If Shultz or other advisers opened a path to negotiations with the Soviet Union, Reagan would pursue it, but he needed alternatives because the hard-liners rejected any meaningful negotiations with Moscow. Reagan always was confident that he could set aside his longtime hostility toward communism and the Soviet Union to solve problems, even the more intractable arms control issues, such as intermediate missiles (INF) and strategic missiles (START). The White House delayed resuming negotiations on either issue—both of which had been pursued by the Carter administration—until initiating the defense buildup. When public criticism, a nuclear freeze movement in western Europe, and pressure from Western allies finally prompted hard-liners, they developed negotiating positions that arms control negotiators believed were guaranteed to produce a Soviet rejection.
The hard-liner positions appealed to Reagan, and he used some of their recommendations to achieve much more than either the hard-liners or Democratic critics believed possible. On INF the Soviet Union had modernized its forces with the SS-20, a powerful missile that brought any city in western Europe within its range. The Carter administration had promised NATO allies that the United States would deploy a new generation of missiles, the Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles, and negotiate a reduction with the Kremlin. Weinberger's aide, Richard Perle, proceeded to develop the zero option of proposing to the Kremlin that it remove all of its missiles and that the United States cancel deployment of the Pershing. President Reagan went for the zero option because it involved meaningful arms reduction (unlike the previous SALT I and II accords, which had primarily put ceilings on the number of weapons) and because he could sell the zero option to the public.
On strategic weapons Weinberger and Perle again recommended to the president a negotiating stance that would ensure the absence of an agreement. They urged Reagan to support a dramatic reduction, particularly on the Soviet side, by insisting on a reduction in ballistic missile throw-weights that would reduce the Soviets' land-based, more powerful rockets by 60 percent but would not affect the U.S. forces. State Department specialists opposed this stance, but in order to win Reagan's endorsement they had to support a negotiating stance that would reduce launchers, cut warheads by one third, and also include Perle's throw-weight ceiling. Again Reagan approved a position that would significantly reduce strategic missiles even as his negotiators on both sides believed the Kremlin would respond with another nyet.