March 23, 1983
My fellow Americans, thank you for sharing your time with
The subject I want to discuss with you, peace and national
security, is both timely and important. Timely, because
I've reached a decision which offers a new hope for our
children in the 21st century, a decision I'll tell you
about in a few minutes. And important because there's a
very big decision that you must make for yourselves. This
subject involves the most basic duty that any President
and any people share, the duty to protect and strengthen
At the beginning of this year, I submitted to the Congress
a defense budget which reflects my best judgment of the
best understanding of the experts and specialists who advise
me about what we and our allies must do to protect our
people in the years ahead. That budget is much more than
a long list of numbers, for behind all the numbers lies
America's ability to prevent the greatest of human tragedies
and preserve our free way of life in a sometimes dangerous
world. It is part of a careful, long-term plan to make
America strong again after too many years of neglect and
Our efforts to rebuild America's defenses and strengthen
the peace began 2 years ago when we requested a major increase
in the defense program. Since then, the amount of those
increases we first proposed has been reduced by half, through
improvements in management and procurement and other savings.
The budget request that is now before the Congress has
been trimmed to the limits of safety. Further deep cuts
cannot be made without seriously endangering the security
of the Nation. The choice is up to the men and women you've
elected to the Congress, and that means the choice is up
Tonight, I want to explain to you what this defense debate
is all about and why I'm convinced that the budget now
before the Congress is necessary, responsible, and deserving
of your support. And I want to offer hope for the future.
But first, let me say what the defense debate is not about.
It is not about spending arithmetic. I know that in the
last few weeks you've been bombarded with numbers and percentages.
Some say we need only a 5 percent increase in defense spending.
The so called alternate budget backed by liberals in the
House of Representatives would lower the figure to 2 to
3 percent, cutting our defense spending by $163 billion
over the next 5 years. The trouble with all these numbers
is that they tell us little about the kind of defense program
America needs or the benefits and security and freedom
that our defense effort buys for us.
What seems to have been lost in all this debate is the
simple truth of how a defense budget is arrived at. It
isn't done by deciding to spend a certain number of dollars.
Those loud voices that are occasionally heard charging
that the Government is trying to solve a security problem
by throwing money at it are nothing more than noise based
on ignorance. We start by considering what must be done
to maintain peace and review all the possible threats against
our security. Then a strategy for strengthening peace and
defending against those threats must be agreed upon. And,
finally, our defense establishment must be evaluated to
see what is necessary to protect against any or all of
the potential threats. The cost of achieving these ends
is totaled up, and the result is the budget for national
There is no logical way that you can say, let's spend
x billion dollars less. You can only say, which part of
our defense measures do we believe we can do without and
still have security against all contingencies? Anyone in
the Congress who advocates a percentage or a specific dollar
cut in defense spending should be made to say what part
of our defenses he would eliminate, and he should be candid
enough to acknowledge that his cuts mean cutting our commitments
to allies or inviting greater risk or both.
The defense policy of the United States is based on a
simple premise: The United States does not start fights.
We will never be an aggressor. We maintain our strength
in order to deter and defend against aggression - to preserve
freedom and peace.
Since the dawn of the
atomic age, we've sought to reduce the risk of war by
maintaining a strong deterrent and by seeking genuine
arms control. "Deterrence" means
simply this: making sure any adversary who thinks about
attacking the United States, or our allies, or our vital
interests, concludes that the risks to him outweigh any
potential gains. Once he understands that, he won't attack.
We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only
invites aggression. This strategy of deterrence has not
changed. It still works. But what it takes to maintain
deterrence has changed. It took one kind of military force
to deter an attack when we had far more nuclear weapons
than any other power; it takes another kind now that the
Soviets, for example, have enough accurate and powerful
nuclear weapons to destroy virtually all of our missiles
on the ground. Now, this is not to say that the Soviet
Union is planning to make war on us. Nor do I believe a
war is inevitable - quite the contrary. But what must be
recognized is that our security is based on being prepared
to meet all threats.
There was a time when we depended on coastal forts and
artillery batteries, because, with the weaponry of that
day, any attack would have had to come by sea. Well, this
is a different world, and our defenses must be based on
recognition and awareness of the weaponry possessed by
other nations in the nuclear age. We can't afford to believe
that we will never be threatened. There have been two world
wars in my lifetime. We didn't start them and, indeed,
did everything we could to avoid being drawn into them.
But we were ill-prepared for both. Had we been better prepared,
peace might have been preserved.
For 20 years the Soviet Union has been accumulating enormous
military might. They didn't stop when their forces exceeded
all requirements of a legitimate defensive capability.
And they haven't stopped now. During the past decade and
a half, the Soviets have built up a massive arsenal of
new strategic nuclear weapons- weapons that can strike
directly at the United States.
As an example, the United States introduced its last new
intercontinental ballistic missile, the Minute Man Ill,
in 1969, and we're now dismantling our even older Titan
missiles. But what has the Soviet Union done in these intervening
years? Well, since 1969 the Soviet Union has built five
new classes of ICBM's, and upgraded these eight times.
As a result, their missiles are much more powerful and
accurate than they were several years ago, and they continue
to develop more, while ours are increasingly obsolete.
The same thing has happened in other areas. Over the same
period, the Soviet Union built 4 new classes of submarine-launched
ballistic missiles and over 60 new missile submarines.
We built 2 new types of submarine missiles and actually
withdrew 10 submarines from strategic missions. The Soviet
Union built over 200 new Backfire bombers, and their brand
new Blackjack bomber is now under development. We haven't
built a new long-range bomber since our B52's were deployed
about a quarter of a century ago, and we've already retired
several hundred of those because of old age. Indeed, despite
what many people think, our strategic forces only cost
about 15 percent of the defense budget.
Another example of what's
happened: In 1978 the Soviets had 600 intermediate-range
nuclear missiles based on land and were beginning to
add the SS20 - a new, highly accurate, mobile missile
with 3 warheads. We had none. Since then the Soviets
have strengthened their lead. By the end of 1979, when
Soviet leader Brezhnev declared "a balance
now exists," the Soviets had over 800 warheads. We
still had none. A year ago this month, Mr. Brezhnev pledged
a moratorium, or freeze, on SS20 deployment. But by last
August, their 800 warheads had become more than 1,200.
We still had none. Some freeze. At this time Soviet Defense
Minister Ustinov announced "approximate parity of
forces continues to exist." But the Soviets are still
adding an average of 3 new warheads a week, and now have
1,300. These warheads can reach their targets in a matter
of a few minutes. We still have none. So far, it seems
that the Soviet definition of parity is a box score of
1,300 to nothing, in their favor.
So, together with our NATO allies, we decided in 1979
to deploy new weapons, beginning this year, as a deterrent
to their SS20's and as an incentive to the Soviet Union
to meet us in serious arms control negotiations. We will
begin that deployment late this year. At the same time,
however, we're willing to cancel our program if the Soviets
will dismantle theirs. This is what we've called a zero-zero
plan. The Soviets are now at the negotiating table - and
I think it's fair to say that without our planned deployments,
they wouldn't be there.
Now, let's consider conventional forces. Since 1974 the
United States has produced 3,050 tactical combat aircraft.
By contrast, the Soviet Union has produced twice as many.
When we look at attack submarines, the United States has
produced 27 while the Soviet Union has produced 61. For
armored vehicles, including tanks, we have produced 11,200.
The Soviet Union has produced 54,000 - nearly 5 to 1 in
their favor. Finally, with artillery, we've produced 950
artillery and rocket launchers while the Soviets have produced
more than 13,000 - a staggering 14-to-1 ratio. There was
a time when we were able to offset superior Soviet numbers
with higher quality, but today they are building weapons
as sophisticated and modern as our own.
As the Soviets have increased their military power, they've
been emboldened to extend that power. They're spreading
their military influence in ways that can directly challenge
our vital interests and those of our allies.
The following aerial photographs, most of them secret
until now, illustrate this point in a crucial area very
close to home: Central America and the Caribbean Basin.
They're not dramatic photographs. But I think they help
give you a better understanding of what I'm talking about.
This Soviet intelligence collection facility, less than
a hundred miles from our coast, is the largest of its kind
in the world. The acres and acres of antennae fields and
intelligence monitors are targeted on key U.S. military
installations and sensitive activities. The installation
in Lourdes, Cuba, is manned by 1,500 Soviet technicians.
And the satellite ground station allows instant communications
with Moscow. This 28-square mile facility has grown by
more than 60 percent in size and capability during the
In western Cuba, we see this military airfield and it
complement of modern, Soviet-built Mig23 aircraft. The
Soviet Union uses this Cuban airfield for its own long-range
reconnaissance missions. And earlier this month, two modern
Soviet antisubmarine warfare aircraft began operating from
it. During the past 2 years, the level of Soviet arms exports
to Cuba can only be compared to the levels reached during
the Cuban missile crisis 20 years ago.
This third photo, which is the only one in this series
that has been previously made public, shows Soviet military
hardware that has made its way to Central America. This
airfield with is Ml-8 helicopters, anti-aircraft guns,
and protected fighter sites is one of a number of military
facilities in Nicaragua which has received Soviet equipment
funneled through Cuba, and reflects the massive military
buildup going on in that country.
On the small island of Grenada, at the southern end of
the Caribbean chain, the Cubans, with Soviet financing
and backing, are in the process of building an airfield
with a 10,000-foot runway. Grenada doesn't even have an
air force. Who is it intended for? The Caribbean is a very
important passageway for our international commerce and
military lines of communication.
More than half of all American oil imports now pass through
the Caribbean. The rapid buildup of Grenada's military
potential is unrelated to any conceivable threat to this
island country of under 110,000 people and totally at odds
with the pattern of other eastern Caribbean States, most
of which are unarmed.
The Soviet-Cuban militarization of Grenada, in short,
can only be seen as power projection into the region. And
it is in this important economic and strategic area that
we're trying to help the Governments of El Salvador, Costa
Rica, Honduras, and others in their struggles for democracy
against guerrillas supported through Cuba and Nicaragua.
These pictures only tell a small part of the story. l
wish I could show you more without compromising our most
sensitive intelligence sources and methods. But the Soviet
Union is also supporting Cuban military forces in Angola
and Ethiopia. They have bases in Ethiopia and South Yemen,
near the Persian Gulf oil fields. They've taken over the
port that we built at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. And now
for the first time in history, the Soviet Navy is a force
to be reckoned with in the South Pacific.
Some people may still ask: Would the Soviets ever use
their formidable military power? Well, again, can we afford
to believe they won't? There is Afghanistan. And in Poland,
the Soviets denied the will of the people and in so doing
demonstrated to the world how their military power could
also be used to intimidate.
The final fact is that the Soviet Union is acquiring what
can only be considered an offensive military force. They
have continued to build far more intercontinental ballistic
missiles than they could possibly need simply to deter
an attack. Their conventional forces are trained and equipped
not so much to defend against an attack as they are to
permit sudden, surprise offensives of their own.
Our NATO allies have assumed a great defense burden, including
the military draft in most countries. We're working with
them and our other friends around the world to do more.
Our defensive strategy means we need military forces that
can move very quickly, forces that are trained and ready
to respond to any emergency. Every item in our defense
program - our ships, our tanks, our planes, our funds for
training and spare parts - is intended for one all-important
purpose: to keep the peace. Unfortunately, a decade of
neglecting our military forces had called into question
our ability to do that.
When I took office in January 1981, I was appalled by
what I found: American planes that couldn't fly and American
ships that couldn't sail for lack of spare parts and trained
personnel and insufficient fuel and ammunition for essential
training. The inevitable result of all this was poor morale
in our Armed Forces, difficulty in recruiting the brightest
young Americans to wear the uniform, and difficulty in
convincing our most experienced military personnel to stay
There was a real question then about how well we could
meet a crisis. And it was obvious that we had to begin
a major modernization program to ensure we could deter
aggression and preserve the peace in the years ahead.
We had to move immediately to improve the basic readiness
and staying power of our conventional forces, so they could
meet - and therefore help deter-a crisis. We had to make
up for lost years of investment by moving forward with
a long- term plan to prepare our forces to counter the
military capabilities our adversaries were developing for
I know that all of you want peace, and so do 1. I know
too that many of you seriously believe that a nuclear freeze
would further the cause of peace. But a freeze now would
make us less, not more, secure and would raise, not reduce,
the risks of war. It would be largely unverifiable and
would seriously undercut our negotiations on arms reduction.
It would reward the Soviets for their massive military
buildup while preventing us from modernizing our aging
and increasingly vulnerable forces. With their present
margin of superiority, why should they agree to arms reductions
knowing that we were prohibited from catching up?
Believe me, it wasn't pleasant for someone who had come
to Washington determined to reduce government spending,
but we had to move forward with the task of repairing our
defenses or we would lose our ability to deter conflict
now and in the future. We had to demonstrate to any adversary
that aggression could not succeed, and that the only real
solution was substantial, equitable, and effectively verifiable
arms reduction - the kind we're working for right now in
Geneva. Thanks to your strong support, and bipartisan support
from the Congress, we began to turn things around. Already,
we're seeing some very encouraging results. Quality recruitment
and retention are up dramatically - more high school graduates
are choosing military careers, and more experienced career
personnel are choosing to stay. Our men and women in uniform
at last are getting the tools and training they need to
do their jobs.
Ask around today, especially among our young people, and
I think you will find a whole new attitude toward serving
their country. This reflects more than just better pay,
equipment, and leadership. You the American people have
sent a signal to these young people that it is once again
an honor to wear the uniform. That's not something you
measure in a budget, but it's a very real part of our nation's
strength. It'll take us longer to build the kind of equipment
we need to keep peace in the future, but we've made a good
We haven't built a new long-range bomber for 21 years.
Now we're building the B-1. We hadn't launched one new
strategic submarine for 17 years. Now we're building one
Trident submarine a year. Our land-based missiles are increasingly
threatened by the many huge, new Soviet ICBM's. We're determining
how to solve that problem. At the same time, we're working
in the START and INF negotiations with the goal of achieving
deep reductions in the strategic and intermediate nuclear
arsenals of both sides.
We have also begun the long-needed modernization of our
conventional forces. The Army is getting its first new
tank in 20 years. The Air Force is modernizing. We're rebuilding
our Navy, which shrank from about a thousand ships in the
late 1960's to 453 during the 1970's. Our nation needs
a superior navy to sup port our military forces and vital
interests overseas. We're now on the road to achieving
a 600-ship navy and increasing the amphibious capabilities
of our marines, who are now serving the cause of peace
in Lebanon. And we're building a real capability to assist
our friends in the vitally important Indian Ocean and Persian
Gulf region. This adds up to a major effort, and it isn't
cheap. It comes at a time when there are many other pressures
on our budget and when the American people have already
had to make major sacrifices during the recession. But
we must not be misled by those who would make defense once
again the scapegoat of the Federal budget.
The fact is that in the past few decades we have seen
a dramatic shift in how we spend the taxpayer's dollar.
Back in 1955, payments to individuals took up only about
20 percent of the Federal budget. For nearly three decades,
these payments steadily increased and, this year, will
account for 49 percent of the budget. By contrast, in 1955
defense took up more than half of the Federal budget. By
1980 this spending had fallen to a low of 23 percent. Even
with the increase that I am requesting this year, defense
will still amount to only 28 percent of the budget. 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, l 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, l 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, l ask
for your prayers and your support.
Thank you, good night, and God bless you.