Chapter 12 - Strategic Offensive: Modernization, START Reductions, Nuclear Deterrence and Testing

would have failed catastrophically and millions of Americans would surely die. The lives of more millions of people in the Soviet Union would also be on the line and widespread global radiation would be certain. To Reagan, the 1970s SALT process was fatally flawed in tolerating this suicidal situation. Its “caps” legitimized large Soviet nuclear forces, and it was linked to an ABM Treaty that, by relying on MAD, compounded the threat and associated global instabilities with each new Soviet missile deployed.

Reagan Not a Nuclear Abolitionist. The JCS briefings that confronted Reagan with this mad nuclear choice dramatically strengthened his original concerns about nuclear weapons and nuclear war. The briefings increased his determination to assure effective alternative nuclear deterrence, defense, and arms control strategies for the American people and mankind. Reagan’s words and decisions documented in this narrative, referenced in Chapter 10, and detailed in the present chapter and the next, demonstrate that Reagan was not the “nuclear abolitionist” in the utopian sense in which he is sometimes portrayed and in which cause his name was invoked by some in the highly illusionary “Global Zero” movement. On the contrary, Reagan’s policies are noteworthy for the indispensable preconditions for national security that he insisted must first be met to achieve substantially increased U.S. nuclear deterrence and strategic defense capabilities like SDI.

Reagan’s Strategic Alternatives to SALT and MAD. Understanding the realities of the Soviet nuclear threat, Soviet SALT and ABM Treaty violations, and the terrible MAD choice, Reagan and his team focused on a realistic and innovative revolutionary Cold War strategy with several key elements. First, they planned to reduce the weapons and risks of nuclear war through militarily meaningful and effectively verifiable arms reductions in the most destabilizing (i.e., fast flying, hard-target-killing) systems. Second, they would modernize U.S. nuclear deterrent forces through new systems and an assured minimum of nuclear testing and modernized nuclear weapons infrastructure. Third, they would purposefully shift to an increasingly defense-based deterrence strategy centered on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Fourth, they would espouse a strong counter-proliferation policy with on-site inspections and international sanctions, especially toward despotic regimes. In parallel diplomatic efforts, Reagan pressed to expand the sphere of human rights and democracy that would potentially achieve fundamental, ideological, and governmental regime change in the Soviet empire as a prerequisite for gaining real confidence in a more trustworthy Kremlin.

Reagan, History, and Nuclear Statecraft. Reagan was unusually familiar with, and often referenced, the roots and key events in the history of wars during his lifetime, notably including the Cold War. He understood far better more than most politicians and historians the inescapable reality that weapons, particularly nuclear weapons, in the hands of tyrants, totalitarians, and terrorists were inherently threatening to any concepts of “balance” or peaceful international relations and law. Such militant anti-democratic leaders were inherently not peaceful, tolerant, or trustworthy toward their own people at home or their neighbors abroad. By rejecting inalienable human rights, constitutional democracy, and international law, they would invariably and violently impose their social blueprints on their own societies and try to do so across their borders. Responsible democracies would have to take this moral and strategic political asymmetry realistically into account in dealing with the uniquely toxic combination of despotism, nuclear weapons and terror.

2. Reagan’s Assessments of the Soviet Strategic Buildup and “First Strike” Potential—1980 to 1981

After Jimmy Carter’s November 1976 election victory over the incumbent president, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan stepped up his statements about the enormity of the continuing Soviet strategic force buildup and its global imperial reach and the severe damage being done to U.S. national security and the prospects of peace by the failure to modernize America’s strategic forces and to assure national anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defenses. He understood such programs as indispensable to U.S. nuclear deterrence and defense capabilities in a nuclear world threatened by potential Soviet strategic predominance, blackmail, intimidation and attack, as well as by the increasing danger of global nuclear proliferation. In addition, he also understood that modernized U.S. strategic forces and missile defenses would provide vital U.S. negotiation leverage to press the Soviet Union to agree to real, stabilizing, and effectively verifiable arms reductions.

Reagan’s Campaign Platform—1980. Reagan’s 1980 campaign platform coordinated by Senator John Tower and his staff reflected the candidate’s and his senior team’s assessments about the deteriorating strategic situation and U.S. security requirements as shared by the bi- or non-partisan experts and organizations that were part of the his electoral coalition. The latter included members of President Ford’s Team B” Report of

[Book pg. 265]