Ronald Reagan served two terms as president from 1981 to 1989. Reagan's relationship with the Soviet Union regarding nuclear weapons could be best characterized as "peace through strength". The conservative Republican spoke frequently regarding his belief that the spread of communism supported by the Soviet Union threatened freedom worldwide. Reagan made preventing communist expansion the cornerstone of his foreign policy. However, he went beyond mere containment, saying "the West won't contain communism, it will transcend communism."
The Evil Empire
President Reagan viewed communism as a destructive ideology. In a 1983 speech, Reagan claimed the Soviet Union was "the focus of evil in the modern world." Previously, the U.S. and Western European countries attempted to thaw Cold War relations between them and the communist superpower through a policy known as "détente." Reagan believed the Soviet Union had benefited from this policy to the detriment of U.S. interests, so he used aggressive anti-Soviet rhetoric in his speeches that emphasized his distrust for the "evil empire." His hard-line approach ultimately paid off, ending in a 1988 presidential visit to Moscow that historians mark as the end of the Cold War.
Support for Freedom Fighters
In a portion of Reagan's 1985 State of the Union address, he announced what became known as the Reagan Doctrine: active and open U.S. support for anti-communist insurgents in countries around the world. During his presidency, the U.S. provided both open and covert support for rebel groups fighting Soviet-backed communist regimes in Central America, Asia and Africa. Calling these rebel groups "freedom fighters," Reagan used this support to roll back the global spread of communism. Through active engagement, Reagan believed the U.S. would give people without freedom around the world the courage and hope to rise up against communist oppression.
Ronald Reagan Peace Through Strength Quote
From the beginning of his first term, President Reagan believed the Soviet economic system was poorer, and weaker, than U.S. sources suggested. He also became president at a time when the effects of the Vietnam War included the struggling military still reeling from Vietnam war damages in 1975. A key component of his policy strategy towards the Soviet Union involved modernization of the military and significant increases in defense spending. He knew if the U.S. started building up its military on a massive scale, the Soviet Union would be unable to compete. Once the Soviet government realized it was outmatched, it came to the bargaining table to negotiate reductions of nuclear arms. This lead to the famous Ronald Reagen "peace through strength" quote. Reagan increased defense spending by 35 percent while he was in office. This figure included the record-setting $220 billion military budget, the largest peacetime budget in history.
Trust, But Verify
Reagan's strategy worked, and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbechev negotiated a treaty with him to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons. Reagan was dissatisfied with earlier strategies that set caps on future production of weapons but didn't reduce the stockpiles the two superpowers had already produced. Further, Reagan believed the Soviet Union was not abiding by limits set in prior treaties. Throughout negotiations, he repeated the Russian saying "trust, but verify." The resulting Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty not only eliminated all intermediate-range missiles, but included a strict verification process that included permanent on-site compliance inspectors living in each country. The INF Treaty was the first agreement in history that reduced the overall size of nuclear arsenals.
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