March 23, 1988
Today marks the fifth anniversary of a program vital to our future security. On March 23, 1983, in announcing our Strategic Defense Initiative -- SDI -- I put forward the vision of a safer and more secure future for our children and our grandchildren, a future free from the threat of the most dangerous weapon mankind has invented: fast-flying ballistic missiles. It was on that date that I challenged our best and brightest scientific minds to undertake a rigorous program of research, development, and testing to find a way to keep the peace through defensive systems, which threaten no one. If we can accomplish this, and I am more and more convinced that we can, we will no longer have to face a future that relies on the threat of nuclear retaliation to ensure our security.
The Soviets not only are ahead of us in ballistic missiles but also are deeply engaged in their own SDI-like program. If they are allowed to keep their near monopoly in defenses, we will be left without an effective means to protect our cherished freedoms in the future. But with our own investigation of defenses well underway, we have been able to propose to the Soviets at our arms negotiations in Geneva that both of us protect our nations through increasingly effective defenses, even as we cut back deeply our strategic offensive arms. SDI, in fact, provided a valuable incentive for the Soviets to return to the bargaining table and to negotiate seriously over strategic arms reductions. And as we move toward lower levels of offense, it will be all the more important to have an effective defense.
The SDI program is progressing technologically even faster than we expected. We have demonstrated the feasibility of intercepting an attacker's ballistic missiles. We have made rapid progress on sensors, the eyes and ears of a future defensive system. And our research has produced useful spinoffs for conventional defenses and for medicine, air traffic control, and high-speed computing. The problems we face now are largely political. Every year, Congress has cut back the SDI budget. We are now 1 to 2 years behind schedule. Some of our critics question SDI because they believe we are going too fast and doing too much, while others say we should move now to deploy limited defenses -- perhaps to protect our own missiles. While such a defense may initially strengthen today's uneasy balance, SDI's goal is to create a stronger, safer, and morally preferable basis for deterrence by making ballistic missiles obsolete. Thus, we seek to establish truly comprehensive defenses, defenses which will protect the American people and our allies.
The American people can never be satisfied with a strategic situation where, to keep the peace, we rely on a threat of vengeance. And we must recognize that we live in an imperfect, often violent world, one in which ballistic missile technology is proliferating despite our efforts to prevent this. We would be doing a grave and dangerous disservice to future generations if we assumed that national leaders everywhere, for all time, will be both peaceful and rational. The challenge before us is of course difficult, but with SDI, we are showing already that we have the technological know-how, the courage, and the patience to change the course of human history.