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Reagan links arms talks with Soviets to oppression in Poland

In a revival of the diplomacy “linkages” that were made famous by Henry Kissinger during the Nixon years, the administration of President Ronald Reagan announces that further progress on arms talks will be linked to a reduction of Soviet oppression in Poland. The U.S. ploy was but one more piece of the increasingly complex jigsaw puzzle of nuclear arms reduction.

Faced with a growing anti-nuke movement in the United States and abroad, and having drawn criticism for some off-the-cuff remarks about “winning” a nuclear war, President Reagan called for negotiations on reducing intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe. These talks began in November 1981 but quickly bogged down as both the U.S. and Soviet negotiators charged each other with acting in bad faith. Almost immediately, both nations began to increase their nuclear arsenals in Europe. Some speculated that neither side was truly seeking arms control, and the reaction of building up arms as a result caused a firestorm of protest in several western European nations.

Perhaps in an effort to divert attention from the failed talks, the Reagan administration in January 1982 linked further arms negotiations to Soviet actions in Poland, indicating that the U.S. would not engage in further talks until Soviet repression in Poland was eased. In that nation, the Soviet-backed communist government imposed martial law in late 1981 in an effort to destroy the growing Solidarity movement among Poland’s labor unions. Claiming that arms reduction talks could not be “insulated from other events,” the Reagan administration declared, “The continuing repression of the Polish people—in which Soviet responsibility is clear—obviously constitutes a major setback to the prospects for constructive East-West relations.”

It was unclear whether the U.S. stance had any direct impact on the ongoing INF talks. Domestic U.S. political opposition to any arms control agreement with the Soviets, combined with intense mutual distrust between the Soviet Union and the United States during much of the Reagan administration, were much more important factors in the delay in finally securing an agreement. The INF agreement did eventually get signed in 1987, when new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev broke the ice for more fruitful talks.

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