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Letter to Senate Leaders About Proposed Reductions in the Defense Budget.

September 22, 1973

Dear Senator Scott:

I am enclosing a copy of a letter I have sent to Chairman Stennis indicating my specific concerns about the Defense Procurement Bill now on the Senate floor. I thought it might be useful to explain to you the reasons for those concerns.

Current efforts in the Congress to reduce the FY 74 Defense budget are deeply disturbing to me. Prior to submission in January, that budget was carefully reviewed, both within the Department of Defense and within the National Security Council system. During this review, the strategic and diplomatic implications of lower budgets were thoroughly assessed. Difficult choices had to be made because we were mindful of the need to hold down spending in order to combat inflation. Marginal defense programs were eliminated and other programs trimmed. I was convinced then, and I am convinced now, that the request I finally sent the Congress was the minimum level consistent with the Nation's security interests and our foreign policy objectives.

There is no doubt in my mind that a strong defense posture is closely linked to the past success and future development of our foreign policies. A strong military posture was a key factor in our opening of contacts with the Chinese and efforts to improve our relations with the Soviets-steps which were in the interest of the entire nation. A strong defense posture will continue to be a crucial ingredient as we try to maintain close relations with our traditional allies and to prevent conflicts and crises that could undermine efforts to continue to strengthen relations with the potential adversaries.

It is ironic that in this critical period in which the United States has so much at stake in the international arena, arguments to erode our military posture have gained such currency. We are now engaged in crucial efforts to improve our trade relationships, to reform the international monetary system, and to obtain oil supplies from parts of the world fraught with tension. Strong American military forces, by making a vital contribution to international stability, provide us with the influence and leverage we need in negotiating with both our allies and our potential enemies. All of our efforts to secure a more peaceful and prosperous world will be endangered if we unilaterally erode our defense posture.

Unilateral reductions would be particularly destructive for two sets of negotiations that will begin soon and will have a profound effect upon the future. Within a matter of about a month, we will be embarking on a new and extremely important phase of the strategic arms limitation talks. The SALT talks will focus on ways of controlling the qualitative aspects of the arms race. This would be a most inopportune time to weaken our position unilaterally by cutting back on new U.S. weapons systems that demonstrate to the Soviets we will not stand aside while they continue to make qualitative improvements to their forces.

The second set of negotiations--discussions with the Warsaw Pact regarding mutual troop reductions in Europe--should also begin shortly. A strong defense capability and a visible posture of unity on the part of the American public, its Congress and Executive are an essential ingredient in the MBFR [mutual and balanced force reductions] negotiations. We cannot expect the Soviet Union to negotiate seriously if they believe that by slowing negotiations they can get troop reductions at no cost to themselves.

But the issue of national defense goes beyond issues of foreign policy. It goes to the heart of the question of our priorities as a Nation. My judgment is that in today's world this nation cannot afford less defense. We have in the past tried to shrug off the burden of defense only to find that conflict reached us nonetheless. We paid a tragic price for that unpreparedness.

Secretary Schlesinger, Admiral Moorer and many other military advisers can provide you with all the necessary details on the specifics of the programs I have recommended and the particular reasons why the cuts the Congress is considering will be a serious blow to the national interest. While I will leave to them the discussion of the details, I would like to mention several areas of particular concern:

--A unilateral cut in our NATO troops would begin a serious unraveling of the fabric of NATO. It would completely disrupt our MBFR and burden-sharing negotiations.

--A reduction in military assistance for South Vietnam and Laos would be unwise during this delicate period of transition to peace. Our request was the minimum funding necessary and I ask your support in restoring the cuts.

--Failure to develop and produce new weapons would cripple our efforts to provide the forces and equipment we will need for our security five to ten and even fifteen years into the future. Our potential adversaries continue to press ahead with their weapons development programs. If we fail to do likewise, our national security could be threatened at some point in the future.

--Severe reductions in authorized manpower, as proposed in the Senate bill; would gravely jeopardize our efforts to maintain adequate force levels for both present and future needs. Adequate manpower is the most critical input to our Defense posture and should not be reduced below current levels, which are already the lowest in 23 years.

An adequate defense must not become a partisan issue. A strong and ready military force is an asset to all Americans and supports all of their interests. Therefore, the Congress and the Executive Branch must work together to provide the funds, the manpower and the leadership needed to assure this capability. I ask for your support in this most critical effort.

I am sending similar letters to Mike Mansfield and John Stennis.

With best regards,



[The Honorable Hugh Scott, Minority Leader, United States Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510]

Note: The text of the letter, dated September 20, 1973, was released September 22.

Richard Nixon, Letter to Senate Leaders About Proposed Reductions in the Defense Budget. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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