to the Nation on National Security
President Ronald Reagan
The calls for cutting back the defense budget come
in nice, simple arithmetic. They're the same kind of talk that led the democracies
to neglect their defenses in the 1930's and invited the tragedy of World War
II. We must not let that grim chapter of history repeat itself through apathy
This is why I'm speaking to you tonight--to urge you
to tell your Senators and Congressmen that you know we must continue to restore
our military strength. If we stop in midstream, we will send a signal of decline,
of lessened will, to friends and adversaries alike. Free people must voluntarily,
through open debate and democratic means, meet the challenge that totalitarians
pose by compulsion. It's up to us, in our time, to choose and choose wisely
between the hard but necessary task of preserving peace and freedom and the
temptation to ignore our duty and blindly hope for the best while the enemies
of freedom grow stronger day by day.
The solution is well within our grasp. But to reach
it, there is simply no alternative but to continue this year, in this budget,
to provide the resources we need to preserve the peace and guarantee our freedom.
Now, thus far tonight I've shared with you my thoughts
on the problems of national security we must face together. My predecessors
in the Oval Office have appeared before you on other occasions to describe
the threat posed by Soviet power and have proposed steps to address that threat.
But since the advent of nuclear weapons, those steps have been increasingly
directed toward deterrence of aggression through the promise of retaliation.
This approach to stability through offensive threat
has worked. 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.
Over the course of these discussions, I've become more
and more deeply Convinced that the human spirit must
be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by
threatening their existence. Feeling this way, I believe we must thoroughly
examine every opportunity for reducing tensions and for introducing greater
stability into the strategic calculus on both sides.
One of the most important contributions we can make
is, of course, to lower the level of all arms, and particularly nuclear arms.
We're engaged right now in several negotiations with the Soviet Union to bring about a mutual reduction
of weapons. I will report to you a week from tomorrow my thoughts on that
score. But let me just say, I'm totally committed to this course.
If the Soviet Union will join with us in our effort
to achieve major arms reduction, we will have succeeded in stabilizing the
nuclear balance. Nevertheless, it will still be necessary to rely on the specter
of retaliation, on mutual threat. And that's a sad commentary on the human
condition. Wouldn't it be better to save lives than to avenge them? Are we
not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities
and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I think we are.
Indeed, we must.
After careful consultation with my advisers, including
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I believe there is a way. 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 U.S. 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 know this is a formidable, technical task, one that
may not be accomplished before the end of this century. Yet, current technology
has attained a level of sophistication where it's reasonable for us to begin
this effort. It will take years, probably decades of effort on many fronts.
There will be failures and setbacks, just as there will be successes and breakthroughs.
And as we proceed, we must remain constant in preserving the nuclear deterrent
and maintaining a solid capability for flexible response. But isn't it worth
every investment necessary to free the world from the threat of nuclear war?
We know it is.
In the meantime, we will continue to pursue real reductions
in nuclear arms, negotiating from a position of strength that can be ensured
only by modernizing our strategic forces. At the same time, we must take steps
to reduce the risk of a conventional military conflict escalating to nuclear
war by improving our non-nuclear capabilities.
America does possess--now--the technologies
to attain very significant improvements in the effectiveness of our conventional,
non-nuclear forces. Proceeding boldly with these new technologies, we can
significantly reduce any incentive that the Soviet Union may have to threaten attack
against the United States or its allies.
As we pursue our goal of defensive technologies, we
recognize that our allies rely upon our strategic offensive power to deter
attacks against them. Their vital interests and ours are inextricably linked.
Their safety and ours are one. And no change in technology can or will alter
that reality. We must and shall continue to honor our commitments.
I clearly recognize 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 recognizing 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. There will
be risks, and results take time. But I believe we can do it. As we cross this
threshold, I ask for your prayers and your support.
Thank you, good night, and God bless you.