1980s

Lowering the Nuclear Threshold - 1986

In 1986 an untested Soviet leader began employing a new political lexicon, and his expressions generated controversy and suspicion. As if proposing "substantial reductions of all forces in Europe" were not sufficient, there were also unimaginable words from a Soviet leader such as "dependable verification" and "on-site inspections." Given previous deceptive Soviet slogans like Stalin's "world peace campaign," the West was right to be suspicious. Yet despite Western reservations, there was an equal obligation to investigate these new policy changes.

 

At the time Gorbachev began disclosing plans for potential arms reductions in Europe, the Warsaw Pact was comprised of 5,343,000 soldiers, and NATO, 3,670,000, while the nuclear arsenals on both sides were proliferating. An entire generation grew up fearing that an accident triggered anywhere, at any time, could quickly spell disaster the world over. Thus, when the new leadership in the Kremlin started discussions toward arms reductions it was the moral obligation of EWI to contemplate these offers seriously.

 

The Institute at that time had accumulated some unusual back channel diplomacy experience. As early as 1984, during the conservative reign of General Secretary and former head of the KGB Yuri Andropov, the Institute hosted the first ever military-to-military dialogue meetings between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries. By 1986, the organization was well placed to host a completely unprecedented series of "non meetings" between highranking military officers of NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Budapest and Munich. The EWI Conventional Arms Reduction Working Group in the mid-'80s yielded surprising policy results. In September of 1986, leaders from NATO and the Warsaw Pact signed the groundbreaking Stockholm Agreement which reduced the risk of war in Europe by providing both sides with advance notice of troop movements, inspections and verified compliance. Achievements such as these would have been impossible to conceive of only a few years earlier.

 

Although General Secretary Gorbachev's initial reforms in bloc relations were solely of a military nature, they gave indications that the East was about to undergo fundamental changes. The Institute, risk taking from its inception, was among the first to truly understand this. Accordingly, the strategy of engagement offered EWI a unique place at the table, and from this vantage point, instead of merely reacting to events, EWI helped make them possible.

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Idea No. 5