His enemies, and many of his friends (including me) failed to appreciate the
genius of Ronald Reagan's strategy for defeating the Soviet Union.
I was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force during Reagan's second
term. At the time, there was considerable debate within the administration
and (especially) on Capitol Hill about the wisdom of going forward with
procurement of the B-2 Stealth bomber.
I was against it. The B-2's ostensible job was to roam around the Soviet
Union after the nuclear war had started, looking for Soviet rail mobile
missiles to bomb. Since the Stealth was estimated to cost upwards of $120
million a copy, I thought the money could be better spent on weapons that
might keep the nuclear war from happening in the first place.
But I didn't understand what that "dumb cowboy" did.
"His strategy was to spend (the Soviets) to death," said retired Vice
Admiral J.D. Williams. "It worked."
The B-2 was an integral part of this strategy. The rule of the thumb is
that it costs about three times as much to defend against a bomber as it
does to pose the threat, and no defense is ever completely leak proof.
There are means of detecting a Stealth, but they require major investments
The Soviets, moreover, would have to spend as much to guard against 10 B-2s
as against 100. If the Soviets didn't defend all of their borders, they
would be vulnerable, no matter how many (or how few) B-2s we had. Given the
immenseness of the Soviet Union, this was a fiscally impossible task.
President Reagan's plans for missile defense were another nail in the Soviet
Union's financial coffin. As a practical matter, it was technically
impossible in the 1980s to construct a "leakproof" defense against Soviet
missiles. There were just too many of them. And we couldn't have afforded
to build such a defense, even if it were technically feasible.
But even a partially effective defense would deprive the Soviets of the
confidence that they could launch a disarming first strike.
Two to three nuclear warheads need to be targeted on a missile silo to be
sure of taking it out. But a disarming strike on our retaliatory capacity
had to be timed to the microsecond, because of the problem of fraticide (the
detonation of the first nuclear warhead destroys or knocks off target
subsequent warheads). If we would be able to take out just a few Soviet
warheads, lousing up the sequence, the fratricide problem becomes
To retain the threat of a disarming first strike, the Soviets were faced
with a technological challenge they didn't have the ability to meet, and a
financial challenge they didn't have the resources to meet.
Reagan compounded their problems by authorizing Bill Casey, his wily CIA
director, to sabotage the Russian economy. The Soviets in those days were
stealing as much Western technology as they could, because their own
sclerotic system was unable to keep up. Casey let them steal software that
contained hidden malfunctions, software that was used in the natural gas
pipeline the Soviets were building to Western Europe.
"The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion ever seen from
space," wrote former Air Force Secretary Thomas Reed. The Soviets lost
their chief source of hard currency, and had to wonder ever after if there
were Trojan horses in other technologies they were stealing from the West.
Reagan engaged the Soviets indirectly by supporting anticommunist resistance
movements in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola and Mozambique. He was the
first president since the Cold War began to put the Soviets on the
defensive, but he did so in a way that minimized the risk of a direct
And Reagan engaged the Soviets morally by called the "evil empire" by its
right name. This appalled Western intelligentsia, but it resonated with
ordinary people the world over.
In his final address from the White House, Reagan told the story of a
sailor, patrolling the South China sea, who came upon a boatload of
refugees, hoping to get to the United States. "Hello, Freedom Man," one of
them called out.
Ronald Reagan has left us for the real "shining city on a hill." Farewell,