Minuteman Missle
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Section III — Peace Movement, Nuclear Disarmament, and the Future

Chapter 2:
Chapter 2: Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and Disarmament of Minuteman II (1990s)

End of the Cold War

Having spent incalculable resources constructing their respective nuclear arsenals, world leaders subsequently spent much of their time and energy in efforts aimed at reducing the risks of nuclear war. Disarmament was one such effort. Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford negotiated and signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and SALT II Treaties) with the Soviet Union in the 1970s with the intent of reducing each country's levels of nuclear arms. SALT I limited anti-ballistic missile installations (ABMs) to two ABMs per country, which, according to historian Michael Kort, rendered them functionally useless and derailed a possible race to develop a missile defense. [420] The SALT I Treaty also put limits on numbers of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles(ICBMs) and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The subsequent SALT II Treaty, although never ratified by either Congress or the Soviet government, placed additional limits on nuclear arsenals and slowed, but did not end, the arms race. [421] A slowing of the arms race and a reduction in nuclear armaments had to wait until the early 1990s and the end of the Cold War.

As the political and economic structure of the Soviet Union crumbled during the late 1980s, the lengthy Cold War period came to an end. The Solidarity movement in Poland, a reform effort which began in Poland's dockyards and spread, through the aid of global attention from such luminaries as the Polish-born Pope John Paul II, into a national call for political and economic change, highlighted the new spirit of innovation sweeping through Eastern Europe. By the end of the decade, the Berlin Wall fell, Germany had been reunified, and a number of former Eastern Bloc nations had replaced their Communist regimes with democratically elected governments. As the Soviet Union's republics began asserting their independence, the faltering world power found itself unable to retain its satellite states. Facing increasing isolation, the Soviet Union's political structure disintegrated rapidly. [422]

The Cold War formally ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which President Ronald Reagan had once called the "evil empire." [423] During the conflict, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a race to attain military supremacy. The massive nuclear buildup that resulted from the arms race diverted trillions of dollars that might have been spent on domestic programs, but a hot war had been averted. [424] Once the Cold War came to a close, the United States faced the daunting tasks of reducing its nuclear arsenal while simultaneously planning for the nation's continued security.

START Treaty

On 31 July 1991 President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty), which limited the number of ICBMs and nuclear warheads either country could possess. The agreement restricted the United States to approximately 8,556 nuclear warheads and the Soviet Union to approximately 6,449 nuclear warheads. [425] Weapons in excess of the agreed upon number would be disarmed and Launch Facilities destroyed. Congress ratified the START Treaty in October 1992. A month after the signing of this treaty, political dissenters attempted a coup against Soviet leader Gorbachev and the fast unraveling Soviet Union finally collapsed. [426]

The signing of the START Treaty concluded disarmament talks that had begun almost a decade earlier in the early 1980s. The START Treaty established limits on the number of ICBMs and their Launch Facilities (LFs)and warheads; SLBMs, their launchers and warheads; and heavy bombers and their weapons. The terms of the treaty established a three-phase arms-reduction program. Phase I included preparatory tasks prior to the ratification of the treaty. These tasks included provisions for inspections of the missiles and bombers covered by treaty provisions to verify their technical characteristics and gather basic information on the weapons. Phase II initiated continuous monitoring and inspection activities thirty days after ratification of the treaty to verify treaty compliance. Phase III provided for a continuation of monitoring and inspections during the time the treaty remained in force to ensure that both countries did not exceed the number of weapons allowed by the treaty. Reciprocal onsite inspections conducted by both countries assured compliance with the treaty. [427] As part of the agreement, both the United States and the Soviet Union could disarm and preserve a certain number of weapons or facilities for interpretation of Cold War history. Museums or sites to recognize the Cold War are being developed in the Ukraine and Russia.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 complicated implementation of the START Treaty. The centralized Soviet government no longer existed, and Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Russia, as former Soviet republics, all possessed Soviet nuclear weapons covered under the treaty. Negotiators immediately concerned themselves with solidifying the START Treaty. To their relief, the four newly independent states agreed to comply with the treaty and in 1991 negotiated the Lisbon START Protocol, which stated that the Soviet successor states would "make such arrangements among themselves as are required to implement the Treaty's limits and restrictions...." [428] Under the protocol, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine were to return their nuclear weapons to Russia. Due to Belarus' concerns about receiving compensation for its nuclear stockpiles and the safeguarding of the relocated missiles, the exchange was not completed until 1994. The countries also signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapons states, thereby formally pledging not to acquire nuclear weapons in the future.

Deactivation of Minuteman II Sites

In the United States, the START agreement coincided with growing Air Force disenchantment with the escalating costs associated with repairing and maintaining the older Minuteman II system. Rather than upgrade Minuteman II facilities to Minuteman III technologies, the Pentagon decided to deactivate the entire Minuteman II force to help comply with provisions of the arms-reduction treaty. On 27 September 1991 President George H.W. Bush announced on national television a dramatic "plan for peace," designed to reduce the tensions of the nuclear age. As one component of his plan, he called for "the withdrawal from alert within seventy-two hours, of all 450 Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missiles." [429]

After the signing of the START Treaty and the stand down ordered by President Bush, the Air Force began the deactivation of Minuteman II ICBM sites, including the 150 Minuteman II LFs and fifteen LCFs at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. [430] Additional Minuteman II installations were associated with Strategic Air Command(SAC) bases at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. At Whiteman Air Force Base, all 150 of its Minuteman II LFs were imploded by 1997, but the underground Launch Control Center (LCC), Oscar-01, located on base, was retained for public interpretation. The 150 Minuteman II sites at Malmstrom Air Force Base were converted to Minuteman III systems and the necessary missiles were transferred from the Grand Forks Minuteman III installation, which was then deactivated.

A complex system governed the deactivation and dismantlement of the LFs and the LCFs. The individual Air Force bases executed the technical part of missile site deactivation, removing the missiles and other sensitive equipment and then they turned the LFs and LCFs over to the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) and its consultants to begin the demolition of the sites. The Army Corps managed the demolition of the missile sites, much as they had overseen the construction of the sites. The Army Corps contracted the demolition and salvage work to private-sector companies, but these companies needed to comply with procedures governed by the START Treaty. Following the dismantlement, the sites were returned to the Air Force for property disposal.

The landmark START Treaty governed the removal of the Minuteman II missiles and the destruction of the LFs. LF elimination began with the opening of the silo door. From this point forward, the process of deactivating the LF took less than 180 days. A series of agreements between the United States and the former Soviet Union allowed the weapons-grade nuclear material from the warheads to be either used for fuel in nuclear reactors or disposed of along with other high-level radioactive waste. [431] Hazardous materials were then removed from the site and contractors salvaged steel and other equipment. Destruction of the silos could be accomplished either by implosion to at least six meters (twenty feet) below ground level or by excavating the former silo to a depth of at least eight meters (twenty-six feet). The silo site then had to remain open for ninety days to allow Soviet satellites time to verify that the removal complied with treaty provisions. After the ninety-day period, crews covered the silo with a concrete cap and graded the top of the silo opening with gravel. [432] Elimination of the LCFs followed the dismantling of the LFs. Communications systems were dismantled and removed, equipment was salvaged, and hazardous materials removed. The Hardened Intersite Cable System (HICS) was severed to render it inoperable and the underground LCCs were welded shut and the elevator shafts were filled in. [433]

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Last Updated: 19-Nov-2003