the assorted works of G. H. Spaulding

From C-C-Cold War Syndrome

     Coffee at the White House

 It was a hectic time to be working arms control in Washington. As soon as we’d completed one Reagan-Gorbachev summit, it was time to begin preparing for the next. The United States and Soviet Union were summit happy and you could smell the end of the Cold War.

   In Geneva the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks were well on their way toward producing a treaty. However, there were still a few major sticking points, which got bumped up the tape for Reagan, Gorbachev and their senior advisors to hammer out at the summit level.

   The U.S. Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile, which later would gain fame in the Gulf War, was one of the things about which the two sides could not agree. Gorbachev insisted on including the missile in the START treaty because it had a nuclear variant, which, he argued, presented a strategic threat to the Soviet homeland. The U.S. Navy opposed having the missile’s numbers limited by a strategic arms treaty because most of its variants were not nuclear and all Tomahawk variants looked exactly alike from the outside. Further, the Navy argued, the relatively small size of cruise missiles would make verification of compliance with any negotiated limits virtually impossible.    

   But the Navy didn’t dictate U.S. policy. In order to answer Gorbachev, the American side urgently needed to formulate a negotiating position on the Tomahawk. As the senior Navy action officer assigned to the arms control division of the Joint Staff, I was directed to prepare an information briefing for the White House.

   At the time I knew little about cruise missiles. After all, I was a pilot. Typically cruise missiles are used to attack heavily defended targets where the risk to manned aircraft is high. In other words, cruise missiles put pilots out of work. Yet my job was to both trumpet and defend the Tomahawk.

   My first step in learning about these pesky little weapons was to travel to one of the factories that made them. There, I observed every facet of their manufacture and assembly.

   Next I went to a couple of Navy bases and traipsed through Tomahawk-equipped submarines, destroyers, frigates and cruisers in order to familiarize myself with their logistics, deployment, handling and launch procedures.

   Back home in Washington, at my dining room table, I created the transparencies for my White House briefing. My task would be to brief Colin Powell, the President’s National Security Advisor, and about fifty other heavy hitters at the Old Executive Office Building. They would be making final preparations for a Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meeting scheduled to begin in Washington in a couple of days. Gorbachev had already threatened to make the Tomahawk a pivotal issue. A decision by President Reagan was needed.   

   When I previewed my briefing for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the “tank”—homemade slides and all—they directed not one change to it. However, Admiral Crowe, JCS Chairman, instructed me to add the following verbal punch line: “On the basis of the information contained in this briefing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff cannot accept the inclusion of the Tomahawk cruise missile in the START treaty.” Each of the service chiefs raised his eyebrows (no doubt contemplating my imminent demise), then nodded his concurrence.

   On my way to the White House, I was more than a little nervous. I had no idea what sort of reaction the JCS position might engender, particularly on the part of those in the U.S. Government—like some in the State Department—who were hell bent for a treaty with the Soviets no matter the cost.

   The draft START treaty on the table in Geneva was the product of lengthy American-Soviet negotiations that were often hard-nosed, but always diplomatic. In contrast, the strategy sessions that continued to take place in Washington among the various agencies of the U.S. Government with vested interests in the treaty were anything but diplomatic. Frequently, they were downright cutthroat.

   Negotiators on both sides were prohibited from tabling any treaty language in Geneva that had not been vetted by their respective governments. In Washington, treaty language was developed by National Security Council interagency committees and approved by the President.

   Agencies with competing agendas fought bitterly over every word that was to be folded into the U.S. position. The CIA was frequently at odds with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; the Office of the Secretary of Defense often disagreed with both; those of us representing the Joint Chiefs sparred with OSD and had little regard for the “limp-wristed” peaceniks from the State Department who seemed overly eager to give away our war toys.

   That’s why I was nervous. When I delivered the JCS ultimatum on Tomahawks, would the meeting degenerate into pandemonium? Or would the gathering of heavy hitters take the easy way out and shoot the messenger? Would I be tarred and feathered and run out of the White House on the proverbial Tomahawk launch rail?

   I arrived at the Old Executive Office Building (the working branch of the White House) an hour early and was shown to the place where I’d be giving my briefing. There was an ornate fireplace at one end of the room, which was paneled in dark wood and featured a number of aged oil portraits on the walls. My escort mentioned that some important treaty had been signed here, but I’ve long since forgotten which one.

   Someone offered me coffee in a Styrofoam cup, which I nursed while setting up my slides.

   By the appointed hour, the room had filled with somber-looking senior government officials. There were more people than chairs, so some sat on table edges and others stood. 

   Colin Powell was last to arrive. He shook my hand and took his seat down front, so close that I would have to take care not to trip over his feet during my presentation.

   The briefing went well, as far as I could judge. At the end of it, I delivered the Joint Chiefs’ message—that they could not accept the inclusion of the Tomahawk in the START treaty.

   Powell reacted with one word: “Well!” Then he swiveled his chair around to face those assembled behind him and said, “The Soviets arrive day after tomorrow. What if they don’t accept that position?”

   A woman near the back of the room stood up. It was Rosalyn Ridgeway, under secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs at the State Department. Uh, oh, I thought. Here we go.

   But Rosalyn surprised me and perhaps everyone in the place when she responded, “You heard what the commander said. If they don’t like it, tell ‘em to pack their bags and go home!”

   Her comment, out of character for anyone representing the State Department, set the tone for the ensuing discussion and, for all practical purposes, established the bottom line U.S. position on the Tomahawk then and there.

   Roz Ridgeway was a tough old bird. Thanks in large part to her, there were plenty of Tomahawks around for use against the Iraqi military targets of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War with enough left over for Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.

   Three cheers for Roz!



 Author’s webnote:  Turns out there were still some Tomahawks on hand for the opening salvos of the “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thanks again, Roz.


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Short Stories



"The Doolittle Raid: How America Responded to the Sneak Attack on Pearl Harbor"

The Mission That Saved Guadalcanal

"Enigmatic Man"

 "Ticket to Stalag Luft III"

DECREE Chapter 1


"Inaugural Ball"
"Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges"
"Coffee at the White House"

"Toss Up" "Waddlethromp" "Zero-g"

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