The memory lapse is a shame, for the Reagan Administration's handling of the Soviet Union's calculated ploy to divide NATO has current foreign policy utility. It provides diplomatic, political and common sense leadership guidance for addressing several current geo-political evils, among them the Syrian dictatorship's heinous use of chemical weapons and the Iranian dictatorship's drive to acquire nuclear warheads.
As the Crisis played out, the Reagan Administration demonstrated that the executive branch can craft and execute difficult political, diplomatic and media operations under intense pressure in order to secure strategic goals vital to American interests. To pull it off, however, the president must do three things: (1) be totally committed to achieving the strategic goals, no matter the personal and political price he may pay; (2) make absolutely certain that the organizations tasked with implementing policy are fully prepared to execute their missions; and (3) when the president commits America to international action after having secured allied support and cooperation, he must do what he says he will do.
In the 1970s, the Soviets started deploying SS-20 theater ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe. The missiles threatened European cities and threatened NATO's critical British air bases with short-notice attack. NATO responded to Kremlin escalation with a "dual track" policy pushed by the Carter Administration. NATO would negotiate to remove the SS-20s but, should the Soviets refuse to withdraw them, the allies would deploy equivalent systems. West Germany's Socialist chancellor Helmut Schmidt argued that Jimmy Carter's approach exposed NATO to Soviet political attacks designed to sap the collective will to resist. Schmidt favored a common sense response that said: "You deploy, we deploy. You negotiate, we negotiate." But Carter insisted on "dual track."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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