Remarks on the Strategic Defense Initiative to Martin Marietta Denver Astronautics Employees in Waterton, Colorado
November 24, 1987
Thank you very much, and thank you, Mr. Pownall, General Abrahamson, the rest of my companions up here in the top shelf, and Senators Wallop and Wilson and Congressmen Hefley and Schaefer, who are here with us. I am convinced now that with some of the difficulties we've had with regard to getting enthusiastic support in some circles for this program the answer is a conducted tour of those individuals here to see what I have seen here so far today.
It's an honor for me to be here at Martin Marietta with all of you men and women of science and engineering, who play such a vital role in this age of technology. I'll have to admit I'm more than a bit awed by what I've seen and heard today. Of course, not all my predecessors shared my sense of wonder about such things. One, President Rutherford B. Hayes, played host to a notable science and technology event back in the 1870's, a demonstration of the newly invented telephone. And President Hayes' reaction was, "Well,'' he said, "that's an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use them?'' [Laughter] You know, when I heard him say that, I thought he might be mistaken. [Laughter]
Seriously, though, I was born in a small town in the farm country of Illinois. Progress in those days meant indoor plumbing, electric lights, a telephone, and then some years later, possibly, a radio -- a crystal radio set. Well, just in my lifetime, we've gone from a time when many, if not most, people traveled by horse power -- and I mean the kind that eats hay -- to an era of supersonic passenger service. And just possibly before I leave the scene, we will have developed a craft that will take off from runways as planes do today, and once at high altitude, this craft will rocket itself into space and zip to its destination at 18 or 20 times the speed of sound -- from New York to Tokyo in 90 minutes. You know, this could bring a whole new meaning for sushi to go. [Laughter]
The America that I was born into was acclaimed for its liberty and opportunity, yet that opportunity for which we were so proud has been expanded today beyond anything that Americans of my youth could possibly have imagined. Affordable, worldwide communications and transportation have not just extended, they have eliminated horizons. Computer capability, which a short time ago was available only to large corporations, is now being put to use by small business and individual entrepreneurs.
We're in an age when the common man can do and experience what in past times was enjoyed only by royalty, aristocracy, and the elite. Jefferson, Washington, and Madison laid the foundation for liberty and equality. Edison, Einstein, Goddard, and others like them, like many of you, built on that foundation. It's been technology and freedom, together, that have pushed America forward and made her the land of abundance and progress that we love so dearly.
Arthur Balfour once noted: "Science is the greatest instrument of social change, the most vital of all revolutions which mark the development of modern civilizations.'' Science and technological-based resolutions in health care and food production, communications, transportation, manufacturing, and other endeavors have changed how we live and the quality of our lives. Before joining you here, I was given a classified update on some of the key elements of the program that you're working on. It's clear that the project is bounding forward, and I couldn't be more pleased. After what I've seen today, I believe that mankind is again on the edge of a revolution that will change the basic assumptions upon which we base our decisions and reshape the world in which we live.
Until now, mankind's search for security often focused on expanding the ability to lash out, to kill, to destroy. Technological advances throughout the ages increased man's destructive power, and those nations that did not keep pace soon felt the sting of defeat and the pain of subjugation. But humanity, in almost every case, found a defense for every offense, and that is exactly what we're seeking: a defense against mankind's most deadly weapons -- ballistic missiles.
You are laboring to develop a defensive system that will change history. Once you've completed your work, the world will never be the same. I suggest it will be a better and a safer world. And what better legacy can this generation leave than a safer world? Our Strategic Defense Initiative offers mankind security through protection rather than retaliation. I must tell you that I have never been able to see the safety -- or feel the safety of knowing that if someone blew us up we'd be blowing them up at the same time. It's a scientific advance that will be judged a success based not on how many lives it is capable of taking -- which is none -- but on how many it is able to protect. It's a moral as well as a scientific endeavor worth every minute and hour that you are dedicating to it. Our goal is to strengthen deterrence by moving as soon as we're ready to increasing reliance on defenses to keep the peace.
I realize that being a government project, with all the politics that goes with that reality, your work can be frustrating. Wernher von Braun once said: "We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.'' [Laughter] I appreciate the extraordinary effort that each of you is making. Your mental prowess and creativity and, yes, your hard work will make or break the program. And I want you to know that what you accomplish will be put to good use in protecting your country, the free world, and perhaps all mankind against the threat of nuclear holocaust. You're not working to build a bargaining chip. It will not be traded away.
Yes, there are those who complain about the cost. Well, Benjamin Franklin, himself a man of science and politics, once observed: "The expenses required to prevent a war are much lighter than those that will, if not prevented, be absolutely necessary to maintain the war.'' Well, mirroring that thought, I'd say that what we spend to protect ourselves from nuclear missiles is much lighter than the cost, human and otherwise, if even one nuclear missile is fired, even if by mistake, and we have to suffer the consequences, because there's no way to stop it. In the case of SDI, America cannot afford not to do everything necessary to develop this missile defense system and put it into operation.
The Soviet Union, even as they criticize and try to cripple our SDI research effort, has been aggressively moving ahead on its own antiballistic missiles defense. They have spent roughly $200 billion in the last 10 years and have concentrated the energy and talent of their brightest scientific minds. More than 10,000 skilled scientists and engineers are working on military lasers alone with thousands more developing high tech weapons that use particle beams and kinetic energy.
The Soviet Government wages its propaganda campaign against our SDI research, even while they work overtime to develop their own SDI-like system. Well, we must not be lulled into reducing our commitment. Their military program, which includes everything from killer-satellites to the modernized antimissile system that protects Moscow, dwarfs our SDI program already. Those who would cut or eliminate funds for our effort would grant a clear monopoly in this vital area to our adversary, which would undermine the present basis of deterrence. Because the question is not, Will strategic defense be developed? The question is rather, Will the Soviet Union be the only country to possess them? The choice is ours.
Furthermore, the Strategic Defense Initiative is not aimed at protecting us and our allies against the Soviet Union alone. Francis Bacon once wrote: ``He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils, for time is the greatest innovator.'' Well, in the decades ahead, who knows what governments will obtain ballistic missile technology? Who knows how rational or competent those governments will be? I spoke before a meeting of the American Council of Life Insurance last week, and I called SDI an insurance policy. And that's what it is.
SDI is not a weapon of war but an insurer, a protector of the peace. It is totally within the limits of the ABM treaty. And let me add, the United States has observed the ABM treaty, but with the construction of the huge phased-array radar at Krasnoyarsk, the Soviets have violated one of the treaty's key provisions. This is but one -- but another example, I should say, of why it's important not to rely on words alone. The Strategic Defense Initiative, you see, underwrites our efforts to achieve offensive arms reduction agreements. With a defensive system in place, the possibility that one side has cheated and has a few missiles in hiding, is far less threatening. SDI then makes further reductions more likely: A system that makes ballistic missiles less effective, makes those missiles more negotiable.
Now, there are those who may be pessimistic about the chances of deep reductions in U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals, but let us not forget that in 1981 when I first proposed our zero option it, too, was all but written off by many commentators. In the time that has followed, we persevered and stuck to our principles. We held firm against the advocates of a so-called nuclear freeze. We followed through on our modernization program and, in close cooperation with our allies, installed the cruise and Pershings in Europe. When at long last it was realized that we in the alliance had the courage to protect our own longrun interests, progress toward a mutually beneficial treaty ensued.
As you are all aware, General Secretary Gorbachev will be visiting Washington beginning December 7th. We hope to sign an historic treaty that will eliminate a whole class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear-armed intermediate-range missiles from the face of the Earth, the first mutually agreed upon reduction in our nuclear arsenals ever. And this could well be just a beginning. We have just had word from Geneva, where Secretary Shultz is, that we are right to speak so optimistically about the upcoming treaty, the INF treaty. They have made great progress there.
We hope we can see forward movement on a number of other fronts. The United States, for example, has proposed a 50-percent reduction in U.S.-Soviet offensive strategic forces. Much progress has been made toward a START agreement, as we call it, and more is possible. But let there be no doubt: Giving up the Strategic Defense Initiative and the protection it will provide is too high a price to pay for any agreement.
Neither the INF treaty we hope to sign during the upcoming summit nor any other agreement that follows will be built on trust. Agreements with the Soviet Union must be based on reciprocity, verification, and realism. And while we want to bolster the peace and do our part to improve relations, no agreement should ever be signed simply for the sake of signing an agreement, for the sake of atmospherics. Improving the general tone of relations between our countries, as I've outlined on several occasions, will require much more movement from the other side toward the solution of regional conflicts, a far greater respect for human rights, and progress on a number of bilateral issues between our countries. As I explained to General Secretary Gorbachev, our countries do not have differences because we're well-armed; we're well-armed because we have differences.
Even with all the talk of openness and glasnost, much change needs to take place before trust, like that we have with democratic governments, can come into play. The Soviet peoples themselves -- even though there has been some change -- still tell stories and joke about their plight. I heard one about a fellow who went to the KGB to report that he lost his parrot. The KGB asked him why he was bothering them. Why didn't he just report it to the local police. Well, he answered, ``I just want you to know that I don't agree with a thing that parrot has to say.'' [Laughter.]
You know, in 4 months we'll mark the fifth anniversary of the March 23, 1983 speech in which I challenged the scientific community to develop a system that would make ballistic missiles obsolete. General George Patton once said: ``Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they'll surprise you with their ingenuity.'' Well, that statement showed a deep insight into the American character, and it has been proven again and again in our drive to establish a strategic defense system. Today I have been deeply impressed with what I've seen and heard. The progress made toward achieving our goals gives us reason for confidence. The critics who claimed it couldn't be done have been proven wrong again, just as has been the case with almost every technological triumph in the past. The scientific research and engineering work you are doing, along with that of others like you in hundreds of locations throughout this great land, is a tribute to the genius of America. This is truly a national effort, both government and private sector, involving preeminent individuals in industry, education, and the scientific community.
I have even learned a couple of Russian words that I have used in my previous meetings with the General Secretary. It is a proverb. It says, Dovorey no provorey. That means ``Trust but verify.'' And we will.
No President could be prouder or more grateful than I am to all of you and your fellow colleagues around the country for what you are doing. You, indeed, are reshaping the world, and for literally all time to come.
So, thank you, and God bless you all.
Note: The President spoke at 12:15 p.m. in Building No. 3. He was introduced by Tom Pownall, chairman and chief executive officer of Martin Marietta. In his opening remarks, the President referred to Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson, Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization; Senators Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and Pete Wilson of California; and Congressmen Joel Hefley and Dan Schaefer of Colorado. Following his remarks, the President traveled to his ranch in Santa Barbara County, CA, for Thanksgiving.