Part III Summary


Part III’s six chapters review some of the most complex and controversial Cold War decisions, turning points, and documents of Reagan’s revolutionary integrated defense and arms control strategy and related confidential and public diplomacy. Reagan sought to expose and roll back increasing Soviet military threats and to achieve effective arms control to replace the approaches of his predecessors that had failed to secure U.S. national security.
Reagan’s Revolutionary Changes in U.S. Cold War Defense and Arms Control Strategy. Reagan understood that the predominant existing U.S. strategies of “containment,” “Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD),” and “détente” he inherited had each failed to expose, deter, or effectively counter the Soviet Union’s mounting “first strike” military doctrines and capabilities, arms control deceptions, treaty violations, and global subversion. Reagan’s interrelated defense and arms control strategy began to leave its mark early in his presidency, starting with his defense supplemental budget proposal in March 1981, his decisions on the U.S. strategic modernization program priorities in October 1981, his “zero option” deployment/arms control proposal for Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) in November 1981, and his Strategic Arms Reductions Talks (START) in May 1982. In each case, Reagan overcame the insistence of Soviet propaganda and the “nuclear freeze” movement on “moratoria,” and “caps” that would likely lead to unilateral U.S. compliance in the face of massive Soviet military buildups and arms control cheating. At the same time, Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) of March 1983 was an indispensable moral and strategic imperative, not a bargaining chip. SDI was a prerequisite to increasingly effective arms control and defense to deter and protect against Soviet nuclear strikes and global nuclear proliferation, and to transition away from the West’s Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine based on a suicidal “balance of terror.”
Reagan Not a Nuclear Abolitionist in a Nuclear World. Reagan’s revolutionary proposals for weapons reductions did not lead him to unilateral U.S. nuclear disarmament or nuclear abolition. He insisted that in a nuclear world U.S. nuclear weapons were an indispensable national security imperative for deterring and reducing the threat to the U.S. They would provide “for the common defense” by assuring effective modern U.S. nuclear deterrence capabilities for the foreseeable future, including through continued modernization of U.S. weapons and infrastructure, and continued weapons testing.
Conventional and CBW Weapons. On conventional forces and chemical and biological (CBW) weapons, Reagan arms control initiatives and public diplomacy exposed Soviet attack doctrines, research and deployments, and the realities of Soviet arms treaty violations including the Soviet Union’s and its proxies’ battlefield use of toxins in Afghanistan, Laos, and Cambodia. As with nuclear weapons, Reagan similarly sought to modernize credible Western CBW deterrence and defense capabilities and to update intelligence assessments and high-confidence verification to deter, detect and defend against attack, proliferation, and treaty violations.

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