Not-So-Zombie Reaganism | National Review

Not-So-Zombie Reaganism | National Review


Then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva, Switzerland in 1985. (Denis Paquin/Reuters)

A forgotten aspect of Ronald Reagan’s presidency: He wanted to abolish nuclear weapons.

Advancing that cause was one of the main goals of his presidency. Reagan was an anti-nuclear activist from the beginning of the nuclear age: Long before he entered politics formally, and almost 20 years before he left the Democratic Party for the GOP, Reagan planned to lead an anti-nuclear campaign in Hollywood but was prevented from doing so by his studio, Warner Brothers. This was December of 1945 — only four months after Hiroshima. Reagan was part of the anti-nuclear cause from the very beginning.

As Paul Lettow wrote in 2006:

Reagan, contrary to his image as a champion of the bomb, was a nuclear abolitionist. This is not a mere historical curiosity. Abolishing nuclear weapons was one of Reagan’s fundamental goals for his presidency. His desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons under­pinned much of what he did as President in terms of his Cold War policy. In many ways it is difficult to understand Reagan’s presidency without taking into account his anti-nuclearism. But thus far that aspect of Reagan has been largely overlooked.

Reagan’s anti-nuclearism was part and parcel of his larger vision for U.S. Cold War policy, one that he developed years before taking office as President and that differed from past U.S. policy. Reagan believed that the Soviet Union’s economy and technological base represented key weaknesses in its Cold War competition with the United States, because of both the intrinsic flaws of the Soviet system and the exor­bitant devotion of Soviet resources to the military. He thought that the United States should lead an expan­sive competition with the Soviets-politically, eco­nomically, and militarily-and that the Soviets could be compelled to change not just their behavior but even the nature of their system. He also believed that in the face of such a competition, the Soviets would be forced to negotiate deep cuts in nuclear weapons. Reagan sought not to manage the Cold War, but to prosecute and win it.

. . . In Reagan’s mind, destroying nuclear weapons and winning the Cold War were closely tied together.

It is essential to understand these views in order to understand Reagan’s motives and goals as Presi­dent. Reagan’s arguments that the Soviet economy represented an important area of vulnerability in the Cold War and that the United States could exploit that vulnerability via an arms race and political and economic competition ran contrary to the prevail­ing wisdom among American politicians and opin­ion shapers. They appear to have been his own ideas, developed over years of thinking and speak­ing about U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union before he ever ran for office. Reagan never dropped those ideas. Indeed, he would constantly repeat and refine them in later years, particularly during his presidential campaigns in 1976 and 1980 and throughout his presidency. Those beliefs shaped both his administration’s formal written Cold War policy and the implementation of that policy during his time in office.

Unhappily, only half the job got done: The Soviet Union was defeated, but its nuclear weapons remained, and remain. As Vladimir Putin engages in nuclear blackmail — and that is precisely what he is doing at this moment — Reagan’s vision and his strategy remain surprisingly  relevant. Putin’s Russia has different specific weaknesses than Gorbachev’s Russia did, but it will prove economically unsustainable — if the free world resolves to make it so. Putin is almost 70 years old, and he has enemies. There will be a post-Putin era.

The people who scoff at “Zombie Reaganism” are not paying attention to the news.





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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.