On June 7, 1982, the day before Reagan gave his “ash heap” speech at Westminster Abbey, he met alone with the pope in the Vatican. Richard Allen, Reagan’s first national security adviser, says the two men “agreed to undertake a clandestine campaign to hasten the dissolution of the communist empire.” Until it was legalized in 1989, Poland’s Solidarity union was kept alive by the U.S. and the Vatican. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who later became president of free Poland, has said that “we owe our freedom to their unstinting efforts.”
A new book by former Air Force secretary Thomas Reed reveals that the Reagan administration allowed a Soviet agent to steal gas-pipeline software that had been secretly designed to go haywire on a catastrophic scale. The ruse led to a June 1982 explosion in the Siberian wilderness that Mr. Reed says was “the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.” It crippled the Soviet’s secret techno-piracy operation because they could longer be sure if what they were buying or stealing was similarly booby-trapped. They had reason to worry: Contrived computer chips found their way into Soviet military equipment, flawed turbines were installed on a gas pipeline, and defective plans disrupted chemical plants and tractor factories.
Reagan’s arms buildup also unhinged the Kremlin. His clarion call for a missile-based defense system against nuclear weapons in 1983 helped convince the Politburo to select Mikhail Gorbachev as a less hard-line Soviet leader in 1985. “Reagan’s SDI was a very successful blackmail,” says Gennady Gerasimov, the Soviet Foreign Ministry’s top spokesman during the 1980s. “The Soviet economy couldn’t endure such competition.” Mr. Gorbachev himself agrees the U.S. exhausted his country economically and acknowledges Reagan’s place in history. “Who knows what would have happened if he wasn’t there?” he told the History Channel in 2002.
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Joseph Stalin once dismissed the Vatican’s influence by asking, “How many divisions does the pope have?” In the end, that didn’t matter. The pope and two stalwart Western leaders helped topple the entire Soviet empire without moving a single division across a border. As Reagan himself said in his 1989 Farewell Address. “Not bad, not bad at all.”