It is difficult to assign credit just to one President and if I would it wouldn't be Reagan. The Soviet buildup started actually before 1980, so our own spending really didn't accomplish a ton, other than maybe creating massive deficits.
I'd say Nixon and Truman were the two Presidents who made the biggest impact in winning the Cold War. Truman was responsible for the initial strategy of containment and it was under his administration that many of the vital defense apparatus of today were established (modern DoD, NSA, CIA) as well as NATO. The formations of these agenciesand also the alliance was the absolute bedrock that every subsequent administration benefitted from. The Marshall Plan was also absolutely instrumental in keeping Europe from falling prey to Communism after the war.
Nixons contribution was more strategic rather than organizational. The rapprochement with China was a major way of tilting the balance of power back in the US direction during what was previously a period of relative decline. This forced the Soviets now to fight a two front war on either border and I think that was among the key reasons that their military spending began to increase well before 1980. One of the offshoots of this was the revival of the SALT talks which culminated in May 1972. The ABM agreement pretty much assured us of no nuclear war because it forced both sides to basically eradicate all but 2 missile defense sites, so we were dealing with MAD. The interim Agreement on offensive Weapons has gotten alot of criticism for being less than perfect, or less than what Raymond Garthoff and the formal SALT negotiation team could have achieved. I think that misses the point. Looking back on it, the genius of SALT I was that after the China opening, the Soviets now have the impetus to expand their array of offensive weapons and the treaty basically allowed them to do that within some soft caps on ICBMs and rules fr replacement etc. Whats important in SALT I is really what's not in it. There was no MIRV ban, which was the main technological advantage the US had (the USSR had 600 more ICBMs but the US missiles were much more lethal due to MIRV technology). So you are assuring yourself of no real war thru the ABM Treaty and you are giving the Soviets a reason to keep building up (fear of Sino-US alliance plus a treaty that leaves in place a US tech advantage and puts only soft caps on nuke proliferation.....so of course they are going to be incentivized to match the tech and keep building offensive weapons). That was the brilliant aspect of this. You make sure you won't go to war but you also make sure the bad Soviet economy still has reason to spend, spend and spend. We were going to win either way. It's too bad Reagan had to waste a ton of money needlessly.
Last edited by SoCalBronco; 05-30-2013 at 09:10 PM..