chapter  7
12 Pages

Reagan’s SDI announcement and the European reaction: Diplomacy in the last decade of the Cold War


Ronald Reagan’s March 23, 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) announcement and the program that evolved out of this ‘vision’ spawned vigorous international debate concerning the technologies, economics, strategic aims, and legal issues of a space-based anti-ballistic missile system. Reagan’s decision to research, develop, and deploy an SDI system proves useful as a case study to understand the fundamental changes that had taken place in the security environment of the Cold War in the 1980s. SDI called for greater international participation by the allies of the United States and came at a time of increased social and political tension for France, Great Britain, and West Germany in the wake of deployment of Pershing II Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) and Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs). Although Reagan’s SDI announcement affected other nations such as Italy and Spain, the initial efforts Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and François Mitterrand undertook to negotiate separate bi-lateral agreements for their respective nations and on behalf of Europe represent a diametric shift in the alliance structure of the final phase of the Cold War.1 Considering actions taken by Thatcher, Mitterrand, and Kohl provides a manageable cross section of the European reaction to Reagan’s SDI program. Although, actions taken by other European allies are equally important and interesting, the basic issues raised by Britain, France, and the Federal Republic of Germany provide a foundation for the main issues that came to represent Europe’s collective concerns about SDI. The analysis of Europe’s various responses to SDI provides a more comprehensive understanding of the international dynamics of the late Cold War period.