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Letter to Former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky of Austria on Arms Control and European Public Opinion

September 12, 1983

Dear Mr. Kreisky:

I appreciated your thoughtful letter concerning the impact of arms control questions on public opinion in Europe. Let me assure you that the points you raise are also of great concern to me. It is especially troublesome that NATO's dual-track decision is not clearly understood by young people in Europe, despite our constant efforts and those of our Allies to articulate and clarify it.

During your appearance before the National Press Club in Washington last February you stated clearly and succinctly the principle behind the Alliance decision. NATO did not, as you noted, decide to station new weapons in Europe on its own initiative. NATO's dual-track decision was necessitated by the rapid proliferation of Soviet nuclear forces, especially the intermediate-range SS-20. The introduction of this highly accurate and lethal missile system threatened to break the security link between the United States and our European Allies. This link has served as the underpinning of European stability for nearly four decades.

In response, the NATO Allies approved the deployment of new intermediate range weapons, while emphasizing their common determination to make every possible effort to limit or make these weapons unnecessary via negotiations with the Soviet Union. We also made it clear that if it proved impossible to achieve a satisfactory arms agreement, we would take the steps necessary to protect our security by proceeding with the missile deployments. Let me underline that we set no deadline to the negotiations; only a small number of the total planned missiles will be deployed at the end of this year and we are prepared to continue negotiations thereafter. Let me stress as well that any missile that is deployed can always be withdrawn, if negotiations are eventually successful.

In this connection, I wish to reiterate that the United States adamantly opposes an arms race. There are certain facts that receive almost no publicity. For example, the United States has fewer nuclear warheads today than we had fifteen years ago. And over the last three years we withdrew unilaterally 1,000 nuclear weapons from Europe. Moreover, if we are forced to deploy INF missiles, we have agreed with our Allies that for every modern warhead introduced, an existing nuclear warhead will be withdrawn.

We are willing, in the interest of arms reductions, to consider every option. I reaffirmed this to Ambassador Nitze prior to his return to Geneva for the current round of negotiations, which we are earnestly pursuing, despite the Korean airline tragedy. But the USSR's approach to negotiating reductions has been disappointing, particularly in that the Soviets have continuously refused to acknowledge the security interest of the nations on their periphery.

As you will recall, Moscow initially refused to negotiate at all. It was NATO's modernization decision that brought the Soviets to the negotiating table. Since commencement of the Geneva talks in 1981 the Soviet Union, however, has refused to move from its insistence on maintaining a missile monopoly despite flexible proposals we tabled aimed at stimulating progress. Our negotiating positions, which have been developed through extremely close cooperation with our NATO Allies, insist only on U.S.-Soviet equality, a principle that the Soviet Union has so far refused to honor. When the Soviets made plain their opposition to the zero option, we proposed parity at the lowest possible level. The Soviets have said this is equally unacceptable. It is Soviet intransigence that is blocking progress.

While I know that some young people are opposed to the prospect of new weapons deployments, there are much larger numbers who support our determination to maintain the common defense. If, as you say, we will disappoint many of our citizens by beginning deployments on schedule, how many more will be affected if we go back on our joint decision and postpone implementation of the dual-track decision? A delay in our deployments would only encourage the Soviets to believe that NATO's resolve was faltering and that they could stretch our negotiations endlessly without addressing our legitimate security concerns.

I wholeheartedly agree with your point that solidarity among the democracies is our objective, a bond that can only he strong when it is deeply rooted in people's minds. What a striking contrast presented to us by the Soviet example, where the leadership can commit such a horrible deed as the destruction of the KAL civilian airliner and not feel compelled to answer to its people. The Soviet Union openly professes its desire to impose its totalitarian system throughout the world, an objective we can repulse by maintaining our common defense and resolutely promoting our democratic ideals.

I do not believe that the relationship of European youth to their democratic systems is as tenuous as you suggest. In my travels, I have seen strong evidence that young people in both Europe and the United States, and elsewhere respect both the responsibilities as well as the privileges of democracy. Our joint task is to demonstrate to them, through both words and deeds, the meaning and continued validity of Western principles. Securing the common defense is one of the most important of these responsibilities.

I assure you that I am deeply committed to seeking every possibility for peace, in Europe and throughout the world. I know that I can count on you and other leaders to help Europe's young people find their way among the difficult choices facing them today.

With warm personal regards.



[His Excellency, Bruno Kreisky, Vienna, Austria]

August 10, 1983

Dear Mr. President,

When I retired from the Austrian government you wrote me a letter in a spirit of friendship which I highly appreciated. This spirit has encouraged me to turn to you with some of my reflections on the current situation about which I am deeply concerned.

Let me make it very clear that I am not interested in publicity. For three months now, I have refused almost all requests for interviews. You will know that in the democratic countries of Europe there are enormous differences in public opinion. But what I consider much more important is that people in these democracies have come to be divided by a deep gap over the armament issue. I am profoundly convinced of your sincere commitment to the idea of peace, but I should like to add that I am equally convinced that Mr. Andropov does not want war. Yet, the experience of a long political career tells me that such events may occur even against the will of leading personalities in powerful states. And I am afraid that something of the kind might happen some day.

The point in question are the Geneva talks for which a deadline has been set. I am not under the delusion that I can make any contribution to these talks, but I should like to urge you not to be guided by prestige thinking. If no results should be reached by the deadline you have set, do prolong the negotiating period for another few months, and reasonable people throughout the world will understand that you seek to get a result. There is no sense in upholding prestige while letting negotiations founder. Please consider that a prolongation may also induce the other party to continue negotiating; and if it is made, it will be by far easier to explain to people who is responsible for a failure to reach a mutually satisfactory solution.

My particular concern is young people's relationship to democracy, because they are the main force in the peace movement. I am quite simply afraid that democracy may be headed for a crisis similar to the one I lived through in my youth, and that such a crisis might generate developments none of us would welcome. Democratic order is a delicate structure which cannot be maintained by rough interference from the state's law and order forces. What is at stake is the relationship of a major part of Europe's young generation to democracy, and I appeal to you, Mister President, to attribute just value to this stake. It will be of decisive and profound importance to the relations between our democracies, the European and the American one.

I belong to those who know what European democracy owes to American democracy. We are fully aware of the role played by the two big American parties. It is entirely up to the American people to choose their leaders, but the crucial point is solidarity between the democracies, which can only be strong, if democracy is deeply rooted in people's minds.

This is why I ask you to reconsider if you really wish to adhere to that deadline. It might involve the danger of turning it into a "dead line" other than the one implied by Anglo-Saxon usage.

I remain, Mister President, with kind regards,

Sincerely yours,


[H.E., Mr. Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, Washington]

Note: As printed above, this item follows the text of the letters released by the Office of the Press Secretary on September 16.

Ronald Reagan, Letter to Former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky of Austria on Arms Control and European Public Opinion Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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