Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) has puzzled scholars and commentators. Some have claimed that it was a purely political maneuver, while others have explained it as a ruse conjured up by presidential advisers to weaken Soviet resolve. These assumptions, however, fail to acknowledge the depth of Reagan's involvement in nuclear abolition, and how passionately committed Reagan was to the pursuit of this goal. In Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Paul Lettow renders untenable the persistent belief that Reagan was an ideologically shallow figurehead.
The growing body of affirmative revisionist scholarship on Ronald Reagan and his presidency is enhanced by this comprehensively researched, well-crafted monograph. Independent scholar Lettow uses recently declassified archival material to establish Reagan's determination to abolish nuclear weapons as a focal point of his presidency. Reagan believed that the U.S. should use the arms race to bankrupt the Soviet Union, and that the development of an effective defense against ballistic missiles would then render all nuclear weapons negotiable and foster discussion of their abolition; the U.S. would then share the system with the U.S.S.R. and other countries, ensuring the safety of an eventually nuclear-free world. Lettow presents Reagan as a thoughtful leader, who developed his radical challenge to both liberal and conservative conventional wisdom on the Cold War independently. His unwavering belief that missile defense was possible reflected his intellectual conviction that the U.S. could solve the technical challenges involved. Lettow shows Reagan's advisers were on the whole significantly skeptical at the prospect of actually abolishing nuclear weapons. Reagan, meanwhile, successfully negotiated the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty and established the matrix for the START treaty. The U.S. and Russia have made additional drastic cuts in their nuclear arsenals; plans for a ballistic missile defense continue in the U.S.; Reagan's ideas and methods, in short, continue to shape the world. (On sale Feb. 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 31, 2005
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