So Obama, ever the bright and prompt one when it comes to foreign affairs, has declared the Soviet Union Russia to be in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty—Ronald Reagan’s famous “zero option.” The violation occurred in 2009. Guess it would have got in the way of that whole “reset” thing to have brought it up at the time.
As it happens, I’m working on a new essay for a forthcoming academic book on the latest scholarship about the end of the Cold War, and along the way I’m reading Ken Adelman’s Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War. I quite agree with Ken on the thesis of his subtitle, and even though he was in Reykjavik as Reagan’s director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the State Department, I think he misses a couple of the fine points that occurred during the one-on-one sessions Reagan and Gorbachev had, and which appear more clearly in the more complete Russian transcript of those remarkable sessions. But that’s a minor point; Ken is an excellent writer with keen perceptions of things. When I delved through the oral histories of the Reagan Administration at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, I found Ken’s to be one of the most interesting ones.
There’s one passage in Ken’s book that is worth noting in light of the news of the current Russian treaty violation, describing a last-minute hitch in the INF Treaty that I’d never heard before:
Like many things after Reykjavik—including Reagan’s exhortation to “tear down this Wall” and the completion of the treaty itself—this East Room [signing] ceremony nearly didn’t happen. A glitch had suddenly arisen earlier that day.
Under the treaty terms, each side had to furnish a photograph of its missile, so the other could know what to identify during its monitoring. Someone noticed that the Soviets had presented us with a photo of the canister in which the missile is stored—which looks like any missile canister—and not the missile itself, which has distinctive features. When [George] Shultz raised the matter, [Soviet Foreign Minister] Shevardnadze claimed that there was no photo of the missile anywhere, only of its canister.
Even with so much at stake—the East Room ceremony having already been prepared, the guests about to arrive—Reagan decided to hold firm. He felt if they welshed on this peripheral provision, they would welsh later on more major matters.
We all held our breaths, waiting to see whether everything we had worked so hard to accomplish over the past fourteen months would be torpedoed at the last minute for want of a snapshot. But within the hour, the Soviets found that there was a photo of the missile after all. A faxed version was presented to us mid-morning—some three hours before the ceremony was to begin—with the actual photo arriving the next day. Once that crisis was resolved, the signing ceremony was good to go.
No doubt you spotted the key phrase here: “Reagan decided to hold firm.” When you are able to hold firm, you get photos like this:
But when you’re Obama, and you don’t hold firm on anything (his “red line” marker must be filled with invisible ink) you get photos like this: