When he took office in January 1981, President Ronald Reagan looked around the world and was greatly troubled by what he saw. For more than three decades, the United States and its allies had striven to contain communism through a series of diplomatic, economic, and sometimes military initiatives that had cost hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. And yet communism still controlled the Soviet Union, Eastern and Central Europe, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea and had spread to sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan, and Nicaragua.
Whatever its early success, it was clear that the policy of containment no longer worked. The president determined that the time had come to defeat communism based on a simple premise: “We win and they lose.” In his first presidential press conference, Reagan stunned official Washington by denouncing the Soviet leadership as still dedicated to “world revolution and a one-world Socialist-Communist state.” As he wrote in his official autobiography, “I decided we had to send as powerful a message as we could to the Russians that we weren’t going to stand by anymore while they armed and financed terrorists and subverted democratic governments.”
Based on intelligence reports and his lifelong study, Reagan concluded that Soviet communism was cracking and ready to crumble. He first went public with his prognosis of the Soviets’ systemic weakness at his alma mater, Eureka College, in May 1982. He declared that the Soviet empire was “faltering because rigid centralized control has destroyed incentives for innovation, efficiency, and individual achievement.”