Ronald Reagan on Defense

Build morale & increase fire power to combat Communism

I also thought the administration was a disaster in the arena of national security. While it was cutting back on our military power, we were losing ground to Communism in much of the globe. The morale of our volunteer army was plummeting, our strategic forces were growing obsolete, and nothing was being done to reduce the threat of a nuclear Armageddon that could destroy much of the world in less than a half-hour’s time.
Source: Dec 25, 2000

“Star Wars” enabled historic peace with Soviets

I called a meeting of the Joint Chiefs and said: Every offensive weapon has resulted in the creation of a defense; isn’t it possible that we could invent a defensive weapon that could intercept nuclear weapons? So SDI was born, and some named it “Star Wars.” If I had to choose the most important reason for the historic breakthrough in the quest for peace with the Soviet Union, I would say the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Source: Dec 25, 2000

SDI averts biblical prophecy of Armageddon

Reagan was awed by the biblical prophecy of Armageddon, which he translated into a vision of nuclear hell on earth. He proposed to avert it in two ways: development of an antimissile defense through the Strategic Defense Initiative and reduction of nuclear arsenals through negotiations with the Soviets. “A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.” It seemed logical to Reagan that all such weapons must be eliminated. As he put it in his memoirs:
My dream became a world free of nuclear weapons. Some of my advisors did not share this dream. They said a nuclear-free world was unattainable. Since I knew it would be a long and difficult task to rid the world of nuclear weapons, I had this second dream: the creation of a defense against nuclear missiles, so we could change from a policy of assured destruction to one of assured survival.
Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 741 Jul 2, 1991

SDI: kill missiles, not people; share with Russians

The Strategic Defense Initiative was one project for which Reagan took direct responsibility, pushing it forward despite the doubts of some in his own circle. An implausible scheme in itself, it is a perfect expression of Reagan’s politics, which are at one with his personality. “Star Wars” is a “nice” weapons system-defensive, not offensive; killing missiles, not people; finally sharable with others (even the Russians) in an act of American altruism. SDI was a “final solution” in the benign sense, the one answer to all our problems.

Its simplicity of intent was not the least of its charms for a man who felt uncomfortable with the complexities of weapons systems-he confessed that he never understood what “this throw-weight business is all about.” Such technical matters would never plague his rhapsodic discussion of SDI: No one understood all its multiple if sketchy projections. It was more a wish than a single project, and such wishes are the very stuff of Reagan’s leadership.

Source: Reagan’s America, by Garry Wills, p. 358 Jul 2, 1987

Close “window of vulnerability” against Russian attack

    In 1978, Reagan completed his arsenal of campaign arguments against Carter’s defense policy-the famous “window of vulnerability.” This is a catchy slogan condensing a sophisticated argument with three alternatives.
  1. The Soviets are achieving such superiority in ICBMs that they can launch a ground strike taking out all our land-based missiles, after which we cannot use our submarines or cruise missiles to deliver a retaliatory blow, because the Russians would still have enough ICBMs to launch another strike, so we would have to submit to dictated terms of surrender;
  2. The Russians could hit a selected target here or in Europe with nuclear weapons, and threaten the above sequence unless we short-circuited it by surrender;
  3. Even without launching an attack, Russia could threaten either of the two processes above, and get the same results without any attack at all. As Reagan summarized the argument in this extreme form, “the Russians could just take us with a phone call.”
    Source: Reagan’s America, by Garry Wills, p. 337 Jul 2, 1987

    No nuclear freeze due to danger from the “evil empire”

    In your discussions of nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to not 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 good and evil. I ask you to resist the attempts of those who would have you withhold your support for this administration’s efforts, to keep America strong and free.
    Source: Speech in Orlando Florida Mar 8, 1983

    Other candidates on Defense: Ronald Reagan on other issues:
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    George W. Bush
    Al Gore
    Ralph Nader

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