SDI Helped End the Cold War – What?

In last night’s 1st presidential debate from Oxford Mississippi, John McCain revised history by saying that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), nicknamed “Star Wars” was a major factor in bringing about the end of the Cold War.  “Star Wars” helped end the Cold War?  The same failed “missile defense” system Reagan spent 30 billion to develop and test?  Here are the facts.  SDI was ultimately scrapped in 1984 a year after its unveiling because 1) it failed every test and was a waste of money 2) far from ending the Cold war it actually raised tensions between the US and the Soviet Union which could have led to war 3) it violated the ABM treaty under the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I).

For more on the history of the Strategic Defense Initiative see an informative article from the Cold War Museum: SDI – “Star Wars”

8 Responses

  1. SDI was one component of the strategy of peace through strength hat ultimately won the cold war. The entire program was not scrapped in 1984, some research was continued. The ground and ship based ABM that is currently in final testing prior to deployment is a descendant of SDI. The old Soviet Union went bankrupt trying to copy or counter American defense developments like SDI, the six hundred ship Navy and advanced aerial weapons we were developing. The casualties in Afghanistan caused by our Stinger missiles illuminated the Soviet problem, they could not compete technologically or economically. Their political system was simply not able to marshal the human and material resources to compete with America. SDI was one of the major initiatives that the Soviets could not match and therefore played a role in the end of the cold war.

  2. Interesting. I didn’t catch that. But then, my knowledge of history is paltry. Thanks for the post.

  3. “The old Soviet Union went bankrupt trying to copy or counter American defense developments like SDI.”

    Actually not the case. Google it.

    “Undeniably the Soviet economy was in decline, but this had nothing to do with Reagan’s plan. The Soviet economy had been deteriorating since at least the early 1970s. …but even at its peak Soviet GDP represented only 57 percent of American GDP, let alone the combined GDP of the West. … Defence spending was already placing an immense strain on the Soviet economy, but Reagan’s initiatives in no way influenced further spending. “

  4. Just goes to show that there are disagreements about complex major events. However, the push to modernize Soviet weapons to match the improvements in American weapons systems was a significant factor in the collapse, the final nail in the coffin. I don’t understand why we have to diminish the role played by our inventiveness and economic power in the winning of the cold war. The essential facts were that Khrushchev pledged to bury us militarily and economically and his corrupt systems could not compete with ours. To say that Reagan’s policies did not influence Soviet military spending is naive at best. Every American weapons system had a counterpart in the Soviet Union. For example, the Foxbat high altitude mach three interceptor was designed to oppose the never produced Valkyrie strategic bomber developed in the seventies by North American.

    The Soviets had no counter for the SR71 but adapted the Foxbat in an unsuccessful effort to stop the Blackbird.

    Soviet navy matched us class for class in submarines. Their Typhoon class boomer was one of the few types we did not have as the Typhoons are too big and easy to track for us to counter with a similar boat.

    They never fielded a tank to match the Abrams though they tried desperately over the years to out design American tanks.
    Soviet aircraft carriers were an attempt to add capabilities to the Soviet fleet on the cheap as the soviet navy could not afford full size carriers. They subsequently sold most of their carriers to China because they could not afford them.
    Their effort at modernizing their fleet to keep pace with ours ended in failure when the money ran out.
    What your citation does not report is the percentage of Soviet GDP that was dedicated to their military and weapons programs. That number was significantly higher than ours and would have required a steep increase to match our developing weapons systems. That alone points to the arms race as a significant factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    To dismiss the Soviet American arms race as a factor in the demise of the Soviet Union is somewhat like saying that hurricane Ike’s wind wiped out Galveston and the storm surge had no effect on the outcome.

  5. I didn’t dismiss the arms race as a factor in the demise of the Soviet Union. What I argued was that Reagan’s SDI was a costly flop.

  6. The point here is that, while Soviet military spending generally was probably one factor in the demise of the U.S.S.R., Reagan-era arms programs did not “win” the Cold War by bankrupting them, as is popularly recited in the U.S. Statisticians will confirm that “correlation is not causation”.

  7. Would you apply that same rationale to gun control, smoking, obesity, or any other politically correct statement of issue?

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