35 years ago today, unprecedented negotiations in Reykjavik, Iceland, to verifiably eliminate all US and USSR nuclear weapons collapsed when Reagan rejected Gorbachev’s stipulation that research on ballistic missile defenses be confined to laboratories (per the 1972 ABM Treaty).
Gorbachev had proposed and Reagan agreed to dismantling all nuclear weapons over a 10-year period, but Reagan stubbornly insisted there could be no constraints on his Strategic Defense Initiative, which he had been falsely assured was on the verge of a technological breakthrough.
In other words, Reagan put his faith in a dream that _might_ one day render ballistic missiles—and only ballistic missiles—“impotent and obsolete” over a concrete plan to achieve that goal within a decade. Reagan’s dream remains unfulfilled and nuclear weapons are still with us.
It’s worth noting (pun intended) that since Reagan launched the SDI in March 1983, the United States has spent more than $310,000,000,000 on various missile defense schemes, but to date we have not rendered ballistic missiles—or any other missiles—“impotent and obsolete.”
It’s also worth noting that Gorbachev’s proposal at Reykjavik, about which Reagan was enthusiastic until Gorbachev’s insistence on SDI R&D, was actually a pared-down version of a more sweeping proposal issued earlier that year to eliminate all nuclear weapons everywhere by 2000.
And for more on this remarkable and nearly transformative top-level meeting, one that nevertheless presaged the end of the Cold War, see this excellent collection of previously secret US and Soviet documents published by the @NSArchive: nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB2…:

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More from @AtomicAnalyst

12 Oct
Early today in 1965, at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio, this C-124C Globemaster II was being refueled for a routine nuclear logistics mission when the hose was accidentally disconnected. It caught fire and was destroyed. Only the wings and landing gear remained intact.
Numerous nuclear weapons components were consumed in the fire, including 16 B43 Mod 0/1 conversion kits, an inert B53 training unit (photo), two neutron generators, and two tritium reservoirs (photo)—one of which ruptured in the fire, contaminating the aircraft and firefighters.
Firefighters—who were initially unaware nuclear components were aboard—retrieved 140 undamaged neutron generators from the C-124C plus three flatbed truck loads of charred tritium reservoirs. The USAF later misleadingly claimed it carried only a small amount of conventional ammo.
Read 5 tweets
11 Oct
This morning in 1957, a B-47 departing Homestead AFB (~25 miles south of Miami, FL) on its way to an overseas alert base as part of a large exercise crashed and burned in a field ~3,800 feet from the end of the runway after one of its outrigger tires exploded just after takeoff.
The crash and fire killed the four people aboard the B-47. Inside the bomb bay, in ferry configuration, was either one Mark-15 (3.4 Megatons) or one Mark-39 (3.8 Megatons) thermonuclear bomb. One plutonium capsule in an M-102 “birdcage” was also in the crew compartment.
The “birdcage” was retrieved intact before the wreckage was engulfed in flames, but the bomb was enveloped in flames and burned for about four hours, during which time two low-order high explosive detonations occurred. The intense heat melted the plutonium pit inside the casing.
Read 6 tweets
3 Oct
35 years ago today, 680 miles NE of Bermuda, the Soviet Yankee 1-class ballistic missile submarine K-219 was on patrol when seawater leaked into a missile tube, triggering an explosion of the missile's volatile liquid fuel that killed three sailors and crippled the submarine.
Under very dangerous conditions, the crew managed to shut down the submarine's reactors and stabilize it. Captain Igor Britanov was ordered to have the K-219 towed by freighter 4,300 miles to its homeport of Gadzhiyevo (near Murmansk), but it flooded and sank three days later.
The K-219's two reactors, 16 SLBMs, and 32-48 warheads sank 18,000 feet to the bottom of the Hatteras Abyssal Plain. In 1988, the Soviet research ship Keldysh found the sub upright but broken in two. Several missile hatches were open and the missiles and warheads were missing.
Read 8 tweets
1 Oct
OTD in 1975, the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex at Nekoma, North Dakota, became fully operational, defending Minuteman ICBMs at Minot AFB with 30 Spartan (armed with 5-Mt W71 warheads) and 70 Sprint (armed with 1-kt W66 enhanced radiation warheads) antiballistic missiles. Image
Less than two months later, word leaked that the Army planned to deactivate Safeguard, days after Congress had voted to immediately shut it down, citing its growing ineffectiveness against Soviet MIRVs. By January 1976, only the site’s phased-array radar remained operational. ImageImageImage
Republican Mark Andrews—North Dakota's lone representative—bravely voted for the shutdown: “Because this ABM site does not have defense capability in today’s technology, it does not make much sense for me to…argue for [it] just because the expenditure happens to be in my State.” Image
Read 5 tweets
27 Sep
30 years ago tonight, Pres. George H.W. Bush ordered the unilateral elimination of all land-based US nuclear weapons in Europe and S. Korea, all naval tactical nuclear weapons, the end of ground alert for all bombers, and the immediate de-alerting of all 450 Minuteman II ICBMs.
This sweeping move—which was fully supported by US military leaders—was unprecedented and came as a complete surprise to almost everyone. “America must lead again as it always has, as only it can,” said President Bush. Here's why he announced these dramatic changes when he did:
And here’s what those momentous orders looked like as transmitted to Strategic Air Command:
Read 6 tweets
26 Sep
Just past midnight today in 1983, thanks to “a funny feeling in my gut,” 44 year-old Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov’s calm assessment that a satellite warning of the launch of five US Minuteman ICBMs was a false alarm likely averted a catastrophic nuclear war. washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/l…
Petrov's story—including his treatment by Soviet military authorities after this incident (which was hushed up for 15 years until his superior officer published a memoir)—is told in the 2014 hybrid documentary-drama “The Man Who Saved the World.”
Petrov died in May 2017 in Moscow of hypostatic pneumonia. He was 77. nytimes.com/2017/09/18/wor…
Read 4 tweets

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