Chapter 10 - Reagan Combines U.S. Defense and Arms Control Strategies


Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign platform provided a clear precursor and mandate for his presidential actions to redress increasingly serious U.S. defense cuts, shortfalls, and vulnerabilities exacerbated by the failed arms control efforts of 1970s U.S. Cold War “détente” strategy. During the 1970s, the Soviet Union exploited U.S. illusions and weakness to violate arms control treaties and to launch unprecedented arms buildups associated with aggressive attack doctrines including planning for preemptive first strikes. As U.S.-Soviet and NATO-Warsaw Pact asymmetries increased in areas of strategic, nuclear, conventional/general purpose, and chemical/biological programs and defenses, the Soviet Union and most of the Soviet arms control community proposed moratoria or freezes that would have legitimated the Soviet arms race. Reagan’s integrated arms control and defense strategy instead emphasized the priorities of U.S. and Allied defense modernization (including his Strategic Defense Initiative), and deep, effectively verifiable reductions in the most destabilizing weapons (ballistic missiles and warheads), and replacing destabilizing doctrines of war (Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and “preemption”) with an increasingly defense- and deterrence-oriented security strategy.

Reagan Assessments, Organization, Objectives. Early in Reagan’s administration U.S. intelligence assessments and his defense planning decisions established priorities for programs involving personnel, equipment, munitions, and readiness as Reagan assured toughened national security criteria for the policy and program options central to his new “peace through strength” Cold War strategy. Reagan’s National Security Council (NSC) system strengthened the roles of the Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) not only for defense but also for arms control and public diplomacy programs traditionally dominated by accommodationist diplomatic approaches of the Department of State. As Reagan’s

[Book pg. 217]