Primary Sources

President Reagan Discusses Soviet Violations of Arms Control Agreements with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher


Ronald Reagan began his presidency in 1981 confident that the policy of détente with the Soviet Union—initiated by Richard Nixon in May 1972 and terminated in January 1980 by Jimmy Carter as a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—was misguided. During his first three years in office, Reagan substituted a confrontational approach. Nations of Western Europe, however, maintained détente with the Soviet Union and clashed with the Reagan administration over arms control negotiations, the placing of intermediate-range missiles in Europe, and Reagan’s proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). In January 1984, at the start of his reelection campaign, Reagan announced that he was ready to negotiate a new détente from a position of military strength, having “halted America’s decline,” a shift that eventually led the next year to Reagan’s decision to meet the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. In March 1985, the US and the Soviet Union entered into Nuclear and Space Talks with the stated purpose of “preventing an arms race in space,” but the talks stalled in October after the US insisted on an interpretation of the ABM Treaty of 1972 that would allow SDI testing in space. Western European countries in NATO disagreed with the new interpretation. In the following letter, written some three weeks before Reagan’s first summit meeting with Gorbachev, Reagan called for help from his closest ally in Europe, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, to present a unified Western diplomatic front against the Soviets.


Ronald Reagan to Margaret Thatcher, 28 October 1985, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive, Thatcher Foundation (accessed September 20, 2006).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Dear Margaret:

We have discussed many times my deep concern over Soviet violations of arms control agreements. As you know, the US Government has conducted several extensive studies, and concluded that the Soviet Union has violated its legal obligation or political commitment with respect to the SALT II Agreement, the ABM Treaty, the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons, and the Helsinki Final Act. In addition, the Soviets have likely violated the provisions of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty.

We have shared our findings and the evidence for them with the British Government in both NATO and bilateral talks, including extensive meetings between our experts and yours.

As we approach the November meetings with Mr. Gorbachev, it is more than ever for the West to make clear to the Soviet Union that violations and actions inconsistent with arms control commitments are unacceptable, not just to the US but to other Western nations as well. The Nuclear Planning Group Ministerial, which will be held October 29 and 30 in Brussels, is an ideal time for NATO to state publicly its concern over Soviet violations, and I sincerely hope your government will support us in including such language in the communiqué.

The US and its NATO Allies have a shared interest in supporting the arms control process. The Soviet pattern of noncompliance raises fundamental concerns about the integrity of the arms control process, concerns that—if not corrected—undercut the viability of arms control as an instrument to assist in ensuring a secure and stable future world. A strong Allied consensus on concern over Soviet violations will strengthen our efforts both in seeking corrective actions from the Soviet Union and in seeking effective verification procedures for future agreements. The success of such efforts will improve the prospects for the Nuclear and Space Talks.


How to Cite this Source

President Ronald Reagan, "President Reagan Discusses Soviet Violations of Arms Control Agreements with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher," Making the History of 1989, Item #54, (accessed September 19 2021, 10:47 am).

Associated Files