Decade: 1980

The 1980 election of Ronald Reagan set a hawkish tone, adding fuel to the national security establishment’s Cold War rhetoric. Nuclear weapons were viewed as a practical tool to deter and, if necessary, use in a conflict with the Soviets—and the US was set to embark on a massive arms buildup. But in 1982 the political mood shifted dramatically. Widespread public sentiment against nuclear weapons in Europe, followed by a massive US “nuclear freeze movement,” altered the political and philosophical calculus. President Reagan even suggested a “zero option” where nuclear weapons would be completely eliminated first from Europe and ultimately worldwide.

1986: ZERO OPTION – REYKJAVIK SUMMIT

In 1981, President Reagan supported the removal of all US and Russian nuclear weapons from Europe. In 1986, Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev held a historic summit during which radical suggestions for nuclear arms reductions and elimination were discussed, based in large part on the innovative notion of complete removal. Although agreement on total disarmament was not reached, significant steps were taken to reduce—not just cap—both countries’ arsenals. LEARN MORE

1987: INTERMEDIATE RANGE NUCLEAR FORCES TREATY (INF)

Proposed at the 1986 Reykjavik summit, finalized in 1987, and implemented from 1988 to 1991, the INF Treaty eliminated nearly 2,700 nuclear-armed missiles from the planet. INF was innovative not only for its goal of eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapon but also for the agreement to allow a decade of invasive on-site inspections. The treaty also utilized newly developed tools such as radiation monitors to confirm weapons destruction. LEARN MORE

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