Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Reagan's Nuclear Legacy

I received an email today from a former student asking why the newsmedia is touting how wonderful Ronald Reagan was for the cause ofnuclear disarmament.

I replied to him that Reagan's record on peace issues is very mixed. He heated up the Cold War with the Soviet Union by engaging in a conventional arms race (putting the U.S. in massive debt - and pushing the Soviets into a weapon building program they could not afford). He funded and provided military arms to right-wing governments and rebels in Latin America. And he sold arms to Iran in an attempt to secure the release of Americans being held hostage in Lebanon.

However, at the same time he signed one of the most important arms limitation treaty's in U.S. history. In 1987, he and Gorbachev agreed to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear forces. This was the first time that the U.S. and USSR had agreed to destroy an entire class of weapons systems. The U.S. destroyed 859 missiles, and the Soviet eliminated 1,752 missiles. While this was only about 4% of the total nuclear missile count on both sides, it became the first step toward the eventual end of the arms race.

Other peace historians, however, disagree with my assessment. They are much more critical of the standard and current interpretation of Reagan's Legacy. A good example of this can be found on an article by Larry Wittner on the History News Network.

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