The Long Road to On-Site Inspection
Ifft, Edward, Arms Control Today
The effort to achieve broad acceptance of on-site inspection (OSI) is a story of high diplomacy, creativity, and determination through several U.S. administrations. The ambitious but somewhat naïve Baruch Plan, put forward by the United States in 1946 as a result of the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, was the first great effort to control nuclear weapons.1
The Baruch Plan called for unlimited inspections of all atomic energy-related facilities by personnel from an international inspection organization, as well as complete international ownership and control over fissionable materials. It was rejected by Soviet leaders, whose progress in developing nuclear weapons was not fully understood at the time. Soviet leaders soon developed the rationale that OSI could be used to monitor disarmament, but not armament. In 1948, Jacob Malik, the Soviet Union's permanent representative to the United Nations, stated a view that would guide Soviet policy for many years: "It would be folly for the USSR to disclose everything and then have others invent conditions as a pretext for dropping the whole question of armaments after they had found out everything they wanted to know."2
The Soviet obsession with secrecy, combined with the fact that the United States was sometimes not above using proposals for OSI to embarrass the Soviets, made progress almost impossible for years.' W. Averell Harriman, a long-time U.S. interlocutor with Moscow, recalled that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev met his arguments for OSI to verify a comprehensive test ban with one of his typical earthy analogies, saying, "You remind me of a cat saying that he would only eat mice and not the bacon lying in the room." He added that he would not trust such a cat, "as it would undoubtedly snatch the bacon when no one was in the room...he knew what cats were like."4 It is interesting that Khrushchev himself later regretted Soviet intransigence on OSI during this period.5
During the 1960s, the development of satellites and other forms of national technical means (NTM) of verification gradually made OSI less essential for monitoring certain kinds of constraints. President Lyndon B. Johnson, trying to convince the Soviets that negotiating an end to the most dangerous forms of military competition would be in the interest of both sides, informed General secretary Leonid Brezhnev that the United States would be prepared to place "maximum reliance" upon NTM, that is, the decades-long insistence upon OSI could be set aside, at least for certain kinds of constraints. This was probably a key factor in the Soviet agreement to begin the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) negotiations in 1969, during the Nixon administration. For the next 10 years, difficult but productive SALT I and II negotiations proceeded without recourse to OSI.
In the area of multilateral negotiations, however, OSI gained fairly rapid acceptance. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, and the more ambitious Stockholm Accord of 1986 all permitted some form of inspections. In addition, the U.S.-USSR Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty of 1976 and its subsequent protocols provided for quite intrusive inspections under certain circumstances. Nevertheless, none of these agreements could be said to impinge upon vital interests or allow inspections of the most important weapons systems.
The Reagan administration from its early days placed much greater emphasis on verification, changing the stated U.S. goal from "adequate" to "effective" verification, although the distinction was never made clear.
When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow in the mid 1980s, he soon began to match Reagan's rhetoric about effective verification. …