Ronald Reagan picture

Letter to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate on NATO Conventional Defense Capabilities

September 12, 1984

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

Pursuant to section 1104(b) of the FY 1984 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 9894), this report contains my views and recommendations on improving NATO conventional defense capabilities. These views and recommendations take into consideration the findings in Secretary Weinberger's report on "Improving NATO's Conventional Capabilities." I have reviewed that report and endorse its recommendations. It is the product of thorough research and contains a candid assessment of NATO's achievements to date and additional needs for the future.

Few disagree with the pressing need to improve NATO's conventional forces in order to enhance deterrence and defense. The quality of NATO's equipment and the readiness and skill of the forces manning that equipment have improved significantly over the last several years. The absolute defense capabilities of NATO forces are substantially greater today than three or four years ago. However, the measure of adequacy in deterrence and defense is not any static or absolute ability, but a dynamic relationship to the threat opposing that defense. The Warsaw Pact threat has increased by an even greater qualitative and quantitative increment, creating the necessity that NATO be ever more efficient and effective.

In analyzing the requirements for conventional force improvements, we must remember that NATO's principal objective is not to fight and win a war, but to ensure that a war in Europe does not occur. Further improvements in conventional capability would augment a vital element of overall deterrence and lessen pressure for early escalation to nuclear confrontation. At the same time, as the DOD report concludes, conventional forces cannot totally supplant the nuclear dimension of deterrence. NATO must also continue to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent, as outlined in Secretary Weinberger's report on NATO's Nuclear Posture.

NATO's strategy must be based on the geographic and political realities of NATO, and the fact that NATO, as a defensive alliance, concedes the initiative at the outset of conflict. In this context, flexible response and forward defense provide. the only viable deterrent and defense strategy for the Alliance. NATO's task is to do a better job of providing the forces and the doctrine to support the strategy.

The United States can be proud of our leadership by example over the last several years. We must continue to pursue those programs we have already begun, while seeking even more effective ways to enhance conventional defense- The support of Congress, in providing the funding for operations and maintenance costs, readiness, sustainment improvements, new equipment, force structure, research and development, and other defense programs, is essential to our efforts. However, the United States cannot fill the gap alone. Every member of the Alliance most participate in improving conventional forces. The Allies recognize the need, and now must make the additional sacrifices needed to improve further NATO's military capabilities. The recent debate in the U.S. Senate will provide reinforcement to those Allies trying to assume their proportional burden. We will continue to prod all Allies to make better contributions to NATO defense.

Secretary Weinberger's report and the Supreme Allied Commander-Europe's (SACEUR's) independent assessment spell out the most important areas that need improvement. I agree with their recommendations. We must carefully balance our efforts, both by program area (such as readiness) and by task (such as defense against a first echelon). We must ensure that defense efforts and resources provide the most effective product for defense. We must critique the application of resources until we are satisfied that they are producing the optimum defense capability possible. No one can afford wastefully duplicative development programs, nor pursue programs that have only a limited military need. In sum, we must have a military strategy and an investment strategy. And these strategies should encompass our own programs and those of Allies—in closer integration and cooperation than ever before.

The fundamental and inescapable reason for American cooperation and leadership is that a strong NATO defense is in our basic national self-interest, and we simply cannot succeed by ourselves. The plans and programs in the current United States defense budget and five-year defense plan support these objectives. While we will continue to review plans and modify requests to fit new opportunities and requirements, enduring Congressional willingness to support required defense programs is essential if we are to improve NATO's conventional defense. No plan, no matter how well conceived, can succeed if the resources to achieve it are insufficient or inconsistent. We and our Allies have recognized NATO's conventional defense problems, and have taken the first steps toward recovery. Now, we must accelerate our efforts.

Making the changes necessary to supplement existing plans or to replace those which become obsolete requires bold thinking and leadership. We will continue to consult closely and frequently with our NATO Allies and with the U.S. Congress on new and better ways to use defense resources. There is no "instant" solution to any of the existing problems. Solutions will be achieved only by a long-term commitment. Nonetheless, we must start down the right paths, which are presented in Secretary Weinberger's report.

United States programs emphasize the need to provide the strategic lift to rapidly supplement in-place forces and to augment the thin strategic reserves available to SACEUR. We are working with Allies to ensure that Europe is prepared to receive these reinforcements and get them to where they can be most effective. We have stressed the need to increase the funding levels in the unglamorous but tremendously cost-effective Infrastructure Program. For example, by providing shelters and other supporting capabilities for aircraft, we can substantially improve the survivability and hence the capabilities of our Air Force.

Improving NATO's deterrent and defense posture will also require the Alliance to move in entirely new directions and to modify existing projects. "Exploitation of Emerging Technologies" is a fine example of new directions. This initiative, proposed by the United States in mid-1982, has already stimulated identification of projects for accelerated development. Although it will still be several years before this initiative contributes directly to NATO's defense capabilities, this effort marks an important first step in using the West's major advantage: its technological base.

In the short term, we must improve the deterrent capability of the conventional leg of NATO's deterrent Triad by increasing readiness and sustainability. Over the longer term, we must devote the necessary resources to provide all of the elements of an effective defense. This will require a clear understanding by the publics in all NATO countries of the nature and magnitude of the threat we all face.

I ask the Congress to join in the important endeavor of strengthening NATO's conventional defense.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr., Speaker of the House of Representatives, and George Bush, President of the Senate.

Ronald Reagan, Letter to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate on NATO Conventional Defense Capabilities Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives