The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of George H. W. Bush

Twenty-five years ago this week, the Soviet Union was crumbling. The Baltic states had declared independence after the attempted coup against Gorbachev in August, and other Soviet republics were moving toward independence. 

It was an opportunity for the United States to settle scores with its Cold War enemy. But Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s leader, had developed a relationship with US President Ronald Reagan that carried over to Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush. Additionally, Bush had been CIA Director and ambassador to the United Nations and to China. He understood the stakes of the global shift under way.

Instead of settling those scores, he moved to allay Soviet fears of precisely that score-settling. He issued his Presidential Nuclear Initiatives to decrease the US nuclear arsenal unilaterally. No reciprocity was expected of the Soviet Union, where issues of how the state would continue took priority.

The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives also contained approval of direct interactions between US and Soviet, soon to be Russian, nuclear weapons laboratories. That initiative was approved in November, and in February 1992, American laboratory directors were on their way to Russia to meet their counterparts and embark on a remarkable collaboration.

We need to recall those times. The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives contradict some of the dark conspiratorial accusations made by Russian President Vladimir Putin. They show that the two countries can share good will and work together.

Documents just declassified (photo from here: President Bush announcing the initiatives)

Summary of the reductions and other changes in nuclear weapons policy

That second article also discusses initiatives that the US might take now to decrease the nuclear danger. The situation is very different now from what it was in 1991. Would a bold stroke of further decreasing the American nuclear arsenal make sense? I’m of two minds: I’d love to see it, but I am also concerned that President Putin would take it as a sign of weakness or of a dastardly plot. It’s hard to see him taking it as a move toward peace.