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Context of 'April 1983-December 1983: Reagan Hardliners Continue to Obstruct, Sabotage Arms Negotiation Talks'

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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

President Reagan’s blue-ribbon panel to examine the failure of the US-Soviet START arms negotiations (see May 1982 and After and Late 1982) finds that the Reagan administration’s recalcitrance, obduracy, and downright insulting behavior towards the Soviet negotiators is the primary reason why the negotiations have made no progress. The panel, headed by foreign policy “pragmatists” such as President Nixon’s Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, President Ford’s Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, President Carter’s Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, and Nixon security and defense aide Brent Scowcroft, calls for a revamped approach to the arms control negotiations. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 124-125] The panel’s recommendations will be ignored (see April 1983-December 1983).

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, Harold Brown, Ronald Reagan, James R. Schlesinger, Reagan administration

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

Soviet Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov gives a press conference regarding the KAL 007 shootdown.Soviet Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov gives a press conference regarding the KAL 007 shootdown. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]The Soviet Union, flustered and angry at the harsh denunciations heaped on it by the US after their shootdown of a Korean Airlines passenger jet (see September 1, 1983, September 5, 1983, and Mid-September, 1983), reacts badly to the US’s response. Between the KAL incident and other episodes—President Reagan’s terming the USSR an “evil empire” (see March 8, 1983), the refusal of the US to negotiate on arms reduction (see April 1983-December 1983), and the US’s launch of the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program (see April 1983-December 1983), the Soviets are not prepared to accept the US’s position on the shootdown, nor are they prepared to accept responsibility for shooting down a passenger plane full of civilians. Instead, the KAL incident provides what Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the US, will later call “a catalyst for the angry trends that were already inherent in relations during the Reagan presidency.” Newly installed Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov issues a statement saying that US-Soviet relations cannot improve so long as Reagan is president: “If anybody ever had any illusions about the possibility of an evolution to the better in the policy of the present American administration, these illusions are completely dispelled now.” Soviet statements begin referring to the danger of war and US nuclear first strikes. The Soviet press calls Reagan a “madman” and compares him to Adolf Hitler. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko worries that “the world situation is now slipping towards a very dangerous precipice.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 132]

Entity Tags: Yuri Andropov, Adolf Hitler, Ronald Reagan, Andrei Gromyko

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

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


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