Primary Sources

CIA briefing on Soviet Tactical Nuclear Forces


Months after Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush signed the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, it seemed that extensive nuclear disarmament between the United States and soon-to-be former Soviet Union was becoming a reality. in this internal document, the Central Intelligence Agency examined the feasibility Gorbachev's proposals, their potential consequences, and speculated upon his motives.

The proposals discussed in this document were largely undertaken by Gorbachev in response to Bush's unilateral disarmament initiative of September 1991, which removed all US nuclear tactical nuclear weapons except from a few Western European countries. Gorbachev responded with a similar proposal in October. The CIA speculated that the speed and scope of Gorbachev's response were mainly for the benefit of the US; he needed to re-assert his leadership credentials after the August coup attempt.

The CIA expressed skepticism about his ability to implement the proposals, which called for the removal of 75 percent of the Soviet Union's tactical nuclear weapons, and predicted that the Soviets would seek the the help of the United States in doing so. They also predicted that proposal hasten the already rapid removal of the Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe.


Central Intelligence Agency, "Soviet Tactical Nuclear Forces and Gorbachev's Nuclear Pledges: Impact, Motivations, and Next Steps," November 1991, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

If Gorbachev's unilateral initiatives to reduce tactical nuclear warheads are carried out, almost 75 percent of Moscow's inventory of these warheads will be destroyed or placed in central storage.

The elimination process will take at least several years....

The Potential Impact of Gorbachev's Proposals:
The withdrawal of many Soviet units from Eastern Europe and reductions in the size and number of units within the Atlantic-to-the-Urals zone that have occurred over the past two years already have caused a sharp decline in the number of tactical nuclear systems in Soviet forces opposite NATO.

President Gorbachev's 5 October proposals, if implemented, further advance that process. We estimate that unilateral measures will lead to the destruction (words blacked out) more than half the tactical nuclear warheads in Moscow's inventory. (Words blacked out) tactical naval nuclear warheads will be moved to central storage....

Motivations Behind the Proposals:
The speed and content of Gorbachev's response to President Bush's initiative of 27 September reflect the high priority Soviet officials place on nuclear security:
Elimination of all nuclear artillery projectiles and short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) warheads will remove most of the tactical nuclear warheads located in non-Russian republics. Gorbachev is using the US proposal to reassert himself as a reliable and credible negotiating partner, but his capability to fulfill completely his own proposals is questionable....

At a minimum, the Soviets will seek a process of consultations during all phases of the implementation of US and Soviet reductions. They probably will also seek technical--and perhaps financial--aid in dismantling and destroying warheads....

How to Cite this Source

Central Intelligence Agency, "CIA briefing on Soviet Tactical Nuclear Forces," Making the History of 1989, Item #130, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:24 pm).

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