A Freeze in Relations
A Freeze in Relations
"T he reality is that we must find peace through strength.A freeze [on nuclear weapon development] would reward the Soviet Union for its enormous and unparalleled military buildup. I urge you to [not] … ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire … and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil." U.S. president Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89) spoke these words on March 8, 1983, in Orlando, Florida, at the National Association of Evangelicals Convention. His statement reflected a return to the tough Cold War talk of the 1950s and increasing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Cold War was primarily a battle of social/political theories and goals: communism versus democracy and capitalism. The Soviet Union adopted communism as its system of government in 1917. In a communist society, a single political party, the Communist Party, controls nearly all aspects of people's lives. In a communist economy, private ownership of property and business is not allowed; instead the government controls business and production so that goods produced and wealth accumulated can be shared relatively equally by all. The United States has a democratic system of government; this means the people govern themselves, through elected representatives. Multiple political parties represent differing points of view and different political and economic goals. Candidates from these various parties are voted into office by the people. In the United States, democracy is paired with capitalism, an economic system that allows property and businesses to be privately owned. Production, distribution, and prices of goods are determined by competition in the marketplace, and there is relatively little government intervention. Those who compete successfully can accumulate individual wealth.
The Cold War rivalry between the two superpowers steadily heated up through the administration of President Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81). Then in the early 1980s, President Reagan further escalated the rivalry through a heightened arms race. Military budgets for both nations would dramatically rise, significantly affecting the economies of both countries.
A Carter perspective
Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the thirty-ninth U.S. president in January 1977. Like Cold War presidents Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53), John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63), and Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69) before him, Carter arrived at the White House with little experience in foreign affairs. His main exposure to foreign issues came through a committee named the Trilateral Commission, which he had served on since 1973. Its role was to direct U.S. foreign policy more toward Western Europe and Japan and less toward combating communism. Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928–) was director of the commission. Harold Brown (1927–) and Cyrus Vance (1917–2001) were other members along with Carter. They would all serve in important positions in Carter's administration: Brzezinski as national security advisor, Vance as secretary of state, and Brown as secretary of defense.
Although they all served on the same commission, these members of the Carter cabinet, or group of top advisors, had differences that would become a key factor in Carter's presidency. Brzezinski and Vance in particular held opposing views over how to deal with the Soviets. This difference would lead President Carter to change course in foreign policy strategies during his single term of office. Vance heavily promoted diplomacy, whereas Brzezinski favored military responses to Soviet actions, such as the Soviet Union's attempts to expand its influence in Third World nations. (The term Third World refers to poor underdeveloped or economically
developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Many of these nations were seeking independence from the political control of Western European nations.)
Détente (lessened international tensions) characterized U.S.-Soviet relations through the early 1970s. Therefore, Carter at first favored Vance's approach of diplomacy for resolving problems. Carter wanted the United States to serve as a model for the world by promoting human rights, freedom, democracy, and peaceful coexistence. (Human rights refers to certain economic and political freedoms that all people, simply by being human, deserve. Examples of human rights include freedom from oppression, freedom from unlawful imprisonment and execution, and freedom from torture, persecution, and exploitation.) Unlike his predecessors in office, Carter did not care for covert, or secret, operations carried out by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and he did not want to support oppressive military dictatorships. Instead, he wanted to build a cooperative relationship with the Soviets by establishing nuclear arms control agreements and jointly fighting world poverty and hunger.
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982) was ready to work with Carter on the new Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, called SALT II. Brezhnev had led the Soviets in a major arms buildup, and now he felt the Soviets could bargain from a position of strength. However, U.S. senator Henry Jackson (1912–1983), a powerful Democrat from the state of Washington, led an effective effort to block arms control talks. He demanded that the Soviets make deep cuts in their arsenal, or collection, of ballistic missiles before talks could begin. Because the Soviets had more missiles, Jackson believed that the United States would become vulnerable to a Soviet first strike if both countries began reducing their arsenals from their existing levels. Not surprisingly, Brezhnev and Soviet foreign minister Andrey Gromyko (1909–1989) were not pleased with Jackson's demands. As a result, arms control talks under Carter did not progress well and led to no formal agreements. The two countries sat in a stalemate on arms control talks until May 1977, when Secretary of State Vance met with Gromyko in Geneva, Switzerland. They made significant progress on how to approach several key arms issues. Progress on nuclear arms limitations, however, would not come for another two years.
Carter's human rights campaign
A devout Christian, President Carter strongly believed in promoting human rights on a global scale. Human rights issues played a significant role in his administration, and this became a prime factor in the deterioration of U.S.-Soviet relations. At first, Brezhnev did not realize how sincere Carter was about promoting human rights. However, in March 1977, shortly after taking office, Carter increased funding and support for Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and Voice of America. These U.S.-supported radio organizations beamed broadly into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and served to educate listeners in communist countries about basic human freedoms. When the Soviets realized the seriousness of Carter's intent, they considered it a real threat. The Soviets charged that the United States was interfering in the domestic affairs of the Soviet Union and Eastern European nations. In an attempt to punish the United States and deter Carter's efforts, Brezhnev increased the oppression of Russian Jews, who were critical of Soviet communist rule. Andrey Sakharov (1921–1989), a Soviet nuclear physicist who had become a dissident, or an individual who disagrees with the ideas of those in power, encouraged Carter to stick with his human rights campaign. Pushing harder in November 1977 at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United States openly accused the Soviets and Eastern European nations of human rights abuses.
Carter also focused on Latin American countries and South Korea during his human rights campaign. Latin America includes the entire Western Hemisphere south of the United States. It consists of all nations in Central and South America as well as Mexico and the islands of the West Indies. Carter believed that Latin America was safe from communist expansion, and he wanted to end the U.S. policy of supporting anticommunist dictatorships there. Carter decided to apply pressure to the military dictatorships of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile; they each had very bad human rights records. Carter blocked existing loans, stopped arms deals, and reduced other economic assistance to these countries. Unfortunately, Carter's strategy brought antagonism from the Latin American dictators.
The government of South Korea was a very oppressive regime. However, because South Korea was a noncommunist nation, the U.S. military had supported it since the end of the Korean War in 1953 (see Chapter 2, Conflict Builds). On January 26, 1977, shortly after entering office, Carter announced that he would begin withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea. Government leaders worldwide and many regular citizens were alarmed. They feared that a reduction in U.S. forces would encourage an invasion of South Korea by communist North Korea, like the invasion in 1950 that started the Korean War. Facing strong congressional opposition, Carter decided to back off and soften his criticism of South Korea. Even when new government leadership put South Korea under martial law (military rule over civilians) in 1980 and violently suppressed student rioters, Carter and his administration said little.
Carter's human rights campaign had a very chilling effect on U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and many pro-U.S. Third World countries. They did not want the United States interfering in their internal affairs and encouraging uprisings within their populations against the ruling governments. However, his efforts essentially legitimized human rights as an international political issue. Human rights would gain increased attention through the following decades.
Containing communism in Africa
While U.S.-Soviet relations cooled over human rights issues, the Third World continued to be a key stage where the Cold War rivalry would play out militarily. Unlike his predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev saw Africa as a key region where communist influence could expand.
In September 1974, communist factions seized control of Ethiopia from Emperor Haile Selassie (1892–1975). Somalia, Ethiopia's neighbor to the east, was aligned with the United States. Somalia and Ethiopia are strategically located in the Horn of Africa, a region bordering the Red Sea, the key access route for shipping Middle East oil to the West. In May 1977, Somalian soldiers invaded Ethiopia while the country was experiencing severe civil unrest and gained control of a disputed province. In November 1977, the Soviets began airlifting arms and Cuban troops into Ethiopia to help repel the Somalian attack and stabilize the pro-Soviet government. Somalia asked for U.S. assistance in responding to the Soviet-supported Ethiopian counteroffensive. Seeking to contain the spread of Soviet influence, U.S. national security advisor Brzezinski proposed sending a U.S. aircraft carrier into the region. He argued that if the United States did not respond in such a forceful way, it would encourage Soviet expansion elsewhere. Secretary of State Vance wanted to treat the situation as a local border conflict and recommended using a diplomatic solution. Carter opted for diplomacy; he got Somalia to promise not to attack Ethiopia again or else risk jeopardizing U.S. assistance. It worked: By March 1978, the Somalis withdrew from Ethiopia. With the Somalian forces out, the Ethiopians turned to domestic issues and, contrary to the predictions
of some U.S. government leaders, did not try to attack Somalia, so there was no spread of Soviet influence.
The next incident in Africa would show that Carter's patience with Soviet activity on the continent was running thin. In Angola, communist revolutionaries had ousted Portuguese rulers in 1975 and established a communist government. The Soviets provided the new leadership with arms and thousands of Cuban troops to stabilize the government. Then in the spring of 1978, procommunist soldiers from Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) who had been exiled in Angola invaded the Zaire province of Katanga. They wanted independence for the province. Carter confronted Soviet foreign minister Gromyko, asking whether the Soviets had supported the invasion of Katanga. Though Gromyko denied any support, Carter decided to help the pro-West Zaire government, which was led by Colonel Joseph Mobutu (1930–1997). U.S. transport planes flew in French, Belgian, Moroccan, and other African troops. Carter had U.S. soldiers poised as well, but the international troops were able to send the refugees back into Angola from Zaire without the assistance of the American force. At this point, Carter began emphasizing containment of Soviet influence (restricting the territorial growth of communist rule) in Africa, making it a priority over the promotion of human rights and democracy on the continent.
Improving relations with communist China
While U.S.-Soviet relations were cooling, the Communist People's Republic of China (PRC) expressed an interest in improving relations with the United States. In the 1930s and 1940s, Mao Zedong (1893–1976) had led communist forces in a long civil war against the government of China. Mao finally won in 1949 and established the PRC. The overthrown government leaders fled to the island of Taiwan and established the Republic of China (ROC). The United States immediately recognized the ROC as the only legitimate government of China. For years, the United States blocked the PRC's entry into the United Nations (UN), an international peacekeeping organization.
Following Mao's death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping (1905–1997) emerged as the new leader of communist China. By the spring of 1978, Deng was ready to take a major step in improving relations with the United States. The PRC had a difficult relationship with the Soviet Union, especially at the time. PRC leaders feared that the Soviets would become increasingly involved in Southeast Asia. The Soviets were already supporting Vietnam in a border dispute with Cambodia. The PRC supported Cambodia, not wanting a stronger Vietnam on China's southern border. The United States also backed Cambodia. With these tensions mounting, PRC and Soviet troops clashed in combat to the north along the border between the Soviet Union and China.
U.S. presidents normally send the secretary of state to pursue discussions with a foreign nation. However, instead of sending his secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, to talk with Deng, Carter sent national security advisor Brzezinski, an anti-Soviet hard-liner. Arriving in Beijing, the PRC's capital, in May 1978, Brzezinski reached a major agreement with Deng. The United States would recognize PRC as the sole government of China but would continue to sell defensive military arms and maintain trade relations with the ROC. On December 15, 1978, the PRC and the United States publicly announced that formal relations between the two would begin January 1, 1979. Deng followed this normalization of relations with a trip to the United States to personally meet with Carter.
In angry reaction to the agreement between the United States and China, the Soviets backed out of strategic nuclear arms control talks with the United States. They also signed a more formal treaty with Vietnam. Vietnam launched a major attack on Cambodia on December 25, 1978, overrunning the country and establishing a new communist government. In response, the PRC decided to flex its muscles in Vietnam. PRC troops moved across Vietnam's border on February 17, 1979, and fought for sixteen days before withdrawing. While U.S. relations with communist China had improved, U.S.-Soviet relations continued downward.
Camp David Accords
With the creation in 1948 of the state of Israel in the Palestinian homelands, a region on the east coast of the Mediterranean inhabited by Arab peoples who had been under British colonial rule, an intense conflict between the Jewish and Arab populations erupted. Jews are believers of Judaism who trace their descent from Hebrews of the ancient biblical kingdom of Israel. Arabs are the inhabitants who occupy Southwest Asia and Northern Africa, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and Egypt. President Carter became the first U.S. president to publicly suggest the creation of a Palestinian state as part of the long-term solution. Carter also invited a broad range of nations to help negotiate a resolution. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger (1923–) had included only Egypt, Syria, and Israel in talks. Carter brought in other Arab nations, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), as well as the Soviet Union.
The Israeli government and the American Jewish community strongly protested the inclusion of the PLO because of its strong anti-Israel position, which favored the entire removal of Jews from the Middle East region. Israel decided
to negotiate a peace settlement separately with Egypt. Israel offered to return the Sinai Peninsula region to Egypt if Egypt would formally recognize Israel. The Israelis had seized the very large Sinai area in a 1967 war with Egypt. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (1918–1981) was very interested in this deal and traveled to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, in November 1977 to discuss it. He was the first Arab leader to travel to Israel. Carter supported the negotiations, but the Soviets and other Arab countries were greatly disappointed because the Israelis had managed to divert the possibility of a broader resolution, one that would include the Palestinians. Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin (1913–1992) and Egyptian president Sadat met with Carter in the United States at Camp David, the presidential retreat in nearby Maryland, in September 1978 to complete the peace treaty, known as the Camp David Accords. The accords ended a state of war that had lasted almost thirty years. However, Egypt and its president, Sadat, lost favor with the rest of the Arab world.
Though it was a historic achievement, the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel essentially furthered Cold War politics by splitting the Middle East into pro-West and pro-Soviet countries. The pro-West bloc, or group, included Israel and Egypt as well as Iran and Saudi Arabia. The United States now felt more secure, knowing that the critical Middle East oil fields were being defended by friendly countries in the region.
More arms control talks
In early 1979, the Soviets decided they were ready to conclude strategic arms limitation talks, two years after U.S. senator Henry Jackson had derailed arms control discussions. On June 18 in a meeting in Vienna, Austria, Carter and Brezhnev agreed on strategic nuclear weapons restrictions. This agreement, called SALT II, placed limits on the numbers and types of missiles and missile launchers each country could develop. This included intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and aircraft-launched cruise missiles. The two leaders also agreed on a method to inspect how well both sides were following the restrictions. They even discussed a future SALT III agreement that would actually reduce the number of existing stockpiled nuclear weapons, though this never happened.
Returning to the United States, Carter spoke to a joint session of Congress, made up of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, seeking approval of SALT II. In an effort to win the support of anti-Soviet hard-liners in Congress, Carter approved production and deployment of two hundred mobile MX ICBMs. Because these were part of a defensive missile system, they were not limited by the agreement. Congress debated approval of the arms control treaty.
Support for the contras
Amidst the SALT II activities, in July 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a largely communist organization, overthrew Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza (1925–1980). Despite Somoza's very poor human rights record, Carter had requested that the Organization of American
States (OAS) provide support for the dictator against the Sandinistas. (The OAS is a Cold War–inspired organization of Western Hemisphere nations. Established in 1951 to maintain political stability in the region, it provides a forum for resolving disputes.) For the first time, the OAS refused to support a U.S. proposal.
The Sandinistas soon gained control of the Nicaraguan government. Carter tried to establish friendly relations by offering over $300 million in loans and other forms of economic assistance. However, the Sandinistas turned to the Soviets instead and signed a trade agreement. They also suspended future general elections in Nicaragua. When the Sandinistas began supporting a revolutionary army in El Salvador that was attempting to overthrow a military dictatorship, Carter began to take action against the Sandinistas. He provided funds to an anti-Sandinista group in Nicaragua; this group was known as the contras (short for the Spanish word contrarevolucionarios, or in English, counterrevolutionaries). Support of the contras would become a major endeavor of President Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89) and a source of much controversy through the 1980s (see box).
Americans held hostage
On January 16, 1979, Shiite Islamic fundamentalists, those in the Muslim religious faith of Islam who believe in strict adherence to the strictures, or guidelines, of the Koran, overthrew the pro-U.S. Iranian leader, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980). Reza had been the king of Iran since assuming the throne in 1941 from his father. A power struggle developed in 1951 with a nationalist seeking to take control of businesses and oil companies from outside influences such as the British. Reza was forced out of the country in 1953 but soon was reinstated, apparently with CIA assistance. Reza was pro-Western and pushed for modern economic development in Iran.
Shiite religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (c. 1900–1989) became the new Iranian leader on February 9. The
Shiites were opposed to the shah's oppressive tactics toward political opposition, his efforts at Western modernization of Iran, and his close ties to the United States. The United States had a definite interest in keeping Iran friendly: Iran was a major source of oil for the West and strategically located along the southern Soviet border. It essentially blocked potential Soviet expansion southward toward the Persian Gulf. The United States had supported the shah (monarch) with billions of dollars, and as a result, Iran's military was the most powerful in the region. Carter had maintained this relationship with the shah despite Iran's miserable human rights record.
After being overthrown, the shah went into exile. Months later, he requested entry into the United States so he could undergo cancer treatments. Carter consented. In reaction, on November 4, Shiite Iranian militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the capital of Iran, and took sixty-six Americans hostage, fourteen of whom were soon released. For the release of the six remaining hostages, the militants demanded that Carter return the shah to be tried for actions under his harsh rule. Carter refused. Instead, he froze Iranian assets, which meant Iranians could not withdraw their money from U.S. banks, and restricted U.S. trade with Iran. After several months, Carter approved a secret military operation to rescue the hostages. However, in April 1980, the operation failed when the rescue helicopters were caught in a sudden sandstorm. Eight U.S. soldiers died. Secretary of State Vance, who had opposed the risky operation, resigned in protest. The hostage crisis essentially doomed Carter's chances at reelection in November 1980. Iran did not release the hostages until January 20, 1981, the very day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president. Losing Iran as an ally was one of the major setbacks in the Cold War for the United States.
Afghanistan and the Carter Doctrine
In early July 1979, while the Senate was debating approval of the arms control treaty with the Soviet Union, U.S. intelligence discovered Soviet combat troops in Cuba. Though they were supposedly there only to train Cuban troops, Congress was incensed and less willing to approve the arms treaty. Then in December 1979, six weeks after Shiite Islamic militants seized the U.S. embassy in Iran and took American hostages, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Following a bloody coup (short for coup d'état; an illegal or forceful change of government) in April 1978, an unpopular pro-Soviet government was put in place. An Afghan Islamic militant group, the Mujahedeen, started an antigovernment resistance movement. The Soviets feared that the Islamic unrest in Iran and Afghanistan could spread to the numerous Islamic populations within the Soviet Union. To support the Afghan government and put down the Islamic rebellion before it could spread, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Day 1979.
Many scholars consider the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as the ultimate end to détente, which had been sharply declining for the previous two years. U.S. national security advisor Brzezinski claimed the Soviets were trying to fill a power void in the region, created by the overthrow of the Iranian shah. Perhaps, he added, the Soviets intended to eventually capture the Persian Gulf oil fields. Reacting to these fears, Carter took swift action. He immediately restricted any further sale of U.S. high technology to the Soviets. He also stopped a major grain sale and announced that the United States would boycott the upcoming Olympics in Moscow. Carter also withdrew the SALT II agreement from further Senate consideration; it was never approved.
Next, in his State of the Union address on January 23, 1980, Carter announced the Carter Doctrine. The doctrine declared that it was in the vital interests of the United States to protect the Persian Gulf region from outside forces with whatever force was necessary. He asked Congress to boost military spending and resurrected the requirement that all American men between ages eighteen and twenty-six register for the military draft, meaning they would be eligible to serve in the military if required. President Richard Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) had ended draft registration in 1973 near the end of the Vietnam War (1954–75).
Carter then turned to the PRC and Pakistan to further improve the U.S. position. He sold to the PRC the high technology he denied to the Soviets and granted the PRC most-favored-nation trade status, which the Soviets had been seeking. Most-favored-nation trade status lowers taxes on goods exported to the United States, making it much easier for a foreign country to sell goods to American consumers and U.S. businesses. Carter offered economic aid to Pakistan, a country that borders Afghanistan. Carter was willing to over-look that Pakistan's military leader had overthrown the democratically elected government and executed its leader in 1978. Pakistan would become the staging area for funneling U.S. weapons to the Mujahedeen, who were fighting the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan. It was the first time during the Cold War that the United States would supply arms to directly fight Soviet forces. In reaction, the Soviets signed a new arms agreement with India in December 1979.
A costly arms race takes off
December 1979 marked the start of a spiraling escalation of the nuclear arms race. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982) announced he would place new SS-20 intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe. In response, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was formed for the mutual protection of the United States and Western European nations, decided to deploy the new U.S. intermediate-range tactical nuclear weapons: the Pershing 2 ballistic missile and the Tomahawk ground-launched cruise missiles. The Soviets threatened to target their new missiles on any Western European nations that accepted the new U.S. missiles. The threats were ignored as NATO countries received over five hundred Pershing 2 and Tomahawk nuclear missiles. In July 1980, Carter announced a renewed period of nuclear arms development, including continued development of the MX mobile missile system in the western United States. The Soviets responded by threatening to further increase their nuclear arms production as well.
The new U.S. missiles were welcomed by some in Western Europe but despised by many others. In general, the Western European nations were not pleased with Carter's new hard-line approach to the Soviets. They wanted to continue détente, which had brought peace and stability to Europe. Instead of reducing their trade with the Soviets as the United States had, Western European nations actually increased trade, but many feared war was now imminent. To ease Europe's fears of an impending war by further deterring any possible future aggression by Soviet bloc countries, Carter sent an additional thirty-five thousand U.S. troops to Europe.
The renewed arms race had grave economic implications for the Soviet Union. During the late 1970s, the Soviet economy was already struggling. Costs had mounted from the Soviets' involvement in Angola, Ethiopia, Indochina, and finally Afghanistan. In addition, Brezhnev's earlier disinterest in arms talks led to continued heavy military spending; domestic economic needs were going unaddressed. To make matters worse, Carter had withdrawn critically needed U.S. assistance because of the Soviets' invasion of Afghanistan.
Reagan escalates the arms race
Republican candidate Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in the November 1980 presidential election. The Iranian hostage crisis, the struggling U.S. economy, and a severe energy crisis all contributed to Carter's unsuccessful bid for reelection. Relations with the Soviet Union were at a new low. All these issues resulted in Carter receiving a record low presidential popularity. Like most of the Cold War presidents before him, Reagan entered office with little foreign affairs experience. The former actor and ex-governor of California did bring a very strong anticommunist perspective, however, reaching back to the late 1940s and 1950s. As president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1947 to 1951 and again in 1959, he had fought supposed communist infiltration of the U.S. movie industry (see Chapter 5, Homeland Insecurities). As U.S. president, Reagan wanted to restore America's international prestige by rebuilding the military to wartime levels.
Reagan had no desire to improve relations with the Soviets. He opposed reviving détente and the unapproved SALT II agreement. Instead, he chose to challenge the Soviets with an even greater arms buildup. Many of his key advisors had previously been members of the Committee on the Present Danger, a conservative group opposed to strategic nuclear arms talks. Rather than maintaining the policy of parity, or equality, in regard to nuclear weapons, they sought U.S. superiority in nuclear weapons. As a result, Reagan oversaw the largest peacetime military buildup in U.S. history. The defense budget increased from $171 billion in 1981 to $376 billion in 1986. Major strategic nuclear weapons systems were promoted, including the MX mobile missile system, the Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB) known as the Stealth, the B-1 bomber, antisatellite weapons, new ballistic missile systems, and the nuclear Trident submarine. Conventional forces were also boosted. For example, the number of naval ships increased from 454 to 600. To the Soviets it was clear the new U.S. administration preferred intimidation to negotiation. The United States appeared to be arming for war.
Reagan intended to use the increased arms buildup to further stress the Soviet economy. While the Soviets developed new weapons systems to keep up, they continued to suffer from former president Carter's ban on high-technology exports and from other trade restrictions that Reagan maintained. As a result, the Soviet economy would come under increasing strain. In addition, Soviet youths were increasingly learning about Western popular culture, and they were challenging Communist Party control of information and communist restrictions that affected their daily lives. The social and economic strains were mounting. However, the U.S. economy also suffered from the arms race. With defense spending increased 40 percent, tremendous budget deficits built up. The U.S. national debt tripled from $1 trillion in 1980 to $3 trillion in 1989, and fears of nuclear war had once again been heightened by the government's hard-line approach.
Reagan Doctrine, dictatorships, and foreign policy
Not interested in Carter's human rights campaign, the Reagan administration adopted a new approach. Jeane Kirkpatrick (1926–), a former member of the Committee on the Present Danger and one of Reagan's appointed ambassadors to the United Nations, developed it. She argued that the human rights initiative was harmful to otherwise friendly anticommunist military dictatorships. She proclaimed that these governments had potential for democratic reform, whereas communist-controlled countries did not. Therefore, she stated, it was appropriate for U.S. aid to go to these dictators; U.S. aid would not only combat communist expansion but potentially encourage the growth of democracy. This policy, called the Reagan Doctrine, legitimized U.S. aid for military dictatorships in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Haiti, the Philippines, and Pakistan, despite rampant human rights abuses in those countries. For example, Reagan sought congressional approval for U.S. aid to the pro-U.S. government of El Salvador led by José Napoleón Duarte (1925–1990). Despite El Salvador government paramilitary death squads murdering perhaps sixty thousand civilians, including a Roman Catholic bishop, between 1979 and 1986, the Reagan administration downplayed the violence and emphasized social reforms promoted by Duarte. As part of the Reagan Doctrine, Reagan supported establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy in 1983. Its purpose was to promote free elections in Latin America and the growth of democracy in the region.
Little democratic change would actually occur in Latin America, where military dictatorships continued to thrive. Like many other Cold War presidential administrations, Reagan and his advisors interpreted almost all nationalist movements in Third World countries as communist-inspired. They failed to consider that these movements might
be inspired by local poverty and local political corruption. Instead of providing economic assistance to relieve poverty, Reagan's administration provided military aid to anticommunist dictatorships so the dictators could maintain tight control and combat revolts.
Reagan wanted to go beyond containing communism and actually support anticommunist forces attempting to over-throw pro-Soviet governments. However, after painful experiences in Korea and Vietnam, the American public was in no mood for new military involvements (see Chapter 2, Conflict Builds, and Chapter 11, An Unsettled World). Reagan therefore focused on covert operations. For example, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided $2 billion in weapons and economic assistance to the Mujahadeen guerrillas to help them fight the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan.
One very visible military action did occur during Reagan's presidency. In October 1983, the U.S. military invaded the island nation of Grenada, located in the Caribbean. Fighting had been going on there between two communist groups. One group overthrew and executed Grenada's communist leader, Maurice Bishop (1944–1983), who had gained power in 1979. President Reagan took the occasion to send nineteen hundred U.S. troops to liberate the country from fighting between communist factions. U.S. forces quickly took control and installed a pro-U.S. democratic government. Though the United States claimed victory over communist expansion in the Western Hemisphere, much criticism came from other countries, including Britain. The British charged that the United States had acted without United Nations (UN) approval. The invasion amounted to armed aggression against a sovereign (fully independent) nation. However, Reagan and Kirkpatrick had become very critical of the UN because it did not support U.S. actions as much as it had in the past. Therefore, Reagan saw no need to first obtain UN approval, and he would ultimately withhold U.S. funding support for the UN. He also withdrew the United States from its involvement in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
War in the Middle East
The Reagan administration interpreted Islamic nationalist movements in the Middle East in the same way it viewed nationalist movements elsewhere: Reagan and his advisors believed these movements were driven by outside communist influences rather than local issues such as poverty. Therefore, the United States was quick to get involved in Middle East conflicts. In the Middle East, Islamic opposition was building against lingering foreign influence such as ownership of companies, particularly oil companies, and there was constant unrest over the unresolved Israel-Palestine controversy.
Then in September 1980, Iraq attacked Iran, beginning a ten-year war. Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein (1937–), wanted to acquire a rich oil-producing region in western Iran; he also wanted to weaken the new Shiite Islamic government in Iran so it would not have a chance to incite an Islamic rebellion in his country. The Soviets could not afford to help Iraq, because their war in Afghanistan was not going well. For this reason, and with instability in the region increasing, the Soviets approached Reagan shortly after he took office in early 1981, asking whether the Soviet Union and the United States could work together to ease tensions in the region. However, because the area was so important to U.S. interests, Reagan did not want to share the responsibility—or the benefits—of negotiating a Middle East solution. He declined to work cooperatively with the Soviets and instead began providing pro-Soviet Iraq with economic assistance as well as intelligence information on Iranian troop placements. Through this assistance, Reagan hoped to break the relationship between Iraq and the Soviets. However, the Soviets responded with increasing assistance to Iraq as well.
The nuclear arms buildup by the Reagan administration caused increasing public protests in Europe as well as the United States. In June 1982, over a half million protesters jammed New York City's Central Park, demanding an end to the Cold War arms race. The Roman Catholic bishops in the United States wrote a pastoral letter in 1983 calling for a nuclear freeze. The changing public attitudes began having an influence on Congress. Congress considered proposals to restrict testing and deployment of new nuclear weapons. Pressure from Congress, the public, and NATO allies finally pushed Reagan into arms control talks with the Soviets. However, negotiations did not go far.
A key reason for the stalled arms talks was a proposed new U.S. missile system. In March 1983, Reagan announced a five-year, $26 billion program to research and develop a ballistic missile defense system called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The system was more commonly called "Star Wars," after a popular science fiction movie (Star Wars,1977), because it included a protective shield of laser-aimed satellites in space. Together, missiles, rockets, and laser beams would destroy enemy missiles fired toward U.S. targets. Critics claimed that the system was prohibitively costly and complex and would likely be ineffective in destroying all missiles fired toward the United States. Potentially, enough missiles to cause devastation could still penetrate. Reagan responded that the SDI approach was more humane than the earlier U.S. strategy of mutual assured destruction—that is, the guaranteed destruction of both superpowers in the event of a nuclear war (see Chapter 10, Mutual Assured Destruction).
In keeping with the general tradition of the arms race, a key U.S. goal in developing SDI was to force the Soviets to develop a similar system in order to keep up. This would severely strain the already weak Soviet economy. However, critics said that the Soviets could make the U.S. SDI system ineffective without a great deal of expense. Firing numerous unarmed missiles among many nuclear-armed missiles would overwhelm the SDI system; it would be difficult to detect which missiles had real warheads. The Soviets charged that Reagan's SDI proposal would decrease world stability by ending nuclear parity, equality in the number of nuclear weapons each country held. New Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (1914–1984), who took charge when Leonid Brezhnev died in October 1982, charged that the space-based part of the system violated several arms control treaties signed since 1963, including the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. He exclaimed that the arms race would now have no bounds.
By late 1983, U.S. military leaders were increasingly talking of winning a limited nuclear war, which would limit a nuclear weapons conflict to a specific geographic area as opposed to a massive exchange of nuclear weapons with global implications. Soviet fears naturally heightened; it seemed that the United States might actually consider launching a first strike. In November 1983, the United States conducted a nuclear war training exercise that truly scared the Soviets. The United States put missile facilities on heightened readiness and deployed nuclear submarines. It was during a time of particular tension, as the United States had just invaded Grenada and Reagan was talking tough about the Soviets. Reagan forged ahead and would spend $17 billion on SDI research between 1983 and 1989. However, development proved difficult because of the system's technological complexity.
The SDI program and other arms developments gave Reagan a feeling of security. He could now be more accommodating toward the Soviets, because the United States appeared to have nuclear superiority. The presidential election was approaching in November 1984, and he needed to broaden his appeal by reaching out to Americans who had been clamoring for arms control. Secretary of State George Shultz (1920–) took the lead in pushing the Reagan administration away from its hard-line anti-Soviet position. The earliest outward signs of softening came in January 1984, when Reagan offered a plan for arms control talks. However, Andropov, the Soviet leader, died on February 9, 1984. Konstantin Chernenko (1911–1985), another aging leader in the Soviet Communist Party, assumed power. Chernenko was not eager to accept Reagan's plan, for various reasons. For one, he wanted to wait and see if Reagan was going to win reelection that fall.
As the election approached, the Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Walter Mondale (1928–), pressed the arms control issue, charging that Reagan had made no progress during his presidential term. Public pressure was mounting, and Reagan realized that to win reelection and ensure continued congressional funding for his massive arms development program, he would have to show increased commitment to arms control talks. On September 24, 1984, Reagan spoke before the United Nations General Assembly and outlined a new plan for arms negotiation. Called the Nuclear and Space Arms Talks (NST), the plan included a range of nuclear weapons. Reagan won reelection, and shortly afterward, Chernenko agreed to the newly proposed talks. But in early 1985, a sweeping change in Soviet leadership would dramatically alter U.S.-Soviet relations.
For More Information
Carter, Jimmy. Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1995.
FitzGerald, Frances. Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
Shultz, George P. Turmoil and Triumph: Diplomacy, Power, and the Victory of the American Ideal. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1993.
Sick, Gary. October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan. New York: Times Books, 1991.
Slavin, Ed. Jimmy Carter. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.
Vance, Cyrus. Hard Choices: Critical Years in America's Foreign Policy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.
Wade, Linda R. James Carter: Thirty-Ninth President of the United States. Chicago: Children's Press, 1989.
Winik, Jay. On the Brink: The Dramatic, Behind-the-Scenes Saga of the Reagan Era and the Men and Women Who Won the Cold War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
The Cold War Museum.http://www.coldwar.org (accessed on August 12, 2003).
Jimmy Carter Library and Museum.http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.org (accessed on August 12, 2003).
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.http://www.reagan.utexas.edu (accessed on August 12, 2003).
Words to Know
Capitalism: An economic system in which property and businesses are privately owned. Prices, production, and distribution of goods are determined by competition in a market relatively free of government intervention.
Cold War: A prolonged conflict for world dominance from 1945 to 1991 between the two superpowers, the democratic, capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. The weapons of conflict were commonly words of propaganda and threats.
Communism: A system of government in which the nation's leaders are selected by a single political party that controls all aspects of society. Private ownership of property is eliminated and government directs all economic production. The goods produced and accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all. All religious practices are banned.
Democracy: A system of government in which several political parties compete.
Détente: A relaxing of tensions between rival nations, marked by increased diplomatic, commercial, and cultural contact.
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT): Discussions between the United States and the Soviet Union aimed at lessening the threat of nuclear war by bringing the arms race under control.
People to Know
Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982): Leader of the Soviet Union Communist Party, 1964–82.
Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928–): U.S. national security advisor, 1977–81.
Jimmy Carter (1924–): Thirty-ninth U.S. president, 1977–81.
Deng Xiaoping (1905–1997): Leader of communist China, 1976–90.
Andrey Gromyko (1909–1989): Soviet foreign minister, 1957–85.
Mao Zedong (1893–1976): Chairman of the People's Republic of China and its Communist Party, 1949–76.
Ronald Reagan (1911–): Fortieth U.S. president, 1981–89.
Cyrus Vance (1917–2001): U.S. secretary of state, 1977–80.
Throughout his presidency, Ronald Reagan had a particularly keen interest in political developments in the Latin American country of Nicaragua. In 1981, not long after taking office, Reagan cut off U.S. and international aid to the increasingly pro-Soviet Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega (1945–). Reagan then provided $19 million to a small force known as the contras, five hundred soldiers who were attempting to overthrow Ortega. The money was to be used to disrupt the Nicaraguan economy by causing civil disorder as a show of opposition to Ortega's policies.
Ortega went to the World Court, an international organization that addresses grievances of one nation against another, to protest U.S. intervention in Nicaraguan internal affairs. The Court condemned the U.S. activities in Nicaragua. Though President Reagan ignored the finding, Congress did not. Congress moved to limit U.S. involvement through legislation known as the Boland Amendments. The first amendment was passed by a House of Representatives vote of 411 to none. It limited CIA aid to the contras to $24 million and prohibited the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government by the CIA. In response, Reagan switched to more covert operations.
In April 1984, it was discovered that the CIA had secretly mined the harbors of Nicaragua in order to cripple its economy by cutting off trade. This led to the second Boland Amendment, an even stricter congressional limitation on U.S. involvement in Nicaragua. Reagan nevertheless pressed on with "Operation Rescue," a covert operation to funnel funds to the contras in the spring and summer of 1986. The funds came from a secret sale of weapons to Iran. Several members of Reagan's National Security Council (NSC) led the operation, including Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North (1943–), NSC director Robert McFarlane (1937–), and Admiral John Poindexter (1936–), McFarlane's successor. The arms Iran received in the deal were to be used in freeing
seven American hostages seized by terrorists in Lebanon. The secret operation was exposed when a U.S. transport plane was shot down by Sandinistas on October 5, 1986.
Iran paid the United States approximately $48 million for the weapons it received. Some $16 million of that sum went to the contras, and the rest went to other covert activities. Congressional hearings led to grand jury indictments against McFarlane, Poindexter, and North. (Grand jury indictments are formal accusations of a crime by a jury gathered to determine if sufficient evidence exists to justify a trial.)
In 1992, reports from later investigations revealed that President Reagan, Vice President George Bush (1924–), Secretary of State George Shultz (1920–), Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (1917–), and CIA director William Casey (1913–1987) had also been directly involved in the illegal covert operation. Casey suffered a severe stroke and died before he could testify at congressional hearings. Vice President Bush became president in 1989, but he was defeated in his reelection bid in 1992. However, Congress had no desire to pursue further legal action against Bush, Reagan, or the others.
The KAL Tragedy
On the night of August 31, 1983, Korean Air Lines (KAL) Flight 007, a 747 passenger plane carrying 269 people, wandered far off course—as much as 365 miles (587 kilometers). It was flying from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seoul, South Korea. During its flight, the commercial airliner began straying over Soviet territory, approaching a secret Soviet missile test site on the Kamchatka Peninsula of eastern Siberia. A Soviet fighter plane intercepted the wayward passenger plane. The Soviet pilot followed international procedures in trying to catch the attention of the airliner, but no response ever came back. After shooting tracers (ammunition with a visible trail) across the front of the airliner as a final warning and receiving no response, the Soviet pilot shot the plane down.
For several days, the Soviets denied any knowledge of the incident. Reagan charged the Soviets with barbarism, or cruelty, and condemned the Soviet Union for the incident. He used the episode to argue before Congress for a greater U.S. military buildup. As later investigations revealed, Soviet air defense tracking the
plane believed it was a U.S. spy plane that had earlier been flying near Soviet airspace. To many, the incident dramatized the poor relations between the two super-powers and the Soviets' heightened state of alert during President Reagan's massive military buildup.