Nuclear freeze

Nuclear freeze

The nuclear freeze was a proposed agreement between the world's nuclear powers, primarily the United States and the then-Soviet Union, to freeze all production of new nuclear arms and to leave levels of nuclear armament where they currently were. However, the difference in the systems between the two nations meant that while the proposal was widely publicized and debated in the United States, there is little evidence that this occurred within the Soviet Union. It should be noted that this proposal was primarily one of Western activists, and was never actually a direct part of governmental negotiations between the two major nuclear powers.

The nuclear arms race between the two superpowers had gone on almost unabated since the Americans had developed the first atomic (fission) weapons in the 1940s, later matched by the Soviets, with both sides also developing hydrogen (fusion) weapons in the 1950s. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreements of the 1970s had provided limits and quotas on the amount of these weapons, but adherence to such limits were generally regarded as unverifiable by conservatives on both sides and the limits were generally considered to be unrealistically high by liberals.

The idea for a nuclear freeze began In April 1980 when Randall Forsberg proposed the “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” specifically for a "mutual freeze on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons and of missiles and new aircraft designed primarily to deliver nuclear weapons." The movement really began to gain traction as an issue in the early 1980s with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980—not because Reagan supported it, in fact he strongly opposed it—by those who feared Reagan's rhetoric indicated an eagerness to use nuclear weapons. The impending delivery of the Pershing II medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe then became an even greater focus of the movement. Reagan stated that he had no desire for a freeze, but rather a verifiable bilateral reduction, in nuclear arms. He also showed little interest in meeting with the aging Soviet leaders. When Leonid Brezhnev, whom Reagan had never met, died in November, 1982, Reagan felt justified, believing that anything that he would or could have negotiated with Brezhnev would have died with him. He likewise never met with Brezhnev's two immediate successors, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, who were also elderly and in frail health like Brezhnev, each dying within about a year after taking office. During this time, the freeze issue was being pressed in the United States by left-leaning peace groups. It almost became a litmus test issue, conservatives almost invariably opposed to the idea and liberals in favor of it.

When Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet leader, Reagan met with him and began work along with him on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which was eventually ratified by both nations' legislative bodies and technically remains in force today, although it is considered by most strategic experts highly doubtful that the post-Soviet Russian military is actually capable of operating and successfully launching anything like the number of ballistic missiles and other strategic weapons it is allowed under the treaty. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting absence of financing for pro-freeze groups, the "nuclear freeze" has become something of a dead issue, with a more immediate concern being how better to keep the ex-Soviet nuclear stockpile and other sources of potentially fissionable and/or fusionable materials out of the hands of terrorists.

ee also

*Nuclear disarmament

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