Mollifying Western Europe
West European annoyance with the unilateral nature of the announcement of SDI and distress over its strategic and economic implications were only compounded by Defense Secretary Weinberger's seeming ultimatum in March 1985, in which allied governments were asked to indicate whether or not they were willing to cooperate within sixty days. Once the harshness of West European reaction became obvious, the
Reagan administration took steps to ease the situation for these governments. Reagan had readily agreed, as we saw earlier, to Thatcher's four points. The West Europeans could also take some satisfaction from the fact that Lieutenant General Abrahamson went out of his way to endorse these four points in testimony before Congress. In the administration's eyes, of course, the agreement had no substantial effect on the program. SDI had been designed as a research program, and it was acknowledged within the administration (and at least implied in the Fletcher report) that a defense transition would probably never become a practical option unless the Soviets agreed to reduce offensive weapons. Although the administration had not consulted with the allies prior to the decision (as it had not consulted even with the appropriate departments of the executive branch or with Congress), it was eager to help friendly leaders avoid trouble at home.
Part of the effort involved missions to explain the president's plan both the European government officials and journalists. George Bush, Shultz, Weinberger, Perle, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and science advisor Keyworth were all pressed into service, along with the president himself. Technical specialists who supported SDI sought to show that the principles and technologies useful for strategic defense would also be useful in defending Western Europe. Teller told those who attended a Wehrkunde conference in Munich in February 1986 that laser beams reflected from mirrors popped up over the earth would make it "relatively easy" to destroy even such intermediate-range weapons as the Soviet SS-20. Those sympathetic to the president's ideological views, or who were at least willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, found the explanations more impressive than they expected. Others, including high-ranking defense officials, remained skeptical. Their views were generally silenced, however, by the political leaders, who were anxious to maintain NATO unity. Opposition leaders in Great Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany seized on SDI as yet another example of the administration's susceptibility to illusion and the use of confrontation in its relations with the Soviet Union. They also tried to make the United States appear to be intent on developing a shield over itself which would leave Europe vulnerable to attack. United States officials, however, countered some of the effects of this campaign by promoting the idea that, if successful, SDI would protect Europeans and Americans alike.
Otherwise, the United States' primary effort to sell SDI concentrated on promising at least minimal economic inducements—prompting one
"shrewd and worldly American bureaucrat to comment that although European government support could not be bought, it still might 'be rented.'" U.S. government officials thus dangled the bait of significant contracts before the eyes of European industrialists, and the industrialists in turn pressured governments for permission to take part. They were mainly concerned that they be admitted on equal terms, and this theme was taken up by government representatives as the price of European cooperation. The West Germans in particular were concerned that they be allowed to market any civilian applications of the technology and that they not be unduly hampered in possible sales to East European countries. The U.S. negotiators offered to be conciliatory but in the end made few concessions, relying instead on European interest in not being shut out of the project. Initial funding was quite small—in the neighborhood of $30 million the first year—until, in the second year of the program, a series of larger contracts was let involving cooperative ventures by European and American firms.
The U.S. position vis-à-vis the allies improved considerably when the Soviets agreed in 1985 to return to arms-control negotiations, where they called for a 50 percent reduction in offensive weapons. Many West Europeans agreed with U.S. analysts that the Soviets had come back to the table in part because they became concerned that SDI might lead to unilateral U.S. deployments and might undercut the parity in offensive weapons they had won by considerable effort. This recognition of SDI's contribution to arms control was raised in the March 1985 ministerial meetings of NATO's Nuclear Planning Group and in Brussels in October of the same year. A communiqué issued at the close of the first set of meetings affirmed allied support for SDI but carefully couched that support in terms of the established NATO emphasis on offensive deterrence: "We support the United States research programme into these technologies, the aim of which is to enhance stability and deterrence at reduced levels of offensive nuclear forces." In this formulation, the European allies of the United States in effect agreed to regard SDI primarily as a political question rather than as a new direction in alliance strategy. Although the leading partners were eager to stay abreast of U.S. research in case there might be any breakthroughs, their main motivation (and, even more, that of the other allies) was to exert influence on the direction of SDI so that it did not adversely affect the alliance. In particular, they wanted to make sure that it stayed a research program until they agreed to deployment, remained in conformity with the ABM Treaty, and did not jeopardize East-West arms control negotiations or destabilize the strategic balance.