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June 1979: President Carter Reluctantly Supports Unpopular MX Nuclear Missile Deployment

A test firing of an MX missile.A test firing of an MX missile. [Source: University of Wyoming]President Carter reluctantly gives public support to the MX nuclear missile program. The MX, first proposed in 1971, is a mobile missile platform that can, in theory, escape detection by Soviet spy satellites simply because it is mobile; by the time static satellite photos are developed and analyzed, and targeting data fed into Soviet nuclear missiles, the MX could have long since been moved. The MX has ten nuclear warheads, each capable of striking separate targets. To keep it out of Soviet sights, it can be moved around on railway cars, in vans driven on superhighways, even submerged in lakes. The MX program quickly earned heated opposition from ranchers and landowners in Western states, where the missiles would be deployed. And the Soviets do not like the program because the MX, being mobile, could be used to “spoof” the counts each side make of the other’s weapons, as mandated by treaties. Carter struggles with the program throughout his term, and finally orders 200 of the missiles and 4,600 “soft shelters” constructed in Utah and Nevada. Carter’s Republican challenger in the 1980 presidential race, Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA), effectively lambasts Carter for his support of the program throughout the race, then after taking office in 1981, reverses course and enthusiastically supports and even expands the program (see 1981), in the process dubbing the MX the “Peacekeeper.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 50-51]

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

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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