January 3, 1985
Since the advent of nuclear weapons, every President has sought to minimize the risk of nucleardestruction by maintaining effective forces to deter aggression and by pursuing complementaryarms control agreements. This approach has worked. We and our allies have succeeded inpreventing nuclear war while protecting Western security for nearly four decades.
Originally, we relied on balanced defensive and offensive forces to deter. But over the last twentyyears, the United States has nearly abandoned efforts to develop and deploy defenses againstnuclear weapons, relying instead almost exclusively on the threat of nuclear retaliation. Weaccepted the notion that if both we and the Soviet Union were able to retaliate with devastatingpower even after absorbing a first strike, that stable deterrence would endure. That rather novelconcept seemed at the time to be sensible for two reasons. First, the Soviets stated that theybelieved that both sides should have roughly equal forces and neither side should seek to alter thebalance to gain unilateral advantage. Second, there did not seem to be any alternative. The stateof the art in defensive systems did not permit an effective defensive system.
Today both of these basic assumptions are being called into question. The pace of the Sovietoffensive and defensive buildup has upset the balance in the areas of greatest importance duringcrises. Furthermore, new technologies are now at hand which may make possible a truly effectivenon-nuclear defense.
For these reasons and because of the awesome destructive potential of nuclear weapons, we mustseek another means of deterring war. It is both militarily and morally necessary. Certainly, thereshould be a better way to strengthen peace and stability, a way to move away from a future thatrelies so heavily on the prospect of rapid and massive nuclear retaliation and toward greaterreliance on defensive systems which threaten no one.
On March 23, 1983, I announced my decision to take an important first step toward this goal bydirecting the establishment of a comprehensive and intensive research program, the StrategicDefense Initiative, aimed at eventually eliminating the threat posed by nuclear armed ballisticmissiles.
The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) is a program of vigorous research focused on advanceddefensive technologies with the aim of finding ways to provide a better basis for deterringaggression, strengthening stability, and increasing the security of the United States and our allies.The SDI research program will provide to a future President and a future Congress the technicalknowledge required to support a decision on whether to develop and later deploy advanceddefensive systems.
At the same time, the United States is committed to the negotiation of equal and verifiableagreements which bring real reductions in the power of the nuclear arsenals of both sides. To thisend, my Administration has proposed to the Soviet Union a comprehensive set of arms controlproposals. We are working tirelessly for the success of these efforts, but we can and must gofurther in trying to strengthen the peace.
Our research under the Strategic Defense Initiative complements our arms reduction efforts andhelps to pave the way for creating a more stable and secure world. The research that we areundertaking is consistent with all of our treaty obligations, including the 1972 Anti-BallisticMissile Treaty.
In the near term, the SDI research program also responds to the ongoing and extensive Sovietanti-ballistic missile (ABM) effort, which includes actual deployments. It provides a powerfuldeterrent to any Soviet decision to expand its ballistic missile defense capability beyond thatpermitted by the ABM Treaty. And, in the long-term, we have confidence that SDI will be acrucial means by which both the United States and the Soviet Union can safely agree to very deepreductions, and eventually, even the elimination of ballistic missiles and the nuclear weapons theycarry.
Our vital interests and those of our allies are inextricably linked. Their safety and ours are one.They, too, rely upon our nuclear forces to deter attack against them. Therefore, as we pursue thepromise offered by the Strategic Defense Initiative, we will continue to work closely with ourfriends and allies. We will ensure that, in the event of a future decision to develop and deploydefensive systems -- a decision in which consultation with our allies will play an important part --allied, as well as U.S. security against aggression would be enhanced.
Through the SDI research program, I have called upon the great scientific talents of our countryto turn to the cause of strengthening world peace by rendering ballistic missiles impotent andobsolete. In short, I propose to channel our technological prowess toward building a more secureand stable world. And I want to emphasize that in carrying out this research program, the UnitedStates seeks neither military superiority nor political advantage. Our only purpose is to search forways to reduce the danger of nuclear war.
As you review the following pages, I would ask you to remember that the quality of our future isat stake and to reflect on what we are trying to achieve -- the strengthening of our ability topreserve the peace while shifting away from our current dependence upon the threat of nuclearretaliation. I would also ask you to consider the SDI research program in light of both the SovietUnion's extensive, ongoing efforts in this area and our own government's constitutionalresponsibility to provide for the common defense. I hope that you will conclude by lending yourown strong and continuing support to this research effort -- an effort which could prove to becritical to our nation's future.
December 28, 1984.
Note: The foreword was printed in the report entitled ``The President's Strategic DefenseInitiative -- January 1985'' (Government Printing Office, 10 pages), which was issued at the WhiteHouse on January 3.