On March 23rd, 1983, just weeks after describing the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”, President Ronald Reagan delivered a televised address to the United States. In his speech, Reagan announced the first steps towards a space-based missile defence program. The Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), or ‘Star Wars’ as it was dubbed in the press, promised Americans protection from a Soviet missile attack:
“My fellow Americans.
Thank you for sharing your time with me tonight. The subject I want to discuss with you, peace and national security, is both timely and important. Timely because I’ve reached a decision which offers a new hope for our children in the 21st century…
We and our allies have succeeded in preventing nuclear war for more than three decades. In recent months, however, my advisers, including in particular the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have underscored the necessity to break out of a future that relies solely on offensive retaliation for our security…
Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base and that have given us the quality of life we enjoy today.
What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant US retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?…
I clearly recognise that defensive systems have limitations and raise certain problems and ambiguities. If paired with offensive systems, they can be viewed as fostering an aggressive policy, and no one wants that. But with these considerations firmly in mind, I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.
Tonight, consistent with our obligations of the ABM treaty and recognising the need for closer consultation with our allies, I’m taking an important first step. I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles. This could pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves.
We seek neither military superiority nor political advantage. Our only purpose, one all people share, is to search for ways to reduce the danger of nuclear war.
My fellow Americans, tonight we’re launching an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history.”