START, SDI, and Arms Control
Now that the Reagan presidency has drawn to a close, it seems worthwhile to analyze the most public area of its strategic relationship with the Soviet Union, namely the negotiations on strategic arms (START) and on space and defensive systems. Here, my concern is not so much to recount the discussions and the negotiations of the last few years as it is to undertake something of a stocktaking. What, in short, is the legacy that the Reagan years have left to the Bush Administration, the people of the United States, and the Atlantic Alliance in the area of arms control?
For anyone interested in strategic issues, the danger is to spend too much time on the fads and fashions of the moment, rather than look at more continuous aspects of policy. Such a misplaced focus would cause serious distortions in the case of the Reagan Administration, because there was a massive gap between the administration's declaratory statements and what actually happened on the ground. This is illustrated by the history of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program, where the claims and counterclaims of both adherents and opponents focused on a vision of SDI massively at variance with the way the program actually shaped up. Similar gaps were evident in both declaratory nuclear strategy and strategic arms control. In each case the public debate all too often stressed the ephemeral and headline-catching elements to the exclusion of actual developments in these areas.