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NATO Ministerial Meeting Text of Remarks at the First Session of the Meeting.

May 10, 1977


Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, and members of the Council:

We meet at an important time in the development of the international institutions on which our countries rely.

Here in London last week the leaders of seven nations and of the Commission of the European Communities pledged to join others in strengthening these institutions in the economic field.

Today and tomorrow this Council will discuss how to adapt the Alliance to meet the military and political challenges of the 1980's. Taken together, these meetings should give new impetus to relations among our industrial democracies.

At the center of this effort must be strong ties between Europe and North America. In maintaining and strengthening these tics, my administration will be guided by certain principles. Simply stated:

--We will continue to make the Alliance the heart of our foreign policy.

--We will remain a reliable and faithful ally.

--We will join with you to strengthen the Alliance--politically, economically, and militarily.

--We will ask for and listen to the advice of our allies. And we will give our views in return, candidly and as friends.

This effort rests on a strong foundation. The state .of the Alliance is good. Its strategy and doctrine are solid. We derive added strength and new pride from the fact that all 15 of our member countries are now democracies. Our Alliance is a pact for peace and a pact for freedom.

The Alliance is even stronger because of solid progress toward Western European unification and the expanding role of the European Community in world affairs. The United States welcomes this development and will work closely with the Community.


In the aftermath of World War II, the political imperatives were clear: to build the strength of the West and to deter Soviet aggression. Since then, East-West relations have become far more complex. Managing them requires patience and skill.

Our approach to East-West relations must be guided both by a humane vision and by a sense of history. Our humane vision leads us to seek broad cooperation with Communist states for the good of mankind. Our sense of history teaches us that we and the Soviet Union will continue to compete. Yet if we manage this dual relationship properly, we can hope that cooperation will eventually overshadow competition, leading to an increasingly stable relationship between our countries and the Soviet Union.

The United States is now discussing with the Soviet Union ways to control strategic arms. By involving the Soviet Union in a continuing effort to reduce and eventually to eliminate nuclear weapons, we hope not only to minimize the risks and costs of continuing arms competition but also to promote broader cooperation between our countries.

The Soviet Union has not yet accepted our proposals. But it has made clear that it wants an agreement. We will persevere in seeking an early and a genuine end to the arms race, through both a freeze on modernization of strategic weapons and substantial reductions in their number. And as we pursue this goal, we will continue to consult with you fully--not only to keep you informed but also to seek your views.

I hope that our countries can also reach agreement with the Soviet Union in limiting and reducing conventional forces. The United States strongly supports the efforts of the Alliance to gain an accord on mutual and balanced reduction of forces in Central Europe. That agreement should be based on parity in force levels through overall ceilings for the forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet Union, by contrast, seeks to preserve the present conventional imbalance and to impose national force ceilings. I hope that these obstacles can be overcome. MBFR must be a means for achieving mutual security, not for gaining one-sided military advantage.

As we pursue arms control with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, we should also try to draw the nations of Eastern Europe into cooperative undertakings. Our aim is not to turn this region against the Soviet Union, but to enlarge the opportunities for all European countries to work together in meeting the challenges of modern society.

Next month delegates of 35 countries will confer in Belgrade to plan for a meeting to review progress since the Helsinki Final Act. The United States shares with you a desire to make this a useful and constructive meeting. We support a careful review of progress by all countries in implementing all parts of the Final Act. We approach these meetings in a spirit of cooperation, not of confrontation.

America's concern for human rights does not reflect a desire to impose our particular political or social arrangements on any other country. It is, rather, an expression of the most deeply felt values of the American people. We want the world to know where we stand. (We entertain no illusion that the concerns we express and the actions we take will bring rapid changes in the policies of other governments. But neither do we believe that world opinion is without effect.) We will continue to express our beliefs--not only because we must remain true to ourselves but also because we are convinced that the building of a better world rests on each nation's clear expression of the values that have given meaning to its national life.

In all these tasks and others facing the Alliance, it is vital for us to work together-particularly through close consultation and cooperation with the North Atlantic Council. We do not need new institutions, only to make better use of one that has served us so well. To this end I pledge that the United States will share with the Council our views and intentions about the full range of issues affecting the Alliance.

The Council should also examine long-range problems, so as to make this consultation more effective. A special Alliance review of East-West relations, undertaken by the Council and drawing in national experts, could serve this end. Such a review might assess future trends in the Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe, and in East-West relations, and analyze the implications of these trends for the Alliance. The United States is prepared to make a major contribution to this study, whose conclusions could be considered at the May 1978 NATO meeting.


Achieving our political goals depends on a credible defense and deterrent. The United States supports the existing strategy of flexible response and forward defense. We will continue to provide our share of the powerful forces adequate to fulfill this strategy. We will maintain an effective strategic deterrent, we will keep diverse and modern theatre nuclear forces in Europe, and we will maintain and improve conventional forces based here.

The threat facing the Alliance has grown steadily in recent years. The Soviet Union has achieved essential strategic nuclear equivalence. Its theatre nuclear forces have been strengthened. The Warsaw Pact's conventional forces in Europe emphasize an offensive posture. These forces are much stronger than needed for any defense purpose. Since 1965 new ground and air weapons have been introduced in most major categories: self-propelled artillery, mobile tactical missiles, mobile air defense guns, armored personnel carriers, tactical aircraft, and tanks. The pace of the Pact's buildup continues undiminished.

Let me make it clear that our first preference is for early agreement with the Soviet Union on mutual and balanced force reductions. Failing to reach this agreement, our military strength must be maintained.

The collective deterrent strength of our Alliance is effective. But it will only remain so if we work to improve it. The United States is prepared to make a major effort to this end--as Vice President Mondale told you in January--in the expectation that our allies will do the same.

There have been real increases in allied defense spending. But difficult economic conditions set practical limits. We need to use limited resources wisely, particularly in strengthening conventional forces. To this end:

--We must combine, coordinate, and concert our national programs more effectively.

--We must find better ways to bring new technology into our armed forces.

--We must give higher priority to increasing the readiness of these forces.

To fulfill these goals, I hope our defense ministers, when they meet next week, will begin developing a long-term defense program to strengthen the Alliance's deterrence and defense in the 1980's. That program should help us make choices and set priorities. It should emphasize greater Alliance cooperation to ensure that our combined resources are used most effectively. It should take full advantage of work already done within the Alliance.

But plans are not enough. We must ensure that our Alliance has an adequate means for setting overall goals in defense, for measuring national performance against these goals, and for devising and carrying out joint programs. I propose that our defense ministers, working closely with the Secretary General, consider how best to strengthen the Alliance's ability actually to fulfill agreed programs.

After an interim report to the December 1977 meeting, I hope the defense ministers will submit their program to the spring meeting which might be held at the summit to review their recommendations. I also hope the defense administrators will agree next week to make high priority improvements in the capabilities of our forces over the next year.

As we strengthen our forces, we should also improve cooperation in development, production, and procurement of Alliance defense equipment. The Alliance should not be weakened militarily by waste and overlapping, nor should it be weakened politically by disputes over where to buy defense equipment.

In each of our countries, economic and political factors pose serious obstacles. None of our countries, the United States included, has been free from fault. We must make a major effort--to eliminate waste and duplication between national programs; to provide each of our countries an opportunity to develop, produce, and sell competitive defense equipment; and to maintain technological excellence in all Allied combat forces. To reach these goals our countries will need to do three things:

First, the United States must be willing to promote a genuinely two-way transatlantic trade in defense equipment. My administration's decisions about the development, production, and procurement of defense equipment will be taken with careful attention to the interests of all members of the Alliance. I have instructed the Secretary of Defense to seek increased opportunities to buy European defense equipment where this would mean more efficient use of Allied resources. I will work with the Congress of the United States to this end.

Second, I hope the European allies will continue to increase cooperation among themselves in defense production. I welcome the initiative taken by several of your countries in the European Program Group. A common European defense production effort would help to achieve economies of scale beyond the reach of national programs. A strengthened defense production base in Europe would enlarge the opportunities for two-way transatlantic traffic in defense equipment, while adding to the overall capabilities of the Alliance.

Third, I hope that European and the North American members of the Alliance will join in exploring ways to improve cooperation in the development, production, and procurement of defense equipment. This joint examination could involve the European Program Group as it gathers strength and cohesion. Some issues could be discussed in the North Atlantic Council. Whatever the forum, the United States is ready to participate in the way and at the pace that our allies wish. We are eager to join with you in trying to identify opportunities for joint development of new equipment and for increasing licensing or direct purchase of equipment that has already been developed. Together, we should look for ways to standardize our equipment and make sure it can be used by all Allied forces. We should see if ways can be found to introduce into our discussions a voice that would speak for the common interests of the Alliance in offering advice about cooperation in defense equipment.


To conclude:

It is not enough for us to share common purposes; we must also strengthen the institutions that fulfill those purposes. We are met today to renew our dedication to one of the most important of those institutions and to plan for actions that will help it to meet new challenges. Some of these actions can be taken in the near future. Others can be developed for review at our meeting next year at this time. I would be glad to offer Washington as the site of that meeting.

The French writer and aviator, Saint-Exupery, wrote that "the noblest task of mankind is to unite mankind." In that spirit, I am confident that we will succeed.

Note: The NATO ministerial meeting was formally opened in the morning at a ceremony at Banqueting House, London. The first session began at approximately 11 a.m. in the Long Gallery at Lancaster House. The President was introduced by NATO Secretary General Joseph M.A.H. Luns.

The text of the remarks was released at London, England.

Jimmy Carter, NATO Ministerial Meeting Text of Remarks at the First Session of the Meeting. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244192

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