Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Soviets Destroy Last Intermediate-Range Nuclear Missiles

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Soviets Destroy Last Intermediate-Range Nuclear Missiles

Article excerpt

A SMALL moment in history was recorded Sunday afternoon, out on these windswept flatlands of the vast Russian steppe. In a burst of orange explosive fire, the last Soviet intermediate-range nuclear missile in existence was destroyed.

With a team of United States inspectors and officials on hand, the three-year process of eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons, begun with the signing of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, came to an end. The first of 1,846 Soviet SS-20 missiles was destroyed in July 1988 at this missile testing site east of the southern Russian city of Volgograd. And the last of 846 US missiles was eliminated on May 6 in Longhorn, Texas.

The Soviet military marked the event with quaint ceremony, with swirling dancers and folksingers caroling peace songs, and with talk of friendship. It was a welcome respite from the tensions that have blocked completion of long-awaited pacts to reduce conventional forces in Europe and strategic nuclear weapons.

But despite these difficulties, Soviet and US military officials here took some pride in the successful completion of what turned out to be the only nuclear arms control deal signed in the last decade. It was the product of long negotiations that began in the late 1970s and concluded in December 1987.

"This road was not easy," Lt. Gen. Vladimir Medvedev, chief of the Soviet National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, said in a short speech. "We all remember what a political maelstrom existed around these missiles in Europe in the 1980s. But the struggle for peace and common sense won."

The treaty eliminated all the Soviet and US medium-range ground-based missiles: for the Soviets, the mobile SS-20; for the US, the Pershing-II and ground-launched cruise missiles. The reduction of missiles - about 5 percent of the two superpowers' total arsenals - is probably less significant than the fact that it was the first time the two countries opened up their military facilities to on-site inspection to ensure compliance with the treaty. …

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