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

revolutionary approaches to defense and arms control replaced faltering U.S. “containment,” “MAD” and “détente” strategies, he made public compelling evidence on Soviet military programs, deceptions, and violations, often declassified from intelligence assessments. As he built support for the strategic and moral rationales for his own far-reaching strategy, the strategy gained strength and negotiation leverage, and overcame strong Congressional, media, and Soviet opposition. Like no other U.S. Cold War president, Reagan broke Soviet military and imperial momentum and established new paths for international security, peace, and freedom.

1. The Soviet Union’s Totalitarian Challenge and Reagan’s New Integrated Defense and Arms Control Strategies

Reagan’s Cold War national security strategy was reinforced by his understanding of three periods during his lifetime when the cause of peace and liberty was particularly gravely endangered. During these times, democracies initially responded with moral weakness and strategic confusion to mounting threats from totalitarian powers. First had been Imperial Japan, National Socialist Germany, and the Soviet Union as they built up their ideological fervor and imperial reach after the First World War and critically collaborated in the lead-up to the Second World War (see Chapter 2). Second was the Second World War against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan (Chapter 3); and 3). Third was the Soviet Union’s increasing aggression after the Second World War as it intensified a Third World War, the Cold War, with an unprecedented military build-up and global reach that accelerated during the 1970s “détente” period (see Chapters 5 and 6).

Reagan Versus “Provocative Weakness.” In his realistic understanding of this historical context, Reagan observed that when democratic nations relied centrally on international arms control treaties with totalitarian imperial powers to justify unilateral defense cuts and isolationist hopes, they neither reduced arms threats nor secured peace. They instead demonstrated “provocative weakness” toward such regimes that were inherently deceitful and at war with their own people and all democratic societies and institutions. Reagan understood well that to meet his Constitutional responsibilities “to provide for the common defense” and “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” he would have to revolutionize U.S. defense and arms control strategies as keys to achieving his new Cold War grand strategy’s objectives of “peace through strength” and “peace and freedom.”

Reagan’s Early Recognition of the Soviet Union’s Totalitarian Challenge. Reagan early in his life recognized the Communist Soviet Union as an inherently anti-democratic, aggressive, and imperialistic totalitarian regime—a root cause and the greatest source of danger in the Cold War. He knew much of Soviet history and its record of violence, deception, and betrayals reviewed in Chapters 2 through 6 of this book. He often referenced Lenin’s seizure of power, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the results of the Yalta conference, the Soviet imposition of an Iron Curtain, the aggressive Soviet roles in the Korean War, Cuba, and Vietnam and Soviet violations of 1970s “détente.” He led the U.S. Screen Actors Guild as an independent free labor union threatened by Communist efforts to take over, and he backed President Truman’s tough strategies against Stalin’s imperial warfare in Eastern Europe, Korea, and elsewhere. He continued his study of history and became increasingly engaged in contemporary U.S. policy and politics as a lecturer, commentator, and campaigner.

Taking on 1970s Establishments on the Left and within the U.S. Government. As a Republican presidential candidate in 1976, he challenged the incumbent Republican President, Gerald Ford, and in 1980 ran against the incumbent Democratic President, Jimmy Carter. In both campaigns Reagan rejected the 1970s shibboleths of the “politically correct” Left in media, academia, and politics that neglected or rejected core Cold War historical facts and realities. For him, there was no Cold War “moral equivalence” or “arms race” of equally culpable “scorpions in a bottle,” as others described the conflict. He rejected such depictions and the faltering official “détente” strategies of Republican and Democratic administrations as profoundly illusory.

Vis-à-vis Nixon. Reagan considered the Cold War assumptions and provisions of Richard Nixon’s three June 1972 U.S.-Soviet “détente” summit agreements in Moscow to be seriously flawed. The agreements included the Interim Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement and Protocol (SALT I), the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and the Principles of Détente Agreement (see Chapter 5). The SALT Executive Agreement’s “caps” permitted major strategic arms buildups, legitimated unequal levels of capability (favoring the Soviet Union), and lacked effective (i.e., high-confidence) verification as the caps were exploited and violated by the Soviet Union. SALT was also directly linked to the ABM Treaty during the U.S.-Soviet negotiations and the Congressional ratification process. The ABM treaty reflected Soviet insistence on banning U.S. anti-missile 

[Book pg. 218]