October 22, 1983
My fellow Americans:
I'd like to talk to you today about the deep desire we share to reduce nuclear weapons and to make our world more safe. Just as important I want you to know why, despite all our good faith efforts, we are being frustrated in our goal to negotiate an arms reduction agreement.
No issue concerns me more and has taken up more of my time -- not just in meetings with advisers but in deliberations with Members of the Congress and close and constant consultations with our allies -- than this quest for a breakthrough on arms reductions. And believe me, I do so willingly, because as your President and also as a husband, father, and grandfather, I know what's at stake for everyone.
The trouble is, the obstacle to that agreement we want so dearly is not Washington, and it never has been; it's Moscow. And that's been the case in all our current arms reduction negotiations with the Soviet Union.
But today I'd like to focus on the longer range INF missile negotiations now under-way in Geneva. Some have asked, ``If we do want an agreement, why are we, the United States, planning to base new missiles in Europe?'' Well, the question reflects some basic misunderstandings. It's been the Soviet Union who's been deploying such forces for a number of years, while the West watched and worried.
In 1977 the Soviets had in place 600 warheads on their longer range INF missiles. More significantly, they began adding the SS - 20, a new, highly accurate mobile missile with three warheads, which could reach in minutes every city in Europe and many cities in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. NATO had no comparable weapons.
In October 1979 Soviet leader Brezhnev announced a balance now exists. The Soviet Union -- 800 warheads; NATO -- zero. Some balance. It was only at this point at the end of 1979 that the NATO alliance, not the United States alone, decided the Soviets' large and growing advantage in both nuclear and conventional forces would threaten our safety. So, the alliance made what was called the ``dual-track decision.'' We would redress the imbalance by deploying comparable weapons, while seeking an agreement at the negotiating table that would eliminate the need for deployment.
Nothing more dramatically illustrates our sincere desire for peace than our willingness not to deploy if the Soviets would stop threatening Europe with their missiles. How did the Soviets respond? By adding one new missile every week. They now have 1,300 warheads or more, and that number is growing. NATO still has zero.
All along we've been negotiating in good faith. We asked the Soviets to consider the total elimination of these missiles. It took them less than 24 hours to answer, "Nyet.'' So we proposed an interim solution, some equal but lower number, and the lower the better. With knee-jerk speed, the same answer came back again, "Nyet.'' And it's remained the same for all our new proposals, because the Soviets insist on a monopoly of longer range INF missiles. They offer what can only be called ``a half-zero option,'' zero for us, hundreds of warheads for them. As I told the members of the United Nations, that's where things stand today. We will continue our efforts to make the Soviets heed the will of the world, stop stonewalling, and start negotiating in good faith.
But that wish should not become father to the thought. We must look at Soviet words and deeds with a clear head and ask some long overdue questions. Why does a regime which says it seeks peace repeatedly reject equitable proposals that would preserve peace? What are we to think of Soviet threats against NATO countries: warning Turkey it could become ``a nuclear cemetery;'' telling Scandinavian countries they are ``a bridgehead for aggression;'' and advising West Germany if new missiles are deployed, the military threat to it will grow manifold?
These are not words of a peacemaker but of a nation bent on intimidation. It is inconceivable that any Western leader would make such crude and provocative threats.
Finally, what is the credibility of a regime which exploits peace demonstrations in the West, but brutally puts down any demonstration for reduced weaponry in its own country? As President Mitterrand of France recently observed, "Pacifism is in the West, and Euro-missiles are in the East. I consider that an unequal relationship.''
My fellow Americans, the values of Western civilization and the beliefs that bind free people together are being tested. The Soviets are engaged in a campaign to intimidate the West, but it will not work. At home, bipartisan support in the Congress remains strong. And the unity of our NATO alliance will not break. Just this week, Prime Minister Craxi of Italy visited the White House and assured me of Italy's continued staunch support. Earlier this year, at the Williamsburg summit, the leaders of the industrialized nations agreed the policy is correct, fair, and should go forward. The spirit of Williamsburg is as strong as ever.
There is simply no sensible alternative to the parallel goal of deterrence and arms reduction. We will remain at the negotiating table just as long as it takes to reach a breakthrough. But the Soviets must understand: NATO's mission is to defend Europe and preserve peace, which it has done for 34 years. And NATO will continue to meet its responsibilities. Our countries will remain united, strong, and we will protect the safety of our people.
Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.
Note: The President's address was recorded on October 21 in the Map Room at the White House for broadcast at 12:06 p.m. on October 22.