From Publishers Weekly
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.
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When then-president Ronald Reagan first proposed his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or "Star Wars" initiative), the Soviets and critics in Europe and America lambasted it; at best it threatened to destabilize the nuclear equilibrium, and at worst it provided the U.S. with a first-strike capability. But it was Reagan, in conjunction with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who succeeded in eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons. Lettow presents a strong case that Reagan's prime motivation in promoting SDI was a long-standing aversion to nuclear weapons and to the MAD^B (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine; which kept the Soviets and the U.S. from pushing the button. Lettow, in tracing Reagan's early life, reminds us that, as a Roosevelt Democrat, Reagan flirted with pacifism and he actively supported international control over nuclear weapons in the aftermath of Hiroshima. Lettow is an unabashed admirer of Reagan, so he may be a bit credulous in accepting assertions by Reagan and his supporters. Still, this is a well-done, informative study, which adds to the still-evolving understanding of Reagan and his presidency. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved