February 04, 2020

The Euromissle Showdown

by John T. Correll

In March 1976, the Soviet Union began deploying a new missile, the SS-20, that upset the balance of power in Europe. It was one of the pivotal events of the Cold War, igniting a confrontation between NATO and the USSR over medium-range “Euromissiles.”

The multiple-warhead SS-20 differed significantly from its outmoded predecessors, the SS-4 and SS-5. It had a range of 5,000 kilometers—just short of the 5,500 that would have made it subject to SALT treaty arms control—and could hit any point in Western Europe from launch sites in the Soviet Union. It was more accurate than the older missiles. It was also mobile and easily concealed.

NATO had nothing comparable. Its forward-deployed nuclear forces in Europe were relatively short range, intended for operations along or just behind a European battlefield. They could not easily reach targets in the Soviet Union.

For strategic deterrence—holding the Soviet homeland at risk—NATO relied on the promise of extended protection by US intercontinental weapons, but the Europeans were not certain the US would use them in response to a limited attack.