I remember the year 1987 as being one of particularly heady days for me. While I had no idea that my life was going to head south for a while, literally and figuratively, I had started to become well aware of the international tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. About five years earlier while on a Boy Scout trip to an air base somewhere in Michigan, I asked a man in uniform, “Any commies up there?” He laughed and said, “No, no commies up there.” I didn’t have any idea what that really meant, other than commies were bad.
Twenty years later, as a slightly learned historian of the Cold War, I have perhaps a more nuanced perspective on Soviet Union and communism. Don’t read that to mean that I’m a fan of communism. I’m certainly not. I know a bit of what Leninist-Stalinist communism did to Russia and Eastern Europe, and it’s interesting to watch how it continues to evolve in China. How it affected American attitudes and ideas about the world is another subject altogether.
That said, I do recall the joy I felt in 1987 when President Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. I had been having nightmares about nuclear war, partially due to my study of nuclear weapons using information available in my grade school library. Hearing that Reagan and Gorbachev were going to meet peacefully was very reassuring. After the signing, both were seen as heroes in the United States—especially Gorbachev, who attained a celebrity status. (Remember the ad he was in for Pizza Hut? The dialog between the people in the restaurant about “being on the edge of economic ruin” because of Gorbie is frighteningly true.)
. According to Atomic Archive, the INF treaty “resulted in the elimination of 846 U.S. INF missile systems and 1,846 Soviet INF missile systems [a total of 2,692 missiles]… The INF treaty is the first nuclear arms control agreement to actually reduce nuclear arms, rather than establish ceilings.”
In 2010, talk of nuclear weapons is a distant thought for many. That said, we still have thousands of nukes ready for use. So it has been very encouraging to hear word that President Obama and Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev, have been drawing closer and closer to signing a new treaty. The New York Times reports that roadblocks towards having a treaty have been overcome, and a new treaty should be ready by April. It apparently would be signed at a summit in Prague.
Creating a binding nuclear weapons treaty and being able to negotiate its terms with Russia is no small task. When a new treaty is signed, President Obama will have achieved a second and very significant accomplishment.