"Implementing Decisions of the Geneva Summit (C)" eText - Primary Source

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Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan stand together in the White House library. GETTY IMAGES. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan stand together in the White House library. GETTY IMAGES. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage GETTY IMAGES. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.
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By: Ronald Reagan

Date: February 4, 1986

Source: Reagan, Ronald. "Implementing Decisions of the Geneva Summit (C)," National Security Decision Directive Number 209, February 4, 1986. Available online at: http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/nsdd/nsdd-209.htm; website home page: http://www.fas.org (accessed June 9, 2003).

About the Author: Ronald Reagan (1911–) was born in Tampico, Illinois. After graduating from Eureka College, Reagan worked as a sports broadcaster for a Davenport, Iowa, radio station. In 1937, while covering spring training in California, Reagan signed a contract with Warner Brothers, a movie studio. Reagan eventually starred in over fifty films. In 1964, he retired from acting and was elected governor of California. In 1980, Reagan was elected president (served 1981–1989). After serving two terms, he retired to his ranch in California.


During the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. nuclear arsenal was overwhelmingly superior to the Soviets'. During the presidency of John F. Kennedy (1961–1963), the United States devised a strategy to overcome a potential Soviet first-strike. The military outpaced the Soviets in the development of air, land, and sea-based nuclear weapons, thereby ensuring the survival of ample numbers of strategic weapons to annihilate the Soviet Union. Following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis debacle, the Soviet Union increased its production of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to deter a possible American first-strike. By the end of the 1960s, the Soviets had reached nuclear parity with the United States. Now both sides had the capacity to sustain a first-strike and execute a withering nuclear counteroffensive. Thus, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) became the cornerstone of the U.S.-Soviet strategic relationship.

Throughout the 1970s, the Soviet Union and the United States entered into a series of nuclear arms control agreements to maintain parity, the key to mutual deterrence.

In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon (served
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1969–1974) and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev signed SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks), freezing the number of existing ballistic missiles at present levels, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), preventing either side from creating a defense system to counter ICBMs. The rationale for the ABM Treaty was that any defensive technological advance would trigger an expensive arms race and destabilize U.S-Soviet relations by triggering a further buildup of offensive countermeasures. In 1980, President Ronald Reagan attacked the ABM Treaty, believing that technology had reached the point where an effective ABM system was achievable. In 1983, Reagan delivered his "Star Wars" speech, proposing that the Pentagon develop and deploy a space-based missile defense system costing in excess of $95 billion. In 1985, Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev came to power advocating a more conciliatory foreign policy towards the West.


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Though the Geneva summit produced no important agreements, it was a political victory for President Reagan. By meeting with the Soviet general secretary, Reagan projected the image of a tough negotiator. At the summit, Gorbachev needed to reach an arms control agreement. He knew that military spending had to be reduced in order to stimulate his sinking domestic economy. To justify such cuts, Gorbachev needed Reagan to agree to similar military cuts. As a result, Gorbachev proposed reducing the strategic nuclear arsenals of both countries by fifty percent. To his surprise, Reagan refused because, in return, the United States would have to abandon its Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Reagan supported SDI because he believed that the doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) was immoral. The United States had the moral obligation to defend its citizens from certain destruction by Soviet ICBMs. Reagan also believed that Moscow could not afford to be drawn into a technological race with Washington. If the Soviets attempted to develop and deploy their own system, it would further undermine their domestic economy by diverting badly needed financial resources to the military.

In October 1986, Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland. The Soviet Union shocked the world by proposing that both nations eliminate their nuclear ballistic missiles. This proposal would have given America nuclear superiority because it did not apply to the nuclear arsenal aboard air force bombers. In a controversial decision, Reagan again rejected the offer because he would not abandon SDI or do anything to sustain the imploding Soviet economy. The president's decision was significant because it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet economy and the demise of the "Evil Empire" three years later. In addition, Reagan's faith in SDI paid dividends in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, when Patriot missile batteries were successfully deployed against incoming Iraqi missiles.

Further Resources


Schultz, George P. Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1993.

Schweizer, Peter. Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism. New York: Doubleday 2002.

Winik, Jay. On the Brink: The Dramatic Behind-the-Scenes Saga of the Reagan Era and the Men and Women Who Won the Cold War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.


Davis, Mark W. "Reagan's Real Reason for SDI." Policy Review, No. 103, October 2000. Available online at http://www.policyreview.org/oct00/davis_print.html; website home page: http://www.policyreview.org (accessed June 9, 2003).

Lewis, George. "Why National Missile Defense Won't Work." Scientific American, August 1999, 36–41.


"Reagan-Gorbachev Transcripts, Reykjavik, Iceland, October 11–16, 1986." CNN. Available online at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/episodes/22/documents/... ; website home page http://www.cnn.com (accessed May 17, 2003).

"The Secret History of The ABM Treaty, 1969–1972." The National Security Archives. Available online at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB60; website home page: http://www.gwu.edu (accessed June 9, 2003).