Case #813.0

The Reykjavik Summit: Watershed or Washout?

Publication Date: January 01, 1988
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On October 11 and 12, 1986, at Reykjavik, Iceland, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan met for the second time. The issues they intended to address--nuclear arms reductions, the future relationship of offensive and defensive weapons, and the place in arms control of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)--had logjammed superpower arms control negotiations for over a year. While the leaders had labeled the meeting a modest "presummit," the session appeared very nearly to produce a radical agreement. Reagan proposed the elimination of all offensive ballistic missiles within ten years, and Gorbachev reciprocated by proposing to eliminate the even larger category of all strategic weapons. Ostensibly, it was SDI and its potential for changing the strategic balance of power that motivated such dramatic proposals-but it was also the reason why they were ultimately rejected. This case covers the background of the Reykjavik summit--the birth of the Reagan SDI program and its effect on superpower relations--and traces the rise and fall of the various proposals during the summit itself. It is intended to support a discussion of the relationship between offense and defense in nuclear strategy, and of the various political, military, and technical elements that can influence arms control negotiations.

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author:
Melissa S. Williams
Faculty Lead:
Richard Haass
Pages (incl. exhibits):
Funding Source:
Pew Charitable Trusts in association with the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs