July 16, 1983
Today I want to talk to you about peace. Back in June of 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered an arms control speech that is still remembered for its eloquence and vision. He told the graduating seniors at American University: ``I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war and, frequently, the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.''
Twenty years have passed since those words were spoken, and they've been a troubled era, overshadowed by the dangers of nuclear weapons. We've seen the world's inventory of nuclear weapons steadily expand. Despite many sincere attempts to control the growth of nuclear arsenals, those arsenals have continued to grow. That's the bad news.
The good news is that now, at last, there is hope that we can finally begin to reverse this trend. Americans have joined together -- Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives -- to face the greatest challenge of our time: the urgent task of pursuing a lasting peace in the nuclear era. Our political process has forged a consensus, a bipartisan consensus that has united us in our common search for ways to protect our country, reduce the risk of war and, ultimately, dramatically reduce the level of nuclear weapons -- the foundation we need for successful negotiations.
Remember, our MX Peacekeeper missile program calls for the deployment of 100 missiles. The level ultimately deployed, however, will clearly be influenced by the outcome in Geneva. If an agreement is reached which calls for deep reductions -- which is, of course, our goal -- the number of missiles could certainly be adjusted downward.
As the Scowcroft commission rightly pointed out, the MX Peacekeeper missile is an essential part of a comprehensive modernization and arms control program to ensure deterrence today and in the future. We're building the MX Peacekeeper to strengthen deterrence. But it also provides vital negotiating incentives and leverage in Geneva.
Andrei Sakharov, the distinguished Soviet physicist and Nobel Prize laureate, recently published an eloquent article which forcefully makes the same point. He notes that, given the Soviet advantage in land-based, strategic missiles, talks about limitation and reduction of these systems could become easier if the United States were to have MX missiles, albeit only potentially. Andrei Sakharov is a hard man for anyone to ignore.
When the Congress reaffirms its support for this program and authorizes the funds to modernize our strategic deterrent, our agenda for peace will be strengthened even further. In NATO, as in our other alliances, there's a renewed feeling of solidarity. Last May at Williamsburg, the leaders of the major industrialized nations demonstrated their commitment to vigorously pursue the twin objectives of arms reductions and deterrence in the Williamsburg communique. This solidarity is a source of much strength.
For the graduates of June 1983, this a time of opportunity and hope -- a hope that they and their children will enjoy a safer, more secure world. That's why we must sustain our consensus. And that's why I've spent hundreds of hours meeting with members of this administration, with the bipartisan commission on strategic forces, with our arms negotiators, with Members of the Congress, and with concerned citizens.
My message to them and to you is that I have no higher priority than reducing and ultimately removing the threat of nuclear war and seeking the stability necessary for true peace. To achieve that objective, we must reduce the nuclear arsenals of both the United States and the Soviet Union. We must achieve greater stability; that is, we must be sure that we obtain genuine arms reductions, not merely agreements that permit a growth in nuclear arsenals or agreements that proclaim good intentions without the teeth necessary to verify and enforce compliance.
Our current goal must be the reduction of nuclear arsenals. And I for one believe we must never depart from the ultimate goal of banning them from the face of the Earth. That's why we presented ambitious but realistic proposals, and that's why I have been and continue to be willing to consider any serious Soviet counteroffer. And that's why I've made our original proposal more flexible and why I continue to seek new ideas for achieving an arms reduction breakthrough.
Indeed, the draft treaty our negotiators recently introduced in Geneva documents our flexibility. As opportunities permit, the U.S. position will continue to evolve. The United States will negotiate patiently but urgently and always in good faith.
But we cannot and we must not settle for less than genuine, mutual, and verifiable arms reductions. America's postwar generation has preserved world peace in its lifetime, but it's been an uneasy peace. Today's young Americans -- indeed, all members of the human family -- desire more and deserve more. And you deserve to know that your government is doing everything possible to meet your expectations.
Time and again our nation has proved that there are no limits to what we Americans can achieve when we work together. Well, today we are working together to do what is right. And as a result, we can look forward to a more secure tomorrow.
Till next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, Md.