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 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.
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