Jimmy Carter photo

Address at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

March 17, 1978

As someone who comes from a great tobacco-producing State, it's an honor for me to be here in the capital of the greatest tobacco State in the world. What you do here means a lot to Georgia. And we have always found that the people in the Winston-Salem area and throughout North Carolina share with us common purposes, a common heritage, and a common future. You've always received me with open arms. You expressed your confidence in me during the campaign for President. And I'm indeed honored to come here to Wake Forest, to Winston-Salem, and to North Carolina, our neighbor State, to make a speech of major importance.

It's a pleasure to be with your great Senator, Bob Morgan, who cast a courageous vote yesterday, and who is extremely knowledgeable about the subject that I will talk about. He's on the Armed Forces Committee, as you know—the Armed Services Committee, responsible for our Nation's defense. He's on the special committee, a highly selective committee on our Nation's intelligence, and he has been one of the staunch protectors of our Nation and is a great man and a great statesman. Bob, I'm very glad to be with you.

It's also good to renew my friendship with your great Governor, Jim Hunt. I first met him before he was Governor and before I was President. We formed an instant personal friendship, and his leadership of your State has brought credit to you and the admiration of the rest of the Nation.

And I'm particularly grateful to be here with Steve Neal. The first time I came here was to join with him in his campaign in 1974, when the prospects were not very bright. But because of the confidence in him, expressed by the people of the Fifth District, he was successful.

He's now assumed a leadership position in the Congress. He's a man, also, who believes in the strong defense of our country. His voting record proves this. In addition, he's on the Science and Technology Committee, which is responsible for advancing our purposes in the future. And he is honored by being the chairman of that portion of the Banking and Finance Committee responsible for international trade. This means a great deal to us, because the exporting of our products and the protection of our textile industry, our tobacco industry, our farm products, is very crucial, and Steve has now worked himself up to a seniority position so he can be exceptionally effective, now and in the future.

I'd like to also acknowledge the presence of two members of my Cabinet, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, and your own Juanita Kreps, Secretary of Commerce.

To Georgia and to North Carolina, the most important, perhaps, Member in the Congress is the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He takes care of tobacco farmers; he takes care of peanut farmers, important to both Georgia and North Carolina. And I'm very honored today to have with us my own United States Senator, Herman Talmadge.

I won't acknowledge the presence of every distinguished guest here today, but I would like to say that I'm pleased that several of North Carolina's great Members of Congress have chosen to come to honor me by their presence-Charlie Whitly, Richardson Preyer, Bill Hefner, Lamar Gudger. Would you stand up, please, gentlemen? Please stand up. Thank you very much.

Charlie, I believe that you and Bob Morgan are alumni of Wake Forest. Is that not correct? I know the Wake Forest people are glad to have you back.

Well, I'd like to say that this is a remarkably great honor for me. This is a great college, and it's a time in our Nation's history when we need to stop and assess our past, our present, and our future.

I've noticed the statistics in North Carolina that shows that under my own administration—because of your work, not mine—there's been remarkable economic progress.

In the State of North Carolina, the unemployment rate, for instance, last year, dropped 2.3 percent. You now have an extraordinarily low unemployment rate of only 4 1/2 percent. This shows not only that our Nation is strong but the North Carolina people want to work. And when they are given a chance, they do work. And I thank you for that.

A hundred and ninety-eight years ago, in the southern part of your State, 400 North Carolina militiamen took up arms in our own War of Independence. Against a force of 1,300 British soldiers, the North Carolinians prevailed, and their battle at Ramsour's Mill became a step on the road to victory at Yorktown 1 year later.

Your ancestors in North Carolina and mine in Georgia and their neighbors throughout the Thirteen Colonies earned our freedom in combat. That is a sacrifice which Americans have had to make time and time again in our Nation's history. We've learned that strength is the final protector of liberty.

This is a commitment and a sacrifice that I understand well, for the tradition of military service has been running deep for generations in my own family. My first ancestor to live in Georgia, James Carter, who moved there from North Carolina, fought in the Revolution. My father was a first lieutenant in World War I. My oldest son volunteered to go to Vietnam. And I spent 11 years of my life as a professional military officer in the United States Navy. This is typical of American families.

Down through the generations, the purposes of our Armed Forces have always been the same, no matter what generation it was: to defend our security when it's threatened and, through demonstrated strength, to reduce the chances that we will have to fight again.

These words of John Kennedy will still guide our actions, and I quote him, "The purpose of our arms is peace, not war-to make certain that they will never have to be used."

That purpose is unchanged. But the world has been changing, and our responses as a nation must change with it.

This morning I would like to talk to you about our national security—where we now stand, what new circumstances we face, and what we are going to do in the future.

Let me deal at the beginning with some myths. One myth is that this country somehow is pulling back from protecting its interests and its friends around the world. That is not the case, as will be explained in this speech and demonstrated in our actions as a nation.

Another myth is that our defense budget is too burdensome and consumes an undue part of our Federal revenues. National defense is, of course, a large and important item of expenditures, but it represents only about 5 percent of our gross national product and about a quarter of our current Federal budget.

It also is a mistake to believe that our country's defense spending is mainly for intercontinental missiles or nuclear weapons. Only about 10 percent of our defense budget goes for strategic forces or for nuclear deterrence. More than 50 percent is simply to pay for and support the services of the men and women in our Armed Forces.

Finally, some believe that because we do possess nuclear weapons of great destructive power, that we need do nothing more to guarantee our Nation's security. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

Our potential adversaries have now built up massive forces armed with conventional weapons—tanks, aircraft, infantry, mechanized units. These forces could be used for political blackmail, and they could threaten our vital interests unless we and our allies and friends have our own military strength and conventional forces as a counterbalance.

Of course, our national security rests on more than just military power. It depends partly on the productive capacity of our factories and our farms, on an adequate supply of natural resources with which God has blessed us, on an economic system which values human freedom above centralized control, on the creative ideas of our best minds, on the hard work, cohesion, moral strength, and determination of the American people, and on the friendship of our neighbors to the north and south.

Our security depends on strong bonds with our allies and on whether other nations seek to live in peace and refrain from trying to dominate those who live around them.

But adequate and capable military forces are still an essential element of our national security. We, like our ancestors, have the obligation to maintain strength equal to the challenges of the world in which we live, and we Americans will continue to do so.

Let us review briefly how national security issues have changed over the past decade or two.

The world has grown both more complex and more interdependent. There is now a division among the Communist powers. The old colonial empires have fallen, and many new nations have risen in their place. Old ideological labels have lost some of their meaning.

There have also been changes in the military balance among nations. Over the past 20 years, the military forces of the Soviets have grown substantially, both in absolute numbers and relative to our own. There also has been an ominous inclination on the part of the Soviet Union to use its military power—to intervene in local conflicts, with advisers, with equipment, and with full logistical support and encouragement for mercenaries from other Communist countries, as we can observe today in Africa.

This increase in Soviet military power has been going on for a long time. Discounting inflation, since 1960 Soviet military spending has doubled, rising steadily in real terms by 3 or 4 percent a year, while our own military budget is actually lower now than it was in 1960.

The Soviets, who traditionally were not a significant naval power, now rank number two in world naval forces.

In its balanced strategic nuclear capability, the United States retains important advantages. But over the past decade, the steady Soviet buildup has achieved functional equivalence in strategic forces with the United States.

These changes demand that we maintain adequate responses—diplomatic, military, and economic—and we will.

As President and as Commander in Chief, I am responsible, along with the Congress, for modernizing, expanding, and improving our Armed Forces whenever our security requires it. We've recently completed a major reassessment of our national defense strategy. And out of this process have come some overall principles designed to preserve our national security during the years ahead.

We will match, together with our allies and friends, any threatening power through a combination of military forces, political efforts, and economic programs. We will not allow any other nation to gain military superiority over us.

We shall seek the cooperation of the Soviet Union and other nations in reducing areas of tension. We do not desire to intervene militarily in the internal domestic affairs of other countries, nor to aggravate regional conflicts. And we shall oppose intervention by others.

While assuring our own military capabilities, we shall seek security through dependable, verifiable arms control agreements wherever possible.

We shall use our great economic, technological, and diplomatic advantages to defend our interests and to promote American values. We are prepared, for instance, to cooperate with the Soviet Union toward common social, scientific, and economic goals. But if they fail to demonstrate restraint in missile programs and other force levels or in the projection of Soviet or proxy forces into other lands and continents, then popular support in the United States for such cooperation with the Soviets will certainly erode.

These principles mean that, even as we search for agreement in arms control, we will continue to modernize our strategic systems and to revitalize our conventional forces. And I have no doubt that the Congress shares my commitment in this respect.

We shall implement this policy that I've outlined so briefly in three different ways: by maintaining strategic nuclear balance; by working closely with our NATO allies to strengthen and modernize our defenses in Europe; and by maintaining and developing forces to counter any threats to our allies and friends in our vital interests in Asia, the Middle East, and other regions of the world.

Let me take up each of these three in turn.

Our first and most fundamental concern is to prevent nuclear war. The horrors of nuclear conflict and our desire to reduce the world's arsenals of fearsome nuclear weapons do not free us from the need to analyze the situation objectively and to make sensible choices about our purposes and means.

Our strategic forces must be—and must be known to be—a match for the capabilities of the Soviets. They will never be able to use their nuclear forces to threaten, to coerce, or to blackmail us or our friends.

Our continuing major effort in the SALT talks taking place every day in Geneva are one means toward a goal of strategic nuclear stability.

We and the Soviets have already reached agreement on some basic points, although still others remain to be resolved. We are making good progress. We are not looking for a one-sided advantage. But before I sign any SALT agreement on behalf of the United States, I will make sure that it preserves the strategic balance, that we can independently verify Soviet compliance, and that we will be at least as strong, relative to the Soviet Union, as we would be without any agreement.

But in addition to the limits and reductions of a SALT II agreement, we must make other steps to protect the strategic balance. During the next decade, improvements in Soviet missiles can make our land-based missile forces in silos increasingly vulnerable to a Soviet first strike. Such an attack would amount to national suicide for the Soviet Union. But however remote, it is a threat against which we must constantly be on guard.

We have a superb submarine fleet, which is relatively invulnerable to attack when it's at sea, and we have under construction new Trident submarines and missiles which give our submarine ballistic missile force even greater range and security.

I have ordered rapid development and deployment of cruise missiles to reinforce the strategic value of our bombers. We are working on the M X intercontinental ballistic missile and a Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile to give us more options to respond to Soviet strategic deployments. If it becomes necessary to guarantee the clear invulnerability of our strategic deterrent, I shall not hesitate to take actions for full-scale deployment and development of these systems.

Our strategic defense forces, our nuclear forces, are a triad—land-based missiles, sea-based missiles, and air-breathing missiles, such as bombers and cruise missiles. Through the plans I've described, all three legs of this triad will be modernized and improved. Each will retain the ability, on its own, to impose devastating retaliation upon an aggressor.

For 30 years and more we've been committed to the defense of Europe, bound by the knowledge that Western Europe's security is vital to our own. We continue to cooperate with our NATO Allies in a strategy for flexible response, combining conventional forces and nuclear forces so that no aggressor can threaten the territory of Europe or its freedom, which in the past we have fought together to defend.

For several years we and our allies have been trying to negotiate mutual and balanced reduction in military forces in Europe with the Soviets and with the Warsaw Pact nations who are their allies. But in the meantime, the Soviets have continued to increase and to modernize their forces beyond a level necessary for defense. In the face of this excessive Soviet buildup, we and our NATO Allies have had to take important steps to cope with short-term vulnerabilities and to respond to long-term threats. We are significantly strengthening U.S. forces stationed in Western Europe and improving our ability to speed additional ground and air forces to the defense of Europe in a time of crisis.

Our European allies, who supply the major portion of NATO's conventional combat strength, are also improving their readiness and their reinforcement capabilities and their antitank defenses. The heads of the NATO governments will be here in our country attending a summit meeting in May, where we will address our long-term defense program which will expand and integrate more closely allied defense plans.

For many years, the United States has been a major world power. Our longstanding concerns encompass our own security interests and those of our allies and friends far beyond our own shores and Europe.

We have important historical responsibilities to enhance peace in East Asia, in the Middle East, in the Persian Gulf, and throughout our own hemisphere. Our preference in all these areas is to turn first to international agreements that reduce the overall level of arms and minimize the threat of conflict. But we have the will, and we will also maintain the capacity, to honor our commitments and to protect our interests in those critical areas.

In the Pacific, our effective security is enhanced by mutual defense treaties with our allies and by our friendship and cooperation with other Pacific nations.

Japan and South Korea, closely linked with the United States, are located geographically where vital interests of great powers converge. It is imperative that Northeast Asia remain stable. We will maintain and even enhance our military strength in this area, improving our air strength and reducing our ground forces, as the South Korean army continues to modernize and to increase its own capabilities.

In the Middle East and the region of the Indian Ocean, we seek permanent peace and stability. The economic health and well-being of the United States, Western Europe, Japan, depend upon continued access to the oil from the Persian Gulf area.

In all these situations, the primary responsibility for preserving peace and military stability rests with the countries of the region. But we shall continue to work with our friends and allies to strengthen their ability to prevent threats to their interests and to ours.

In addition, however, we will maintain forces of our own which can be called upon, if necessary, to support mutual defense efforts. The Secretary of Defense, at my direction, is improving and will maintain quickly deployable forces—air, land, and sea—to defend our interests throughout the world.

Arms control agreements are a major goal as instruments of our national security, but this will be possible only if we maintain appropriate military force levels. Reaching balanced, verifiable agreements with our adversaries can limit the cost of security and reduce the risk of war. But even then, we must—and we will—proceed efficiently with whatever arms programs our own security requires.

When I leave this auditorium, I shall be going to visit with the crew aboard one of our most modern nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the Atlantic Ocean. The men and women of our Armed Forces remain committed, as able professionals and as patriotic Americans, to our common defense. They must stand constantly ready to fight, in the hope that through strength, combat will be prevented. We as Americans will always support them in their courageous vigil.

This has been a serious and a sober talk, but there is no cause for pessimism. We face a challenge, and we will do whatever is necessary to meet it. We will preserve and protect our country and continue to promote and to maintain peace around the world. This means that we shall have to continue to support strong and efficient military forces.

For most of human history, people have wished vainly that freedom and the flowering of the human spirit, which freedom nourishes, did not finally have to depend upon the force of arms. We, like our forebears, live in a time when those who would destroy liberty are restrained less by their respect for freedom itself than by their knowledge that those of us who cherish freedom are strong.

We are a great nation made up of talented people. We can readily afford the necessary costs of our military forces, as well as an increased level, if needed, to prevent any adversary from destabilizing the peace of the world. The money we spend on defense is not wasted any more than is the cost of maintaining a police force in a local community to keep the peace. This investment purchases our freedom to fulfill the worthy goals of our Nation.

Southerners, whose ancestors a hundred years ago knew the horrors of a homeland devastated by war, are particularly determined that war shall never come to us again. All Americans understand the basic lesson of history: that we need to be resolute and able to protect ourselves, to prevent threats and domination by others.

No matter how peaceful and secure and easy the circumstances of our lives now seem, we have no guarantee that the blessings will endure. That is why we will always maintain the strength which, God willing, we shall never need to use.
Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9 a.m. in Wait Chapel at the university.

Following his remarks, the President attended a reception for Representative Neal in the chapel building.

Jimmy Carter, Address at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244992

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