Thirtieth Anniversary of NATO's Dual-Track Decision
The Road to the Euromissiles Crisis and the End of the Cold War

A U.S. Army photograph of the mobile Pershing II deployed in an unidentified woodlands location. (Photo from U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal Web site

Posted - December 10, 2009

Edited by William Burr

"Each side took steps to ensure its own security which the other in turn perceived as threatening its security."
-- Raymond L. Garthoff
(Note 1)

Washington, D.C., December 10, 2009 - Thirty years ago, on 12 December 1979, NATO defense and foreign ministers made a landmark decision designed to unify the alliance, but which also contributed to the collapse of détente and helped provide an agenda for the end of the Cold War. On the anniversary of the NATO "dual-track" decision that linked deployments of U.S. long-range theater nuclear forces (LRTNF) to proposals for negotiations with Moscow over those and Soviet forces, the National Security Archive publishes for the first time a selection of declassified U.S. documents that record some of the key developments in the U.S. and NATO decision-making processes.

NATO leaders saw the "dual-track" decision as a response to Soviet long-range forces targeting Europe and as a way ultimately to roll them back, yet the Soviet leadership saw the NATO plan as a threatening escalation of the nuclear arms race. Indeed, some in Moscow saw the NATO decision as the "last drop" that made them feel they had nothing to lose by invading Afghanistan. (Note 2) The NATO decision to deploy 572 ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM) and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe contributed to the deterioration of East-West relations and triggered the "Euromissiles crisis," involving anti-nuclear campaigns and mass demonstrations in Western Europe. The "dual-track" decision also led to the protracted and ultimately successful negotiations between Moscow and Washington that culminated in the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. An early sign that the Cold War was ending, this landmark agreement led to the elimination of some of the weapons that had produced the crisis in the first place.
The Carter administration played a central role supporting the NATO decisions, but it did not quickly agree to support the GLCM and Pershing II deployments, ultimately concluding that political and diplomatic imperatives made them necessary. Thus, Washington helped shape a consensus in NATO for a policy that integrated weapons deployments and arms control strategies. While many important U.S. and NATO documents on these developments remain secret, U.S. government declassification decisions make it possible to get a better sense of the "dual-track" process, including the very important alliance consultations. Among the declassifications are:

  • A State Department briefing paper from August 1978 [Document 2] emphasized a key issue in decision-making: because West Germany "may never be wholly satisfied with American nuclear guarantees … periodic reassurances (some in concrete form) have always been necessary." Making it essential to support deployments and arms control to alleviate West German fears was that country's "historically anomalous situation of being the most important military power in Europe, and yet denying itself (by domestic and international consensus) access to nuclear weapons."
  • A record of consultations with British diplomats [Document 3] who believed that the West German government had "overreacted" to the Soviet deployments of SS-20s and Backfire bombers. Nevertheless, London supported the strengthening of land-based LRTNF because NATO had to avoid a "problem of confidence."
  • A summary of talks with West German diplomats [Document 4], who "laid down an important marker" about their country's role as a host for Pershing or cruise missiles: Germany would not accept deployments of "additional ground-based nuclear systems" unless other NATO countries accepted them. Otherwise, "political and strategic isolation could result."
  • A State Department estimate of Soviet arms control perspectives [Document 8] provides Intelligence and Research [INR]'s perspective on the purposes of the SS-20, one of the bones of contention in the Euromissile debates. Analyst Arva Floyd took issue with the interpretation that the SS-20 provided a "threatening nuclear capability well beyond rational defensive needs." Instead, he argued that Soviet military planners viewed the missile in terms of "deep-seated and traditional … views about defense of the homeland." If war broke out, the Soviet military saw up-to-date nuclear systems like the SS-20 as "an essential insurance factor to be called upon to destroy NATO's theater nuclear potential if the [conventional] air offensive falls short."
  • The final report of the NATO High Level Group [Document 9] included the recommendation for 572 GLCMs and Pershings. The High Level Group supported deployments, in part, because both missiles "will possess a range sufficient to reach the territory of the Soviet Union from areas of NATO Europe, thereby denying the Soviets a ‘sanctuary' from which to launch attacks on NATO with their LRTNF." That Pershing II offered the "capability to strike time-urgent targets," meaning Soviet missile sites, suggested that NATO planners might have contemplated preemptive options, as difficult as they would be to attempt.
A photograph of the 12 December 1979 meeting of NATO defense and foreign ministers meeting to approve the "dual-track" decision. In the upper-left of the photo, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown are partially visible. Between them (sitting back slightly) is Deputy Secretary of Defense William Perry. Among the West German participants (on the right) is Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher who is speaking with Defense Minister Hans Apel (forearm up over table). (Photo from NATO Web site)

The Soviet decisions to build and deploy the SS-20 missiles that played such a crucial role in the Euromissiles drama have yet to be documented. Evidence in the BDM contract study for the Pentagon on Soviet Intentions, 1965-1985 suggests that the Soviet defense officials who played a key role in Moscow's defense decisions saw the SS-20s as a "modernization," although qualitatively superior, of an earlier generation of missiles that had targeted NATO Europe. For example, A.S. Kalashnikov, a missile tester, saw the SS-20 as a replacement for obsolete medium-range missiles and an opportunity to develop a mobile missile by using only one stage of the SS-16 ICBM.  While General Andrian A. Danielivich claimed that the SS-20 was a strategic and technological breakthrough that gave Moscow the ability to "hold all of Europe hostage," exactly what the West Germans feared, this was probably a retrospective exaggeration. He acknowledged, however, that "we did not anticipate some of the consequences of their deployment," confirming Raymond Garthoff's critical point that the Soviet leadership did consider the possibility of "counter-reactions" to the SS-20 deployments. (Note 3)

In this anniversary year of the "dual-track" decisions, several international conferences have already taken place (and more are planned) and a consortium of German historical research organizations have created an impressive Website devoted to the Euromissiles crisis, The Nuclear Crisis: Transatlantic Peace Politics, Rearmament, and the Second Cold War. In March 2009, a conference co-sponsored by the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC (GHI) and the Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) Munich-Berlin, occurred in Berlin, "The Second Cold War and the Peace Movement: The NATO Dual-track Policy in German and International Perspective" [Zweiter Kalter Krieg und Friedensbewegung: Der NATO-Doppelbeschluss in deutsch-deutscher und internationaler Perspektive]. The most recent conference, "The Euromissiles Crisis and the End of the Cold War, 1977-1987," co-sponsored by the Machiavelli Center for Cold War Studies, the National Security Archive, and the Cold War International History Project, among other organizations, is taking place in Rome, Italy, 10-12 December 2009. Like the conference in Berlin, the Rome conference has a wide-ranging agenda, looking closely at diplomatic issues, military policy developments, anti-nuclear movements, the East-West crisis, and the broader implications of the dual-track decisions for the end of the Cold War.


Read the Documents

Document 1: Memorandum to Vice President et al from National Security Council Staff Secretary Christine Dodson, "SCC [Special Coordinating Committee] Meeting, PRM-38, Tuesday, August 22, 1978," 18 August 1978, enclosing final draft of response to PRM/NSC-38 [Section I missing from FOIA release], Top Secret, Excised Copy

The NATO policy-making process that led to the dual-track decision had a complex history, but a key moment was in October 1977 when NATO's Nuclear Planning Group converted an existing task force on theater nuclear weapons into a High Level Group (HLG). Chaired by U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense David McGiffert, its purpose was to look into the requirements of TNF modernization and the implications (political, technical, and military) of various force postures. While nothing yet had persuaded the Carter administration that it was necessary to upgrade long-range TNF to counter the SS-20 or Backfire, pressure to do had built up—Helmut Schmidt's October 1977 speech, the "neutron bomb" fiasco, and political agitation by the former insiders comprising the Committee for the Present Danger—that made it difficult to dismiss the issue. While much needs to be learned about the HLG discussions, by the spring of 1978 a consensus had taken shape supporting an "evolutionary upward adjustment" of long-range TNF forces.  What exactly the adjustment would require had not been defined. Moreover, the Carter administration had not endorsed the HLG's findings. (Note 4)

In the following months, the NATO governments reviewed the issues raised by the HLG, with the Carter administration producing a major interagency report in response to Presidential Review Memorandum 38 which the NSC Special Coordination Committee reviewed during August and September 1978. The report looked comprehensively at the evolution of theater nuclear policy, the political and military pressures for deployments, deployment alternatives (Pentagon declassification reviewers massively excised this section), arms control issues, and four strategy choices:  "reinforced" status quo, deployments or arms control only, and an "integrated" deployments-arms control posture. While the authors did not make recommendation on a particular strategy, the negatives associated with the "integrated" option far were less grave than those identified for the others (e.g., status quo: a "completely inadequate" response to German concerns; deployments only could trigger a "serious general down-turn in East-West relations.")

Part V of the report was a two-part intelligence report. Part one provided background on the evolution of Soviet theater nuclear forces and military doctrine, as well as the nuclear-use options that Moscow may have been looking at. The second part estimated how Moscow might respond to NATO actions to change "force trends." While wide-ranging, the review of Soviet counter-reactions was narrowly focused and did not look at the possible impact of LRTNF deployments on the broader U.S.-Soviet diplomatic relationship.


Document 2: Richard A. Ericson, Acting Assistant Secretary for Politico-Military Affairs and George S. Vest, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs to the Secretary of State, "SCC Meeting on PRM-38, August 23," 16 August 1978, Secret

Preparing Secretary of State Vance for the SCC discussion of PRM-38, Ericson and Vest pointed to an emerging "consensus" in favor of an "integrated strategy" linking deployments of long-range nuclear forces in NATO Europe, such as cruise missiles and extended-range Pershing missiles, with a "strong arms control effort." Isolated deployments, without arms control proposals, would damage East-West relations; moreover, West Germany needed arms control as a "cover" for its support of weapons deployments. That West German views were critically important is evident in the discussion of "managing the problem of FRG [Federal Republic of Germany] confidence."


Document 3: State Department cable 258185 to U.S. Embassy London, "TNF Bilateral with UK," 11 October 1978, Secret

As part of the effort to develop a consensus in NATO, the PRM-38 report envisioned bilateral discussions with NATO allies on the arms control issues. The discussions with the British, the only major ally in the NATO military structure that was a nuclear state, were especially important. Believing that the West Germans had "overreacted to the situation," British diplomats nevertheless acknowledged that Soviet SS-20 missiles and Backfire bombers had "heightened concern about the theater nuclear balance," especially over the linkage or "coupling" between U.S. strategic forces and nuclear forces deployed in Western Europe. To avoid a "problem of confidence," it was necessary to "strengthen what [was] the weakest part of the coupling linkage [sic]": long-range, land-based theater nuclear forces. In part that would require "a larger U.S. long-range presence in Europe," whether it meant deployments of ground-launched cruise missiles or Pershing II.  Reflecting sensitivities about Germany and nuclear weapons, the British excluded West German "participation in any long-range system capable of reaching the USSR."

On arms control, the British delegation was unenthusiastic, but not entirely negative. Arguing that NATO had a "weak" bargaining position without its own long-range forces, they worried that arms control "would not provide a justification for [deployment] programs, but an excuse not to go ahead with them." Arms control possibilities should only be explored only after NATO had established its "total modernization requirements."


Document 4: State Department cable 261791 to U.S. Embassy Bonn, "Bilateral with the FRG on TNF Issues, 16 October 1978, Secret

A week later, senior State Department officials met with their West German counterparts.  During the course of the discussions, one of the U.S. participants argued that the strategic situation had "not fundamentally changed" but that "perceptions" had. In reply, senior Defense Ministry official Walter Stützle declared that "reality was changed."  The West Germans saw a projected "rapid increase in Pact RV [reentry vehicles] deliverable by new systems"; Soviet advantages in long-range theater nuclear forces could produce a "change of perceptions [about the] credibility of NATO deterrent." That made it necessary to find "solutions which would promote a stable overall strategic balance" but which took into account the requirements of "all alliance members," including the "peculiarities" of the Federal Republic's situation. Noting that West Germany had half of NATO theater nuclear weapons on its soil and was taking proportionate risks,  Ambassador Klaus Blech implied that a failure to accommodate Bonn could have a jarring impact on the its "status" in NATO, with significant implications for "East-West relations and the political-psychological balance in the alliance."  Indirectly referring to West Germany's unique position and the suspicions of German power, Blech referred to the "eternal problem": "FRG had to be strong enough to beat Russians, but weaker than Luxembourg."

Bonn's basic position was that long-range deployments and arms control positions needed to be "meshed." Arms control negotiations could occur in the SALT framework, but that would require "intensified consultations" involving NATO and key allies. On a possible deployment "package," the delegates did not provide specific views, but "laid down an important marker" about West Germany's role. It would not accept deployments of "additional ground-based nuclear systems" unless other NATO countries accepted them. Otherwise, "political and strategic isolation could result."


Test of a BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missile (Wikipedia Commons)

Document 5: State Department cable 292218 to U.S. Mission NATO, "Statement for November 20 NAC on TFN Issues," 17 November 1978, Secret

On 20 November, the Permanent Representatives to the North Atlantic Council met for "open-ended" discussions of theater nuclear force issues, focusing on the possible arms control dimensions of "modernization." A few days in advance, the U.S representative, Ambassador William Tapley Bennett, received from the State Department the text of a statement on the "principal political and technical issues" that he was to use at the meeting. NATO was still far from the decision point on deployments and the statement included an overview on the High Level Group's on-going deliberations over force options based on consideration of sizes, mixes, capabilities, basing modes, and cost-sharing arrangements.

One premise of the U.S. statement was that the alliance needed to settle fairly early whether "arms control could serve as a complement to force modernization." Such an exercise meant looking closely at "problems and uncertainties against the potential benefits." Among the uncertainties was that NATO's "bargaining position would depend initially on programs that had not reached fruition," which meant that the alliance had to be careful to preserve its leverage.  Moreover, theater arms control could "overburden" an already complex SALT process "with consequent implications for East-West" stability. Nevertheless, important benefits could accrue, such as limiting the "size and character of the Soviet threat", preventing a regional arms race, and enhancing East-West stability.  Before negotiations could even occur, however, a range of technical and political issues had to be resolved, including which systems were to be limited, geographic scope, ceilings, and the appropriate forum for talks.


Documents 6A-B: U.S. Mission to NATO cable 10805 to State Department, "Nov 20 NAC on Arms Control Issues," 24 November 1978, Secret, excised copy
Version A: Declassified 15 July 2009
Version B: Declassified 8 September 2004

The availability of two different excised U.S. versions of the 20 November North Atlantic Council "PermReps" meeting makes it possible to know who said what, although NATO's declassification guidelines probably required the State Department to delete the remarks of Military Committee chairman Zeiner Gundersen. In the course of the discussion, a number of the representatives took positions that generally overlapped with the position that the Alliance needed to take an "integrated" or "comprehensive approach" meshing arms control and "modernization" proposals. According to West German Ambassador Ruth, arms control and new long-range forces were "two sides of the same coin."  As in the earlier bilateral discussion in Washington, the British representative Moberly took the most openly skeptical position about arms control. He saw "common ground" in NATO on the need for "up-dating" of NATO's theater long-range forces, in order to fill "gaps" in the U.S.-NATO "continuous chain of deterrence."  While accepting the "two sides of the coin" rhetoric, what worried him was the problem of leverage, that "the earlier any negotiation was attempted, the weaker our hand might be." Therefore, he suggested that it was better to have a "clearer idea" about modernization before reaching "firm views" on arms control.  

Norwegian Ambassador Kjeld Vibe took a most skeptical view of the entire enterprise when he cautioned that "modernization … should not provide obstacles to negotiated arms control with the Eastern States." Arguing that NATO should "reduce [its] dependence on nuclear weapons," he emphasized the importance of bringing the enhanced radiation weapon [ERW]--the "neutron bomb"--"effectively into an arms control framework."


Document 7: Briefing Book for Director of Central Intelligence Stanfield Turner, "SCC Meeting 12 April 1979 White House Situation Room," Top Secret, Excised copy
Source: CIA Research Tool (CREST), National Archives Library, College Park, MD

In April 1979, well into the policy review process, the North Atlantic Council belatedly created a Special Group on Arms Control, chaired by soon-to-become Assistant Secretary of State Reginald Bartholemew, to produce "a realistic and comprehensive stance on TNF arms control." To help the SCC explore the options, the agencies prepared a briefing book that included background papers on arms control, among them a "Work Program for the Special Group," and a paper on "Issues in Theater Nuclear Arms Control" that was specifically prepared for the first Special Group meeting. Also in the package was material prepared by CIA and DIA including a "Threat Briefing" designed for presentation to the Special Group.   

One of the papers, "TNF Arms Control Objectives/Principles," defined the central arms control problem as how to "constrain, and if possible reduce, the growth of the Soviet nuclear threat to Europe." Described as a "candid statement," the paper was deemed not suitable for presentation to the allies without appropriate revisions. For example, the State Department would have likely considered unfit for European consumption the point (p. 3) that the United States had to make affirmative decisions on TNF to "exercise US leadership and reinforce European confidence in the existing NATO security framework." Thus, if the U.S. and NATO did not resolve the issue successfully, "Alliance cohesion could be shaken," and "confidence in US leadership could suffer a significant decline," with the "greatest danger [that] the FRG could begin to question the reliability of the US and NATO as the basis of its security." Another sensitive item appears during discussion of the complementarity of arms control and TNF modernization (p. 6): "A danger is that some Allies, in an effort to cope with internal political debate over modernization, will seek to make actual deployments hostage to the outcome of arms control negotiations." This was very likely a reference to the Danes (see Document 11 below).

One proposal that the SCC did not consider was a proposal, possibly from outside the CIA, that the clandestine services initiate a secret propaganda campaign against the Soviet "TNF threat in order to improve the political climate for NATO TNF deployments." Turner and other top CIA officials rejected the proposal as "out of keeping with present Agency policies."


Document 8: State Department, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, "Theater Nuclear Force Negotiations: The Initial Soviet Approach," 10 August 1979, Secret

While NATO's HLG and the Special Group on Arms Control were preparing their reports, the Soviets were starting to react to NATO's impending decision. Drafted by INR analyst Arva C. Floyd, the report estimated and analyzed likely Soviet moves to head off the anticipated NATO decision on long-range deployments with an arms control proposal designed to "[rally] West European opposition." Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had already made several public and private statements indicating that the SS-20 and the Backfire deployments were negotiable but because they were not strategic weapons, SALT was the wrong forum for negotiations. Whatever the Soviets did, Floyd estimated, they were likely to start with a simple proposal, such as a freeze on deployments of missiles with a range of over 1,000 kilometers. More complex proposals would encounter "intractable substantive complexities", e.g., difficulties in strategic systems and long-range theater weapons, which Moscow would rather avoid.

Floyd believed that the Soviets would advance arms control proposals because they had important interests at stake. The primary Soviet interest, he opined, was to "protect deployment programs of the new Soviet systems, especially the SS-20." Taking issue with the interpretation that the SS-20 provided a "threatening nuclear capability well beyond rational defensive needs" (or that it was a "blackmail" weapon), Lloyd argued that Soviet military planners viewed the missile in terms of "deep-seated and traditional … views about defense of the homeland." If war broke out, the Soviets envisioned fighting a conventional conflict with a non-nuclear air offensive, but they saw up-to-date nuclear systems like the SS-20 as "an essential insurance factor to be called upon to destroy NATO's theater nuclear potential if the air offensive falls short." Besides protecting the SS-20, the Soviets saw negotiations as a way to head off, at least delay, new NATO nuclear deployments, which they saw as politically and militarily threatening. For example, they would give Moscow an "uneasy sense that NATO is now preparing, for the first time, to confront the USSR on a terrain (land-based theater nuclear weaponry of longer-range) where the Soviet advantage had previously gone unchallenged."


Document 9: State Department cable 247871 to all NATO Capitals, "HLG: US Draft Report," 21 September 1979, Secret, Excised copy

The third and final report of the High Level Group offered details of the proposed deployments of GLCMs and Pershing II missiles and a line of reasoning in support of an "evolutionary upward adjustment."  The deployment plan is almost entirely excised, although the basic elements are in the public record: 572 missiles and matching warheads (108 Pershing II and 464 GLCMs), with the warheads replacing older-nuclear munitions (meaning no net increase in the U.S. nuclear stockpile in Europe). (Note 5) For the HLG, the numbers and the mix of weapons were enough to "demonstrate Alliance resolve" to provide "credible in theater responses to any Soviet aggression and address the emerging gap in the escalation spectrum."  Because both missiles could reach Soviet territory they would deny the Soviets "a ‘sanctuary' from which to launch attacks on NATO with their LRTNF."  Pershing II offered a counter-force capability because it could "strike time-urgent targets" while GLCMs could "attack a wider range of targets."

For these and other purposes, the HLG argued that a "token build-up" was not enough.  The deployments had to be large enough to "ensure and make evident that there are no weak links in the spectrum of military options available to NATO that the Soviets might exploit."  Moreover, deployments in the proposed range would provide "the necessary incentive for the Soviets to enter into serious arms control negotiations," an assessment which turned out to be incorrect. A smaller force, however, "would not give us high confidence over time" that the Soviets would see it as a "major factor."  Nevertheless, that the numbers did not match Soviet intermediate range force (3,900 warheads estimated by mid-80s) was deliberate.  As Raymond Garthoff put it, "to equal the Soviet force numerically could … have a decoupling effect, as it could imply that there was no need to escalate [a conflict] to the American strategic forces, and could thus threaten to leave a war limited to Europe." (Note 6)

The HLG plan was to deploy the Pershing IIs in West Germany, replacing deployments of Pershing I from the 1960s, with the GLCMs to be deployed in West Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands (At the end of the decision process, Italy offered to host GLCMs). In this way, NATO met the German "marker" (see Document 4) that it would not be the only continental European country to host the missiles.  According to the HLG, "widespread basing" was important to "underscore alliance political cohesion, risk-sharing, and commitment to the full territorial integrity of all members."

Document 10: U.S. Mission to NATO cable 07693 to State Department, "TNF: Permreps 6 November Discussion of Integrated Decision Document- Detailed Report," 7 November 1979, Secret, excised copy

This is a detailed record of the first general NATO discussion of the "Integrated Decision Document (IDD)," which the chairs of the High Level Group and the Special Group on Arms Control prepared to tie together their recommendations on LRTNF deployments and arms control. The essence of the IDD was the proposals to deploy the 572 GLCM and Pershing II deployments and to "move rapidly in the SALT III framework to negotiate an agreement to … set equal ceilings on the land-based long-range missile capability on both sides." A new feature in the IDD, however, was a U.S. suggestion to withdraw 1,000 warheads from the U.S. nuclear stockpile in NATO Europe.  That proposal had wide support because it gave a cover to the TNF decision by showing that it did not mean a net increase in NATO nuclear forces and implied somewhat less reliance on nuclear weapons (because the weapons were outmoded, this was something that the Pentagon had wanted to do for years).

The discussion took place in the wake of a 6 October 1979 speech by Leonid Brezhnev's denouncing the LRTNF plans as "upsetting the balance of forces" and an attempt by NATO to attain "military superiority." To check this development, he proposed to reduce the numbers of medium-range nuclear weapons systems deployed in the western Soviet Union, but only if the NATO countries refrained from new deployment.  That was a non-starter, not least because it left open whether the Soviets would continue SS-20 deployments. (Note 7) Citing the Brezhnev initiative, West German permanent representative Rolf Pauls "cautioned against giving the impression that … it could threaten or intimidate the Alliance in its decision-making."

The meeting began with a pep talk by White House representative David Aaron on the need to answer the Soviet "challenge," the importance of missile deployments to "close the gap in the ladder of deterrence," but also the urgency of avoiding "unrestricted theater nuclear arms competition." Aaron further argued that the administration rejected the idea that strategic parity and the gap in NATO's long-range TNF forces meant that U.S. strategic forces had been "decoupled" from the defense of Europe:  "The problem is …that the Soviets might come to believe that they had in fact achieved their goal of decoupling and begin to act accordingly," an argument which catered to Bonn's thinking about the impact of leaving theater nuclear balance disparities unresolved. Perhaps to underline the overall urgency, and update the "threat analysis," Aaron noted that U.S. intelligence had identified the construction of another SS-20 base but had also detected "a new, more widely dispersed, configuration of … deployments which could make our task of keeping track of the [missiles] even more difficult."

An interesting moment occurred when the Dutch representative Van Voorst Tot Voorst made an early reference to "zero" with respect to LRTNF arms control issues. He suggested that the IDD quote some of the language in the Special Group report which he cited as the "possibility of an arms control so successful as to permit NATO to consider suspending its own LRTNF plans." Describing that as a "zero deployment" option, he described it as a "theoretical option which would lead to removal of the Soviet long-range threat." The other participants accepted his suggestion, as long as the quotation was brought into "appropriate balance." Whether the Special Group report also mentioned "zero" remains to be seen, but the idea of a "zero option" was already in the air, with Dutch and West German Social Democrats thinking along those lines. (Note 8)


Document 11: U.S. Mission to NATO cable 08322 to State Department, "TNF Modernization – Detailed Report of Discussions on IDD at 28 November Session of   Reinforced Permreps," 29 November 1979, Secret

On 28 November, ambassadorial-level NATO permanent representatives of the nations participating in the Special Group and the HLG met for more debate and discussion of the IDD before its expected approval in December by a meeting of North Atlantic Council defense and foreign ministers.

White House representative David Aaron began the meeting with another pep talk and disclosed that another SS-20 base had been discovered. The discussion began with a dissenting proposal by Danish representative Anker Svart.  Probably worried about deployment's impact on détente in Europe, he proposed a 6-months postponement of the decision with NATO demanding an instant Soviet freeze on SS-20 and Backfire as a step toward negotiations. Svart had no support and the majority of the "PermReps" supported the IDD (with some minor amendments), although some supporters, such as Belgium, could not immediately commit to a cruise missile deployment.  Some of the ambassadors strongly rejected postponing a decision. Thus, British Ambassador Clive Rose declared that postponement was "impractical" but also had "major disadvantages for the alliance in military, political, and arms control terms." West German Ambassador Pauls argued dramatically that "if the Alliance did not make the TNF modernization decision, Americans could conclude that Europeans were not interested in defending Europe."

Under tremendous pressure from anti-nuclear activists, the government of the Netherlands was impelled to distance itself from a deployment decision. Ambassador Carl Barkman argued that NATO should reduce its "dependence on nuclear weapons"--the proposed 572 warheads typified "worst case" thinking—proposing a limited production decision, with production separate from deployment. The latter would come "after reviewing the results of arms control initiatives." Aaron had argued against the Danish proposal and he argued against this one as well, stating that it was "artificial and simply not feasible" to separate production and deployment.  Moreover, the White House could not ask Congress for money to produce missiles without a deployment decision.

Document 12: U.S. Mission to NATO cable 8919 to State Department, "IDD Formally Published as NATO Decision Document," 21 December 1979, Secret, excised copy

U.S. government records on the December 1979 North Atlantic Council ministerial meeting remain to be declassified, although they are the subject of pending Archive requests. Even the final version of the IDD remains classified, as this document confirms. One of the few public record traces of the decision-making process is the NAC communiqué explaining the dual-track decision. A key development at the meeting was the announcements by the Belgian and Dutch governments that they would hold off on receiving GLCM deployments, with Belgium willing to accept them in six months if there had been no progress in arms control negotiations, while the Netherlands announced that it would wait two years before making a decision on the plan.



1. Raymond L Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation: U.S.-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington, D.C,, Brookings Institution, 1994), quoted at page 935, but see entire chapter, at pages 935-976, on "European Theater Nuclear Forces," for an incisive overview.  For detailed discussion of West Germany and the dual-track process, see Helga Haftendorn, Coming of Age: German Foreign Policy Since 1945 (Lanham, MD: Bowman & Littlefield, 2006), 239-271. See also chapters on the late 1970s in a new book edited by Matthias Schulz and Thomas Schwartz eds., The Strained Alliance: US-European Relations from Nixon to Carter (Washington, D.C.: German Historical Institute, 2009).

2. Alexander Lyakhovsky, Tragedia i doblest Afgana [Tragedy and Valor of Afghanistan] (Moscow: Eksmo, 2009), 282.  Thanks for Svetalana Savranskya for bringing this to my attention.

3. For the relevant sections in Soviet Intentions, 1965-1985, see pages 32-33 (interview with Danielivich), page 91 (interview with Kalashnikov).  See also the interview with General Gelii Victorovich Batenin at page 8.

4. For an account of these developments, see Raymond Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 944-946.

5. For details, see Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 949-953.

6. Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 948.

7. Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 951-952.

8. Thomas Risse-Kappen, The Zero Option: INF, West Germany and Arms Control(Boulder: Westview Press, 1988), at page 48 credits the Dutch and the West Germans Social Democrats for the “zero” formulation.