Ronald Reagan picture

Address to the Citizens of Western Europe

February 23, 1988

This is Ronald Reagan, speaking to you, the citizens of the North Atlantic alliance, over the satellite channels of WORLDNET and the Voice of America. In just a few days, I'll be flying to Europe to meet with the heads of the governments of our North Atlantic allies, and this will be our first meeting since General Secretary Gorbachev and I signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement in Washington in December. That agreement represented a step toward world peace and world freedom, and it was a major victory for the Atlantic alliance. So, at next week's meeting we'll celebrate the success of a policy we launched over 8 years ago, and we'll ask ourselves, What next? Today I'd like to share with you some thoughts we in America have about the alliance, the INF agreement, and the road ahead.

The Atlantic alliance is the core of America's foreign policy and of America's own security. Preservation of a peaceful, free, and democratic Europe is essential to the preservation of a peaceful, free, and democratic United States. If our fellow democracies are not secure, we cannot be secure. If you are threatened, we're threatened. If you're not at peace, we cannot be at peace. An attack on you is an attack on us. This is not simply a matter of treaty language, important as treaty language is. It is an enduring reality—as enduring as the reality that a threat to the security of the State of Maine or New York or California is a threat to the security of all 50 American States. Simply put: An attack on Munich is the same as an attack on Chicago.

We Americans did not come easily or willingly to the lesson of how closely America's peace and freedom are tied to Europe's. We had a tradition dating back to President Washington of avoiding permanent alliances. And yet twice in this century when peace and freedom were under siege in Europe, one way or another, we found ourselves part of the struggle. At the end of the Second World War, we hoped that peace, freedom, and democracy were at last secure in Europe forever. Even though the United States had a monopoly for a number of years on nuclear weapons, we did not seek to exploit the advantage for territorial or any other kind of gain. We went home, took off our uniforms, put on our civilian clothes, and got back to the normal life with our families and our communities. Europeans often say that we Americans are naive. Well, four decades ago, perhaps we were.

Soon we learned that the postwar world was not to be as we, through all those years of fighting, had prayed it would be. We watched with growing apprehension and dismay as the Soviet Union turned its back on the commitment made at Yalta to conduct free and open elections in Eastern Europe. Throughout Eastern Europe, the Red Army remained a fully mobilized army of occupation. And there were attempts to subvert the democracies of Western Europe and then the Soviet adventure in Greece, not unlike what the Soviets are doing today in Central America.

As Western Europe, with help from our Marshall plan, rebuilt, all our nations began to face the nature of the Soviet threat to the democracies. And so, beginning with the Brussels treaty in 1948, which established the Western European Union, and then the North Atlantic treaty 1 year later, which included Canada and the United States as well as other European nations, we drew together for our common safety and peace. As President Harry Truman said when he signed the North Atlantic treaty: Through this partnership "we seek to establish freedom from aggression and from the use of force in the North Atlantic community." And he added: "This is the area which has been at the heart of the last two world conflicts. To protect this area against war will be a long step toward permanent peace in the whole world."

Well, peace has been the alliance's goal, the purpose of its forces and its strategies. And for almost 40 years, peace has been its achievement—an unprecedented period of European peace in which we in the democracies have lived in freedom and prospered. NATO's strategy for peace has always been simple: Prevent aggression before it starts. Be strong enough, be determined enough so that no adversary would think even for a moment that war might pay.

At first, NATO's atomic monopoly gave peace a nuclear umbrella of protection. Later, a more flexible response became necessary so that we could answer any attack in kind. Yes, strategic nuclear weapons as well as other nuclear weapons were and are still necessary. As President Mitterrand said in December: "Between East and West, world peace has been guaranteed by nuclear balance." But we recognized in the mid-sixties that the strategic nuclear balance alone is not sufficient to keep the peace. The alliance's adversaries must not believe that our only possible response to a limited attack is to begin an intercontinental nuclear exchange. If they do, they may doubt that we would risk such a response and be tempted to test us.

That, of course, is why the Soviet deployment of SS-20 intermediate-range nuclear missiles starting in the late seventies was such a threatening challenge. The SS-20 wasn't just a new weapon but an entirely new level of threat to which NATO had nothing comparable. Without provocation or warning, the Soviet Union was shaking the fundamental structure of European peace.

How did the West respond? In 1977 Chancellor Schmidt brought the Soviet SS20 threat to the forefront of our attention. In December 1979 NATO made the dual-track decision. First, the United States would negotiate with the Soviets, attempting to persuade them to withdraw the SS20's or to agree to the lowest possible equal U.S. and Soviet levels. Second, as long as the Soviets kept these missiles, NATO would go ahead and deploy a limited number of its own INF missiles—the U.S. Pershing II's and ground-launched cruise missiles. The aim of this decision was not to fill Europe with more missiles; just the opposite. As Valery Giscard d'Estaing has said: Its "preferred goal was to compel the Soviet Union to eliminate the SS-20's."

And now we have succeeded. It wasn't easy. Europeans know that only too well. You saw the many demonstrations, many of them violent, protesting deployment. You heard the angry voices accusing the United States and NATO of warlike intentions. You went through election campaigns fought over deployment. You watched as the Soviets, playing to pacifist sentiments, rejected my 1981 proposal for the total elimination of longer range INF missiles as unrealistic and not serious; later, walked out of negotiations and both before and after they returned—issued one ultimatum after another. You witnessed the courage of your leaders as they stood by the alliance decision, above all, the leaders of the five basing countries: Britain, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and the Federal Republic of Germany.

Now many of the same people who fought NATO's policy every step of the way claim credit for its success. The antideployment forces have won, they say. Well, Prime Minister Thatcher had it right when she said recently that, in her words, "but for the firmness of NATO," to go forward with deployment, "the INF agreement would never have been signed." And as she noted: "The SS-20's would still have been up, and we should have had no means of persuading the Soviets of taking them down." And it is not just SS-20's that will come down but SS-4's and the Soviet shorter range INF missiles, the SS-12's and SS-23's, which themselves were a growing threat to NATO's security, capable of carrying conventional or chemical as well as nuclear warheads. Yes, the INF agreement is a victory for NATO. It should be a lesson to NATO's critics.

I recognize that not everyone is completely at ease with the agreement. Some worry about the Soviet conventional and chemical advantage and that removing the Pershing II's and ground-launched cruise missiles would leave Western Europe more vulnerable to these Soviet forces. Some are concerned about the link between the United States and European pillars of NATO. With these weapons gone, they ask: Is peace still secure?

Well, I'm happy to say that the answer is yes! The approximately 4,000 nuclear weapons that will remain in Europe are a strong link between the pillars of NATO, as are the more than 300,000 American servicemen and women and their families who live and work in Europe. And those nuclear weapons that will remain are dispersed throughout NATO, not concentrated in one country, and do not, by the way, put any one country at special risk. Ensuring the peace requires that these nuclear weapons stay where they are until we can achieve a better balance of conventional forces on the continent. Because of them and the Soviet knowledge that we have them, we can maintain the balance that maintains the peace.

You see, the United States remains steadfastly committed to the NATO strategy of flexible response, and we in the United States will do our part to ensure that NATO maintains all the modern forces, both conventional and nuclear, needed to uphold that strategy. After all, our goal is not a nuclear-free or a tank-free or an army-free Europe but a war-free Europe. A war-free Europe is what we have today; a war-free Europe is what we want to preserve.

As we look to NATO's next decade, we must make sure that all of our forces for peace, including our nuclear forces, remain modern and effective. This will require constant work, because military machinery wears out or becomes obsolete. And it will require being smart about the weapons and equipment we develop and buy, so we get the best value for our money. I'm pretty tightfisted myself, so I've been glad to see that NATO is taking efficiency seriously.

Better coordination among West European nations will also help in defense planning or in other areas, as we've seen in the Persian Gulf. And let me add that we in America welcome multilateral and bilateral defense cooperation among our European partners of the sort that the Western European Union and the Germans and the French and other governments have demonstrated within the overall framework of the alliance. Such cooperation and coordination are essential to strengthening the European pillar of the alliance and, thereby, the alliance as a whole.

We Americans will do our part in keeping the alliance strong. Our troops will stay in Europe, a guarantee that our destiny is coupled with yours. We will keep our forces, including the strategic nuclear umbrella, strong and up to date.

And we will press forward with our Strategic Defense Initiative. I can't help noting that initially there was great confusion about our SDI program. Some called it Star Wars. They said it would dangerously expand the reach of American arms into space. But now the recognition has grown that this technology will not expand the threat of arms but limit it. It will protect and defend people. SDI holds the promise of lifting from mankind the burden of nuclear terror and making this a safer world.

The United States is not alone in pursuing a strategic defense. In the last decade the Soviets have spent $200 billion on strategic defense. It would be a fatal mistake not to pursue this program. Even before it becomes leakproof, strategic defense will strengthen deterrence. It can make anyone who might think about disabling the West with a first strike think again, because it will undermine Soviet confidence in the military success of an attack.

But keeping our forces ready and able is hardly the only item on the alliance agenda. We want a safer world, one with smaller forces and fewer weapons while maintaining the essential balance that keeps the peace. That's the goal of the strategic arms reduction talks underway now in Geneva-a 50-percent reduction in the strategic arsenals of both the United States and the Soviet Union.

We in the alliance have also long sought to redress the imbalances in conventional forces in Europe. We also want greater openness, more confidence, and increased security, which benefit all nations. The first priority of any new negotiations must be to eliminate conventional capabilities for surprise attack and large-scale offensives. The United States hopes that the Warsaw Pact countries will join with the Atlantic allies in focusing on correcting the imbalances, above all, in tanks and artillery, which are the most threatening ground forces. A safer peace requires that neither side be able to mount a massive conventional attack without warning.

More balance between East-West conventional forces will require substantial reductions by the Warsaw Pact countries—bigger reductions than any we might make, because their forces are so much bigger and more threatening. And we must be able to verify that they are keeping their forces at the negotiated levels. This may sound ambitious, but we've learned from the alliance's success with the INF treaty that solidarity, determination, and perseverance can turn ambitious dreams into realities.

Finally, we're seeking in arms control talks in Geneva an effective, verifiable, and truly global ban on all chemical weapons. Strategic arms reductions, conventional arms balance, an effective ban on chemical weapons—these are our post-INF negotiating priorities. And yet as we approach these negotiations, we again hear the voices that call on us to turn back from our strategy of combining strength with negotiations. They say the Soviets under a new leader have changed—in the era of glasnost we can trust the Soviets more.

But can we afford to forget that the policy called glasnost is separated from the era of the gulag by fewer years than NATO has existed? In fact, the policy called glasnost coexists today with the reality of political repression in the Soviet Union. We cannot afford to forget that we are dealing with a political system, a political culture, and a political history going back many decades, even centuries. Swings between glasnost and the gulag are not new or even peculiar to the Soviet regime. In history they recurred again and again as the throne passed from czar to czar, and even within the reign of a single czar. We cannot afford to mortgage our security to the assessed motives of particular individuals or to the novel approaches of a new leadership, even if we wish them well. We must stick with the strategy of strength and dialog that has kept the peace and brought us a remarkable achievement in the INF treaty.

Let's remember the issue for NATO is not today or tomorrow; it's what will Europe look like in 15 years? The Soviets talk about openness in international affairs. Last year at the Berlin Wall, I noted that there are simple ways for them to demonstrate that they are serious about openness. They can begin on the border of East and West. They can allow expanded commercial air service to Berlin so it can become one of the chief aviation hubs of central Europe. They can join Britain, France, and the United States in bringing more international meetings to Berlin. They can allow young people from East Berlin to visit the Western sectors and take part in cultural events there. They can join the Western sector powers in allowing and encouraging international sports events to take place throughout the city.

And they can tear down the Berlin Wall. To the Soviets today I say: I made my Berlin proposals almost 9 months ago. The people of Berlin and all of Europe deserve an answer. Make a start. Set a date, a specific date, when you will tear down the Wall. And on that date, bring it down. This would be an impressive demonstration of a true commitment to openness.

Throughout Eastern Europe and within the Soviet Union itself, we look for the Soviet leadership to demonstrate its seriousness about its Helsinki commitments to human rights. We look for an end to Soviet sponsorship of regional conflicts and for the Soviets to allow more and more people-to-people exchanges between East and West. These are pillars on which an enduring improvement in relations must be built.

For you see, the basic differences between East and West have nothing to do with the level of arms. We do not distrust each other because we're armed; we're armed because we distrust each other. It's a question of values, of beliefs, of moral principles. You can see it in a thousand ways. How did the Soviets treat Germany and the German people after the war? How did the democracies? How do the Soviets treat Third World nations like Afghanistan or Ethiopia today? How does the West? What is the condition of Eastern Europe today? What is that of Western Europe? Or take a simpler thing: What do the Soviets mean by words like democracy, freedom, and peace? Not, I'm sorry to say, what we mean.

Negotiations between East and West do not imply moral equivalency of our two systems or ways of life. We must never forget to say this publicly and say it repeatedly: So long as the difference between East and West is the difference between oppression and freedom; so long as Europeans in the East cannot worship and speak freely; so long as gigantic armies are poised in Eastern Europe, facing west, training to attack first—just as NATO's troops are trained only to defend when attacked; so long as this is the state of our world, NATO's strategy and reason for being must remain to stop aggression before it happens.

I mentioned earlier what President Truman said when he signed the North Atlantic treaty. On that occasion he also noted, speaking of the alliance, that "we are like a group of householders, living in the same locality, who decide to express their community of interests by entering into a formal association for their mutual protection." During the past four decades we in the alliance have, if anything, grown even closer together.

Today, in a sense, we live not simply in the same locality but in a single house, a house that may someday include all of mankind among its residents: the house of democracy. "In my Father's house are many mansions." In the house of democracy are many languages and many national heritages, but one ideal: the dignity of man, or as Abraham Lincoln said, the belief that "no man is good enough to govern another without that other's consent." All of us honor this truth. All of us are united in defending it. We have raised high the roof beam of this great structure of an alliance to shelter that truth from all the winds that blow and all the bears and wolves that prowl.

Yes, the Atlantic community is the house of democracy. The Atlantic alliance is the guardian of Europe's greatest legacy to the ages—human freedom and democratic rule. This is the challenge before the alliance now: to remain strong so that generations to come will know peace and freedom just as we do. Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9 a.m. from the Map Room at the White House. The address was broadcast live by the U.S. Information Agency's Voice of America and WORLDNET television.

Ronald Reagan, Address to the Citizens of Western Europe Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives