Courtesy Reuters

Buildup and Breakdown

For the Reagan Administration, 1983 was to be "the year of the missile." It was to be the moment of truth in the American effort to introduce new intermediate-range weapons into Western Europe and to "modernize" the U.S. strategic arsenal, primarily with the development of the MX intercontinental missile. Until this buildup in defenses was well under way, nuclear arms control would be a matter of keeping up appearances, of limiting damage, of buying time, and of laying the ground for possible agreement later.

Perhaps an agreement might be reached in 1984. By then, it was anticipated, the United States would be able to negotiate from strength. The Soviet Union would be impressed by the resolve of the U.S. leadership and by the solidarity of the Western Alliance. An American presidential campaign would have begun. Ronald Reagan would be a strong candidate for reelection, but he would also be under political pressure to prove himself a statesman and a peacemaker. Calculating that they could get a better deal before the election than after, the rulers in the Kremlin would move to an agreement early in 1984. Reagan would get an arms-control accord that met his high standards; he would vindicate the tough line he had been following throughout his term; and he would outflank the Democrats on the war-and-peace issue. The year of the missile would have paved the way for the year of the summit.

That was the Administration's hope and its timetable well into 1983. Events, however, followed quite a different course. By the end of the year, the Soviet Union had suspended its participation in all the principal arms negotiations. For the first time since early 1969, arms control was, at least temporarily, shut down across the board. While the United States had succeeded in stationing a few of its new weapons in Britain and West Germany, the issue of whether they should be there and whether others should follow was as divisive as ever, both within those countries and within

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