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

defenses and was considered by Reagan and other critics as strategically dangerous in locking the superpowers (even if the Soviets complied) into the morally questionable and strategically destabilizing MAD doctrine of mutual nuclear terror. MAD, in turn, prevented the deterrence and defense required to protect against Soviet cheating and global proliferation.

Vietnam Defeat and Syndrome. Also troubling to Reagan was the Vietnam Peace Agreement of 1973, under which all U.S. military forces rapidly withdrew as the Democratic Party-led U.S. Congress ended all future U.S. combat roles and decimated U.S. economic and military assistance to its South Vietnamese allies while the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China violated the agreement (see Chapter 5). The resulting, rapidly growing force asymmetries enabled North Vietnam to launch a full-scale 17-division invasion in March 1975 that marked a total break-out from the Agreement, overran weakened South Vietnamese forces lacking sufficient ammunition and fuel, and brought a Communist victory. Soon Cambodia and Laos fell as well. Reagan understood the U.S. failure and Communist victories as marking a turning point in the Cold War that set in motion a U.S. “Vietnam Syndrome” of retreat and contributed to a “domino” series of U.S. international setbacks while the Soviet Union and its proxies stepped up their imperial activities throughout the globe, including in Central America, Africa, and South Asia.

Ford and Carter. Reagan’s 1976 national security challenge to President Ford focused on the Ford administration’s failure to press the Soviet Union hard on human rights, arms build-ups, and aggressive overseas actions (see Chapter 5). At the same time, Reagan was concerned about Ford’s closure of the permitted U.S. ABM deployment site, insufficient U.S. defense investments, and the flawed Vladivostok Framework Agreement of 1975 on strategic arms. Concerning President Jimmy Carter, (whose Cold War strategy is reviewed in Chapter 6), Reagan described Carter’s SALT II strategic arms proposal as fatally flawed and he sharply criticized Carter’s cuts and cancellation of major U.S. defense programs that senior U.S. military and Congressional figures described as leading to “hollow” forces. Among other critiques of Carter, Reagan objected to Carter’s proposal to remove U.S. forces from South Korea, his “neutron” weapon policy, drawdowns of U.S. intelligence capabilities, Iran policy failures, and weak response to Soviet military actions in Cuba and to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Coalitions, Catalysts, and Strategies. As reviewed in Chapter 6 on President Carter and Chapter 7 on Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, a new bi- and non-partisan coalition of policy institutes and individual experts rose in the mid-1970s as catalysts determined to change the demonstrably faltering U.S. defense, arms control, and related national security policies of the 1970s U.S. “détente” strategy. Often clustered around the Democrat Senator, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and the Republican, Ronald Reagan, a coalition formed that included drafters of the Team B” Report of 1976, and members of the Committee on the Present Danger, the Heritage Foundation, the American Security Councils “Coalition for Peace Through Strength,” and other influential organizations reviewed in Chapter six.

Heritage and Tower Proposals. An influential report was the 1980 Heritage Mandate for Leadership whose Chapter 3 on the Department of Defense was co-written by the author of this book and a group of experts working on Congressional staffs and in policy institutes. This analysis was one of those that provided Reagan, his transition teams, interested candidates, the Congress, the policy community, and media, exceptional details on the dangerous U.S. defense decline from Nixon to Carter and recommendations on what should be done. Senator John Tower’s Defense Supplemental—1981 was another important text.

A Winning Cold War Strategy. Together, such individuals, organizations, and studies within the broader Reagan coalition convincingly presented the existential Soviet threat and urged a rebuilding of U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic strengths as well as a far stronger overall U.S. Cold War strategy. Chapter 8 outlines Reagan’s new “grand strategy” for the Cold War as it developed on this bipartisan basis during his 1980 campaign and was established early in his first term. Chapter 8 reviews Reagan’s organization of the NSC and a series of NSC strategy documents culminating in NSDD 75—U.S.-USSR, a Reagan directive that was completed in December 1982 and approved in January 1983. This book’s succeeding topical chapters in Parts III and IV review the key elements of the Reagan strategy that collapsed Soviet ideology and power to win the Cold War without superpower war.

[Book pg. 219]