A summit meeting of U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev took place in Reykjavik, Iceland, on October 11–12, 1986. This second meeting of the two leaders was billed as an "interim summit" and was not carefully prepared and scripted in advance as was customary.
The Reykjavik summit unexpectedly became a remarkable far-reaching exploration of possibilities for drastic reduction or even elimination of nuclear weapons. Gorbachev took the initiative, advancing comprehensive proposals dealing with strategic offensive and defensive weapons. Agreement seemed at hand for reductions of at least 50 percent in strategic offensive arms. When Reagan proposed a subsequent elimination of all strategic ballistic missiles, Gorbachev counterproposed eliminating all strategic nuclear weapons. Reagan then said he would be prepared to eliminate all nuclear weapons—and Gorbachev promptly agreed.
This breathtaking prospect was stymied by disagreement over the issue of strategic defenses. As a condition of his agreement on strategic offensive arms, Gorbachev asked that research on ballistic missile defenses be limited to laboratory testing. Reagan was adamant that nothing be done that would prevent pursuit of his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The meeting ended abruptly, with no agreement reached.
Many saw the failure to reach accord as a spectacular missed opportunity, while others were relieved that what they saw as a near disaster had been averted. Subsequent negotiations built on the tentative areas of agreement explored at Reykjavik and led to agreements eliminating all intermediate-range missiles (the INF Treaty in 1987) and reducing intercontinental missiles (the START I Treaty in 1991). Thus, although the Reykjavik summit ended in disarray, in retrospect the exchanges there constituted a breakthrough in strategic arms control.
See also: arms control; strategic arms limitation treaties; strategic defense initiative; united states, relations with
Raymond L. Garthoff
"Reykjavik Summit." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/reykjavik-summit
"Reykjavik Summit." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/reykjavik-summit
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REYKJAVIK SUMMIT. The second summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, held October 11–12, 1986, to discuss nuclear arms control. The meeting produced international controversy when news reports, later confirmed by U.S. officials, revealed that Reagan unexpectedly proposed the elimination of all nuclear weapons—to the dismay of NATO countries that depended on the American nuclear umbrella for security against overwhelming Soviet superiority in conventional forces.
The two sides made progress by agreeing to reduce intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, but movement toward a major arms control agreement broke down in a dispute over the U.S. space-based antimissile program, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Gorbachev argued that SDI could render Soviet nuclear forces useless, eliminating the concept of mutual deterrence and leaving his country vulnerable to attack. Reagan offered to defer deployment of SDI for ten years, but was determined to continue research and development. The deadlock prevented a major arms control agreement. The two leaders did declare their agreement in principle to cut their offensive nuclear arsenals in half. At a third summit meeting in Washington in December 1987, the two leaders signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, requiring the elimination of all U.S. and Soviet INF missiles.
Beschloss, Michael R., and Strobe Talbott. At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the Cold War. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.
Garthoff, Raymond L. The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1994.
"Reykjavik Summit." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/reykjavik-summit
"Reykjavik Summit." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/reykjavik-summit