This day in history, March 23, 1983, Ronald Reagan addressed the nation and proposed that the United States develop new antimissile technology that would protect the United States from nuclear missile attacks.
Reagan’s speech marked the beginning of what came to be known as the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). It gained the nickname “Star Wars Initiative” after the iconic sci-fi Hollywood film.
Reagan made nuclear arms control one of the key positions in his administration. The program called for building a network of ground-based and space-based systems to protect the U.S. from an intercontinental ballistic missile attack.
By 1983, talks with the Soviets were stalled because they couldn’t decide what kinds of weapons should be controlled, what kind of control would be instituted, and how compliance with the controls would be assured.
The proposed program Reagan was in favor of called for the use of antimissile satellites utilizing laser beams and other means to knock Soviet nuclear missiles out of the sky before having a chance to strike the United States.
Reagan then called on the nation’s scientists to “turn their great talents” to this “vision of the future which offers hope.” Some scientists indicated that even if the SDI were able to destroy 95 percent of Soviet missiles, the remaining five percent would be enough to destroy the entire planet.
Research funding began in 1984 which ran up a cost of $30 billion by 1993.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was opposed to the program and demanded talks on arms control were contingent on the United States dropping the SDI program.
By December 1987, Gorbachev dropped his resistance to the SDI program because he wanted to reduce his country’s defense budget. Later on, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was signed. The Strategic Defense Initiative never fully took off and by the mid-1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and with costs skyrocketing, the program was shelved and the focus on missile defense was shifted to regional coverage.