Jimmy Carter photo

Foreign Policy Radio Address to the Nation

October 19, 1980

This is President Jimmy Carter, speaking to you from the Oval Office of the White House.

For the past 4 years, the United States has been at peace. We've strengthened the foundations of our security. We have pursued our national interests in a dangerous and often unstable world. And we've done so without recourse to violence and war. This is no accident. It's the result of a careful exercise of the enormous strength of America.

Today I want to talk to you about what we must do together in the next 4 years to ensure our own security and to keep the peace.

The cornerstone of both security and peace is our ability to defend ourselves. In the last analysis we must be able to meet our commitments and pursue our goals peacefully, with calm assurance and confidence. That requires military strength.

We face a potential adversary, the Soviet Union, whose government has funneled much of the wealth and talents of its own people into the construction of a military machine. We would prefer to compete peacefully with Soviet farmers to feed the world, with Soviet textile workers to clothe it, with Soviet doctors to heal it, with Soviet scientists to give it new forms of energy. Those races would be a joy to run. But that is not the challenge they lay before us. Instead, we see a large buildup of Soviet military forces; we see the arming and use of client states such as Cuba; and we see the brutal Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

This long-term challenge demands a steady, resolute response. Historically, our country has moved sharply up and down in its support for defense. After each war we have disarmed and demobilized, and then later embarked on crash buildups. Such erratic actions are always wasteful and sometimes dangerous.

My commitment has been different. It's been to provide for a steady rebuilding of our defenses. We've increased our real spending for defense—spending above and beyond inflation—every year since I became President. For 7 of the previous 8 years it had declined sharply, a 35-percent reduction in defense spending between 1969 and 1977. The effects of this long decline cannot be eliminated at a stroke. But we have made an excellent start, especially by putting our technological superiority to work.

For example, by producing a number of types of long-range cruise missiles, we can multiply the power of our existing ships and aircraft. We are doing just that. When I took office, we had no new battle tank or modern armored fighting vehicle. Now they are both in production. No answer had been found to the prospective vulnerability of our Minuteman missiles and silos. Now there's an answer—the mobile MX missile.

There was no overall plan for strengthening United States and other Allied forces in Europe. Now we have a good plan, and we are putting it into effect. We're deploying antitank missiles at a rate five times faster than the Soviets are deploying their tanks. On NATO's eastern flank, we're working to reintegrate Greece into the NATO command structure, and we attach great importance to this effort.

Our purchases of army equipment, jet fighters, and attack aircraft had dropped by some two-thirds in the 8 years before I became President. Since then, we have increased them by 50 percent.

When I came into office, I found that we had little capability for quick action in the critical Persian Gulf region. Now we have prepositioned equipment for 12,000 Marines and munitions for 500 aircraft. We've arranged for the use of five different sites in the region. We've deployed two carrier task forces in the Indian Ocean. They give us air and naval superiority to act instantly to keep open the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world's oil trade flows.

More will have to be done. Even further increases in pay and benefits will be needed to keep trained service men and women in our volunteer forces. Barring some unexpected decrease in Soviet military efforts, we will also need to increase our investments in the ships, aircraft, tanks, and other weapons that are the muscle of our conventional forces. Military forces give us security, but they are not an end in themselves. As I've said many times, the best weapon is one which need never be fired in combat, and the best soldier is the one who never has to shed his blood on the field of battle.

Besides our military programs, we've devised something else, what might be called a secret weapon. This weapon will knock out about a fourth of all the Soviet long-range missiles and bombers that we project for 1985. It will eliminate thousands of nuclear bombs and warheads the Russians could otherwise have. It will enhance our intelligence-gathering capabilities to monitor what the Soviet Union is doing. It will do all this without firing a shot, without interfering with a single one of our own planned military improvements, without costing a dime. Indeed, it will save us billions of dollars.

This secret weapon, of course, is not a weapon at all. Nor is it a secret. It is SALT II, the strategic arms limitation treaty which we have signed after 7 years of negotiations with the Soviet Union, and which now awaits approval by the Senate.

This agreement strengthens our strategic position. It also strengthens peace, for what is at stake is more than a single treaty, however advantageous. What is at stake is a process, an extremely important process, the process of gradually reducing the possibility of nuclear war.

Thirty-five years after Hiroshima, the shadow of what was unleashed there still hangs over the world. We've lived with it for so long that we are in danger of becoming casual about it. We must not do that. Even a single hydrogen bomb dropped on a single major city could cause millions of deaths and injuries in the first few seconds and millions more in its wake. It is beyond the power of words to describe the horror of a nuclear holocaust. It would dwarf all the accumulated barbarities and cruelties of mankind's long history put together. More people would die in a few hours than in all the wars of all nations since the dawn of recorded history.

Most of us seldom think seriously about the possibility of nuclear war. But as the President of the United States, entrusted with the power to "unleash that force, charged with the responsibility to bend every effort of mind and heart and will to see to it that it need never be unleashed, then it is something I think about every day and every night of my life.

Over the last 20 years we've taken some tentative steps away from the nuclear precipice. Now, for the first time, we are being advised to take steps that may move us toward it.

A few days ago my opponent in the current election campaign promised to scrap the nuclear arms treaty we've already signed. He said, and I quote, "The one card that's been missing in these negotiations is the possibility of an arms race." He also urges that we seek nuclear superiority. His position—and I think I state it accurately—is that by abandoning the current agreement and suggesting an all-out nuclear arms race, we could perhaps frighten the Soviets into negotiating a new agreement on the basis of American nuclear superiority.

I've had 4 years of sobering experience in this life-and-death field, and in my considered judgment this would be a very risky gamble. It is most unlikely that it would lead to any new agreement. A much more likely result would be an uncontrolled nuclear arms race and almost certainly a new rupture in Soviet-American relations. The long, slow momentum of arms control would be broken. Any future effort to negotiate arms limits for example, on antisatellite systems, on nuclear weapons tests, on conventional and nuclear arms in Europe—would all be imperiled.

The most important duty of a President is to defend the Nation and its vital interests. Part of that duty is to judge what course of action will diminish the possibility of nuclear war. My considered judgment, based on a very thorough knowledge of all the factors involved, is that the course I am following would do that, and that the departure recommended by my opponent would have just the opposite effect.

His argument is not with me alone. It is with our allies who, without exception, support both the SALT treaty and the continuing process of nuclear arms control. His position is a departure from the policies of President Truman, President Eisenhower, and all Democratic and Republican Presidents who have served in this office since then. Whatever their other differences, all of them saw a duty to slow the arms race and to bring the terrible weapons of nuclear annihilation under some kind of rational control.

I do not propose to turn away from that duty. I propose to lead our country in fulfilling it.

Though we must continue to work for arms control, which is in our mutual interest, we must recognize that Soviet-American relations have grown colder in the wake of the invasion of Afghanistan. The world has condemned this act of aggression, and the Soviets are being made to realize that this military occupation of a freedom-loving nation cannot be continued without severe adverse consequences. But we must not let ourselves become obsessed by fear and rivalry. If we do, we run the risk of neglecting the many other problems which are related to the Soviet Union only indirectly or not at all.

Peace is the work of many hands. It's the struggle for justice in many dark corners. It is striving to solve problems long stalemated and bitterly disputed. It's having' the courage to rise above old failures and to act upon new. hope. As we raise our shield against war, let us also hear the stricken voice of the homeless refugee, the cry of the hungry child, the weeping of the bereaved widow, the whispered prayer of the political prisoner. We are one with the family of all people, and the concerns to the human family are many. Around the world we've rejected the counsels of pessimism and have dared to make progress toward peace.

In the Far East, we've placed our relations with China on an honest and sensible footing. This makes the global balance of power more stable and strengthens peace both in Asia and around the world.

In the Middle East, 7 years ago this month, there was war—the fourth Arab-Israeli war in just 25 years. Today Egypt and Israel are at peace, and Israel is more secure from attack than she has ever been. We've recognized the strategic interrelationship between Israel's security and our own. When I first met President Sadat at the White House in April 1977, I told him that I intended to work for a complete peace between his country and Israel—acknowledgement of the right to exist, direct negotiations, open borders, diplomatic recognition, ambassadorial exchange, and mutual trade. He told me that he too longed for that day, but it would never happen in his lifetime. Prime Minister Begin shared his dream and his skepticism. Now that dream has come to pass, in their lifetime and in yours and mine.

We have much more work to do. But we have fundamentally changed the situation in the Middle East. The question is no longer Israel's right to exist. The question now is the terms of a broader peace between a strong and secure Israel and her neighbors.

A bitter war is now going on in the Persian Gulf, complicating even further our efforts to obtain the release of our hostages in Iran. Think how much more dangerous that new war would be if we did not have peace between Israel and Egypt, by far the most significant military powers in the region. We will continue to consult closely with Israel and with Egypt on strategic matters of mutual interest in our common effort to preserve the peace.

In southern Africa 4 years ago, it was clear that time was running out for regimes based on the doctrine of racial supremacy. I'm proud that because we've recognized this fact, we could help with the peaceful settlement that this year brought a democratically elected government to power in Zimbabwe. We've developed excellent relations with Nigeria and other independent nations on the African Continent. There, as elsewhere, we've placed America's influence on the side of human forces that inevitably shape the future.

In Central America, a new and more just social order is emerging. We approve that struggle for justice, and at the same time we affirm our faith that economic reform can best be achieved when human rights are respected. I'm convinced that the people of Central America can find their way forward, leaving old injustices, without submitting to new tyrannies. As Americans, we all have reason to be proud of our new relationship with Panama, a relationship that has turned an isthmus of discord into a zone of peace.

I've sought to guide us in the spirit of liberty and peace. When we lose touch with that spirit, when we begin to think of our power as an end in itself, when we begin to think that the only source of respect is the threat of force, then we lose the best that is within us.

We seek a world in which the rule of law, not the threat of force, is the language of statecraft. We seek a world in which nations put aside the madness of war and nuclear arms races and turn their energies instead to the conquest of our common global enemies—dwindling resources, ecological decay, ignorance, and hunger.

No one can guarantee you a future of unvarying success. I certainly do not promise you that. Nor will I tell you that the transition from the troubled world of today to the hoped for world of tomorrow will be an easy one. I promise you only that if you entrust the responsibilities of this office to me for another 4 years, this Nation will have the strength to be secure, and I will continue to find peace by seeking solutions to the real problems, the hard problems. I will do so with both hope and realism, with both determination and restraint.

We will keep our Nation strong. But this I can say to you: Peace is my passion. And within the limits of the wisdom and opportunity God grants me, peace is my pledge.

Note: The President spoke at 12:10 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House. The address was broadcast live on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

Jimmy Carter, Foreign Policy Radio Address to the Nation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251335

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives