Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

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Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

By Paul Lettow
Random House, 2005
352 pp. $25.95
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Lettow has made a major and thoroughly researched contribution to the study of Ronald Reagan's presidency. He demonstrates the consistency of Reagan's approach and that Reagan's strong antinuclear views were one of the few legacies of his liberalism of the early postwar period (although these views were also linked to fundamentalist Christian beliefs). These views on nuclear abolition came through clearly in the launch of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and in the Geneva and Reykjavik summits with Mikhail Gorbachev, and were held doggedly and indeed dogmatically against the skepticism of Reagan's top advisers, who did not share his expectations of radical change in the Soviet Union. Lettow provides evidence of the clarity of Reagan's vision and challenges any suggestion that he lacked input into his own policies. Reagan's inattention to practicalities, however, remains; the trouble with SDI was that it required a repeal of the law of physics. In the end, Reagan's key insight was not the possibility of nuclear abolition, either through defense or disarmament, but that a system as rotten as the Soviets' could not endure.