[We will return 1/30.]
Due to ongoing news items concerning Iraq and North Korea,
lost in the shuffle has been the Bush Administration’s
announcement about two months ago that it was going to start
formal construction of a national missile defense system (NMD),
with the first site being located in Alaska. Of course NMD is
intended for rogue nations like North Korea, but the idea of
having one first came about during President Ronald Reagan’s
administration and the threat posed by the Soviet Union. So I
thought we’d take a look back at the Gipper’s “Star Wars”
speech, March 23, 1983.
Here now President Ronald Reagan:
The subject I want to discuss with you, peace and national
security, is both timely and important. Timely, because I’ve
reached a decision which offers a new hope for our children in
the 21st century, a decision I’ll tell you about in a few minutes.
And important because there’s a very big decision that you must
make for yourselves. This subject involves the most basic duty
that any President and any people share, the duty to protect and
strengthen the peace
Tonight, I want to explain to you what the defense debate is all
about and why I’m convinced that the budget now before the
Congress is necessary, responsible, and deserving of your
support. And I want to offer hope for the future
The defense policy of the United States is based on a simple
premise: The United States does not start fights. We will never
be an aggressor. We maintain our strength in order to deter and
defend against aggression – to preserve freedom and peace.
Since the dawn of the atomic age, we’ve sought to reduce the
risk of war by maintaining a strong deterrent and by seeking
genuine arms control. “Deterrence” means simply this: making
sure any adversary who thinks about attacking the United States,
or our allies, or our vital interest, concludes that the risks to him
outweigh any potential gains. Once he understands that, he
won’t attack. We maintain the peace through our strength;
weakness only invites aggression.
This strategy of deterrence has not changed. It still works. But
what it takes to maintain deterrence has changed. It took one
kind of military force to deter an attack when, we had far more
nuclear weapons than any other power; it takes another kind now
that the Soviets, for example, have enough accurate and powerful
nuclear weapons to destroy virtually all of our missiles on the
ground. Now, this is not to say that the Soviet Union is planning
to make war on us. Nor do I believe a war is inevitable – quite
the contrary. But what must be recognized is that our security is
based on being prepared to meet all threats.
There was a time when we depended on coastal forts and artillery
batteries, because, with the weaponry of that day, any attack
would have had to come by sea. Well, this is a different world,
and our defenses must be based on recognition and awareness of
the weaponry possessed by other nations in the nuclear age.
We can’t afford to believe that we will never be threatened.
There have been two world wars in my lifetime. We didn’t start
them and, indeed, did everything we could to avoid being drawn
into them. But we were ill-prepared for both. Had we been
better prepared, peace might have been preserved.
For 20 years the Soviet Union has been accumulating enormous
military might. They didn’t stop when their forces exceeded all
requirements of a legitimate defensive capability. And they
haven’t stopped now. During the past decade and a half, the
Soviets have built up a massive arsenal of new strategic nuclear
weapons – weapons that can strike directly at the United States.
As an example, the United States introduced its last new
intercontinental ballistic missile, the Minute Man III, in 1969,
and we’re now dismantling our even older Titan missiles. But
what has the Soviet Union done in these intervening years?
Well, since 1969 the Soviet Union has built five new classes of
ICBM’s, and upgraded these eight times. As a result, their
missiles are much more powerful and accurate than they were
several years ago, and they continue to develop more, while ours
are increasingly obsolete.
There was a time when we were able to offset superior Soviet
numbers with higher quality, but today they are building
weapons as sophisticated and modern as our own.
As the Soviets have increased their military power, they’ve been
emboldened to extend that power. They’re spreading their
military influence in ways that can directly challenge our vital
interests and those of our allies.
Some people may still ask: Would the Soviets ever use their
formidable military power? Well, again, can we afford to
believe they won’t? There is Afghanistan. And in Poland, the
Soviets denied the will of the people and in so doing
demonstrated to the world how their military power could also be
used to intimidate
Every item in our defense program – our ships, our tanks, our
planes, our funds for training and spare parts – is intended for
one all-important purpose: to keep the peace. Unfortunately, a
decade of neglecting our military forces has called into question
our ability to do that.
When I took office in January 1981, I was appalled by what I
found: American planes that couldn’t fly and American ships that
couldn’t sail for lack of spare parts and trained personnel and
insufficient fuel and ammunition for essential training. The
inevitable result of all this was poor morale in our Armed Forces,
difficulty in recruiting the brightest young Americans to wear the
uniform, and difficulty in convincing our most experienced
military personnel to stay on
We had to move immediately to improve the basic readiness and
staying power of our conventional forces, so they could meet –
and therefore help deter – a crisis. We had to make up for lost
years of investment by moving forward with a long-term plan to
prepare our forces to counter the military capabilities our
adversaries were developing for the future.
I know that all of you want peace, and so do I. I know too many
of you seriously believe that a nuclear freeze would further the
cause of peace. But a freeze now would make us less, not more,
secure and would raise, not reduce, the risk of war. It would be
largely unverifiable and would seriously undercut our
negotiations on arms reduction. It would reward the Soviets for
their massive military build up while preventing us from
modernizing our aging and increasingly vulnerable forces. With
their present margin of superiority, why should they agree to
arms reductions knowing that we were prohibited from catching
The calls for cutting back the defense budget come in nice,
simple arithmetic. They’re the same kind of talk that led the
democracies to neglect their defenses in the 1930s and invited
the tragedy of World War II. We must not let that grim chapter
of history repeat itself through apathy or neglect
Now, thus far tonight I’ve shared with you my thoughts on the
problems of national security we must face together. My
predecessors in the Oval Office have appeared before you on
other occasions to describe the threat posed by Soviet power and
have proposed steps to address that threat. But since the advent
of nuclear weapons, those steps have been increasingly directed
toward deterrence of aggression through the promise of
This approach to stability through offensive threat has worked.
We and our allies have succeeded in preventing nuclear war for
more than three decades. In recent months, however, my
advisers, including in particular the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have
underscored the necessity to break out of a future that relies
solely on offensive retaliation for our security.
Over the course of these discussions, I’ve become more and
more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of
rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by
threatening their existence. Feeling this way, I believe we must
thoroughly examine every opportunity for reducing tensions and
for introducing greater stability into the strategic calculus on both
If the Soviet Union will join with us in our effort to achieve
major arms reduction, we will have succeeded in stabilizing the
nuclear balance. Nevertheless, it will still be necessary to rely on
the specter of retaliation, on mutual threat. And that’s a sad
commentary on the human condition. Wouldn’t it be better to
save lives than to avenge them? Are we not capable of
demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our
abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I
think we are indeed. Indeed, we must.
After careful consultation with my advisers, including the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, I believe there is a way. Let me share with you a
vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a
program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with
measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in
technology that spawned our great industrial base and that have
given us the quality of life we enjoy today.
What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their
security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to
deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy
strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or
that of our allies?
I know this is a formidable, technical task, one that may not be
accomplished before the end of the century. Yet, current
technology has attained a level of sophistication where it’s
reasonable for us to begin this effort. It will take years, probably
decades of efforts on many fronts. There will be failures and
setbacks, just as there will be successes and breakthroughs. And
as we proceed, we must remain constant in preserving the
nuclear deterrent and maintaining a solid capability for flexible
response. But isn’t it worth every investment necessary to free
the world from the threat of nuclear war? We know it is
America does possess – now – the technologies to attain very
significant improvements in the effectiveness of our
conventional, non-nuclear forces. Proceeding boldly with these
new technologies, we can significantly reduce any incentive that
the Soviet Union may have to threaten attack against the United
States or its allies.
As we pursue our goal of defensive technologies, we recognize
that our allies rely upon our strategic offensive power to deter
attacks against them. Their vital interests and ours are
inextricably linked. Their safety and ours are one. And no
change in technology can or will alter that reality. We must and
shall continue to honor our commitments.
I clearly recognize that defensive systems have limitations and
raise certain problems and ambiguities. If paired with offensive
systems, they can be viewed as fostering an aggressive policy,
and no one wants that. But with these considerations firmly in
mind, I call upon the scientific community in our country, those
who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to
the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of
rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.
Tonight, consistent with our obligations of the ABM treaty and
recognizing the need for closer consultation with our allies, I’m
taking an important first step. I am directing a comprehensive
and intensive effort to define a long-term research and
development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of
eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles. This
could pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the
weapons themselves. We seek neither military superiority nor
political advantage. Our only purposes – one all people share –
is to search for ways to reduce the danger of nuclear war.
My fellow Americans, tonight we’re launching an effort which
holds the promise of changing the course of human history.
There will be risks, and results take time. But I believe we can
do it. As we cross this threshold, I ask for your prayers and your
Now, seriously, 19 years later, look how far we’ve come. We
are beginning to fulfill Ronald Reagan’s vision.
Hott Spotts will return Jan. 30.