Arms control is an important issue in the world today. To see this one only has to look at recent events with nuclear proliferation playing a large part in twenty first century politics. Countries like Iran and North Korea have made headlines about there nuclear programs. The Arms race between the Soviet Union and America played a major part in the Cold War and lead to a world that cowered in fear of a nuclear holocaust. However towards the latter part of the 20th Century many arms control agreements were made that tried to limit the effect of these horrendous weapons. But what causes Arms control agreements to come to pass? What is it that made America and the Soviet Union decided to drastically limit the number of nuclear weapons that they could have in the Reykjavik Conference? How is it that Reagan and Gorbachev made such dramatic proposals when previous Presidents and Premiers couldn’t manage to get anything approaching that scope? Is it as some historians have said the Strategic Defence Initiative (S.D.I) a.k.a Star Wars that lead to the offer by Gorbachev? Or did other reason play a major part in the arms reduction talks of the 70s and 80s?
To say that the S.D.I played a major part in the Reykjavik Conference is an understatement. However it is not the only cause of the arms reductions that can be seen. In fact if anything the S.D.I project proved to be a huge setback for the conference and for arms control in general. Whilst it may be true that Reagan created the project the with aim of as he said “the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete”  That is not how he was interpreted in Soviet Union and he was even aware of that interpretation earlier in the speech when he spoke of the idea that “I clearly recognize that defensive systems have limitations and raise certain problems and ambiguities. If paired with offensive systems, they can be viewed as fostering an aggressive policy,” This interpretation of Reagan’s ideas is clearly the one that the Soviet Union followed when Gorbachev said that “talk of its supposed defensive nature is… a fairy tale for the gullible” when it came to the actual conference that was one of the major things the Gorbachev wanted stoped. The reason that Star Wars had little to no effect in getting Gorbachev to come to the negotiations is because as a defensive system it was never going to work. Unlike many other times in history defensive technology had not kept up with offensive power basically it was the reverse of World War One, where thanks to machine guns attacks were costly affairs. For even if Star Wars had worked at a 90% attrition rate America still would have been destroyed in any nuclear exchange. Also counters to the system were much cheaper to make then the system itself. For example the Soviet Union could make dummy missiles that would overwhelm the Defence system or aim missiles into the outer atmosphere which would destroy the satellites. So if all of this is true some may ask. Why was Gorbachev so keen to get rid of the project at the Reykjavik Conference? The answer to this is not that Star Wars itself was important, what it represented was. If the Star Wars project was not stopped it may have lead to a new arms race and would have lead to the destruction of the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty or ABM which would result in a build up of offensive weaponry so as to continue deterrence which would lead to the destruction of the SALT treaties. Yet other historians take a different view of the events as two days after Reykjavik the Soviet Ambassador to the United States said that they were fine with laboratories continuing to do Star Wars like research which suggests that Gorbachev was not that interested in Star Wars and would have conceded on the issue if Reagan had not broken up the meeting.
If it is not the S.D.I project that lead to the conference what did? Some people point to the wave of public support for the reduction of nuclear weapons. However this theory causes problems mostly due to the fact that the vast majority of actual arms agreements were actually made during the late 1960s and the 1970s when the largest disarmament organisation the C.N.D (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) was at its smallest.  For example when the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) agreement was signed C.N.D membership was at it lowest point since the beginning of the organisation, at a mere 2047. The other major indictment against the idea that public opinion caused these arm control measures is the fact that even when the movement was at its’ largest in the early 1960s they did not effect the debate no major political party had nuclear disarmament as a policy.And that was with a huge amount of support, even outside of the movement, for their position on the Trident missile which upwards of 70% of Britons were opposed to. Even with all of that support the Trident missile programme went ahead and the public played no part. This kind of event can be seen time and time again across the Western World. In New York there was a protest against nuclear weapons that featured upwards of one million people crowded into Central Park. However the next day there was no change in the way the negotiations were playing out, the protest had not done anything. The problem with public support is that the public does not know the details about the arms deals so they higher ups can ignore their opinion by saying they don’t know all the facts. This is not to say that the public plays no role it’s just that they do not make a difference in specific deals their influence is much wider then that. In a way public opinion was not important but public perception was. The governments of the Soviet Union and the United States were very concerned with at least appearing like they were doing something to limit nuclear weapons. Neither side wanted to be portrayed by the world media as the aggressors in the race. It is this line of thinking that had a huge effect on the arms talks between Gorbachev and Reagan in particular Gorbachev’s offer of the zero solution of nuclear weapons in the middle of Europe this was the same solution that was offered by the Americans some months earlier  and as a result it caught the Americans in a trap. If they refused the offer it would make their earlier offer appear like a piece of cold war propaganda. So they accepted the offer which they may not have unless public perception played a role in the decisions made.
In a way the actual causes of the Arms deals were not easily seen in many ways the cause was a lack of the things that previously caused problems in treaties. For example when Eisenhower tried to get some arms deals done during his term in office they were ruined by the fact that spy planes continued to fly over the Soviet Union despite Eisenhower promising that they would stop. Eisenhower also couldn’t appear too radical because he needed the anti-communist faction of the Republican Party to enact policies. Kennedy couldn’t risk upsetting the military establishment of men like General Clay. Lyndon Johnson was unable to get deals through congress due to the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The Presidencies of Nixon and Carter were unable to do anything due to scandals and a hostile congress the cause of the former being Watergate whilst the latter suffered due to the Iranian Hostage affair. Reagan on the other hand suffered from none of those problems he had one of the friendliest congresses that the world has ever seen due to his crushing victory in the election. As a result he was able to shape policy in a way the no other President managed to do. For example Carter tired to cancel the B1 bomber but even though he cancelled it the Air Force effectively ignored the order and continued to research the project and waited for him to leave office then get the project refunded. The same thing happened many times even during Reagan’s presidency for example in 1985 congress and the senate voted to cut or eliminate 22 weapons systems that the pentagon had asked to be stoped however in 1986 a bill was put forward that restored 302 billion dollars to these projects. The press was also unbelievably kind to Reagan, not pointing out when he made mistakes such as when he talked about filming the concentration camps for the army which he never did or when he regelled people with a tale of an aircraft rear gunner as fact which actually came from a screenplay. In this way he was able to come through on his ideas of arms limitations when other Presidents failed.
The actual causes of these Arms deals can be seen in the two men that allowed for them to happen in many ways it was a meeting of two like minds. Two men who were dedicated to getting ride of a menace that is nuclear weapons. Unlike previous decades both these men recognised the lunacy of using nuclear weapons as a protective measure since all the advances in nuclear weapons had just made things more dangerous. A study found out that if the Soviet Union had attacked the United States in the early 1950s approximately 10 million would have died by the early 1970s this figure had reached 100 million despite the 5.8 trillion dollars spent on nuclear weapons since the 1940s America has become less safe. It is that kind of view that Reagan believed in. He felt that the MAD doctrine was a very dangerous one indeed and information has come to light over the years that show just how right he was with the fact that the Soviet Union was extremely close to launching missiles during the Able Archer war game exercise. He was well matched by Gorbachev who had similar views it is for that reason that Reagan was unable to do these arms agreements earlier Gorbachevs predecessors were best described as in poor health most of them did not last long enough to even begin arms talks with any kind of vigour.[ Also they were communists of the old school having been born before the Revolution, they were face of the “evil empire” However Gorbachev proved to me a very different man he was seen as likeable by many people and a person that the west “could do business with”. It is that meeting of minds that allowed for the great arm deals to go ahead whilst Reykjavik was a failure it opened the doors for talks that made real reductions in the number of nuclear weapons such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or START.
The causes of the arms treaties of the 1980s are various in number but one can safely say what didn’t cause them, and that is Star Wars it was a joke of a system that was never going to work. In most ways it was a meeting of minds that allowed the agreements to go ahead which has not been repeated since. To see this one only has to look at the treaty that were signed most recently SORT which does not require reductions to be permanent and there are no benchmarks so the governments of both countries don’t need to do anything at all. The other major factor is that outside events conspired to allow for these things to happen Reagan had a friendly congress and media as well as a military that respected him. This was matched by Gorbachev a dramatic reformer who wanted to stop the large amounts of money that was needed to keep up with the United States militarily. It is these events that allowed for treaties like START to come into being, not Reagans idea of negotiating from a position of strength.
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1 Ronald Reagan, Armament and Star Wars: Reagan’s view, in The Deakin Reader, Deakin University Press.References
3 Robert McNamara, Blundering into disaster, surviving the first nuclear century, 1987, Bloomsbury,London, 1987, pg 103
4 David Reynolds, One World Divisible a Global History since 1945, ,Penguin Books,London, 2001,pg 545
5 McNamara, op cit, pg 93
7 Wayne C. McWilliams, Harry Piotrowski, The World Since 1945 A History of International Relations,5th Edn, Lyne Reinner Publishers, London, 2001, pg 575
8 McNamara, op cit, pg 108
9 John Newhouse, War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, Alfred A. Knopf Inc, New York, 1988, pg 397
10 John Cox, Overkill The Story of modern weapons, 3rd edn, Pelican Books, London,1981, pg 215
11 Paul Bryne, Social Movements in Britain, Routladge, London, pg 91
12 Hugh Miall, Scilla McLean, Nuclear Weapons: Who’s in Charge?, Macmillan,Houndmills, 1987, pg 124
14 Martin Walker, The Cold War, Vantage Publishers, London, 1993,pg 262
15Miall,McLean, op cit, pg vii
17 ibid, pg 125
18 Newhouse, op cit, pg 396
22 Miall, McLean, op cit, pg 78
23 ibid, pg 106
24 Newhouse, op cit, pg 334
25 Dr William Daugherty, Dr Barbara Levi, Dr Frank Von Hippel, Medical Implications of Nuclear War, National Academy Press, Washington D.C, 1986, pg 209
26 McWilliams, Piotrowski, op cit, pg 590
27 Walker, op cit, pg 276
28 Ronald Regan, Speech to the House of Commons, June 8, 1982, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1982reagan1.html (accessed 2.10.2008)
29 TV Interview with BBC Transcript December 17th 1984 http://www.margaretthatcher.org/spee...p?docid=105592 (accessed 2.10.2008)
Bryne, P, Social Movements in Britain, Routladge, LondonBibliography
Cox,J, , Overkill The Story of modern weapons, 3rd edn, Pelican Books, London,1981,
Dr William Daugherty, Dr Barbara Levi, Dr Frank Von Hippel, Medical Implications of Nuclear War, National Academy Press, Washington D.C, 1986
Robert McNamara, Blundering into disaster, surviving the first nuclear century, 1987, Bloomsbury,London, 1987
Wayne C. McWilliams, Harry Piotrowski, The World Since 1945 A History of International Relations,5th Edn, Lyne Reinner Publishers, London, 2001
Hugh Miall, Scilla McLean, Nuclear Weapons: Who’s in Charge?, Macmillan,Houndmills, 1987
Ronald Reagan, Armament and Star Wars: Reagan’s view, in The Deakin Reader, Deakin University Press
David Reynolds, One World Divisible a Global History since 1945, ,Penguin Books,London, 2001
John Newhouse, War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, Alfred A. Knopf Inc, New York, 1988
Ronald Regan, Speech to the House of Commons, June 8, 1982, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1982reagan1.html (accessed 2.10.2008)
TV Interview with BBC December 17th 1984 http://www.margaretthatcher.org/spee...p?docid=105592 (accessed 2.10.2008)
So what do people think?