Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The threshold of the danger of a nuclear war was reduced when the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to eliminate existing intermediate-range nuclear missiles deployed in Europe.

Summary of Event

Decades of suspicion, misunderstanding, and confrontation during the Cold War years after 1945 greatly reduced the opportunity for the United States and the Soviet Union to find common ground and achieve breakthroughs in the complicated realm of nuclear arms control. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in December, 1987, represented a significant step in this area, lessening the danger of potential nuclear war between the two major superpowers and between the opposing alliances facing each other in Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact. Warsaw Pact Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1987)[Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] Nuclear weapons;disarmament U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations];nuclear disarmament Weapons;nuclear [kw]Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (Dec. 8, 1987) [kw]Nuclear Forces Treaty, Intermediate-Range (Dec. 8, 1987) [kw]Treaty, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (Dec. 8, 1987) Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1987)[Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] Nuclear weapons;disarmament U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations];nuclear disarmament Weapons;nuclear [g]North America;Dec. 8, 1987: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty[06610] [g]United States;Dec. 8, 1987: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty[06610] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Dec. 8, 1987: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty[06610] Andropov, Yuri Gorbachev, Mikhail [p]Gorbachev, Mikhail;nuclear disarmament Gromyko, Andrei Andreyevich Reagan, Ronald [p]Reagan, Ronald;nuclear disarmament Shevardnadze, Eduard Shultz, George P.

Efforts to negotiate arms control agreements in the years before 1987 had met with great difficulty, but some agreements were forged nevertheless. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) SALT I (1972)[Salt 01] SALT II (1979)[Salt 02] agreements of 1972 and 1979, which set upper limits on the numbers of some types of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, showed that the Soviet Union and the United States could achieve bilateral agreements. The 1987 INF Treaty was the first agreement between the two superpowers to develop procedures for the total elimination of one entire category of nuclear weapons held by each nation.

The decade prior to the INF Treaty had been characterized by an intensification of the Cold War Cold War;nuclear proliferation and a rapidly expanding nuclear arms race. Despite the 1972 SALT agreement (known as SALT I), both sides during the 1970’s energetically developed their modern and potentially very destructive multiple-warhead nuclear weapons. These included improved long-range strategic weapons able to reach between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as the shorter-range missiles deployed in Europe. The maximum range of these intermediate-range rockets (some with multiple warheads) was approximately thirty-four hundred miles, still far enough to reach a massive target area throughout the Continent. Population centers located in the arc of a probable war zone would bear the brunt of nuclear destruction, even if these intermediate-range missiles were used on a limited scale.

The seriousness of the problem became evident when the Soviet Union began in 1977 to deploy its new intermediate-range missile systems, Missiles;intermediate-range known as SS-20’s. These missiles, which had three nuclear warheads on each rocket, were aimed at Western Europe. American efforts during the next several years failed to convince Moscow to remove or reduce these destabilizing weapons. As a consequence, beginning in 1983, the United States reciprocated by deploying comparable intermediate-range nuclear weapons aimed at Soviet targets. These were the Pershing II missiles and the smaller but equally deadly “cruise missiles.” This confrontational atmosphere created more tensions by the early 1980’s, despite occasional bilateral meetings between the superpowers to discuss possible avenues to reduce the dangers of nuclear war.

Arms talks on the INF issue broke down completely in 1983, when the Soviet Union withdrew from further discussions with the United States. It was during this period that President Ronald Reagan characterized the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” and the Soviet leadership under Leonid Brezhnev Brezhnev, Leonid and his successor Yuri Andropov adopted a similar confrontational foreign policy toward the West.

Widespread public demonstrations and numerous petitions in Western Europe during these years urged the United States to remove all nuclear weapons that could jeopardize the safety and lives of Europeans. Public opinion in Europe was divided, however, between those who opposed and those who supported the presence of these weapons in their midst. Many Europeans still sought tangible American protection and support in the event of Soviet aggression. The NATO governments in Europe consistently supported deployment of the American intermediate-range missile systems, seeing this as the way to provide a balance of power or equilibrium that they hoped would deter the Soviet side from miscalculating and starting a war with conventional weapons that might “go nuclear.”

This tense and dangerous atmosphere changed with the emergence of a new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who became the general secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party in 1985. Both sides, now approximately balanced in the comparative strength of their intermediate-range weapons systems deployed in Europe, returned to the negotiating table that year to resume talks. Military and diplomatic delegations discussed the many complex technical issues that had to be resolved in reaching a satisfactory settlement.

Gradually, the two governments made sufficient compromises related to this one category of nuclear weapon to meet the strategic objectives of both states. In 1986, negotiators for the two countries finally agreed that all intermediate-range nuclear missiles should be removed from the European region. This settlement would still protect the vital national interests of both superpower and their allies in Europe while at the same time reducing the potential for conflict in Europe. Also, Gorbachev and Reagan personally began a series of high-level summit meetings in 1985 and 1986 that helped lead to the final result.

These discussions and negotiations eventually culminated in a successful agreement. Meetings held December 7-10, 1987, in Washington, D.C., became the occasion for the official signing of the INF Treaty on December 8. Gorbachev flew to the United States to sign the treaty on behalf of the Soviet Union. The importance of this agreement for arms control, and the presence of the leaders of the world’s two superpowers, made this Washington summit a major media event.

The text of the INF Treaty totaled 169 single-spaced typed pages containing seventeen articles and three annexes. Composed of four topical sections, the treaty detailed the removal and destruction of 1,752 Soviet and 859 American missiles, plus the elimination or destruction of all rocket launchers, spare parts, test and training equipment, and other supplies or facilities needed for missile maintenance and possible use. These treaty obligations, requiring the physical removal and destruction of these materials, were to be fulfilled within a three-year period.

An extensive and detailed verification plan to monitor compliance with the INF Treaty provided for mutual inspections of missile bases and facilities under U.S. and Soviet control. Observers were allowed to visit assembly and deployment sites, and thus had access to several of the most secret and sensitive locations in both countries. Once the treaty became effective in June, 1988, both sides were entitled to make short-notice inspections of designated facilities for a thirteen-year period to ensure that no violations would occur. Mutual trust was the goal, and the verification provisions made it unlikely either side could cheat on its treaty obligations. President Reagan often repeated the Russian phrase doveryai no proveryai (trust but verify) as the appropriate approach. The U.S. Senate formally ratified the INF Treaty by a vote of ninety-three to five on May 27, 1988.


The INF Treaty represented a significant step toward improved relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Other outstanding disputes and issues affecting Soviet-American relations still remained to be resolved, including disagreements over the antiballistic missile (ABM) systems in the arsenals of both nations, American development of the Strategic Defense Initiative Strategic Defense Initiative (commonly called the Star Wars program), and Soviet policy in Africa and Latin America. The INF Treaty dealt with only a small portion (approximately 5 percent) of nuclear delivery systems, and massive numbers of other nuclear weapons still existed; nevertheless, the agreement promised a safer future.

The improved atmosphere between the superpowers that emerged from the INF negotiations provided momentum for further negotiations on other arms control issues, such as decreasing the number of long-range strategic missiles. This important objective was achieved in the first treaty of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START I), signed by the two governments in 1991. START I (1991)[Start 01] Reductions in conventional (nonnuclear) armaments also were initiated, after NATO and the Warsaw Pact signed the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Conventional Forces in Europe (1990) (CFE) agreement. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed internally in late 1991, the potential dangers of a nuclear war had been substantially reduced. Within this context, the INF agreement was an important turning point in the Cold War. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1987)[Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] Nuclear weapons;disarmament U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations];nuclear disarmament Weapons;nuclear

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">DeLuca, Anthony R. Politics, Diplomacy, and the Media: Gorbachev’s Legacy in the West. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998. Focuses on how Gorbachev used the mass media to promote his goals of political change at the end of the twentieth century. Chapter 4 includes discussion of the INF Treaty negotiations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gorbachev, Mikhail. At the Summit: Speeches and Interviews, February 1987-July 1988. New York: Richardson, Steirman & Black, 1988. Provides the full texts of Gobachev’s important foreign policy pronouncements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Haslam, Jonathan. The Soviet Union and the Politics of Nuclear Weapons in Europe, 1969-1987. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990. Presents the Soviet perspective on the subject of nuclear disarmament.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oberdorfer, Don. The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era—The United States and the Soviet Union, 1983-1990. New York: Poseidon Press, 1991. Provides a comprehensive account of the problems and changes in U.S.-Soviet relations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Powaski, Ronald E. Return to Armageddon: The United States and the Nuclear Arms Race, 1981-1999. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Discussion of the arms race includes extensive attention to disarmament talks, including the INF Treaty negotiations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reagan, Ronald. An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990. Autobiography presents Reagan’s own account of the road to the INF agreement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shultz, George P. Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993. Memoir covering the period 1982-1989 includes discussion of Shultz’s perspective on the INF Treaty.

SALT I Is Signed

SALT II Is Signed

Gorbachev Initiates a Policy of Glasnost

Gorbachev Agrees to Membership of a United Germany in NATO

Bush Announces Nuclear Arms Reductions

United States and Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement

Categories: History Content