Strategy Behind Arms-Reduction Pacts

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 3, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Strategy Behind Arms-Reduction Pacts


In explaining Ronald Reagan's moves toward nuclear-arms-reduction pacts with the Soviet Union, James Mann writes, Increasingly, Reagan rebelled against the forces and ideas that had made the Cold War seem endless and intractable.

He says this of the period 1986-88. In fact, that rebellion was a hallmark of the entire Reagan presidency. The author has missed the fact that this was the final phase of a determined and well-developed strategy.

Mr. Mann was for years a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. The author of two other books, he is author-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In the introduction to The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan he writes, I wanted to examine the hidden aspects of American foreign policy and to explain them in a historical narrative. Several dozen interviews and examinations of previously inaccessible archives later, he has done just that.

He divides the book into four parts, Two Anti-Communists (Mr. Reagan's and Richard Nixon's different visions); Informal Adviser (the role of Suzanne Massie, who occasionally passed back-channel messages from the White House to Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's associates); Berlin (the tug of war within the administration over Mr. Reagan's famous speech about the Berlin wall); and Summits (the four meetings between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev).

The book's chronology begins Nov. 8 through 10, 1982, with the death of Leonid Brezhnev and the accession of Yuri Andropov. It should have begun 15 years earlier. In 1967, his first year as California governor, Mr. Reagan accepted an invitation from Edward Teller to visit the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for a briefing. There he learned that the scientists were working on a missile defense program. Seventeen years later, with Mr. Teller sitting in the Oval Office, Mr. Reagan made the nationally televised speech that launched the Strategic Defense Initiative. Afterward, Mr. Reagan asked Mr. Teller what he thought of it. The scientist quipped, Well, it only took you 17 years.

Twelve years later, Mr. Reagan visited the North American Aerospace Defense Command's (NORAD) early-warning system deep in a Colorado mountain. It brought home to him the potential horror of nuclear war. The sophisticated equipment could quickly detect a nuclear missile headed toward us; however, the only defense was to launch our own.

Mr. Reagan, from the beginning, made it clear he would rebuild our military defense structure so that the Soviets could not match it. He knew from early intelligence briefings that the Soviet Union's economy was under great strain. He aimed to increase the strain until the Kremlin's leaders realized an arms race was futile and agreed to work out arms-reduction agreements. Alas, They kept dying on me, he commented after the successive deaths of Mr. Brezhnev, Mr. Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko.

Meanwhile, Mr. Reagan turned up the juice. In his 1982 speech to the houses of the British Parliament, he declared that communism would end up on the ash heap of history.

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