Ronald Reagan Truly, when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the world was changing; his presidency would be one that would set the tone for the coming decades. Reagan had high expectations for his term in office; his “first, second, and third priorities” were his economic plans. His presidency was a remarkable one, but scholars were and continue to be critical of his “hands-off,” macro-management of the government. President Reagan surrounded himself with some of the brightest minds in the country: James Baker III, George Shultz . Often, these are the people who initiated these policy changes, while Reagan is the one who sold them to the country. But for all that he didn’t participate in, Reagan had an extreme passion for foreign politics, despite being warned against it and the beginning of his term to focus on the economy and its continued downward slide.
His passion showed in his dealings with the Soviet Union, especially after the rise. He was instrumental in the reduction of arms of the world’s superpowers and key in the resurgence, in the United States, of military spending. But, when it came to foreign policy, Reagan had very different views than his predecessors. Reagan did not believe in detente, he did not believe in appeasement, and he did not believe in the isolationist movement that had populated American thought for the better part of the 20th century. He believed that the United States had to defeat the Soviet Union on the grounds that communism was immoral and resulted in a freedomless society. The thawing of Soviet-American relations in the later Reagan years was due to a change in Soviet policy and Soviet leadership and not a drastic change in American policy under Reagan. Reagan’s views on the Soviet Union were in place long before he became president.
He viewed the country as a true threat to the superiority of the United States in global politics and even as a threat to the autonomy of the country as a whole. “There was a sense that the Soviet Union was on the move [from 1975 through 1979] and that the U.S. was at great risk if the momentum continued. Reagan felt that and communicated it.” His speeches always conveyed this feeling; even before he was president. In 1962, as governor of California, Reagan described the Soviet Union as a “single worldwide force dedicated to the destruction of free enterprise and the creation of a socialist state.” Additionally, in a pre-election address to a club in London, he remarked, “Status quo; that’s Latin for the mess we’re in,” referring to the current foreign relations strategy supported by the United States.
Journalists called the speech a “strong attack on Western weakness.” The feeling was apparently mutual. The Soviets, before Mikhail Gorbachev, often refused to meet with the Reagan. In fact, the Kremlin viewed Reagan as a “dangerously confrontational figure, whose deeply disturbing animus against all things Russian had created a solid front of hostility among Politburo leaders.” Reagan’s firm stance against communism and those related to it is likely what caused this deep rift in Soviet/U.S. relations at the beginning of the Reagan administration. The Soviet ambassador called it “the lowest point since World War II” when he spoke to the President early in 1983. Reagan main defense of his opinion is that communism oppresses freedom; in his first inauguration speech, he laid the groundwork for his campaign against communism on that basis. Additionally, Reagan disagreed almost totally with the idea of detente, or at least he disagreed with the detente as it was .
While he thought the idea of detente was possible, he believed that it was largely unsuccessful when dealing with the Soviets. Previous administrations had used economic aid and trade agreements with Russia to attempt to obtain concessions on limited arms. Under Reagan, virtually all aid was discontinued to Russia in the attempt of making it more difficult for the Soviet Union to continue increase its armament level. Reagan justified this change in strategy by pointing out the failure of the SALT II treaty proposed by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. While the motives of the SALT II treaty were well-founded, Congress failed to ratify it. In addition to cutting off aid to deter the Soviets from continuing their arms build-up, Reagan began a large increase in military spending.
Previous administrations had been decreasing spending on the military, citing a decline in hostile relations. Reagan began increasing funding for the military drastically during his administration. When he took office in January 1981, he was appalled at the fact that “American planes that couldn’t fly and American ships that couldn’t sail for lack of spare parts and trained personnel and insufficient fuel and ammunition for essential training.” Reagan justified this additional spending because he felt in the event of a crisis, we would be more able to respond. It is also important to note that Reagan justified the increase to match Soviet spending. In his speech on Defense and National Security in March of 1983, he notes “There was a time when we were able to offset superior Soviet numbers with higher quality, but today they are building weapons as sophisticated and modern as our own.” The increase in military spending and the focus on readiness was also to intimidate the Soviets into believing that the United States was a threat to its well-being. Perhaps the most interesting of these intimidation tactics used by the Reagan administration was the controversial SDI program. SDI, if funded, according to Reagan, would be able to stop a nuclear attack as it was happening.
A “space-shield” of sorts (actually missiles fired at attacking missiles) would be created around the United States preventing any nuclear warheads from impacting. Called by critics, “Star Wars,” Reagan is often ridiculed for the program, because of its seemed malfeasance. Even according to some of those in or close to the Reagan administration, the SDI initiative was never really technically feasible. Americans were comforted by the defense system probably because it seemingly provided an almost invincibility during a nuclear attack. “Reagan viewed SDI as a defensive shield that would contribute to world peace by eliminating the dangers of nuclear war.” The announcement of this program, and the huge sums of money being poured into the military, frightened the Soviets, because they did not have the technology readily available or the money to fund an arms race. The Soviet economy was on the downturn and in addition to not having the money to support an arms race, they were unable to take their focus away from their own domestic problems.
But to many, the entire SDI initiative was a “fog job;” an elaborate scheme to simply fool the Soviets. Caspar Weinberger said of SDI, “It was a big factor in ending the Cold War, because the Soviets saw, correctly, that while they might not be able to do it, we almost certainly could, and that would render impotent a huge amount of their military advantage.” Despite his best efforts in trying to intimidate the Soviet Union through increased military funding, new technologies, and through powerful rhetoric, what Reagan really needed was luck. His tactics really had no effect on the Soviet government under Brezhnev, nor under Andropov. But, when Gorbachev came to power everything changed. Political analyst Stuart Spencer supports this opinion, “It didn’t work with Brezhnev because he was an old man; it didn’t work with Andropov because he was sick. But Reagan was lucky – he was always a lucky politician.
Along came Gorbachev.” Essentially what had changed was that Gorbachev was more in touch with the actual inner workings of the Soviet Union. “They [knew] it was a bad scene. . they were quite different people than their predecessors . .
. we saw in that an opportunity,” George Shultz notes. The opportunity was there and Reagan captured it. The thaw in relations led to the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union. Politics Essays.