President Ronald Reagan's program for a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) has its origins in the continuing effort of intellectuals in the defense community to break free from the paradoxes resulting from the search for security through the acquisition of nuclear arms. Upon coming to office in 1981, the Reagan Administration found itself looking at two broad national security policies. One began with the consideration of military systems and incorporated diplomacy, the other started with diplomatic goals and incorporated military systems to attain them. Both had origins in events immediately following World War II.
Nuclear weapons changed the nature of war in 1945. By the early 1950s, the acquisition of small nuclear arsenals gave both America and Russia the ability to deliver a near-instantaneous attack which threatened to incapacitate the opponent. The only rational military policy was one which called for the possession but not the use of nuclear weapons—Deterrence. Deterrence required the United States to be able to restrain Russian leaders from aggression, permanently, by maintaining a capacity to destroy the Soviet Union no matter what else occurred. In concrete terms, this meant preparing to attack Russian cities. The first element in creating the deterrence system was to acquire the large numbers of weapons, delivery vehicles, and command and control systems to be able to execute the strike. The second was to devise ways to protect the U.S. system so that enough of it could survive a Soviet attack to devastate Russia. Preserving the capability to deter became the primary objective in American national security thought. Because the United States Air Force provided the principal deterrence system, protecting it from the growing stockpile of Soviet nuclear bombs and delivery systems assumed overriding importance.