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Context of 'Early 1981: USSR Study Concludes Soviets are Losing Cold War'

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A few days before his inauguration, President-elect Jimmy Carter says to the assembled Joint Chiefs of Staff that he can envision the US and the Soviet Union having much smaller nuclear arsenals—perhaps as low as 200 submarine-based nuclear missiles each, in essence a purely deterrent force. When the comment is leaked to conservative columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, the two write in their column that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General George Brown, was “[s]tunned speechless” by the remark. In his inaugural address, Carter continues the theme of nuclear disarmament between the two superpowers, saying he intends to try to “limit the world’s armaments to those necessary for each nation’s domestic safety.” As for the world’s nuclear arsenals, he says, “[W]e will move this year a step towards the ultimate goal—the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this Earth.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 105]

Entity Tags: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., George Brown, Rowland Evans, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Jimmy Carter cancels the B-1 bomber program, calling it unnecessary and staggeringly expensive. He says that newly developed cruise missiles, in tandem with the aging B-52 bomber fleet, can adequately deliver nuclear weapons if ever the need arises. Critics call Carter a “unilateral disarmer,” willing to give up key weapons programs without asking for a quid pro quo from the Soviet Union. Vladimir Semenov, the head of the USSR’s SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) negotiating team, complains that Carter should have announced the cancellation during US-Soviet negotiations “[s]o that we could both have gotten credit.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 105]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Semenov, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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

US President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sign the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) agreement in Vienna, after years of fitful negotiations. The basic outline of the accords is not much different from the agreement reached between Brezhnev and President Ford five years earlier (see November 23, 1974).
Conservative Opposition - The Senate must ratify the treaty before it becomes binding; Republicans and conservative Democrats alike oppose the treaty. Neoconservative Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) compares Carter to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (who allowed the Nazis to occupy part of Czechoslovakia in 1938) in accusing Carter of “appeasement in its purest form” towards the Soviet Union. Members of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD—see 1976) appear before the Senate 17 times to argue against ratification. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testifies against it, calling instead for a $44 billion increase in defense spending and once again evoking the specter of Nazi Germany: “Our nation’s situation is much more dangerous today than it has been at any time since Neville Chamberlain left Munich, setting the stage for World War II.” The American Security Council launches “Peace Through Strength Week” (see November 12, 1979). And Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA), embarking on his presidential campaign, warns the nation that the Soviets could just “take us with a phone call,” forcing us to obey an ultimatum: “Look at the difference in our relative strengths. Now, here’s what we want.… Surrender or die.”
Familiar Arguments - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write that the arguments advanced against the SALT II treaty are the same as advanced so many times before (see August 15, 1974), including during the infamous “Team B” exercise (see November 1976). The Soviet Union believes it can win a nuclear war, opponents insist, and a treaty such as the one signed by Carter and Brezhnev merely plays into the Soviets’ hands. Once the US loses its significant advantage in nuclear payloads, the likelihood increases that the USSR incinerates American missile silos and dares the US to respond—the US might get off a volley of its remaining missiles, but the Soviets will then launch a second strike that will destroy America’s cities. And that US strike will have limited impact because of what critics call the Soviets’ extensive, sophisticated civil defense program. The US will have no other choice than to, in Scoblic’s words, “meekly submit to Soviet will.” SALT II plays into what the CPD calls the Soviet goal of not waging a nuclear war, but winning “political predominance without having to fight.” Scoblic will note, “An argument that had started on the fringes of the far Right was now being made with total seriousness by a strong cross-section of foreign policy experts, backed by significant public support.” Scoblic then calls the arguments “fatuous… grounded in zero-sum thinking.” The facts do not support the arguments. It is inconceivable, he will observe, that the US would absorb a devastating first strike without immediately launching its own overwhelming counterstrike. And for the critics to accept the tales of “extensive” Soviet civil defense programs, Scoblic argues, is for them to be “remarkably credulous of Soviet propaganda.” No matter what the Soviets did first, the US could kill upwards of 75 million Soviet citizens with its single strike, a circumstance the USSR was unlikely to risk. And, Scoblic will note, subsequent studies later prove the conservatives’ arguments completely groundless (see 1994).
Senate Fails to Ratify - By late 1979, the arguments advanced by Congressional conservatives, combined with other events (such as the “discovery” of a clutch of Soviet troops in Cuba) derails the chance of SALT II being ratified in the Senate. When the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan (see December 8, 1979), Carter withdraws the treaty from further consideration. Scoblic will note that by this point in his presidency, Carter has abandoned any pretense of attempting to reduce nuclear armaments (see Mid-January, 1977); in fact, “[h]is nuclear policies increasingly resembled those of Team B, the Committee on the Present Danger, and groups like the Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament” (see Early 1977 and Late 1979-1980). Carter notes that such a treaty as the SALT II accord is the single most important goal of US foreign policy: “Especially now, in a time of great tension, observing the mutual constraints imposed by the terms of these treaties, [SALT I and II] will be in the best interest of both countries and will help to preserve world peace.… That effort to control nuclear weapons will not be abandoned.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 105-109, 117]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Committee on the Present Danger, American Security Council, ’Team B’, Donald Rumsfeld, Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, J. Peter Scoblic, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Leonid Brezhnev

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Worn down by incessant opposition from conservatives, neoconservatives, and hawks in both Republican and Democratic parties, President Carter has by now abandoned his goal of drastically reducing the amount of nuclear weapons in the US and Soviet arsenals (see Mid-January, 1977). Not only has he withdrawn the already-signed SALT II treaty from consideration for Senate ratification (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979), he has deployed nuclear missiles in Europe, approved development of the MX missile (see June 1979), and taken other steps to increase the US military buildup, including sharply increasing defense spending from his first year in office. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 109]

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

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Markus Wolf, the chief of East Germany’s Hauptverwaltung Aufklarung (HVA) intelligence agency, has a sober conversation with Yuri Andropov, the head of the Soviet Union’s KGB intelligence agency. In his autobiography, Wolf will later recall: “We began discussing the East-West conflict. I had never before seen Andropov so somber and dejected. He described a gloomy scenario in which a nuclear war might be a real threat. His sober analysis came to the conclusion that the US government was striving with all means available to establish nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union. He cited statements of President Carter, his adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and of Pentagon spokesmen, all of which included the assertion that under certain circumstances a nuclear first-strike against the Soviet Union and its allies would be justified.… Carter’s presidency had created great concern in the Kremlin, because he had presented a defense budget of more than $157 billion, which he invested in the MX and Trident missiles (see June 1979) and nuclear submarines (see Late 1979-1980). One of the top Soviet nuclear strategists confided to me that the resources of our alliance were not sufficient to match this.” [Fischer, 3/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Hauptverwaltung Aufklarung, Yuri Andropov, Markus Wolf, KGB

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Soviet Union’s intelligence directorate, the KGB, releases a classified study that concludes the USSR is losing the Cold War it has been waging for decades with the United States. In Soviet terminology, the “correlation of world forces” between the US and the USSR is turning in favor of the United States. This assessment is strikingly different from one conducted in 1971, when the USSR was seen as equivalent to the US in power and global influence, and the so-called “Brezhnev Doctrine” is seen as a counterpart to the US’s “Monroe Doctrine” in Latin America and the “Carter Doctrine” in the Persian Gulf, giving the USSR hegemony over much of Asia and Eastern Europe. Marxist doctrine presumed that the “correlation of forces” is scientifically based, and will lead inevitably to the triumph of communism over other competing political and social systems. But the last 10 years have not gone according to plan. The USSR is caught up in its own Vietnam-like quagmire in Afghanistan. Soviet gains in Indochina, Angola, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua are being countered by the US’s own expansionism, particularly in the Persian Gulf. Cuba, the Soviet foothold in the Western Hemisphere, is foundering economically and draining Soviet resources at an alarming rate. The Soviet-backed regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua are battling against potent US-backed insurgencies. The US is backing human rights activists in Poland and the USSR itself. And the US populace is largely supportive of the Carter- and Reagan-led arms buildup (see Late 1979-1980 and Early 1981 and After). [Fischer, 3/19/2007]

Entity Tags: KGB

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

Yuri Andropov, the head of the Soviet KGB intelligence agency, tells a group of KGB officers that the US is actively preparing for war with the USSR, and warns of “the possibility of a nuclear first strike” by the Americans. The KGB describes the program thusly: “One of the chief directions for the activity of the KGB’s foreign service is to organize detection and assessment of signs of preparation [for a surprise nuclear attack] in all possible areas, i.e., political, economic and military sectors, civil defense and the activity of the special services.” Andropov, who will become the head of the Soviet government in 1982, helps direct the KGB and GRU (the Soviet military intelligence agency) to make preparations for that strike its top priority. The agencies instruct Soviet agents in NATO capitals and Japan to make “close observation[s] of all political, military, and intelligence activities that might indicate preparations for mobilization.” The program, called VRYAN (the Soviet acronym for “Surprise Nuclear Missile Attack”), takes even greater priority once Andropov rises to power. [Fischer, 3/19/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 134] (Others such as CIA researcher Benjamin Fischer will refer to the program in their writings as “Operation RYAN.”) Fischer will write that VRYAN, or RYAN, is based on “genuine fears” among the Soviet military and political leadership. Andropov’s KGB in particular feels that the international situation, or what the Soviets call the “correlation of world forces,” is “turning against the USSR and increasing its vulnerability.” In conjunction with the Reagan’s administration hardline stance towards the Soviet Union, an increase in US-led military exercises and psychological warfare missions conducted close to Soviet borders, and an increase in the US’s ability to thwart Soviet early warning systems, this perception prompts the Soviets to not only voice their concern over the possibility of a US first strike, but to prepare for it. Fischer also notes that in some ways, Operation VRYAN and Moscow’s uneasiness over the US threat is sparked by bitter memories of Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 surprise invasion of the Soviet Union by the Nazis. The program, Fischer will write, abandons caution and the usual tradecraft of intelligence-gathering, and instead relies on often-unreliable data supplied by East German intelligence sources. [Fischer, 3/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Operation VRYAN, Yuri Andropov, Benjamin Fischer, KGB, Russian Military Intelligence (GRU)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

One of five secret, underground ‘control rooms’ built by East German intelligence to help coordinate a Soviet counterattack against a US first strike.One of five secret, underground ‘control rooms’ built by East German intelligence to help coordinate a Soviet counterattack against a US first strike. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]By the beginning of 1983, the world seems closer to a nuclear holocaust than it has since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The idea of detente between the US and the Soviet Union has been all but abandoned, and European allies of the US use the term “Cold War II” to describe the new, chilly relations between the two superpowers. French President Francois Mitterrand compares the situation to the 1962 Cuban crisis and the 1948 confrontation over Berlin. American Cold War expert George Kennen says that the confrontation has the “familiar characteristics, the unfailing characteristics, of a march toward war—that and nothing else.” While there is little confrontation between the two in a military sense, the tensions are largely manifested in the rhetoric of the two sides, with President Reagan calling the USSR an “evil empire” (see March 8, 1983) and declaring that American democracy will leave Soviet communism on “the ash-heap of history” (see June 8, 1982). In return, Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov calls Reagan “insane” and “a liar.” The Soviet propaganda machine releases a storm of invective against Reagan and the US in general, comparing Reagan to Adolf Hitler and America to Nazi Germany. CIA analyst Benjamin Fischer will later write, “Such hyperbole was more a consequence than a cause of tension, but it masked real fears” (see May 1981). The Soviets are particularly worried about the US’s intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), the Pershing IIs, to be deployed throughout Europe (see September 1981 through November 1983), as well as the Americans’ new cruise missiles, the Tomahawks. Once those missiles are in place, the US, if it so desired, could destroy most of the Soviets’ own ballistic missile sites with only four to six minutes’ warning. The Soviets’ own plans for pre-emptive strikes against the US have the destruction of the European Pershing and Tomahawk emplacements as a top priority. [Fischer, 3/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Francois Mitterrand, Benjamin Fischer, Yuri Andropov, George Kennen, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The KGB, the Soviet intelligence directorate, issues a “high alert” for its Operation VRYAN intelligence alert system monitoring the US for signs of a possible military and nuclear assault (see May 1981). Provoked by two years of US military provocations (see 1981-1983), fearing that the rhetorical war between the US and the USSR (see Early 1983) is ready to explode into something far more concrete, and disheartened by worries that the Soviet Union is losing ground in its global contest with the US (see Early 1981), the Kremlin informs all KGB “rezidenturas,” or station chiefs, that VRYAN has “acquired an especial degree of urgency” and is “now of particularly grave importance.” Forty station chiefs receive new orders marked “strictly personal,” instructing them to organize a “continual watch” using their entire operational staff. They are also ordered to redirect existing agents who might have access to VRYAN-related information, to recruit new agents, and to escalate surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations. [Fischer, 3/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Operation VRYAN, KGB

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

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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