Primary Source

National Intelligence Council Memorandum, Status of Soviet Unilateral Withdrawals


In December 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev delivered what he called a “watershed” address at the United Nations, announcing that he planned unilaterally to reduce Soviet military forces by 500,000, cut conventional armaments massively, and withdraw substantial numbers of armaments and troops from Eastern European countries. Even with the proposed cutbacks, Soviet conventional forces in Europe (CFE) would exceed NATO’s, however. As President George H. W. Bush took office in January 1989, some in his administration doubted the Soviet leader’s sincerity, believing he was scheming to divide the US from NATO allies such as West Germany by encouraging their people’s support for reductions in short-range nuclear forces (SNF), which the Bush administration wanted to upgrade as part of their deterrence strategy. Negotiations between NATO and Warsaw Pact member states to reduce CFE began in March. During a Moscow meeting with Secretary of State James Baker in May, Gorbachev indicated that the Warsaw Pact would propose more substantial CFE cuts and announced unilateral reductions in SNF, thereby scoring a public relations coup. Baker realized that further reductions in conventional forces would nullify the immediate need to modernize the short-range missiles. To gain leadership over the negotiation process, Bush announced the first significant initiative of his presidency later that month at a NATO summit in Brussels: a proposal to cut conventional arms by both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and overall cuts in both US and Soviet military personnel in Europe. The following intelligence report accessing the state of Soviet military withdrawals validated the views of those in the Bush administration who believed that Gorbachev was committed to real change, but also gave pause to others who argued for making cuts in U.S. defense, citing the report’s warning that although the Soviets were reducing forces, they also were “restructuring” to produce a smaller, but more effective and modern force.


National Intelligence Council, "National Intelligence Council Memorandum, Status of Soviet Unilateral Withdrawals," October 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

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"National Intelligence Council Memorandum, Status of Soviet Unilateral Withdrawals," in World History Commons, [accessed November 27, 2021]