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Nuclear Arms Control Policy Remarks to Reporters on Departure From the White House.

October 20, 1980

First of all, I'd like to make a very important announcement that earlier this morning it was finally decided that Greece, after several years of absence, will be completely reintegrated back into the NATO defense structure. This culminates a very long and detailed negotiation between Greece, Turkey, and the other members of NATO. This is a great step forward to the adequate defense of the southern flank of Western Europe.

Also, I want to make a statement on perhaps one of the most important issues in this campaign and a clear distinction between myself and Governor Reagan. Yesterday both he and I discussed our views on nuclear arms control. No issue is more vital to the future of this country. No issue more clearly demonstrates the dramatic differences between Governor Reagan and me.

After reading his speech last night, I'm concerned that he does not understand the serious consequences of what he's proposing. He talks about peace and security, but talk is not enough.

Listen carefully to his nuclear arms control policy; first, throw the existing nuclear arms limitation treaty in the wastebasket; second, threaten the Soviet Union with a nuclear arms race; third, launch a quest for so-called nuclear superiority; finally, make the naive assumption that the Soviet response to all these steps will be to agree to new concessions and reductions in their nuclear arsenal.

Can anyone seriously believe that this would actually happen? Imagine for just one moment that President Brezhnev made a speech and said, first, "The Soviet Union is renouncing its agreement with the United States on nuclear arms control;" second, "The goal of the Soviet Union is nuclear superiority;" third, "The Soviet Union is ready to launch a nuclear arms race against the United States unless the Americans make additional concessions." How would I or any President of the United States respond to that? How would any American citizen respond? The answer is obvious. We would match them missile for missile, and SALT would be replaced by a new nuclear arms race.

It is extraordinarily naive to expect that the Soviet Union would meekly accept what we would immediately and totally reject. In my judgment that sort of expectation, if it became the policy of this Nation, would have the most serious consequences for the future. It would be a devastating and perhaps fatal blow to the long-term process of nuclear arms control, a process that has been nurtured and pursued by every President of the United States, Republican and Democrat, since Harry Truman occupied this office.

Twenty-four years ago President Eisenhower made this prediction, and I quote him: "When we get to the point, as some day we will, that both sides know that [in] any outbreak of general hostilities, regardless of the element of surprise, destruction will be both reciprocal and complete, possibly we will have sense enough to meet at the conference table with the understanding that the era of nuclear armaments has ended and the human race must conform its actions to this truth or die." Surely that time described by General Eisenhower, later President Eisenhower, has now come.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 7:58 a.m. on the South Lawn of the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Nuclear Arms Control Policy Remarks to Reporters on Departure From the White House. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251353

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