It would be hard to imagine a more visually engrossing year than 1991. Television screens throbbed with the dramas of war and peace; Operation Desert Storm, the bombing of Baghdad, the ground war, surrendering Iraqis, burning oil wells, and then troops coming home, families reunited, hugs on the tarmac.
But the most dramatic spectacle was the war that ended not with a bang, but a whimper. During the failed Soviet coup last August, we saw tanks in the streets of Moscow, then flags flying as the people resisted.
As I watched, my mind flashed back over my own life. I suddenly realized that much of it had been devoted to fighting a cold war that was now over.
As a marine lieutenant, I trained to fight the “communist hordes” invading South Korea. As a Senate aide, I worked through all-night budget sessions to fund the American rocket program and missile race after the Soviets’ surprise launch of Sputnik. In the White House, I was dazzled by weekly military briefings on megatonnage, throw-weight, and strategic targeting.
I remember one night in the Oval Office in 1971, alone with President Nixon as we discussed how to get a critical antiballistic-missile program through the Senate. Nixon said somberly, “You know, Chuck, I hate spending money on all these missiles. My mother was a Quaker. I want peace. But if we don’t do it, America will fall behind. The balance of power will shift; we will lose to the Soviets. Twenty years from now this world will not be safe to live in.”
Such considerations influenced almost every policy decision. The fate of the world hung on nuclear deterrence.
Or so we thought. Those 20 years have now passed. And without a missile launched, we won.
Clearly, deterrence was important. President Reagan ...1
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