U.S. Defense Strategy

Courtesy Reuters

The Reagan Administration took office in 1981 committed to rebuilding American military power. We are encouraged by the results of the past four years. The Reagan defense program is having its intended effect on the Soviet Union.

The sequence of annual Soviet aggression against new targets that began in the mid-1970s in Angola, and culminated in the invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, has ceased. After walking out of the Geneva negotiations in protest over NATO’s deployment of theater nuclear weapons in November 1983, the Soviet delegation is back at the bargaining table. Just prior to the recent meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviets began for the first time to talk seriously about deep cuts in strategic offensive forces. Indeed, the Soviet Union now appears to be moving toward President Reagan’s "zero option" proposal for eliminating land-based intermediate range nuclear forces—a proposal that was dismissed in 1981 by most American arms control advocates as a propaganda ploy.

In 1980 the crucial issue was whether the United States could afford to acquiesce in the Soviet Union’s attempt to achieve a position of global military superiority. The answer from the American electorate was clear. We agreed to pay the price for military strength to deter war.

My purpose in this article is not to review all of the programs and policies of this Administration. Rather, I want to describe U.S. defense strategies and to summarize the major changes we have made in our thinking at the Department of Defense over the past five years.


When the Reagan Administration entered office in 1981 it inherited strategic concepts formulated more than a quarter-century ago. Consider the list: nuclear deterrence, extended deterrence, escalation control, strategic stability, offensive dominance, counterinsurgency, limited war, and escalation ladders. The dominant features of the 1950s, when most of these ideas were first formulated and applied, can be summarized in two phrases: American nuclear preeminence and American military superiority. In the nuclear arena we had a

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