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Context of 'February 23, 1984: Soviets Reach Out to Reagan for Renewal of ‘Positive’ Dialogue'

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Newly elected President Ronald Reagan begins his first term with a cabinet and senior staff made up of two quite different brands of conservatives. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, in his 1991 book President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, will describe an administration riven between “pragmatists” or “realists,” whom their opponents dismiss as “accomodationists” or “one-worlders,” and “conservatives” or “Reaganauts,” whom their opponents label “crazies” or “hard-liners.” Both groups staunchly oppose communism and support increased defense spending, but they diverge on the subject of negotiating with the Soviet Union. The “pragmatists” favor working to extend the idea of detente with the USSR, while the “Reaganauts” see any such negotiations as nothing but appeasement of a murderous and implacable foe (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979). During Reagan’s first term, particularly in the first three years, the “Reaganauts” hold the upper hand in setting his administration’s foreign policy. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “This period marked the closest conservatives came during the Cold War to seeing their principles translated into policy.” It also marks the closest the world came to an all-out nuclear war between the two superpowers since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 (see November 2-11, 1983). The “pragmatists” will have much more say in setting policy during the last five years of Reagan’s presidency, and as a result will help engineer a dramatic reduction in tensions between the US and the Soviet Union as well as a treaty eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons (see December 7-8, 1987). By the end of Reagan’s presidency, many conservatives have gone from enthusiastically supporting his policies to considering him a traitor to their ideology (see 1988). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 115-116]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, J. Peter Scoblic, Lou Cannon

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Reagan embarks on what will become the largest peacetime military buildup in US history. “I look forward with great enthusiasm and eagerness as we begin to rearm America,” says Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, one of the hard-liners in Reagan’s Cabinet (see January 1981 and After). (President Carter had never disarmed America; he had backed the MX missile (see June 1979) and steadily increased spending on conventional arms, raising the Pentagon’s budget significantly during his last year in office.) Reagan wants to more than double the US defense budget, from $171 billion to $368 billion, by 1986. He wants more weapons, more weapons programs, and more nuclear arms. He reauthorizes the B-1 bomber program canceled by Carter (see June 1977) and the so-called “neutron bomb,” a nuclear weapon designed to release more radioactivity—thereby killing more people—with a lessened explosive power—thereby damaging less property. He authorizes the deployment of 3,000 cruise missiles aboard aircraft, and accelerates the development of the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), nuclear-capable ocean-based cruise missiles, and the B-2 “stealth” bomber. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 117]

Entity Tags: Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Reagan, recuperating from surgery to remove an assassin’s bullet, tells bedside visitor Terence Cardinal Cooke that God spared his life so that he might “reduce the threat of nuclear war.”
Censored Letter to Brezhnev - The day after his conversation with Cooke, Reagan pens a letter to Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev calling for “disarmament” and a “world without nuclear weapons.” Brezhnev does not read Reagan’s words; Reagan’s aides, horrified at the letter, rewrite it and strip out all the phrases calling for a reduction in nuclear weapons before sending it to Brezhnev.
Aides Refuse to Draw up Plans for Disarmament - In the following weeks, Reagan will call nuclear weapons “horrible” and “inherently evil,” and order his aides to draw up plans for their elimination. His aides will refuse to deliver those plans; one adviser, Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After), will exclaim: “He can’t have a world without nuclear weapons! Doesn’t he understand the realities?”
Wants to Stop Nuclear Armageddon - Reagan believes in the literal Biblical story of Armageddon—the End Times—and believes that it will come about through the use of nuclear weapons. Unlike some conservative Christians (and some of his advisers), he does not relish the prospect, and in fact believes it is his task to prevent it from happening.
Plans to Reduce Nuclear Arms Based on Prescience, Ignorance - Author J. Peter Scoblic will note it is difficult to reconcile the view of Reagan as an advocate of nuclear disarmament with the confrontational, sometimes apocalyptic rhetoric and actions by him and his administration (see Early 1981 and After, Early 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, March 1982, and Spring 1982), but Scoblic will write: “Each of these efforts, however, can also be interpreted as a sincere, if misguided, product of Reagan’s hatred of nuclear weapons. Reagan believed that the Soviets would reduce their atomic arsenal only if they were faced with the prospect of an arms race.” Reagan realizes—ahead of many of his advisers—that the USSR was moving towards a calamitous economic crisis, and believes that the Soviets will choose to step back from further rounds of escalation in order to save their economy from complete collapse. He also believes, with some apparent conflict in logic, that the only way to reduce US nuclear arms is to increase the nation’s military arsenal. “Reagan emphasized time and again, that the aim of his arms build-up was to attain deep cuts in nuclear weapons,” biographer Paul Lettow will write. “[M]ost people did not listen to what he was actually saying.” Scoblic cites what he calls Reagan’s profound ignorance of nuclear strategy and tactical capabilities as another driving force behind Reagan’s vision of nuclear disarmament. He is not aware that submarines and long-range bombers carry nuclear missiles; he believes that submarine-based nuclear missiles can be called back once in flight. Both ideas are wrong. He tells foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft that he did not realize the primary threat from the Soviet Union was that its gigantic arsenal of ICBMs might obliterate the US’s own ICBM stockpile. When journalists ask him how the MX missile program (see 1981) that he has asserted will rectify the threat to American ICBMs, as he has asserted, he confesses that he does not know. And he honestly does not seem to understand that his administration’s confrontational, sometimes overtly belligerent actions (see May 1982 and After, June 8, 1982, March 23, 1983, and November 2-11, 1983) cause apprehension and even panic among the Soviet military and political leadership. Scoblic will write that like other hardline conservatives, “Reagan could not believe that anyone could perceive the United States as anything but righteous.”
'Subject to Manipulation' - Reagan’s desire for a reduction in nuclear arms is not matched by any depth of understanding of the nuclear weapons issues. Therefore, Scoblic will observe, “[h]e was susceptible to manipulation by advisers who shared his militant anti-communism but not his distaste for nuclear deterrence and who wanted neither arms reduction nor arms control.” When he names George Shultz as his secretary of state in mid-1982, he gains a key ally in his plans for nuclear reduction and a counterweight to arms-race advocates such as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and other hardliners who have worked (and continue to work) to sabotage the administration’s arms negotiations with the Soviet Union. He gains another ally when he replaces National Security Adviser William Clark with the more pragmatic Robert McFarlane. Both Shultz and McFarlane will support Reagan’s desire to begin sincere negotiations with the USSR on reducing nuclear arms, as does his wife, Nancy Reagan, who wants her husband to be remembered by history as reducing, not increasing, the risk of nuclear war. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 136-138]

Entity Tags: Robert C. McFarlane, Leonid Brezhnev, J. Peter Scoblic, George Shultz, Caspar Weinberger, Brent Scowcroft, Nancy Reagan, Richard Burt, Terence Cardinal Cooke, Ronald Reagan, William Clark, Paul Lettow

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Reagan, giving the commencement speech at West Point’s graduation ceremonies, makes a strong statement of his belief that the Soviet Union is an “evil empire” that must be defeated in one sense or another. “I am told there are links of a great chain that was forged and stretched across the Hudson [River] to prevent the British fleet from penetrating further into the valley,” he tells the graduates. “Today, you are that chain, holding back an evil force [communism] that would extinguish the light we’ve been tending for 6,000 years.” Days before, Reagan told another graduating class that the West would not “contain communism, it will transcend communism.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 116]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Reagan officials reopen the stalled Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union, against the advice of President Reagan’s more hardline officials (see January 1981 and After). The talks center on the Soviets’ SS-20 missile, designed to strike European targets. In return, then-President Carter had agreed to deploy US intermediate-range nuclear missiles—Pershing II’s and Tomahawks—in West Germany and Italy by 1983. According to author J. Peter Scoblic, the missiles have little real military value, as American ICBMs, submarine-based nuclear missiles, and long-range bombers could destroy Soviet targets with near-impunity. They do, however, have some political significance, mostly in helping tie European security to US security. Carter had agreed to open talks with the Soviets to get rid of the SS-20s entirely.
Hardliners Sabotage Talks - The more pragmatic Reagan officials succeed in reopening the talks; Reagan hardliners, thwarted in stopping the talks, set about sabotaging them in any way available. When arguments in favor of delays and “further study” finally fail, they pressure Reagan to offer an agreement they know the Soviets will refuse: the so-called “zero option,” which originates with Defense Department official Richard Perle (see Early 1981 and After). Perle says that the Soviets should remove all of the SS-20s, and in return, the US will not deploy its Pershings and Tomahawks—in essence, having the Soviets concede something for essentially nothing. State Department officials suggest a fallback position in case the Soviets reject Perle’s offering; in his turn, Perle appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee and compares anyone who opposes his zero-sum offering to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler in 1938.
'Walk in the Woods' - When the Soviets reject Perle’s option, Reagan hardliners argue that the government should accept no compromise. The head of the INF negotiation team, Paul Nitze—a Cold War figure who has come out against arms control (see January 1976) but is not fully trusted by the hardline ideologues because of his history as an arms negotiator—wants a compromise. In official negotiations, he sticks to the all-or-nothing position of Perle, but opens private, informal negotiations with his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky. One afternoon in 1982, Nitze and Kvitsinsky go for what later becomes known as their “walk in the woods.” Sitting together on a log during an afternoon rainstorm, the two hammer out an agreement that greatly favors the US—mandating a 67 percent reduction in Soviet SS-20s and allowing the US to deploy an equal number of Tomahawks. Not only would the Soviets have to reduce their already-deployed contingent of missiles and the US be allowed to deploy missiles, because the Tomahawks carry more independent warheads than the SS-20s, the US would have a significant advantage in firepower. The deal also sets limits on SS-20 deployments in Asia, and forbids the Soviets from developing ground-launched cruise missiles. In return, the US would agree not to deploy its Pershing missiles.
Hardliners Block Agreement - Perle and his hardline allies in the Reagan administration succeed in blocking acceptance of the Nitze-Kvitsinsky agreement. As author J. Peter Scoblic later writes, “Perle’s ideological obstructionism—concisely conveyed in his disparagement of Nitze as ‘an inverterate problem-solver’—reached fantastic heights.” Perle first tried to block Reagan from even learning the details of the agreement, and lied to Reagan, asserting falsely that the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the agreement. Perle, in conjunction with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, eventually convinces Reagan to stick to the “zero option.” Perle argues against pressure from key US allies such as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, telling Reagan, “We can’t just do something; we’ve got to stand there—and stand firm.” In 1983, Perle tells Weinberger that it would be better for the US to deploy no missiles at all than to accept the agreement. Scoblic will write: “In other words, he argued that foregoing deployment in return for nothing was better than foregoing deployment in exchange for something. The position made no sense, but the Reagan team held firm to it, once again preventing the adoption of a viable arms control deal.” When the US deploys Pershing missiles in Europe in November 1983, the Soviets walk out of the talks. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 120-123]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Margaret Thatcher, Joint Chiefs of Staff, J. Peter Scoblic, Caspar Weinberger, Paul Nitze, Ronald Reagan, Reagan administration, Senate Armed Services Committee, US Department of State, Yuli Kvitsinsky

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

In public, President Reagan says forcefully that nuclear war with the Soviet Union is not a viable option. In March, he says in response to a question as to the possibility of a victory in such a war, “I don’t believe there could be any winners… everybody would be a loser.” In April, he says flatly, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Yet out of the public eye, the Pentagon is preparing a document that espouses a “protracted nuclear war” as an officially viable alternative for the US (see March 1982). [Air Force Magazine, 3/2008]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Reagan, giving a speech at his alma mater, Eureka College, renames the US-USSR SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) negotiations START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks). The renamed negotiations reflect profound dissension within the administration for and against arms limitation talks (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After). State Department official Richard Burt, formerly opposed to arms negotiations, wants to ramp up the SALT talks and seek reductions in warheads and launchers. Defense Department official Richard Perle, the neoconservative who is working to block another arms limitation with the Soviet Union (see September 1981 through November 1983), wants to focus on payloads and “throw weight.” The administration’s compromise between the two positions—START—“ma[kes] no sense whatsoever,” according to author J. Peter Scoblic.
Initial Proposal Unacceptable to Soviets - START’s initial position—reducing each side’s deployment to 850 nuclear missiles and 5,000 warheads, of which no more than 2,500 can be on ICBMs—sounds like a significant reduction on paper, but many experts on all sides of the nuclear arms issue worry that such an agreement, putting so many warheads on so few missiles, would actually encourage each side to consider a first strike in a crisis. Arms control proponent Paul Warnke says, “If the Russians accept Mr. Reagan’s proposal, he’ll be forced to reject it himself.” But because of the disparity in missile configurations between the US and the Soviets, such an agreement would require the Soviets to drastically reduce their nuclear arsenal by 60 percent, while the US would lose almost nothing; therefore, the Soviets would never agree to such a proposal. Scoblic will note that as an opening gambit this proposal might be successful, if the Americans were prepared to back down somewhat and give the Soviets something. But the US negotiators have no intention of backing down. The Soviets are keenly interested in the US agreeing to reduce the number of cruise missiles it has deployed, but Reagan signs a National Security Directive forbidding US negotiators from even discussing the idea until the Soviets made significant concessions on “throw weight,” essentially tying his negotiators’ hands.
Chief US Negotiator Insults Soviets - The negotiations are made more difficult by the US team’s chief negotiator, Edward Rowny. Rowny, a former national security adviser to hardline Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), does not believe in diplomacy with anyone, particularly the Soviets. According to Scoblic, Rowny believes in “telling it like it is” to his Soviet counterparts, which Scoblic calls “insulting one’s negotiating opponents.” As he has no real negotiating latitude, Rowny’s diplomacy consists of little more than insults towards his Soviet counterparts. He tells them they do not understand the issues, boasts of his own Polish (i.e. anti-Russian) heritage, even stages walkouts over the seating arrangements. Rowny feels that he is opening a new era in negotiations, but in reality, the START talks are making no progress. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 123-124]

Entity Tags: Paul Warnke, Edward Rowny, J. Peter Scoblic, Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, Richard Burt, Richard Perle

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

In another speech excoriating communism, President Reagan promises the British Parliament that “the march of freedom and democracy… will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expressionism of the people.” He promises that the “forces of good [will] ultimately rally and triumph over evil,” and says that the West cannot successfully coexist with communist regimes: “Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accomodation with totalitarian evil?” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 116-117]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Reagan gives his famous “evil empire” speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. The speech is designed to dissuade Christian evangelicals from supporting a freeze on the production and deployment of nuclear weapons, as the Conference of Catholic Bishops had already done. The speech, written by Anthony Dolan, a follower of hard-line conservative philosopher William F. Buckley, is what author J. Peter Scoblic calls “a model conservative blend of religious traditionalism and anticommunism [that makes] explicit the link between Manicheanism and nuclear war fighting.” The cause is not merely peaceful co-existence, but an apocalyptic battle between good (the West) and evil (the Soviet empire), one that must be won no matter the costs. “We must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man,” Reagan tells his listeners. “We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we are enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.” Supporting the nuclear freeze movement would be to commit the sin of moral relativism, Reagan says, putting moral strictures aside for temporal, even political concerns. “I urge you to beware the temptation of pride,” he warns, “the temptation of blithely declaring yourself above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 117]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Anthony Dolan, J. Peter Scoblic, Conference of Catholic Bishops

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Reagan administration ignores the recommendations of a panel of experts named, at Congress’s behest, to provide alternatives to the stalled START arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union (see January 1983-April 1983). Spurred by hardliners in the administration, President Reagan instead instructs his negotiators to offer, not one unacceptable alternative, as initially offered to the Soviets (see May 1982 and After), but two unacceptable alternatives: either accept drastic limits on “throw weights,” or payloads, of their nuclear missiles, or accept harsh reductions in the number of ICBMs they can deploy, which will also reduce Soviet throw weight. The Soviets retort that the US is again trying to force them to disarm without agreeing to any reductions in their own nuclear arsenal. One Soviet official observes, “Your idea of ‘flexibility’ is to give a condemned man the choice between the rope and the ax.”
'Firing' the Executive Branch - Congressional leaders have had enough of the administration’s obstructionism, and brings in panel leader Brent Scowcroft to craft an alternative. In his 1984 book Deadly Gambits, future State Department official Strobe Talbott will write, “The Legislative Branch had, in effect, fired the Executive Branch for gross incompetence in arms control.” Scowcroft writes a proposal that enables both the US and USSR to reduce their nuclear arsenals with a measure of equivalence, taking into account the disparities between the two.
Misrepresenting the Proposal - The administration accepts Scowcroft’s proposal with some minor amendments, but the Soviets balk at the agreement, in part because chief US negotiator Edward Rowny, a hardliner who opposes arms negotiations on ideological grounds, misrepresents the proposal to his Soviet colleagues. The “basic position of this administration has not changed,” Rowny declares. In turn, the Soviets declare, “Ambassador Rowny is not a serious man.” When the talks come to their scheduled end in December 1983, the Soviets depart without setting a date for resumption.
More 'Sophisticated' Obstructionism - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write of the negotiations: “The conservative position had by now become far more sophisticated. By never rejecting negotiations outright, the administration could always claim that it was pursuing them with vigor, and if critics complained that its proposals were nonnegotiable, it could simply, if disingenuously, claim that it wanted to substantively reduce nuclear arsenals, not just perpetuate the status quo.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 124-125]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Ronald Reagan, Strobe Talbott, Brent Scowcroft, Edward Rowny, J. Peter Scoblic

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Test firing of a US Pershing II IRBM.Test firing of a US Pershing II IRBM. [Source: US Army / Public domain]The US and its NATO allies carry out a military exercise called “Able Archer,” or “Able Archer 83,” designed to simulate the use of nuclear weapons in an assault against the Soviet Union, and to test command and control procedures. The military exercise comes perilously close to touching off a real nuclear exchange with the USSR. The exercise—not the first of its kind, but the most expansive—is huge, spanning Europe from Turkey to Scandinavia; it involves the heads of state of countries like Great Britain and Germany; and, perhaps most alarmingly for the Soviets, involves NATO forces escalating their military alert levels to DEFCON-1, at which point NATO nuclear weapons have their safeguards disabled and are ready for launch. The Soviet’s VRYAN program to detect a possible assault (see May 1981) is extremely active. On November 8, Moscow sends high-priority telegrams to its KGB stations in Western Europe demanding information about a possible surprise first attack on the USSR. Though little actual evidence exists, some sources erroneously tell Moscow that NATO ground forces are mobilizing. The KGB concludes that “Able Archer” is a cover for a real military assault; Warsaw Pact fighter units armed with nuclear weapons are put on alert in East Germany and Poland. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 134-135; Cardiff Western News, 11/10/2008]
'Frighteningly Close' to Nuclear War, Says Soviet Intelligence Official - Oleg Gordievsky, the intelligence chief of the Soviet embassy in London and a British double agent, warns the British that the West is entering what he calls a “danger zone.” The Daily Telegraph will later write, “It was on Nov. 8-9 that the Kremlin had pressed what came close to a panic button.” [Washington Post, 10/16/1988] In his memoirs, Gordievsky will write: “In the tense atmosphere generated by the crises and rhetoric of the past few months, the KGB concluded that American forces had been placed on alert—and might even have begun the countdown to war.… [D]uring ABLE ARCHER 83 it had, without realizing it, come frighteningly close—certainly closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.” [Fischer, 3/19/2007]
Reagan 'Shocked' at Soviet Reaction - The exercise ends without incident, but National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane will later admit, “The situation was very grave.” Secretary of State George Shultz terms the exercise “a close call” and “quite sobering.” In early 1984, when the CIA reports that the Soviets had been convinced that the US was readying a nuclear strike, President Reagan will be, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “shocked” to realize that he and his administration “had nearly started a nuclear war.” Reagan, in McFarlane’s recollection, will show “genuine anxiety” and begin talking about the concept of Armageddon—the Biblical end times—with his advisers. [Fischer, 3/19/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 134-135]

Entity Tags: Operation VRYAN, Ronald Reagan, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, KGB, J. Peter Scoblic, George Shultz, Robert C. McFarlane, ’Able Archer’, Central Intelligence Agency, Oleg Gordievsky

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Poster for ‘The Day After.’Poster for ‘The Day After.’ [Source: MGM]The made-for-TV movie The Day After airs on ABC. It tells the story of a group of Americans in Lawrence, Kansas—the geographical center of the continental United States—who survive a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and the harrowing days and weeks of their existence afterwards, as they slowly die from radiation poisoning and a lack of food and water. “Bootleged” copies of the movie have been available for months, adding to the anticipation and the controversy surrounding it.
Concerns of 'Anti-Nuclear Bias' from White House - The movie, described by Museum of Broadcast Communications reviewer Susan Emmanuel as “starkly realistic,” caused concern in the White House because of what it saw as its “anti-nuclear bias.” (The production had taken place without the cooperation of the Defense Department, which had insisted on emphasizing that the Soviet Union had started the exchange depicted in the movie. The filmmakers did not want to take a political stance, and preferred to leave that question unclear.) To address the White House’s concerns, ABC distributed a half-million viewers’ guides to schools, libraries, and civic and religious groups, and organized discussion groups around the country. It will also conduct extensive social research after the broadcast to judge the reactions among children and adults. A discussion group featuring Secretary of State George Shultz takes place immediately after the broadcast. Its original broadcast is viewed by roughly 100 million viewers, an unprecedented audience. It is shown three weeks later on Britain’s ITV network as part of a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament recruitment drive. Emmanuel will later write, “Not since then has the hybrid between entertainment and information, between a popular genre like disaster, and the address to the enlightened citizen, been as successfully attempted by a network in a single media event. ” [Lometti, 1992; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 133; Museum of Broadcast Communications, 1/26/2008] Even though the filmmakers tried to remain politically neutral—director Nicholas Meyer says his film “does not advocate disarmament, build-down, buildup, or freeze”—proponents of the “nuclear freeze” movement hail the movie and conservatives call it a “two hour commercial for disarmament.” (ABC’s social research later shows that the film does not have a strong impact on viewers either for or against nuclear disarmament.) Conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell threatens, but does not execute, a boycott of the commercial sponsors of the film. Some Congressional Democrats ask that the movie be made available for broadcast in the Soviet Union. [Lometti, 1992]
Powerful Impact on President Reagan - The movie has a powerful impact on one viewer: President Reagan. He will reflect in his memoirs that the film leaves him “greatly depressed” and makes him “aware of the need for the world to step back from the nuclear precipice.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write: “If it seems vaguely ridiculous for a Cold War president to reach this conclusion only after watching a made-for-TV movie, remember that Reagan biographers have long noted that his connection to film was often stronger than his connection to reality. He also became far more intellectually and emotionally engaged when presented with issues framed as personal stories, rather than as policy proposals.” Reagan’s visceral reaction to the film heralds a fundamental shift in his approach to the US-Soviet nuclear arms race. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, George Shultz, Nicholas Meyer, American Broadcasting Corporation, Reagan administration, Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan, Susan Emmanuel, US Department of Defense, J. Peter Scoblic

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Though President Reagan has long vowed to reduce the number of nuclear weapons between the US and Soviet Union (see April 1981 and After and March-April 1982), because of a variety of factors—his recalcitrant anti-communism (see May 27, 1981, June 8, 1982, and March 8, 1983), his belief that escalating the arms race between the two countries would force the Soviets to give up their attempt to stay abreast of the Americans (see Early 1981 and After, Early 1981 and After, and Spring 1982), and his aides’ success at sabotaging the US-Soviet arms negotiations (see January 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983)—recent events (see November 2-11, 1983 and November 20, 1983) have convinced him that he must fundamentally change the way he approaches the US’s dealings with the Soviets. He tells reporters that he will no longer refer to the USSR as “the focus of evil.” He drops what is known as “the standard threat speech” and begins speaking more frequently and openly of nuclear disarmament, to the dismay of many of his hardline advisers. In one speech, he says: “The fact that neither of us likes the other system is no reason to refuse to talk. Living in this nuclear age makes it imperative that we do talk.” Speechwriter Jack Matlock, a pragmatist recently put in charge of the National Security Council’s Soviet affairs desk, wins Reagan’s approval to insert a quote from a speech by President Kennedy: “So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.” He stops using terms like “conflict” in favor of terms such as “misunderstandings.” The rhetoric of “good vs evil,” of “us vs them,” is set aside in favor of discussions of mutual interests and problem solving. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 138-139]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Jack Matlock, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Reagan’s new tone of reconciliation with the Soviet Union (see December 1983 and After) wins a positive response from Soviet Premier Konstantin Chernenko, a pragmatist who has just replaced the far more ideologically hardline Yuri Andropov. Chernonko writes that he sees an “opportunity to put our relations on a more positive track.” The National Security Council and State Department both begin moving to renew serious dialogue with the Soviets. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Konstantin Chernenko, Yuri Andropov, Ronald Reagan, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Buoyed by recent breakthroughs in dialogue with the Soviet Union (see February 23, 1984), the US and USSR resume arms control talks, these combining both the INF (see September 1981 through November 1983) and START (see May 1982 and After) talks into a single set of discussions. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, in office just 13 months, dies of a long illness. Chernenko had moved to reopen talks with the US (see February 23, 1984 and Early 1985). President Reagan sends Vice President George H. W. Bush to the funeral with an invitation to hold a summit meeting with Chernenko’s successor, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev signals his acceptance (see November 16-19, 1985). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, Konstantin Chernenko

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva summit meeting.Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva summit meeting. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]The long-awaited summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in Geneva. The meeting, later known as the “fireside summit,” comes after months of Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR—“glasnost,” or openness to government transparency; “perestroika,” a retooling of the moribund Stalinist economy; and a dogged anti-alcohol campaign, among others. Gorbachev has packed the Kremlin with officials such as new Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze and chief economist Alexander Yakovlev, who back his reform campaigns. (Yakolev has even proposed democratization of the Soviet Communist Party.) Reagan and Gorbachev have exchanged several letters which have helped build relations between the two leaders. Reagan, unlike some of his hardline advisers, is excited about the summit, and has diligently prepared, even holding mock debates with National Security Council member Jack Matlock playing Gorbachev. Reagan has also quietly arranged—without the knowledge of his recalcitrant hardline advisers—for an extension of the scheduled 15-minute private meeting between himself and Gorbachev. The two actually talk for five hours. Nothing firm is agreed upon during this first meeting, but as Reagan later recalls, it marks a “fresh start” in US-Soviet relations. Gorbachev returns to the USSR promoting his and Reagan’s agreement on the need to reduce nuclear arms; Reagan presents the summit as a “victory” in which he did not back down to Soviet pressure, but instead emphasized the need for the Soviets to honor basic human rights for their citizens. Gorbachev realizes that Reagan’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons and his desire for a reduction in nuclear arms (see April 1981 and After) is personal and not shared by many of his administration’s officials, much less the US defense industry. As a result, he focuses on personal contacts and appeals to Reagan, and puts less stock in formal negotiations between the two. [National Security Archive, 11/22/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139-140; Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 1/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Soviet Communist Party, Alexander Yakovlev, Edvard Shevardnadze, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jack Matlock, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-145]

Entity Tags: George Will, George Shultz, William Safire, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

American conservatives, recently contemptuous of former President Ronald Reagan (see 1988), use the fall of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) to resurrect the image of Reagan as the victorious Cold Warrior who triumphed over world communism.
Historical Revisionism - In doing so, they drastically revise history. In the revised version of events, Reagan was a staunch, never-wavering, ideologically hardline conservative who saw the Cold War as an ultimate battle between good (Western democracy) and evil (Soviet communism). As author J. Peter Scoblic will describe the revision, it was Reagan’s implacable resolve and conservative principles—and the policies that emanated from those principles—that “forced the Soviet Union to implode.” Conservatives point to the so-called “Reagan Doctrine” of backing anti-Soviet insurgencies (see May 5, 1985) and to National Security Decision Directive 75, accepting nuclear war as a viable policy option (see January 17, 1983), as evidence of their assertions. But to achieve this revision, they must leave out, among other elements, Reagan’s long-stated goal of nuclear disarmament (see April 1981 and After, March-April 1982, November 20, 1983, and Late November 1983), and his five-year history of working with the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear arms between the two nations (see December 1983 and After, November 16-19, 1985, January 1986, October 11-12, 1986, and December 7-8, 1987).
USSR Caused Its Own Demise - And, Scoblic will note, such revisionism does not account for the fact that it was the USSR which collapsed of its own weight, and not the US which overwhelmed the Soviets with an onslaught of democracy. The Soviet economy had been in dire straits since the late 1960s, and there had been huge shortages of food staples such as grain by the 1980s. Soviet military spending remained, in Scoblic’s words, “enormous, devouring 15 percent to 20 percent of [the USSR’s gross national product] throughout the Cold War (meaning that it imposed three times the economic burden of the US defense budget, on an economy that was one-sixth the size).” Reagan did dramatically increase US military spending during his eight years in office (see Early 1981 and After), and ushered new and potentially devastating military programs into existence (see 1981 and March 23, 1983). Conservatives will assert that Reagan’s military spending drove the USSR into implicit surrender, sending them back to the arms negotiation table with a newfound willingness to negotiate the drawdown of the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see Early 1985). Scoblic will characterize the conservatives’ arguments: “Whereas [former President] Carter was left playing defense, the Gipper [Reagan] took the ball the final 10 yards against the Reds, spending them into the ground and leading the United States into the end zone.” Scoblic calls this a “superficially… plausible argument,” but notes that Carter, not Reagan, began the tremendous military spending increase (see Late 1979-1980), and more importantly, the USSR made no effort to match Reagan’s defense spending. “Its defense budget remained essentially static during the 1980s,” he will write. “In short, the Soviet Union suffered no economic distress as a result of the Reagan buildup.” Scoblic will also note that conservatives had long insisted that the USSR could actually outspend the US militarily (see November 1976), and never predicted that increasing US military spending could drive the Soviet Union into bankruptcy. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 145-149]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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