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Letter to Three Senators Concerning the Strategic Modernization Program and Nuclear Arms Reduction

May 12, 1983

Dear Senator Percy: (Dear Senator Nunn:) (Dear Senator Cohen.')

Thank you for your recent letter on our strategic modernization program and its relationship to our arms control proposals. Your letter represents the hi-partisan spirit which I believe will help achieve our common goals of ensuring effective deterrent forces and equitable and verifiable arms reductions.

The fundamental U.S. goal in negotiations concerning arms reduction, and especially in our approach to the START negotiations, is to seek agreements that would enhance security and stability by reducing overall force levels while permitting modernization of U.S. forces necessary for a credible deterrent. As you know, the Scowcroft Commission noted that elements of our START proposal are consistent with and supportive of the Commission's findings. I agree wholeheartedly with the essential theme of the Scowcroft Commission's approach to arms control: the attainment of stability at the lowest possible level of forces.

The Scowcroft Commission's recommendations on modernization and arms control are integrally related. Our action with respect to these recommendations must be equally comprehensive. That is why I am now reviewing our START proposal in order to develop such modifications as are necessary to reflect the Commission's approach, which I share. To cite just one example, the Commission report recommended that the proposed limit on deployed ballistic missiles currently contained in the U.S. START position be reassessed since it is not compatible with a desirable evolution toward small, single-warhead ICBMs. There are a number of alternative approaches available to integrate this and the other Commission recommendations into our approach to arms reductions. As modifications are made to our START proposal, I will continue to seek stability at the lowest possible level of forces.

The planned deployment of the Peacekeeper missile as proposed by my Administration is compatible with the long-term objective of the Scowcroft Commission Report. The Peacekeeper missile, deployed in a mix with small single-warhead ICBMs, would permit us to maintain the effectiveness of our deterrent and enhance stability.

At the same time, let me emphasize that we do not seek a first strike capability. To this end, we will constrain the number of Peacekeeper missiles to the minimum number needed to assure the effectiveness of our deterrent and no more. Our task, of course, would be much easier if the Soviets would agree to work with us to reduce the ratio of accurate warheads to missile silos. Clearly, consistent with our national security requirements, the overall level of Peacekeeper deployment will be influenced by Soviet strategic programs and arms reductions agreements.

In addition, I fully recognize the central role that the small, single-warhead ICBM plays in the overall modernization program recommended by the Scowcroft Commission Report. We will promptly undertake a major effort to bring the proposal of a small, single-warhead ICBM to fruition on a high priority basis.

In considering the implementation of the essential ICBM modernization program, the Scowcroft Commission also recognized that a series of decisions involving both the Executive Branch and the Congress would be necessary in the months ahead in order to determine the future shape of our ICBM force. Further, it noted that not all of these decisions can or should be made in 1983. The deliberate approach to decision making proposed by a number of members of Congress is fully in keeping with the intent of the Scowcroft Commission Report. I fully recognize that a lasting consensus on such an important issue must be built up carefully and I intend to take the time necessary to forge that lasting consensus.

I urge all concerned, however, to keep in mind that if we draw out critical elements of the decision-making process unnecessarily, we encourage the Soviets to delay in negotiations while continuing apace in their own weapons modernization programs.

To avoid this, I am seeking a clear show of support from Congress to signal U.S. resolve. A case in point is the clear necessity of approving funds promptly to procure Peacekeeper missiles. Working together, this should be achievable while simultaneously meeting our mutual desire to deal with deployment issues, whenever possible, in a careful, deliberate manner.

You have suggested that certain additional initiatives could be helpful in moving us toward our goals of security and stability at reduced levels of forces. One of the most prominent of these initiatives is the idea of a "guaranteed build-down."

The principle of a mutual build-down, if formulated and implemented flexibly, and negotiated within the context of our modified START proposal, would be a useful means to achieve the reductions that we all seek.

It would, if properly applied, reinforce our intent to cap the number of strategic ballistic missile warheads on both sides and to cause each side to reduce those levels steadily and substantially over time.

It could be implemented flexibly and with reasonable latitude for each side to balance the forces it deploys and reduces. Variable ratios as appropriate, would encourage more stabilizing rather than less stabilizing systems.

It could be implemented in conjunction with an agreed floor which, when reached, would trigger the suspension of the builddown rule, subject to renegotiation.

As you have acknowledged, any builddown concept must recognize the importance of strategic modernization and the necessity of maintaining a balance during the reduction process to deal with asymmetries in U.S. and Soviet forces. It would, of course, require agreement on effective verification measures, including counting rules for all systems.

My Administration is currently examining the structure of a build-down proposal which would meet these criteria and would facilitate a START agreement embodying substantial reductions in nuclear forces. I will work with you and your colleagues to develop such a proposal.

Finally, I want to stress the extraordinary contribution made by the Scowcroft Commission. It provided an opportunity for nonpartisan analysis of an exceptionally difficult issue as a prelude to obtaining necessary bipartisan support for critically needed modernization of our strategic forces. While not prescribing the details or the timing, the Commission report suggested certain directions that the continued evolution of our complementary strategy for arms reduction could take. Over the short term, follow-on arrangements involving members of the Commission, as well as close coordination with the Congress, will be extremely helpful both technically and politically in thinking through this evolution. However, we are giving careful consideration to determining which follow-on arrangements best meet our common objectives.

In this regard, I do see merit in a panel with hi-partisan composition and with staggered terms of membership to provide advice and continuity in this area. I will work with the Congress, building upon the experience of the Scowcroft Commission, to strengthen and supplement our consultative and advisory processes to assure a lasting, national, bi-partisan consensus concerning arms control initiatives—a consensus which will deserve to be sustained from one Administration to the next.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to Senators Charles H. Percy of Illinois, Sam Nunn of Georgia, and William S. Cohen of Maine.

Ronald Reagan, Letter to Three Senators Concerning the Strategic Modernization Program and Nuclear Arms Reduction Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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