American History31 Dec 2009 08:00 am
Whatever his accomplishments, few would call Ronald Reagan a “dove.” But, in his 2006 book Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, an independent scholar named Paul Lettow makes the case of his title very convincingly: one of Reagan’s primary goals, never achieved, was to abolish nuclear weapons the world over.
One point in particular is crucial: this goal was Reagan’s, and it was not shared by most (if any) of his advisers. The most important program that Reagan undertook toward meeting this goal was the “Strategic Defense Initiative,” also known as SDI. Many thought this was simply a cynical attempt to “militarize” space, as another of its nicknames — “Star Wars” — strongly suggests. Lettow convincingly suggests otherwise.
The recently declassified “memcons” (memoranda of conversation) from Reagan’s summits with Gorbachev in his second term make it clear that SDI was not a cynical enterprise. Reagan was not using it as way to deploy a space shield that would give the United States an advantage in a first strike against Moscow. He repeatedly emphasized this fact, and repeatedly made it clear that once SDI was developed he would immediately give it to the USSR as well as an international body constituted for the purpose. In 1947, something like this was proposed with the “Baruch Plan” that would have internationalized nuclear power and eliminated nuclear weaponry. The plan failed, and SDI was part of Reagan’s vision for meeting its goals.
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