Jimmy Carter photo

Interview in "Armed Forces Journal"

October 01, 1976

Q. Can you suggest some specific examples of what programs you would cut or efficiencies you would bring about to provide a cut of $4 to $8 billion in Defense spending?

Governor Carter. First the cuts I believe are possible are $5 to $7 billion, not $4 to $8 billion.

Second, the cuts are waste, not legitimate defense spending. In response to a question on July 21,1 said I would spend whatever was necessary for an adequate defense.

Q. Do you have any specific suggestions for cleaning up the shipbuilding mess in the Navy? Is Admiral Rickover part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Governor Carter. Specific examples where cost efficiencies can be made include cost overruns, personnel practices such as excessive rotation, duplication of weapons systems, training ratios, and the failure to standardize and modernize NATO weaponry.

Q. What needs to be done to make the Navy one Navy, instead of six or seven? (Or don't you subscribe to the thesis that the Navy is often fractured by the well-intentioned parochialism of the carrier Navy versus the submarine Navy versus the materiel Navy?)

Governor Carter. We have not reassessed our naval strategy since 1950. I think we're still superior to Russia, although in the last 8 years our number of ships has decreased 50 percent, and theirs has doubled.

For too long we have been building expensive surface ships which were more appropriate to past wars of intervention than to modem strategic realities. We must shift toward more mobile, faster, smaller surface ships with greater firepower, and more attack submarines.

I support a nuclear-powered Navy in certain areas, particularly submarines such as the Poseidon and Trident. However, there is serious question whether we should continue to emphasize nuclear-powered surface ships in view of their cost, size, and vulnerability.

Q. Senator Mondale has criticized our foreign military sales program. Can you suggest specific policy changes which are needed? How much of the foreign sales market and foreign policy "leverage" which accompany such transactions {according to current administration rationale) do you foresee yielding to the French, British, Germans, and Soviets if such policy changes are put into effect?

Governor Carter. I hope that my normal, careful, methodical, scientific planning approach to longer-range policies would serve to remove those disharmonies.

My own method of conducting affairs of state has been to have as broad a range of opinions as possible presented to me, let me assimilate the information that I don't have through my own experience, and then make a judgment from my own position as I thought was best and act decisively.

We sold, pushed, or gave away billions of dollars of arms last year, mostly to developing nations. For example, we are now beginning to export advanced arms to Kenya and Zaire, thereby fueling the East-West arms race in Africa even while supplanting our own allies—Britain and France—in their relations with those African States.

We can certainly afford to reduce these sales, I think. In the last 10 years we've increased arms sales from about $1 billion dollars a year to about $12 billion per year. And my hope would be that we could get a multinational agreement to limit arms sales to reduce the threat of war.

We ought to assess all [sales] on an individual nation basis. In other words, if we think the sale of arms can better preserve peace in a portion of the world, and carry out our committed foreign policy, then let the arms sales be made on that basis alone, not just to try to secure sales of our products or to give us an advantageous balance of trade.

Q. Are you satisfied with the mechanisms now used by the President for "crisis management"—as in the case of the Korean DMZ murders—or do you foresee a significant change in the national security decision making process in crisis situations?

Governor Carter. I am not familiar with the way the present administration attempts to deal with crises, but judging by the results I am sure improvements can be made.

Q. What is your position on recomputation of retired pay for pre-1958 retirees?

Governor Carter. I am aware of this problem and I have ordered a thorough study of it.

Q. Are you concerned about the perceived erosion of benefits for military personnel, both active and retired—and if so, how would you propose to keep service careers attractive?

Governor Carter. Military benefits must be at least commensurate with those of an alternative civilian career, to insure adequate compensation for the added hardships and round-the-clock availability imposed by military service. People are the essential elements of defense. We must keep morale as high as we can, to keep our defense strong.

Q. What is your perspective on high technology East-West trade? Specifically, how would you couple that trade with "détente" and mutual arms reductions—and do you believe the United States has used its sale of high technology and grain to extract enough leverage toward progress in "détente" and arms reductions?

Governor Carter. Naturally, I would oppose the sale of technology or information that would weaken our military position as compared to the Soviet Union. I believe the excessive sale of wheat to Russia in 1972 was harmful to our economy.

I would be a much tougher negotiator and make sure that whenever the Soviet Union gets an advantage, we get an equivalent advantage.

Leverage is not "extracted," it is applied; it must first be gained.

I support the objectives of détente but I cannot go along with the way it has been handled by Presidents Nixon and Ford. The Secretary of State has tied its success too closely to his personal reputation.

We've been so eager for some sign of agreement that we've yielded without commensurate gain. That includes the Helsinki Conference, the Vladivostok Agreement on Nuclear Arms Limitations—the wheat deal in 1972—even the space flight last year.

NOTE: The APP used October 1 as the date for this document. The original source stated that this appeared in the "October 1976" issue.

Jimmy Carter, Interview in "Armed Forces Journal" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347556