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Context of 'March 23, 1983: President Reagan Announces ‘Star Wars’ Missile Defense Program'

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The US and the Soviet Union sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM) Treaty. It will be ratified by the US Senate in August 1972, and will go into force in October 1972. Originally, the treaty agrees that each nation can have only two ABM deployment areas, located so that those areas cannot provide a nationwide ABM defense or become the basis for developing one. In essence, the ABM Treaty prevents either nation from developing a missile defense system (see March 23, 1983), and allows each country the likelihood of destroying the other with an all-out nuclear barrage. The treaty puts in place the doctrine of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction, which states that because both nations can obliterate the other in a nuclear exchange, neither one will trigger such a strike. In 1976, an addendum to the treaty further limits the number of ABM deployment areas from two to one; the Soviets will deploy a rudimentary ABM system around Moscow, but the US never does, and even deactivates its single ABM site near Grand Forks, North Dakota. In 2001, US President George W. Bush will unilaterally withdraw from the treaty (see December 13, 2001 and June 14, 2002). [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

A Peacekeeper test firing at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.A Peacekeeper test firing at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. [Source: US Army]President Ronald Reagan, reversing his campaign opposition to the MX mobile nuclear weapons platform (see June 1979), now enthusiastically supports the program, which he dubs, without apparent irony, the “Peacekeeper.” He first proposes housing them in superhardened Minuteman missile silos, which is roundly derided as ridiculous given that the entire raison d’etre of the MX is its mobile capacity. Reagan then appoints a commission, chaired by former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and having former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as one of its members, to study ways of making the program work. The commission finally recommends that 100 MX missiles be deployed in Minuteman silos in Wyoming, as well as smaller, single-warhead MX missiles, dubbed “Midgetmen,” to complement the main missile program. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (D-MA) opposes the program. Iconoclastic Republican John Perry Barlow, a Wyoming rancher and sometime-lyricist for the Grateful Dead, lobbies Washington lawmakers against the MX. He sees it as a huge step away from “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) and towards a first-strike policy, which would, in Barlow’s eyes, be potentially catastrophic. He finds Rep. Dick Cheney (R-WY), who strongly supports the program, a worthy adversary. “I must have lobbied more than one hundred members of Congress on this, and Dick was the only one who knew more about it than I did,” Barlow will later recall. Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory accompanies Barlow to one meeting with Cheney. After listening to the intense debate, McGrory tells Barlow, “I think your guy Cheney is the most dangerous person I’ve ever seen up here.” Barlow will recall: “I felt we were really arguing about the fate of the world.… Cheney believes the world is an inherently dangerous place, and he sees the rest of the world as… populated by four-year old kids with automatic weapons.” Congress will eventually give Reagan only fifty of the MXs, but in part to placate him, Cheney, and their allies, authorizes the start of what will become a multi-billion dollar weapons platform, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), later dubbed “Star Wars.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 51-53]

Entity Tags: Mary McGrory, Brent Scowcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, John Perry Barlow, Thomas Phillip ‘Tip’ O’Neill, Jr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ronald Reagan

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

Strategic Defense Initiative logo.Strategic Defense Initiative logo. [Source: United States Missile Defense Agency]President Reagan announces his proposal for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, later nicknamed “Star Wars”), originally conceived two years earlier (see 1981). SDI is envisioned as a wide-ranging missile defense system that, if it works, will protect the United States from nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union or other countries with ballistic missiles, essentially rendering nuclear weapons, in Reagan’s words, “impotent and obsolete.” Reagan says, “I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” Soviet leader Yuri Andropov’s response is unprececented in its anger (see March 27, 1983); Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrinyn says SDI will “open a new phase in the arms race.” [PBS, 2000; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 129]
US Hardliners 'Ecstatic' - Hardliners in and out of the Reagan administration are, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s characterization, “ecstatic, seeing SDI as the ultimate refutation of [the principle of] mutual assured destruction and therefore of the status quo, which left [the US] unable to seek victory over the Soviet Union.” The day after the speech, Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) sends Reagan a one-sentence letter: “That was the best statement I have heard from any president.”
'Less Suicidal' Adjunct to First Strike - Scoblic will write that if SDI is implemented as envisioned, “[a]lthough the Soviets would still be able to inflict enough damage that a first strike by the United States would be suicidal, it would be ‘less suicidal’ to the extent that such a concept made sense, which some Reagan officials believed it did. In short, SDI was a better adjunct to a first strike than it was a standalone defense. That made it critically destabilizing, which is why missile defense had been outlawed by [earlier treaties] in the first place.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 129-130]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative, J. Peter Scoblic, Ronald Reagan, Anatoly Dobrinyn, Barry Goldwater, Yuri Andropov

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

In an unusual display of rhetorical anger, the Soviet Union’s General Secretary, Yuri Andropov, responds to the US’s announcement of its development of an anti-ballistic missile defense (SDI, or “Star Wars”—see March 23, 1983) by accusing President Reagan of “inventing new plans on how to unleash a nuclear war in the best way, with the hope of winning it.” CIA analyst Benjamin Fischer will later call Andropov’s statement “unprecedented.” Ignoring the counsel of his own advisers to remain calm, Andropov, with unusually heated rhetoric, denounces the US program as a “bid to disarm the Soviet Union in the face of the US nuclear threat.” Such space-based defense, he says, “would open the floodgates of a runaway race of all types of strategic arms, both offensive and defensive. Such is the real significance, the seamy side, so to say, of Washington’s ‘defensive conception.‘… The Soviet Union will never be caught defenseless by any threat.… Engaging in this is not just irresponsible, it is insane.… Washington’s actions are putting the entire world in jeopardy.” Andropov’s statement violates what Fischer will describe as a “longstanding taboo” against “citing numbers and capabilities of US nuclear weapons in the mass media” as well as “referr[ing] to Soviet weapons with highly unusual specificity.” Fischer will go on to note: “[F]or the first time since 1953, the top Soviet leader was telling his nation that the world was on the verge of a nuclear holocaust. If candor is a sign of sincerity, then Moscow was worried.” [Fischer, 3/19/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 134]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Strategic Defense Initiative, Yuri Andropov, Benjamin Fischer

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The US announces that the Soviet Union has established a large early-warning radar system near the city of Krasnoyarsk. The installation violates the 1972 ABM Treaty (see May 26, 1972), which requires that such installations be located near the nation’s border and oriented outward. It is possible that the Soviet radar installation is built in response to the US’s recent decision to violate the ABM treaty by developing a missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The US and the Soviet Union engage in the Nuclear and Space Talks (NST) in Geneva. The US wants to discuss a transition from mutual nuclear deterrence based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation (the concept of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction) to increased reliance on ground- and space-based defense systems such as its Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983). In its turn, the USSR wants a comprehensive ban on research, development, testing, and deployment of “space-strike arms.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, speaking for the Reagan administration, proposes a new, “broad” interpretation of the US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972) on national television. McFarlane proposes that space-based and mobile systems and components based on “other physical principles,” i.e. lasers, particle beams, etc., should be developed and tested, but not deployed. (The traditional, “narrow” interpretation of the treaty is more restrictive.) Days later, President Reagan announces that while he and his administration support this “broad” interpretation, as a matter of national policy, the US’s Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983) will continue to observe the more traditional interpretation. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Robert C. McFarlane, Strategic Defense Initiative, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Gorbachev and Reagan at the Reykjavik summit.Gorbachev and Reagan at the Reykjavik summit. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]President Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, for a second summit, to follow on the success of their first meeting almost a year before (see November 16-19, 1985). They base their discussion on Gorbachev’s January proposals of deep cuts in the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see January 1986).
Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons by 1996 - Gorbachev and his negotiators begin by reiterating Gorbachev’s proposals for a 50 percent cut in all nuclear weapons, deep reductions in Soviet ICBMs, and the elimination of all European-based intermediate nuclear weapons. Reagan and his negotiators counter with a proposal for both sides to destroy half of their nuclear ballistic missiles in the next five years, and the rest to be destroyed over the next five, leaving both sides with large arsenals of cruise missiles and bomber-based weapons. Gorbachev ups the ante, proposing that all nuclear weapons be destroyed within 10 years. Reagan responds that it would be fine with him “if we eliminated all nuclear weapons,” implicitly including all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and everywhere else. Gorbachev says, “We can do that,” and Secretary of State George Shultz says, “Let’s do it.”
Agreement Founders on SDI - The heady moment is lost when the two sides fail to reach an agreement on SDI—the Americans’ “Star Wars” missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Gorbachev cannot accept any major reductions in nuclear weapons if the US has a viable missile defense system; Reagan is convinced that SDI would allow both sides to eliminate their nuclear weapons, and offers the SDI technology to the Soviets. Gorbachev finds Reagan’s offer naive, since there is no guarantee that future presidents would honor the deal. Reagan, in another example of his ignorance of the mechanics of the US nuclear program (see April 1981 and After), does not seem to realize that even a completely effective SDI program would not defend against Soviet cruise missiles and long-range bombers, and therefore would not end the threat of nuclear destruction for either side. Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “[SDI] would have convinced the Soviet Union that the United States sought a first-strike capability, since the Americans were so far ahead in cruise missile and stealth bomber technology.” Gorbachev does not ask that the US abandon SDI entirely, but simply observe the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty (see May 26, 1972) and confine SDI research to the laboratory. Reagan refuses. Gorbachev says that if this is the US’s position, then they would have to “forget everything they discussed.” Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze breaks in, saying that the two nations are “so close” to making history that “if future generations read the minutes of these meetings, and saw how close we had come but how we did not use these opportunities, they would never forgive us.” But the agreement is not to be.
Participants' Reactions - As Shultz later says, “Reykjavik was too bold for the world.” Shultz tells reporters that he is “deeply disappointed” in the results, and no longer sees “any prospect” for a third summit. Gorbachev tells reporters that Reagan’s insistence on retaining SDI had “frustrated and scuttled” the opportunity for an agreement. Gorbachev says he told Reagan that the two countries “were missing a historic chance. Never had our positions been so close together.” Reagan says as he is leaving Iceland that “though we put on the table the most far-reaching arms control proposal in history, the general secretary [Gorbachev] rejected it.” Scoblic will later write, “In the end, ironically, it was Reagan’s utopianism, hitched as it was to a missile shield, that preserved the status quo.” [Washington Post, 10/13/1986; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Hardline Sabotage - One element that contributes to the failure of the negotiations is the efforts to undermine the talks by hardline advisers Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, who tell Reagan that confining SDI to research facilities would destroy the program. Perle and Adelman are lying, but Reagan, not knowing any better, believes them, and insists that SDI remain in development. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-144]
Going Too Far? - Reagan’s negotiators, even the most ardent proponents of nuclear reduction, are shocked that he almost agreed to give up the US’s entire nuclear arsenal—with Shultz’s encouragement. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand are horrified at the prospect, given that NATO’s nuclear arsenal in Europe is the only real counterweight to the huge Red Army so close to the borders of Western European nations. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Failure of Trust - The US-Soviet talks may well have foundered on an inability of either side to trust the other one to the extent necessary to implement the agreements. During the talks, Soviet aide Gyorgy Arbatov tells US negotiator Paul Nitze that the proposals would require “an exceptional level of trust.” Therefore, Arbatov says, “we cannot accept your position.” [National Security Archives, 3/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Paul Nitze, J. Peter Scoblic, Kenneth Adelman, Gyorgy Arbatov, George Shultz, Francois Mitterand, Margaret Thatcher, Richard Perle, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President George H.W. Bush says he will “vigorously pursue” the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or “Star Wars”) missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative, George Herbert Walker Bush

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

An ‘exo-atmospheric kill vehicle,’ or EKV, part of the ‘Brilliant Pebbles’ space-based missile defense system.An ‘exo-atmospheric kill vehicle,’ or EKV, part of the ‘Brilliant Pebbles’ space-based missile defense system. [Source: Claremont Institute]In his State of the Union address, President Bush announces a drastic revision of the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or “Star Wars”) missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). The system, still in its research and development stages, will no longer attempt to protect the majority of the US population from nuclear assault. Now, Bush says, SDI will be retooled to “provid[e] protection against limited ballistic missile strikes—whatever their source.” The system, called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS), will include some 1,000 space-based “Brilliant Pebbles” interceptors, 750 to 1,000 long-range ground-based interceptors at six sites, space-based and mobile sensors, and transportable ballistic missile defenses. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008] The concept is based on an earlier proposal by nuclear weapons experts Edward Teller, Lowell Wood, and Gregory Canavan of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who came up with the idea of a “Smart Rocks” defense system based on thousands of small rocket-propelled canisters in Earth orbit, each capable of ramming an incoming ballistic missile and exploding it outside the lower atmosphere. The “Smart Rocks” concept was one component of the original SDI concept, but was retooled, upgraded, and renamed “Brilliant Pebbles” to be the main component of the program. It will never be deployed, and will be defunded entirely during the first year of the Clinton administration. [Claremont Institute, 12/24/2007]

Entity Tags: Gregory Canavan, Clinton administration, Brilliant Pebbles, Edward Teller, George Herbert Walker Bush, Global Protection Against Limited Strikes, Lowell Wood, Strategic Defense Initiative, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Russian President Boris Yeltsin proposes that the US and Russia engage in a “joint” global defense system that would supplant the US-only Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). He says that Russia will continue to honor the US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), and proposes that all existing anti-satellite (ASAT) programs be eliminated and banned. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative, Boris Yeltsin

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President-elect Bill Clinton announces that his administration rejects the idea of a US-only space-based defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991) and would instead support the development of what he calls “a limited missile defense system within the strict framework” of the ABM Treaty (see May 26, 1972). He announces that his administration also supports the development and deployment of theater missile defense (TMD) systems “to protect our troops from short- and medium-range missiles.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Strategic Defense Initiative

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

A total of 350 Republican candidates for Congress announce their support for the so-called “Contract with America,” a broad platform of hardline conservative positions which includes a call for the US deployment of both an anti-ballistic missile defense system (SDI or “Star Wars”—see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991) and more limited theater missile defense systems (TMD—see November 3, 1992). [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The “Team B” intelligence analysis exercise of 1975, which so disastrously overestimated the Soviet threat (see November 1976), returns in the form of the “Rumsfeld Commission,” which issues its report this month. Conservative commentators and former participants have called for a second “Team B”-style competitive intelligence analysis ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall (see 1990, 1994, and 1996). The “Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States” (see July 15, 1998), led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is packed with conservative and neoconservative hardliners much as the original Team B cadre was; it includes some former Team B members such as former Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz. Like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission challenges CIA estimates of foreign military threats; like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission wildly overestimates the impending threat from countries such as Iran and North Korea, both of which it judges will be capable of striking the US with nuclear weapons in five years or perhaps less. The original Team B findings impelled thirty years of full-bore military spending by the US to counter a Soviet threat that was fading, not growing; the Rumsfeld Commission’s equally alarmist findings impels a new push for spending on the so-called “Star Wars” ballistic missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly will observe that the Rumsfeld Commission’s report “provided Congress with enough talking points to win the argument [on missile defense] both in the strategic arena and in the 20-second soundbite television debates.” Former State Department intelligence analyst Greg Thielmann will later observe, “time has proven Rumsfeld’s predictions dead wrong.” Author and professor Gordon R. Mitchell will write that the second “Team B” exercise shows “that by 1998, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had honed the art of intelligence manipulation through use of competitive intelligence analysis. Retrospective assessments revealing serious flaws in the Team B work products came long after political officials had already converted the alarmist reports into political support for favored military policies.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative, ’Team B’, Central Intelligence Agency, Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, Donald Rumsfeld, Gordon R. Mitchell, Phyllis Schlafly, Paul Wolfowitz, Greg Thielmann

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

President Clinton signs the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 (NMDA), which states in its entirety, “It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate).” The NMDA mandates that the US will deploy some sort of missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991), but Clinton will refuse to order the system’s deployment in 2000, in part because it has failed its tests and in part because to deploy the system would require the US to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), a move Clinton is unwilling to make. Clinton will acknowledge that the US makes its own national security decision, but will add, “We can never afford to overlook the fact that the actions and reactions of others in this increasingly interdependent world do bear on our security.” [US Senate, 7/22/1999; White House, 7/22/1999; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 173-174]

Entity Tags: National Missile Defense Act, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Senate, led by Republican opponents such as Jesse Helms (R-NC), votes not to ratify the UN’s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons (see September 10, 1996). This is the first time in 80 years that the Senate has refused to ratify a security-related treaty. Helms and other Senate Republicans do not wish to give up the US’s ability to test nuclear weapons if desired, nor do they want to impede the continued development of the “Star Wars” / “Brilliant Pebbles” missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). [Federation of American Scientists, 12/18/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 169] The Times of India notes that many of the opposing senators fear “that abandoning forever the right to conduct explosive nuclear tests will undermine the hegemonic position of the US. The world is virtually unipolar today and they would like to keep it that way.” But, the Times goes on to observe: “The irony is that President Bill Clinton wants the CTBT for precisely the same reason. For all his administration’s propaganda about disarmament, the CTBT is intended to lock in to place the technological lead the US has over other nuclear weapon states in terms of weapon designs and delivery systems.” [Times of India, 10/16/1999] The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, will later say, “The Senate vote against the ban on nuclear tests was a devastating blow to our efforts to gain acceptance of more intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities around the world.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 277]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Jesse Helms, International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, Strategic Defense Initiative

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Neoconservative journalist Lawrence Kaplan argues that the US must withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972) and immediately begin development of a new missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). “[M]issile defense is about preserving America’s ability to wield power abroad,” Kaplan writes. “It’s not about defense. It’s about offense. And that’s exactly why we need it.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 176]

Entity Tags: Lawrence F. Kaplan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence

US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty.US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty. [Source: Associated Press / CNN]President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972). The treaty, negotiated with the former Soviet Union in 1972, sets strict limitations on missile and missile defense developments by both Russia and the US. After the six-month withdrawal period is concluded in mid-2002, the US will begin developing an anti-missile defense system, an outgrowth and extension of the old “Star Wars” system (see March 23, 1983). Bush tells reporters: “Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty.… I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” Bush explains: “The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other.… Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or from other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the treaty “outdated.” [White House, 12/13/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
Follows Failure to Persuade Russia to Drop Treaty - The decision follows months of talks in which Bush officials attempted without success to persuade Russia to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new one more favorable to US interests. Bush says that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Putin calls Bush’s decision a “mistake,” and says the two nations should move quickly to create a “new framework of our strategic relationship.” Putin says on Russian television that the US decision “presents no threat to the security of the Russian Federation.” He also says that the US and Russia should decrease their present stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He wants what he calls “radical, non-reversible and verifiable reductions in offensive weapons”; in turn, the Bush administration is against any sort of legally binding agreements. Putin says, “Today, when the world has been faced with new threats, one cannot allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability.” [CNN, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
'Abdication of Responsibility' - Senate Democrats (see December 13-14, 2001) and non-proliferation experts (see December 13, 2001) strongly question the decision to withdraw. Singapore’s New Straits Times writes: “History will one day judge the US decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the same way it views the US failure in 1919 to join the League of Nations—as an abdication of responsibility, a betrayal of humankind’s best hopes, an act of folly. By announcing the decision now, in the midst of a war on terrorism that commands worldwide support, the Bush administration has also displayed a cynicism that will adversely affect the mood of cooperation that has characterized international relations since September 11.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 272-273] Sweden’s foreign ministry warns of possibly “serious consequences for the future of international disarmament.” [BBC, 12/13/2001]
Seizure of Presidential Power - Regardless of the wisdom of withdrawing from the treaty, Bush’s decision has another effect that is subjected to far less public scrutiny: by unilaterally withdrawing the US from the treaty on his own authority, Bush, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “seized for the presidency the power to pull the United States out of any treaty without obtaining the consent of Congress.” Savage, writing in 2007, will note that the Constitution does not provide a clear method of withdrawing the US from an international treaty. However, he will write, judging from the fact that the US Senate must vote to ratify a treaty before it becomes binding, it can be inferred that the Founders intended for the legislature, not the executive branch, to have the power to pull out of a treaty. In Volume 70 of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that treaties are far too important to entrust to the decision of one person who will be in office for as few as four years. Hamilton wrote, “The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a president of the United States.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Charlie Savage, George W. Bush, Singapore Straits Times, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Heritage Foundation sponsors a celebration of the US’s impending withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972 and June 14, 2002). The invitation reads: “ABM: RIP. For 30 years, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has served to bolster the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and impose crippling restrictions on the nation’s missile defense programs (see March 23, 1983). President Bush, recognizing the inappropriateness of MAD and the policy of vulnerability to missile attack, announced on December 13, 2001 (see December 13, 2001) that the United States is withdrawing from the treaty.” Several hundred conservatives, including senators, House representatives, generals, policy makers, and academics, gather in the caucus room of the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, taking part in what one participant calls “a cheerful wake for a flawed treaty.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will write: “The mood was, not surprisingly, buoyant, for ‘flawed’ was really too mild a description for the loathing the assembled crowd felt for the agreement. To the right wing, the ABM Treaty had symbolized everything that was wrong with American foreign policy during the Cold War: negotiating with evil, fearing nuclear war instead of preparing to win it (see Spring 1982 and January 17, 1983), and abandoning faith in American exceptionalism and divine superiority.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 157]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Heritage Foundation

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The General Accounting Office (GAO) reports on an array of problems with the military’s missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). Its report includes an unclassified list of 50 recommendations for improving the system that originated in a public report produced by the Pentagon in 2000. Instead of acting on the recommendations, the Pentagon declares the list of recommendations “retroactively classified,” thereby forbidding Congressional members from discussing the recommendations in public. House members Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA), who requested the GAO report, send an angry letter to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calling the decision to classify the recommendations “highly dubious” and “an attempt to stymie public debate through the use of the classification system.” Rumsfeld ignores the protest. [Savage, 2007, pp. 103-104]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Henry A. Waxman, John Tierney, Donald Rumsfeld, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Military, US International Relations, Civil Liberties

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