to confine itself to research, development and testing which is permitted by the ABM Treaty, for a period of 5 years, through 1991, during which time a 50% reduction of strategic nuclear arsenals would be achieved. This being done, both sides will continue the pace of reductions with respect to the remaining ballistic missiles, with the goal of the total elimination of all offensive ballistic missiles by the end of a second 5-year period. As long as these reductions continue at the appropriate pace, the same restrictions will continue to apply. At the end of the 10-year period, with all offensive ballistic missiles eliminated, either side would be free to deploy defenses.
Shevardnadze immediately questioned why we would want the right to deploy defenses at the end of ten years. By that time, it was almost 3:00 p.m., and the leaders had returned to Hofdi House. Each side caucused. President Reagan was entirely comfortable with the Linhard idea. He regarded it as his own idea dressed up in the lingo of arms control. His most ardently held goal as president was his desire to work to rid the American people of the threat of annihilation from ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads. The caucus on each side proceeded feverishly, delaying the start of our afternoon meeting until 3:25.
Gorbachev led off by reading out what amounted to a Soviet counter-proposal:
The USSR and the United States undertake for ten years not to exercise their existing right of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which is of unlimited duration, and during that period strictly to observe all its provisions. The testing in space of all space components of anti-ballistic missile defense is prohibited, except research and testing conducted in laboratories. Within the first five years of the ten-year period (and thus by the end of 1991), the strategic offensive arms of the two sides shall be reduced by 50 percent. During the following five years of that period, the remaining 50 percent of the two sides' strategic offensive arms shall be reduced. Thus by the end of 1996, the strategic offensive arms of the USSR and the United States will have been totally eliminated.
President Reagan responded that “this seems only slightly different from the U.S. position.”
“There are important differences,” I interjected. The president then proceeded to read out the same position I had given Shevardnadze , thereby putting presidential authority behind the Linhard idea.
Back and forth went Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev .
Reagan argued: “I've given you the ten-year period you wanted, and, with no ballistic missiles, you cannot fear a first strike or any harm from SDI. We should be free to develop and test during the ten years and to deploy at the end. Who knows when the world will see another Hitler . We need to be able to defend ourselves.”
Gorbachev knocked back: “Leave open for negotiation what will happen at the end of ten years, prohibit testing in space and confine research and testing to the laboratory.” He was candid enough to say what his proposal was aimed at: “For ten years the ABM Treaty will not be gone around, and there will be no deployments in space while [emphasis added] offensive weapons are being eliminated.”
Gorbachev obviously knew, but did not say directly, that the restrictions he wanted would make the successful development of a strategic defense extremely remote. No doubt he worried that if SDI research proved successful in the near term, the United States would simply not wait for the ten years to expire before deploying. I sensed, too, that SDI was, in a powerful way, propelling the Soviet concessions, in part because they feared that we were further along technically than we actually were. (I also remembered thinking of this likelihood when the president delivered his SDI speech in March 1983.)
President Reagan saw that a restriction of SDI research to the “laboratory” meant that the research would be badly hampered and far less productive than he wanted it to be. He would not agree to such a restriction. He asked Gorbachev , “If you feel so strongly about the ABM Treaty, why don't you dismantle the radar you are building at Krasnoyarsk in violation of the treaty?”
I had asked for a copy of the Soviet proposal. We had one typed. The president called on me to address the differences between the two texts. I identified what happened during the ten-year period, what happened at the end, and the difference in the second five-year period between “strategic offensive arms” in their proposal and “offensive ballistic missiles” in ours. We went back and forth on these points without resolution but agreed at 4:30 to take a break to assess within each delegation where matters stood.
During the break, after discussion among all advisers, the president agreed that we should not change our proposals, but we worked out a new text, putting our proposals into the Soviet format. When the leaders reconvened, the president read out our revision:
The USSR and the United States undertake for ten years not to exercise their existing right of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which is of unlimited duration, and during that period strictly to observe all its provisions while continuing research, development and testing, which are permitted by the ABM Treaty. Within the first five years of the ten-year period (and thus through 1991), the strategic offensive arms of the two sides shall be reduced by 50 percent. During the following five years of that period, all remaining offensive ballistic missiles of the two sides shall be reduced. Thus by the end of 1996, all offensive ballistic missiles of the USSR and the United States will have been totally eliminated. At the end of the ten-year period, either side could deploy defenses if it so chose unless the parties agreed otherwise.
“What has happened to the laboratory?” Gorbachev asked. “Why shift to just ballistic missiles in the second fiv, e-year period?”
The two leaders argued back and forth about their differences. Shevardnadze pondered and stared out the window. I kept drafting, trying to find the language of acceptance. As I wrote, their words rose to an increasingly intense crescendo.
“We are so close!” Reagan said.
“Mr President, may I draw your attention to the fact that our , proposal allows us to take account of all positions as they may emerge after ten years,” Gorbachev responded. “To sum up: there would be a ten-year period in which the two sides would not withdraw from the ABM Treaty but would adhere strictly to it. You can conduct laboratory [emphasis added] research. After the ten years, and during the ten years, we can completely eliminate all strategic weapons.”
“If we both eliminate nuclear weapons, why would there be a concern if one side wants to build defensive systems just in case?” Reagan asked pointedly. “Are you considering starting up again with weapons after ten years? I have a different picture. I have a picture that after ten years you and I come to Iceland and bring the last two missiles in the world and we have the biggest damn party in celebration of it!”
“Mr President, we are close to a mutually acceptable formula. Don't think we have evil designs. We don't,” Gorbachev answered.
“A meeting in Iceland in ten years: I'll be so old you won't recognize me. I'll say, ‘ Mikhail ?’ You'll say, ‘ Ron ?’ And we'll destroy the last two,” Reagan said.
“I may not be living after these next ten,” Gorbachev remarked.
“I'll count on it,” Reagan responded.
“Now you can go smoothly to age 100. You have already passed through the danger period. I'm just entering it. Beyond that, I'll have the burden of having gone through all these meetings with a president who doesn't like concessions. He wants to be a winner. We must both be winners,” Gorbachev said forcefully.
“I can't live to 100 worrying that you'll shoot one of those missiles at me. Fifty percent. We both got it. You told your people ten years and you got it,” Reagan said. “I told my people I wouldn't give up SDI; so I have to go home saying I haven't. Our people would cheer if we got rid of the missiles.”
“Well, what we say about research and testing in the laboratory constitutes the basis and the opportunity for you to go on within the framework of SDI,” Gorbachev said. “So you would not have renounced SDI on your side. I am a convinced opponent of a situation where there is a winner and a loser in our meeting. If that is the case, then after agreement and ratification, the loser would take steps to undermine the agreement. So that cannot be the basis. There has to be equal footing. Otherwise you can say that the agreement is in keeping with the U.S. position, and I can't say it is in the interests of the USSR. So the documents should be deserving of ratification in the interests of both sides.”
“What's wrong with saying ‘research, development, and testing as permitted by the ABM Treaty’?” asked Reagan . “Then, when we meet in Washington in the summer, we could discuss whether testing is allowed under ABM provisions.”
Periodically throughout the discussion the president drove the level of tension up with pronouncements about the aggressive intentions of Marx and Lenin and about the horrors of continued reliance on Mutual Assured Destruction to keep the peace – a fate, he said, that the ABM Treaty inflicted on humanity. At one point, after the president had started to quote Lenin , Gorbachev laughed, “Well, at least we've gotten past Marx and on to Lenin .” But Gorbachev would not be drawn into an argument or debate about ideology. Then, in the pull and haul over “strategic” versus “ballistic,” Reagan said, “It would be fine with me if we eliminated all nuclear weapons.”
Gorbachev shot back, “We can do that. Let's eliminate them. We can eliminate them.”6
I was criticized in the aftermath of Reykjavik for not “stopping” Ronald Reagan from offering to eliminate nuclear weapons. I responded that President Reagan had taken that position publicly and privately many times: before and after national elections. I knew that no one could stop him from taking this position in which he believed deeply and on which he had campaigned.But Gorbachev , referring to the many concessions he had made, said that he wanted only one concession in return, SDI. I felt that Gorbachev had instructions or had agreed – perhaps with the Politburo – that he had to get the scalp of SDI.
President Reagan did not give up. “Listen once again to what I have proposed: during that ten-year period strictly to observe all provisions of the ABM Treaty, while continuing research, testing, and development which is permitted by that treaty. It is,” he said, “a question of one word.”
Gorbachev responded that the president should agree to that word: “If we are to agree to deep reductions and elimination of nuclear weapons, we must have a firm footing, a front and a rear that we can rely on. I cannot go back to Moscow and say we are going to start reductions and the U.S. will continue to do research, testing, and development that will allow it to create weapons and a large-scale space-defense system in ten years. If I go back and say that research and testing and development can go on outside the laboratory and the system can go ahead in ten years, I will be called a dummy and not a leader. You are asking me to allow you to develop a system that will permit the U.S. to destroy the Soviet Union's offensive nuclear potential.” This was “not an acceptable request,” he said.
President Reagan countered, “There will be no offensive weapons left to destroy, and space defenses could not be deployed for ten years or so.”
The stalemate proceeded. Gorbachev reiterated that the president should agree that “the testing in space of all space components of missile defense is prohibited, except research and testing conducted in laboratories.” Gorbachev then said with resignation that he had tried to move everywhere he could. “I tried to do so. My conscience is clear before the president and his people. What depended on me I have done.” Finally, Gorbachev said, “It's ‘laboratory’ or good-bye.”
President Reagan wrote a note and pushed it over to me. “Am I wrong?” I looked at him and whispered back, “No, you are right.”
The Soviets, I thought, had agreed to our long-standing proposals. They had done so, I believed, because of SDI. They wanted SDI to wither and die. If President Reagan had agreed – by this compromise – to let SDI die, we would have had no leverage to propel the Soviets to continue moving our way. I admired the president for hanging in there. If he had given in on SDI, all the other progress we had achieved with the Soviets would have been problematic. Gorbachev came to Reykjavik prepared to make concessions because of the pressure of SDI, but he also came to kill SDI, and he went to the well once too often. Confining SDI to the “laboratory” meant that Gorbachev was trying to impose an interpretation on the ABM Treaty that was more restrictive than that held by the most ardent supporters of a strict interpretation among congressional Democrats and the mainstream of the arms control community.
Appearance versus Reality
Ronald Reagan , disappointed but resigned to the inability to resolve this impasse, stood up, as did Gorbachev . They gathered their papers. “Please pass on my regards to Nancy ,” Gorbachev said. It was dark when the doors of Hofdi House opened and we all emerged, almost blinded by the klieg lights. The looks on our faces spoke volumes. As one reporter said, “We read their body language as they came out, and it said, ‘Close, but no cigar.’” As I later watched the TV news footage of President Reagan and me leaving Hofdi House, I saw that more than body language conveyed a message: our faces looked stricken and drained.
“I still feel we can find a deal,” Reagan said to Gorbachev as they parted below the steps of Hofdi House.
“I don't think you want a deal,” Gorbachev replied. “I don't know what more I could have done.”
“You could have said yes,” Reagan said.
“We won't be seeing each other again,” said Gorbachev . That last remark was overheard by many people, and a rumor flashed out that U.S.-Soviet relations had collapsed, that Gorbachev refused to meet Reagan again. From the context, I knew that this was not what he meant: Gorbachev was saying simply that the departure schedules of the two meant that they would not meet again in Reykjavik. But the rumor added to the mounting perception that a terrible failure had just occurred.
The president, Don Regan , and I rode back to the American ambassador's residence in the president's limousine. I would hold a press conference in a short while. I told him I thought I should just report what happened. The president agreed.
Back in the residence, we three and Poindexter slumped in chairs in the solarium. “Bad news. One lousy word!” the president said.
“The haggling was not over one word,” I said. “It was over what the word stood for. And we were nowhere near agreement on ‘strategic arms’ versus ‘ballistic missiles.’” The sweep of what had been achieved at Reykjavik was nevertheless breathtaking. The president reaffirmed that I should go before the press and report what had happened, holding nothing back. And I did.
Certainly no major diplomatic meeting ever concluded with such a complete recounting of what had gone on behind closed doors. There were no leaks from Reykjavik. Everything was set out on the record. I described the deliberations at a press conference immediately after leaving the embassy residence, and the top members of our team were dispatched to brief governments around the world.
At my press conference, I looked worn and exhausted, and I was. And that is what the cameras and the analysts registered – my appearance. The words I used, including words of near success of breathtaking magnitude, registered far less to the viewing audience than did my demeanor, which reflected deep disappointment that – at least temporarily – a dazzling array of Soviet concessions had been scuttled. The reality of the actual achievements at Reykjavik ironically never overcame the perception conveyed by the scene of Reagan and Gorbachev parting at Hofdi House and my own depressed appearance at my press conference.
“One of the Most Amazing Events …”
Paul Nitze told me, “As I was bidding farewell to Marshal Akhromeyev upstairs at Hofdi House, he said to me, ‘I hope you will forgive me. I tried. I was not the one who let you down.’ And as he turned away, Akhromeyev said, according to his translator, ‘Someone must bear the responsibility.’ Aleksandr Bessmertnykh said, ‘That's not accurate,’ and he corrected the translator, ‘Someone must bear this cross.’”
As I flew on to Brussels to brief our allies, I thought about Akhromeyev 's words. Far-reaching concessions to the American positions had been put forward, orchestrated by Gorbachev , over the two days: it was an elaborate chesslike performance. At the end, Gorbachev pulled the rug out. Was his plan to entice Reagan to abandon SDI or else all his concessions would come off the table, at least in a formal sense? That would explain Akhromeyev 's parting remark to Nitze .
Gorbachev 's approach had been brilliant, but he neglected two points: President Reagan 's deeply felt commitment to a new, defense-based concept of deterrence; and the fragility of the Soviet arms control concessions. Without SDI as an ongoing propellant, these concessions could wither away over the next ten years. I knew that the genie was out of the bottle: the concessions Gorbachev made at Reykjavik could never, in reality, be taken back. We had seen the Soviets' bottom line. The concessions could, I felt confident, be brought back to the negotiating table. At Reykjavik, we had reached virtual agreement on INF and had set out the parameters of START. And we had gotten human rights formally on the negotiating table.
At NATO, when I briefed the foreign ministers of the allies on what had happened, their reaction was positive: the negotiations had been a striking success in bringing out Soviet positions that had not emerged earlier.
When the summit finally ended on Sunday, the press had registered on our appearances, our visible discouragement, and called the summit a “failure,” a time of “bitter disappointment.” Congressman Ed Markey criticized that Reagan “had a chance to cash in ‘star wars’ for the best deal the Russians have offered us since they sold us Alaska.” But the reality was that Reykjavik was a stupendous success. At NATO, the foreign ministers felt Reykjavik was an astounding achievement.
Back in Washington on Tuesday morning, October 14, I shared my thoughts with the president. I thought of Christopher Columbus , who at the time was said to have failed because he only landed on a couple of islands and didn't bring back any gold to Spain. But after a while people realized that he had come upon a New World. “In a way, you found a new world this weekend,” I told the president. “Some of the critics used to say that your positions were too tough. Others used to say that they were unrealistic – like zero-zero. But at Reykjavik you smoked the Soviets out and they are stuck with their concessions.
“So we have to move fast to lock them in. We should instruct our Geneva team to move the positions up to reflect what Gorbachev has given; consolidate our achievement in INF, testing, human rights, and other areas,” I said. “Substantively, where do we go from here? I feel we should just stop referring to a future summit. But I will see Shevardnadze in Vienna in early November, and possibly in Finland in early December. We should move at this ‘working level’ on these occasions and others.” As Rod McLeish had expressed it on National Public Radio, Reykjavik was “one of the most amazing events in diplomatic history.”
The achievements at the Reykjavik summit were greater than those in any U.S.-Soviet meeting before, but the popular perception of the outcome in Iceland at the time was one of near disaster or near farce. Over the years, that perception hardened into accepted truth.
At Reykjavik, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed that human rights would become a regular and recognized part of our agenda. They reached the basis for a first step of 50 percent reductions in Soviet and American strategic nuclear forces over a five-year period – something others considered impossibly ambitious. They reached agreement on even more drastic reductions in intermediate-range nuclear weapons, down from a Soviet total of more than 1,400 warheads to only 100 Soviet INF missiles worldwide. That reduction would cut by more than 90 percent the Soviet SS-20 warheads then targeted on our allies and friends in Europe and Asia. This breakthrough would eventually lead to a zero-zero outcome: the total elimination of an entire category of nuclear weapons for the first time in history.
Reagan and Gorbachev created a format for negotiation about space and defense, involving a nonwithdrawal period, consideration of what could be done at the end of the period, and argument over the research, development, and testing activity allowed under the ABM Treaty. Gorbachev must have calculated that with only SDI standing in the way of major reductions in START and INF, pressures would mount in the United States, let alone Europe and Japan, in opposition to SDI. Public reaction seemed to work in exactly the opposite direction: if Gorbachev is so concerned about SDI, then there must be something to it, so let's support SDI.
Beyond this, President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev went on to discuss further steps to enhance global stability. President Reagan proposed to eliminate all ballistic missiles over the subsequent five years. Gorbachev proposed to eliminate all strategic offensive forces. They talked about the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. The very scope of the talk was historic, even if disturbing to those who could not accept such a radical shift in the nuclear balance. Reykjavik was the most remarkable superpower meeting ever held.
Yet there were many second thoughts and criticisms that the president had gone too far. Admiral Bill Crowe , on behalf of the military chiefs, told the president that the chiefs were alarmed at the idea of giving up ballistic missiles. Apparently, they had not taken Cap Weinberger seriously when he made that proposal, nor had they objected when the idea found its way into a letter from President Reagan to Gorbachev . I wondered to myself, later, whether I would have been wiser not to use the Linhard idea in my meeting with Shevardnadze . But I think that had I not introduced the idea, President Reagan would have proposed it himself. In truth, the world was not ready for Ronald Reagan 's boldness.
The outcome at Reykjavik portended such a departure from the past that it split my colleagues in the State Department. Paul Nitze saw the outcome in the perspective of the long years of the cold war. “The Kremlin sees a nonnuclear world as removing the one really fatal threat to them. So it is attractive to them,” he said. “After all, no one is going to attack them conventionally.”
Rick Burt and Roz Ridgway , however, thought our policy would create a major danger to the alliance – a view that Henry Kissinger would soon take up. “The Western Europeans, unable to rely on an instant U.S. nuclear response on their behalf, will make their political accommodation with the Soviet Union,” he said. Others agreed that the path we were pursuing would strain the Western alliance, even distance us from our closest friends, which, they felt, was what the Soviets wanted all along. In this view, we had walked into a trap at Reykjavik. That was an argument I didn't buy.
“A love affair with the status quo has started,” Roz said. “A lot of people are starting to love the bomb.”
Not me. I recalled the fear and tension in 1983 when INF missiles were deployed, and I knew that we were doing the right thing in trying to achieve drastic reductions in these vast nuclear arsenals.
What happened at Reykjavik seemed almost too much for people to absorb, precisely because it was outside the bounds of the conventional wisdom. Ronald Reagan was attacking that accepted wisdom across the board. Reagan 's presidency was turning out to be the most radical since FDR's. That simply was not commonly perceived or appreciated. Reagan had stood up to totalitarianism, and its weaknesses were now exposed; he had stood up for freedom fighters, and their cause was gaining strength; and he was turning back the tide of the arms race. We were on the verge of eliminating intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe – perhaps everywhere – and we were even contemplating the notion of a world without nuclear weapons.
Post-Reykjavik: Explain and Defend
Meanwhile, a storm was brewing over at the White House and the Pentagon: “What did the president agree to at Reykjavik?” Many at the staff level were trying to walk the cat back. Eliminating offensive ballistic missiles would be okay, but not all nuclear weapons. I was probed on the subject at the National Press Club. Poindexter tried to talk President Reagan out of the idea of eliminating nuclear weapons. “It would be a catastrophe to eliminate nuclear weapons,” Poindexter said.
“Face it,” I responded to Poindexter , “the president's aim is to eliminate nuclear weapons. We shouldn't apologize or be defensive about it.” We certainly were not going to change Ronald Reagan 's mind. “I have watched Ronald Reagan for two decades,” I told Poindexter . “When he gets an idea in his head, it stays there. Cuts in marginal rates of taxation. SDI. Elimination of all nuclear weapons. He won't go away from those ideas. Don't write him off.” But to Weinberger , Poindexter , and many in the State Department, Reykjavik was regarded as a blunder of the greatest magnitude.
Telling me he could no longer sit in National Security Planning Group sessions with Weinberger being so “arrogant and negative,” Paul Nitze tendered his resignation. Looking back on his work over almost forty years of the cold war, Nitze said he felt that the United States had great assets and that it must use them to outwit the Russians. But the administration would not permit us to do anything new, he felt. I told Nitze I could not accept his resignation. He stayed.
I set myself two tasks immediately. One was to try to explain our achievements at Reykjavik to the public. To this end I agreed to give a major speech at the University of Chicago7
The nuclear age began when Enrico Fermi conducted the first controlled release of nuclear fission in a squash court underneath the university’s abandoned football stadium in December 1942.in November. Nitze and I realized that we must develop something other than the total elimination of nuclear weapons – that goal was too idealistic. We wanted an “insurance policy” that would include defenses (SDI) and a small offensive nuclear force. I would develop that theme in my speech.
Second, I wanted to offer the president, privately, my thoughts on how his major objectives might be realized in a comprehensive way. I drafted a memo, at the top of which I wrote “One Eye Only,” in an effort to draw attention to the pervasive “Eyes Only” cult of secretiveness. I carried the memo over to him and delivered it personally. I later showed a copy to Don Regan , but no one else ever saw it. I told him that the move away from nuclear to conventional weapons would be expensive. Nuclear weapons gave “more bang for the buck” and were a way in which we offset larger Soviet conventional forces. We must try to eliminate this conventional asymmetry but even so, I said, “As long as I have talked to you about budget matters, and this goes back well before the 1980 Campaign, you have had some very clear priorities: (1) provide for strong defense and national security; (2) reduce the marginal rates of taxation; (3) reduce the general level of government spending; (4) balance the budget.”
I went on, “Your fourth priority (curing the budget deficit) is having the effect of undermining your first priority (security). And while the marginal rates of taxation are now down, they won't stay down unless something different is done about the budget deficit.”
I then argued that the real threat from the huge budget deficit came from “its devastating impact on the net U.S. savings available for investment. We now rely on funds (savings) from abroad to finance much of our investment, thereby bringing about rapidly increasing ownership of America by foreign investors and governments. Beyond that, the large net inflow of funds leads to a large trade deficit, in turn a force behind moves to protect U.S. markets with most undesirable consequences.”
The only way to cure the deficit, I argued, was to combine “control over the entitlement programs” with “improvement in the revenue base.” I proposed “a substantial tax on the price of gasoline at the pump to avoid losing the conservation gains made in recent years and to avoid falling back into the oil trap” and “a way of addressing the problem of rapidly growing ‘entitlements.’ That is the place where the spending is most out of control, but where there is tremendous support for the programs. As for run-away agriculture, I could comment, but my secretary wouldn't type it.” The president thanked me for my observations but made no comments on the substance of my proposals.
I also tried my best to consolidate all the ground we had gained at Reykjavik. To those who worried about Soviet superiority in conventional arms, I argued in a speech to the National Press Club on October 17, “As we reduce nuclear arsenals, we'll have to address the conventional balance and deal with chemical weapons. We're working with our allies on how to address these important issues, and we have put the Soviets on notice that they must be addressed. And, I might say, they've done likewise with us – they see those same points.”
I remarked, “Many people have asked why I seemed and looked so tired and disappointed immediately after the meeting ended in Reykjavik. The answer is simple. I was tired and disappointed.” That got a laugh.
There were more general lessons from Reykjavik. For one, there was a significant value in thinking big. In this leader-driven atmosphere, many contentious issues that had long been blocked – INF reductions in Asia, counting rules for bombers, the problem of British and French systems, the importance of an equal numerical outcome in START – were broken out of bureaucratic stalemate and resolution was reached. Even though the Soviets withdrew these concessions at the end, I knew that we could reel them in again subsequently. I also saw the importance of prior engagement on issues. We had worked over START and INF extensively in Geneva, but because of fierce objections from extreme proponents of SDI, we had not really been able to engage the Soviets extensively on how to approach this complicated issue. There was a lesson here: we should not be afraid to engage out of fear of being outnegotiated.
I also saw, once again, how poor the quality of our intelligence was about the Soviet Union. We had no accurate help from the intelligence community about what to expect; in fact, the message we received from the CIA about what to expect in Reykjavik was exactly contrary to what transpired. The Soviet military was well represented and in the person of Marshal Akhromeyev presented the most reasonable Soviet face.
I took the criticism of Reykjavik seriously. Yet contrary to public perception, the accomplishments were immense. The Soviet agreement that human rights belonged on the regular agenda of U.S.-Soviet relations was astonishing. I thought we had in fact arrived at an enormous turning point. I recognized full well that the nuclear age could not be abolished or undone: it was a permanent reality. But we could at least glimpse a world with far diminished danger from possible nuclear devastation. A better world was possible. As I often said to the critics of Reykjavik and proponents of the status quo, “What's so good about a world where you can be wiped out in thirty minutes?” I had never learned to love the bomb – or the ballistic missile that carried it.