Ronald Reagan picture

Address to the People of Western Europe on Soviet-United States Relations

November 04, 1987

Greetings. I'm speaking with you from here in Washington via the satellite channels of WORLDNET and Voice of America. This is but another demonstration of the dramatic effect technology is having on our lives. Science is shrinking distances, overcoming obstacles, and opening borders. Today individuals in distant lands are working, trading, and even playing together on a global scale. We are, as would never have been thought possible a century ago, truly becoming a community—perhaps even a family—of free people, united by humane values and democratic ideals, and sharing in a prosperity that is closely linked to the trade and commerce between us.

Earlier in this century, during a time when fascism and communism were on the rise, there were those who believed that the light of democracy might well be extinguished. It was feared that the era of representative government, of political and economic freedom, would prove to be a short interlude of history and would disappear just as the democracy of Greece and the Roman republic had vanished.

Well, our cause may have seemed precariously perched, fragile, and without the power projected by strutting troops and mass political spectacles; but it should be clear now that the courage and resilience of free people are too easily underestimated, as is our resolve to cooperate, to see a common purpose, and to act together in our own defense.

Victor Hugo once wrote: "People do not lack strength; they lack will." Well, in my life, I have time and again seen evidence that gives me great confidence that those who live in freedom do indeed have the will to remain free, even under enormous pressure, even against great odds. Those of us who lived through the Second World War saw that in the British people, whose indomitable spirit never broke under heavy bombardment. We saw it in the French troops and resistance fighters, who battled to free their homeland; in Polish Home Army soldiers, who rose in Warsaw; in the moral heroes throughout the continent, including within Germany itself, who resisted nazism often at the cost of their own lives; and others who risked all to save Jews, sometimes perfect strangers, from the death camps. We saw it in Normandy, where Americans joined with people from all over Europe to breach the Atlantic Wall and head inland, joined together in one mighty crusade to rid the continent of Hitler's National Socialism and all the horrors that went with it.

Yes, and in the four decades since the end of the Second World War, the free peoples of the world have continued to prove their courage and, just as important, as never before to demonstrate their solidarity with one another. The North Atlantic alliance, a lasting triumph of unity and cooperation among free peoples, has maintained peace on the European continent for four decades. It has been the shield of democracy and the greatest deterrent to war in history.

Four decades of European peace have been no accident. They have been earned by those in uniform who stood guard, and paid for by all of us whose taxes kept our allied forces manned, equipped, and armed with the conventional and nuclear weapons needed to deter aggression. We've all had to do our part, or it wouldn't have worked. But it has worked. The alliance has been prepared to meet any challenge. The message to anyone who would threaten the peace has been simple and direct: "Don't even think about it."

And when our will has been tested, we've come together as allies, as people whose destinies are inextricably linked, and have acted in unison to meet the challenge. It has not been easy, yet we've done what was necessary to keep our countries free and to preserve the peace. That certainly was true of the alliance's response to the vast expansion of Soviet military power in the late 1970's, especially their introduction of the new SS-20 intermediate-range missiles. It was in 1977 when the Soviet Union deployed its first SS-20's. This triple-warhead weapon could hit anywhere in Western Europe and much of Asia. Though NATO had no comparable missile to counter this new threat, by August of 1982 the number of Soviet INF missiles had climbed to over 300, with more than 900 warheads.

What we were witnessing was an attempt to tip the military balance of power in Europe and erode the security bond between Europe and the United States. It tested our cohesion and could well have had serious, even catastrophic, long-term consequences had the alliance not acted with resolve. But we did act.

In December of 1979 Western leaders made the decision to move forward on a two-track approach. First, the United States would negotiate with the Soviets in an attempt to convince them to withdraw their new missiles. Second, as long as the Soviets continued on their course and kept their missiles in place, NATO would deploy in Europe a limited number of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles. What the alliance sought, however, were fewer missiles, not more.

Our plan depended upon unflagging solidarity and steadfastness of purpose, even under immense pressure. And the pressure was put on. Had the nuclear freeze and unilateral disarmament protesters won, Europe would now be condemned to live under the shadow of Soviet nuclear-armed INF missiles. To democracy's credit, the political courage of farsighted European leaders carried the day. That resolve has now made it possible to achieve an historic agreement—an agreement that will eliminate a whole class of United States and Soviet INF missiles from the face of the planet.

The agreement we are now hearing is based upon the proposal that the United States, in full consultation with allied leaders, put forward in 1981: the zero option. The plan will require the Soviets to remove four times as many nuclear warheads as the United States. Not only will the entire Soviet force of SS-20's and SS-4's be destroyed but also the shorter range SS-12's and SS-23's. It'll be the first mutual reduction of the world's nuclear arsenals in history. And more than that, the shorter range Soviet missiles that will be eliminated are capable of carrying not just nuclear but also chemical and conventional warheads. Thus, we will be making a promising start in cutting back these threats to Europe as well.

Achievements like this are not the result of wishful thinking, nor are they made more likely by loud proclamations of a desire for peace. Lasting progress derives from hard-nosed realism, strenuous effort, and firmness of principle. I can assure you that any treaty I sign will be realistic and in the long-term interest of all the members of the alliance, or no agreement will be signed.

The Soviet Union, for example, has a poor record of compliance with past arms control agreements. So, any new treaty will contain ironclad provisions for effective verification, including on-site inspection of facilities before and during reductions and short-notice inspections afterward. The verification regime we've put forward is the most stringent in the history of arms control negotiations. None of us in the alliance can settle for anything less.

Arms reduction—if done with care to ensure the continuing credibility of our deterrent, both nuclear and conventional—is in the interest of all Western countries. And any INF agreement should be viewed not as the end of the process but the beginning, a first big step. We and the Soviets have also been negotiating possible reductions in our strategic arsenals, which for us is a high priority. Again, it's an American proposal that is the centerpiece of the negotiation—a dramatic proposition to cut our strategic arsenals in half. Considerable progress has been made, and further movement can be expected if Soviet flexibility is evident.

What is totally unacceptable, however, is the Soviet tactic of holding these offensive reductions hostage to measures that would cripple our Strategic Defense Initiative. We won't bargain away SDI, which offers the promise of a safer world in which both sides would rely more on defenses, which threaten no one, than on offensive forces. It shouldn't escape our attention that the Soviets themselves have been spending billions on a strategic defense program of their own.

Much has been heard as of late about reforms being instituted within the Soviet Union. Glasnost, we are told, is ushering in a new era. Well, who cannot but hope these reports are true, that the optimism is justified? Good sense, however, dictates that we look for tangible changes in behavior—for action, not words—in deciding what is real or illusionary. We will, for example, closely watch the condition of human rights within the Soviet Union. It is difficult to imagine that a government that continues to repress freedom in its own country, breaking faith with its own people, can be trusted to keep agreements with others.

Yes, this year some people, including a few very prominent individuals, were permitted to leave the Soviet Union. It's better than the record of recent years, yet many more emigration and divided-family cases remain. And let us remember: Denial of the right to emigrate is only a small part of the problem of the repressive Soviet system. A recognition of freedom of speech, religion, and press; a release of all prisoners of conscience; an ending of the practice of sending perfectly sane political dissidents to psychiatric hospitals; tolerance of real opposition; and freedom of political choice—these things, which we all take for granted, would signal that a true turning point has been reached and would offer hope of positive changes in the international arena, as well.

If there's one observation that rings true in today's changing world, it is that freedom and peace go hand in hand. The further the Soviet leadership opens their system and frees their people, the more likely it will be that the tensions between East and West will lessen. Reflecting this, we also hope to see changes in Soviet foreign policy. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is most certainly a dreadful quagmire. The Afghan people have proven themselves the bravest of the brave. They will continue to have the sympathy and support of free nations in their struggle for independence. Soviet leaders can win accolades from people of good will everywhere and free their country from a no-win situation by grounding their helicopter gunships, promptly withdrawing their troops, and permitting the Afghan people to choose their own destiny. Such actions would be viewed not as a retreat but as a courageous and positive step.

Another sign to look for—this one closer to home for you on your side of the Atlantic-would be a loosening of the Soviet hold over Eastern Europe. Why should the peoples of Europe remain divided as they are with barbed wire, watch towers, and machineguns? Why shouldn't all Europeans be free to travel, to visit one another, or to conduct business with each other? Shouldn't the Brezhnev doctrine finally be renounced? Four decades after the war, why should 17 million Germans be treated like prisoners in their own land? A true opening-up and recognition of their sovereign independence would be welcomed by all the peoples of Eastern and central Europe, and it would not threaten the security of the Soviet Union or anyone else.

A few months ago, I visited Berlin. I stood there alongside the cruel wall that symbolizes so powerfully the scar that divides the European continent. It's time for that wound to heal and that scar to disappear. Wouldn't it be a wonderful sight for the world to see, if someday General Secretary Gorbachev and I could meet in Berlin and together take down the first bricks of that wall—and we could continue taking down walls until the distrust between our peoples and the scars of the past are forgotten.

A few moments ago, I recalled the valiant fight 40 years ago to liberate the European continent. Who cannot help but appreciate that, in that epic struggle, the peoples of the Soviet Union fought bravely and sacrificed so immensely to defeat the common enemy. After the war, we became adversaries, at times bitter adversaries. Yet this need not have happened and need not continue. Any philosophy or leader suggesting that there is a predetermined course of history and that conflict between our peoples and systems is inevitable is wrong. We are not condemned by forces beyond our control. We, all peoples in every land, can shape the world in which we live and determine the future. We in the Western democracies have been doing just that. Together we've built a freer and more prosperous way of life, a community of free people. I'm certain you agree with me that the door is open to all who would join with us.

German literary figure Heinrich Heine has written: "Do not mock our dreamers. Their words become the seeds of freedom." Well, today our vision, not only of a more peaceful world but of a world of freedom in which democratic rights are enjoyed in every land, seems ever more in focus, almost as if it is within reach. We will continue to watch and to be hopeful, yet we must also remain vigilant. The strength and viability of the alliance remains essential, even as an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union opens new opportunities for peace. It is just such strength as NATO has demonstrated that is a precondition to such progress. Weakness, vulnerability, and wishful thinking can undo what has been accomplished by standing firm.

This, nevertheless, can be a time of great change. As you're likely aware, General Secretary Gorbachev has accepted my invitation to come to Washington for a summit in early December. We'll be discussing face-to-face the wide spectrum of issues I've spoken to you about today. I, in fact, expect we'll sign that agreement concerning U.S. and Soviet INF missiles during the time of our meetings.

For our part, the commitment of the United States to the alliance and to the security of Europe—INF treaty or no INF treaty—remains unshakable. Over 300,000 American servicemen with you on the continent and our steadfast nuclear guarantee underscore this pledge. Those who worry that we will somehow drift apart or that deterrence has been weakened are mistaken on both counts. Our ties will be strengthened, not diminished, by this success . Such an historic reduction in nuclear weapons, as now appears on the way, will be a resounding vindication of the unity, strength, and determination of the alliance.

As far as our ability to keep the peace, the NATO strategy of flexible response will continue to ensure that aggression, at any level, is blocked. A viable deterrent force of nuclear weapons of many types, including ground-based systems as well as those carried by aircraft and submarines, still protects Europe and remains in place. And we have agreed with our allies that the existing imbalances in conventional forces and chemical weapons must be redressed prior to any further nuclear reductions in Europe.

The alliance has had underway for some time a program of modernizing our forces so that a credible deterrent is maintained over the long term. That is why major initiatives are moving forward to upgrade NATO's conventional strength. And after 18 years of unilaterally refraining from any production of chemical weapons, improvements are being made in our modest chemical weapon inventory. The Soviet Union, of course, possesses what is by far the world's most extensive chemical weapon stockpile.

But just as we're doing in our INF talks, we're also seeking through negotiation to correct the disparities we face in both the chemical and conventional areas. In fact, in 1984 the United States, with allied support, proposed an effective global ban on chemical weapons. As far as conventional forces, the alliance stands ready, if the East meets us halfway, to make reductions in central Europe through mutual balanced force reductions, or MBFR, as they are called. At the same time, in Vienna an agreement between East and West is being sought that would mandate new negotiations on conventional stability from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains.

Our common security agenda, as you can see, is broad and ambitious. An INF agreement is an important first step, but only the first one toward our greater goal. And let there be no doubt, the citizens of the United States fully understand and appreciate that we are partners for peace with you, the peoples of our fellow Western democracies. That's why we applaud what we see as a new willingness, even eagerness, on the part of some of our allies to increase the level of cooperation and coordination among themselves in European defense. The growing cooperation between France and Germany is a positive sign, as is the modernization of the British and French independent nuclear deterrents, which are both vital components of the Western security system. Last week the foreign and defense ministers of the Western European union issued an impressive declaration. It reaffirmed the importance of maintaining our nuclear and conventional deterrents and affirmed a positive Western European identity in the field of defense within the framework of the Atlantic alliance. We welcome these developments.

Over these last four decades, all too often the United States has been viewed as the senior partner of the alliance. Well, today when the economic strength of Western Europe and the United States are fully comparable, the time has long since come when we will view ourselves as equal partners, and a more equal relationship should not diminish our bonds but strengthen them. It should not limit our potential but expand it.

Goethe, the soul of German literature, once wrote: "If you would create something, you must be something." Well, in these last four decades the people of the United States and Europe have been a force for progress and freedom on this planet. And only a few short years from now, as mankind literally enters into a new millennium, we will have laid the foundation for a prosperous and free future. We've proven wrong—dead wrong—those doubters and despots who earlier in this century thought democracy was soon to be extinct. We have ensured that, in the centuries ahead, it is free people who will dominate the affairs of mankind. And let me predict that, someday, the realm of liberty and justice will encompass the planet. Freedom is not just the birthright of the few, it is the God-given right of all His children, in every country. It won't come by conquest. It will come, because freedom is right and freedom works. It will come, because cooperation and good will among free people will carry the day.

There's a story that was brought to my attention a few years ago about an elderly couple who live in the small town of Marstel on the island of Aero in Denmark-Natalia and Nels Mortensen. For the last 40 years they have tended the grave of a young man they never met. They dig the weeds and place flowers, and always there's a small American flag. When it becomes worn, they replace it with another.

They are watching over the final resting place of U.S. Air Force Sergeant Jack Wagner, who died when his plane was shot down on June 20th, 1944, near Aero, which was then occupied territory. Jack Wagner's body washed up on shore a few days later, and the word quickly spread through the tiny community. When the Nazi occupation troops came to bury the young American, they found nearly the whole town of 2,000 had been waiting by the grave since early in the morning to pay tribute to the young flyer. The path had been lined with flowers. And when the troops laid young Jack Wagner in his grave, the townspeople conducted a funeral service and placed red, white, and blue flowers on his grave, along with a banner that read: "Thank you for what you have done."

Jack was a 19-year-old American from Snyder County, Pennsylvania. The Danish townspeople had never met him, but they knew this young man had given his life for them. He cared enough for people he'd never met to make the supreme sacrifice for their freedom. The Mortensens never forgot this. They still care for that grave as if he was a member of their family, and in a way, he was. Just as we are all part of the family of free people.

Many young people from all of our countries have died to preserve the freedom we now enjoy. Many of our children still serve. They stand together on the ramparts of freedom. We care about each and every one of them as if he or she was our own. Let us be as brave as they are brave, as proud as they are proud.

Thank you for letting me share these moments with you. God bless you.

Note: The President's address was recorded on November 3 in the Roosevelt Room at the White House for broadcast by the U.S. Information Agency on WORLDNET television and the Voice of America at 8 a.m. on November 4.

Ronald Reagan, Address to the People of Western Europe on Soviet-United States Relations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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