Jimmy Carter photo

Press Briefing in Plains, Georgia

July 27, 1976

Governor Carter. I thought we had a very productive session with the advisers on defense policy. The major overall objective of the session yesterday was to see how to coordinate much more clearly the preparation of the overall national budget—our ultimate foreign affairs commitments— with defense policy. Most of the advisers who were here today have been involved either as technicians or as specialists or in some major capacity in the Defense Department. And they expressed their frustration, from their past close working relationship, that a budget for the Defense Department is prepared in the absence of coordination with the foreign policy leaders— the Secretary of State and others.

And everyone agrees that this has to be a major responsibility of the President himself. That when you have either the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense attempting to coordinate efforts between the two major department staffs, it is an impossibility. It's been tried in the past and failed. But I am determined that if I should become President that this would be well coordinated in the initial stages of the preparation of the budget for these major departments.

There was also an expression of concern that our agriculture policy, our foreign trade, the functions of the Commerce Department, which are heavily involved, as you know, along with many others in the federal government, with foreign affairs, has never been coordinated with the establishment and confirmation of our foreign policy.

The second major thing that we discussed yesterday was our commitments of troops overseas. I think there was an unanimous agreement that our commitments to NATO, which have been confirmed repeatedly by Congress, the President and the American people, will have to be sustained. The NATO commitment needs to be reassessed. This has not been done since 1967. And as I mentioned in my last foreign policy address, the advance technologies that have evolved in the last 7 or 8 year period has called for a reassessment of the basic sharing of the responsibilities among the nations involved in NATO, certainly including ourselves. There was unequivocal commitment on everybody's part that the relative strength of the NATO countries has to be maintained vis-a-vis the strength of die Eastern European and Soviet Union forces.

The same agreement was unanimous with respect to our present commitment in Japan. We have about 25,000 troops in Japan proper, and 1 think about 35,000 additional troops in Okinawa. As an aftermath of the Second World War, these commitments have been ratified over and over. Our position about maintaining the concept was reconfirmed, I think, unanimously, yesterday that over a period of time, often with careful consultation with the South Korean and Japanese Governments, we could very well reduce our ground forces there over a 4 or 5 year period, withdrawing them completely but maintaining adequate air cover for South Korea. And I think that this, if done within that time schedule, would be a good move. We now have about 42,000 troops in South Korea.

The next point that we discussed was the ineffectiveness of our nation's Reserve Forces. As a governor who attended National Guard training sessions every summer, and as one who has had military training on a professional basis, I am quite concerned about the absence of a proper role for the Reserve Forces. Both the regular Reserve Forces and also the National Guard. There was a great deal of concern expressed by Mr. Vance, Mr. Wamke, Mr. Nitze, and others that served in the Defense Department, about a shift toward a much more highly trained, much more effective and much more crucial role to be played by our Reserve Forces. And the political obstacles that have been placed in the path of making changes have been considered by them to be almost insurmountable. My own belief is that the President, the Defense Department leaders, and the governors should be involved in the initial stages of planning for the strengthening and the most helpful coordination of the Reserve Forces. That is to be a major objective of mine, and I think it is something that I will be commenting on throughout the campaign.

The next discussion was on manpower. I've mentioned many times about the heavy overburden of excessive rank in the military forces. This so-called grade creep is almost inevitable unless strong leadership is exerted to prevent it and to undo it. We've got a highly excessive percentage of our total Armed Forces in the higher ranks and this must be reversed. We also need to have some attention given as to how manpower can be expended in a more effective way. One example, of many we discussed, was longer assignment times on a particular post for those who serve in the military, and a substantial reduction in the amount of transit time and the amount of time spent in the Armed Forces in training programs. We've now got less than two students per instructor in the military, and a reassessment of these commitments will be a very good project to undertake.

The last point that we discussed was arms transfers or the sale of military weapons overseas. We've now become the major supplier of the weapons systems of all kinds to foreign countries—to the so-called neutral countries, those who have relationships between us and the Soviet Union, to our own dose allies and friends, historically speaking, and those, sometimes, who have not publicly expressed animosity toward us. I think that arms sales in the last 10 years have increased from about $1 billion per year to now close to $12 billion per year. And I believe very strongly—I think that belief was shared almost unanimously yesterday—that the next President should move to reduce arms sales abroad. We ought to assess every arms sales policy on an individual nation basis. In other words, if we think the sale of arms can better preserve peace in a portion of the world, and carry out our committed foreign policy, then let the arms sales be made on that basis alone. Not just to try to secure sales of our products or to give us an advantageous balance-of- trade ratio.

The most important single impression that all of us got yesterday was the inevitable devastation of any nuclear war. American leaders and private citizens of all kinds tend to forget, as time passes, the unbelievable destruction to human beings that would result from any sort of nuclear war. Even if we could insure that the war would be "limited in nature," it would still face the prospect of approximately 10 million Americans being killed if an attack was made on our country. And an equivalent number, perhaps even a greater number, would be killed if a limited war, so-called, was permitted to occur in Europe. In an all-out war, the 10 million Americans that would be killed Would increase to 200 million. Obviously, these figures are unconscionable and almost unbelievable. But they are true. And when we change the phraseology, talking about 40-megaton capability for our atomic submarines or 800-megaton capability for our fixed-silo ICBM's or 800 megatons for our bomber fleet, we forget that in human terms this is an unbelievable degree of death.

So the major purpose of our country, obviously, is to continue to be the preservation of peace and the security of our country. But the holocaust that would result from any sort of nuclear weapons use was very vividly impressed on everyone's mind yesterday.

Those are some of the points that we discussed. I would like to ask Senator Mondale if there are additional things.

Senator Mondale. I might just make one point, and that is the principle of rough equivalence. It would be our hope that the Soviet Union could be persuaded in serious negotiations with the United States to restrain on an agreed basis from deployment both in numbers and in quality of so-called strategic armaments. And that both nations could slowly negotiate downward the outer limits of the numbers of such weapons, the outer limits of new technological deployments of such weapons. It's that way, that together we can reduce our defense budget, increase our security, and increase the prospects of getting along with each other. The Soviet Union should know, and when I spoke to Soviet leaders a few years ago I said as much, that the United States is not going to be in a position where we unilaterally find ourselves in a posture where our defense is not credible. But we will be fully prepared in practical and hardheaded negotiations to reduce those ceilings downward so that both nations may use those resources for human needs and at the same time reduce international tensions.

Governor Carter. Does anyone have a question about these matters first?

Q. Governor, could I ask you, in your campaign obviously you are going to have to address this, can you tell us whether the defense budget you will be recommending in your campaign will be roughly equivalent to the present budget, somewhat higher, or somewhat lower?

Governor Carter. I can't answer that question yet. My belief, which has not been shaken, is that compared to the present defense budget, as it evolves from one year to another, no matter what the level is, that a savings can be realized of roughly 5 percent through some of the changes that I've advocated over a long period of time. But I can't give you at this point an exact figure for the next year or the following year's defense budget.

Q. I take it the savings may be eaten up by the need for development of weapons or other matters?

Governor Carter. No matter what the level of the defense budget might be, to give us an adequate security force. The changes in the deployment of our Armed Forces, reduction in troops overseas, a change in the personnel policies of our country, an elimination of unnecessary functions of the Defense Department, all that can still result in the savings that I've outlined—$5 to $7 billion, which would be about 5 percent.

So within the framework of what I and Senator Mondale and Congress and our defense and foreign affairs leaders think our needs should be, the changes that I've advocated could make us have a more efficient and singular purpose in the Defense Department and could result in a savings.

Q. I'd like to ask you again, if I may, if you think the United States should achieve a first-strike capability, as that term is used by weapons managers today?

Governor Carter. When you say first-strike capability, obviously we now have, and so does the Soviet Union have, the ability to make a first strike and create devastation on the enemy. There is no way to prevent a massive retaliatory strike. Because for all practical purposes, atomic submarines are invulnerable. There is no way for us to detect or destroy the Soviet Union's atomic submarines. And neither is there an ability that the Soviets have to detect or destroy ours. So if they should be successful in destroying every single fixed-silo ICBM in the country, the estimate is that 60 to 70 percent of our bomber fleet would still be in the air with nuclear capability— our B-52's, primarily—and also every one of our submarines, which would be at sea. And I would think the same thing would apply on the other hand, except that the Soviets do not have as many bombers as we do. So there would be no possibility under the sun that a first-strike capability could be adequate in preventing massive destruction on the country that originated the strike.

Q. May I follow that up then? Over the opposition of people, I believe like Senator Mondale, in the Senate last year, when the military appropriations bill was voted last June, a series of amendments allowed R. & D. to continue on perfection of accuracy for our land-based missiles, of "merving" the "MIRV", something I barely understand and I trust you do, of increasing the ability to knock out silos in the Soviet Union which opponents like Senator Mondale argued, it might make the Soviet Union believe that we were aiming at the first-strike capability and cause them to become more trigger happy?

Governor Carter. In the analyses that have been done, that have been publicized, and I don't have any secret information about it, there is absolutely no possibility of a successful first strike that would prevent unbelievable destruction on the originator of the attack. Now, the Soviet Union has a much greater dependence on fixed-silo weapons than do we, primarily because of our relative superiority in the air with bombers. But their weapons are much heavier than ours, their throw weight is much greater than ours, and their missiles are large. And they are moving toward the higher accuracy than we have. I think yesterday I tried to draw a distinction between our tactical strategy or commitments or plans, and strategic plans.

In our tactical plans, to speak in simplistic terms, means that you try to define combat areas and limit the attack to that area and preclude the enemy from trying to attack your own civilian centers, mainly cities. That still would create a tremendous devastation and death. But I think the first- strike capability which used to be thought of as a possibility is no longer possible at all and this has been the case now for 15 or 20 years since atomic submarines have been available to both sides.

Senator Mondale. The question is, how do we continue that basic principle of assured retaliatory destruction, that has, I think, assured sanity in the use of nuclear weapons since their discovery. The balance of terror. It is an eerie concept but you would have to be insane under the present circumstances to commence an attack, because if you did you would be certain of your own destruction. And that has been the key basis for stability. And both sides realize this. And what I was saying for the last few years was that the way to handle that in light of the fact that the Russians are developing, or are trying to develop, a counterforce strategy to more maneuverable counterforce weaponry. So that we continue that fundamental principal of assured retaliatory force and for that reason, for example, last year I voted for the B-l bomber, not because I was for that particular bomber, but because I felt it made a lot more sense to follow on with an advanced sophisticated bomber that was maneuverable than it was to proceed on a publicly acknowledged policy of counterforce which I think inevitably puts a hair trigger on nuclear warfare, and scares the Russians—as does their technology scare us. For the same reason, I have been a strong supporter of submarine forces. A few years ago, I offered an amendment to authorize the Norwal class of submarines, because it is the perfect, stabilizing influence in this era. It can't be found, it can be maneuvered beyond the reach of the Russians, it has long-range missile capacity, and it helps persuade the Russians that it would be foolish to commence an attack against us. So my emphasis has been on a strategy that would continue the present balance that brings us to a situation that only an insane person would commence a nuclear war.

Q. So you would suggest to the Governor that you not pursue a manner of force that, am 1 correct, is known as first-strike capability?

Senator Mondale. It's a matter of emphasis. The key to our strategy ought to be the maneuverability of our retaliatory force.

Q. [Most of question inaudible. Concerns nuclear proliferation and acquisition of nuclear weapons by "irresponsible" governments.']

Governor Carter. As you may remember, I made a major speech on nuclear proliferation at the United Nations a couple of months ago. And the major thrust of my speech then, and I think it was a good speech—we put a lot of time and effort into it—was that our country ought to do everything we can to decrease the spread of nuclear weapon capability. This would require the tight control of nuclear waste, particularly plutonium waste. It would encourage the nations who have not yet signed a non-proliferation treaty to do so, it would involve a cessation or an ending of our own inclination to test so-called peaceful nuclear devices, even unilaterally if the Russians don't even agree, but it would encourage them to do so. And this is a very serious problem. As you know, there are a growing number of nations in the world that have a nuclear capability, there may be a few nations who have nuclear capability who haven't yet admitted it, or tested a weapon so that it can be discerned. But this is a matter that is most heavily influenced by the attitudes of the two major forces—that is our own and the Soviet Union. France and China, I would guess, are the two next nations who have nuclear capability and maybe 400 or 500 weapons, and then perhaps England in that category. But we are trying to do everything we can, in the campaign, to project the horrors of nuclear proliferation and obviously the horrors of any use of atomic weapons in a limited fashion. But I do favor strongly our country doing everything it can to discourage the proliferation of nuclear capability.

Q. Did you have any discussions, Governor, or have you been turning over in mind the desirability of reassessing the balance between nuclear capability and limited conventional warfare capability? The second question is, you were talking about the NATO commitment, you're not yet married to any particular troop figures abroad, are you?

Governor Carter. No, I'm not. I think what the Soviet Union and we both would prefer is a general understanding by the world, including us, that any altercation in any region would be settled by non-nuclear forces. Now, that puts on us, as you could very quickly discern, the requirement that our ground forces and air forces, excluding nuclear weaponry, should be sufficient in Europe to discourage the Soviet Union from believing that they can mount a successful non-nuclear attack. There was a general agreement yesterday, and I think it is one that our nation's leaders have assumed for a long time, that we do have that sort of combined strength in Western Europe, with our own forces and those of the other NATO nations. So I think if we can keep before us, one, a mutual commitment along with the Soviet Union to avoid using atomic weapons at all. Secondly, to maintain a rough equivalency, and third, to achieve constant "rough equivalency" with reduction in weapons or limitations other than a continued arms race, then in capsulated form that would express our purpose.

Q. Governor, you were discussing with the advisers the ineffectiveness of Reserve Forces. Did they agree among themselves as to this ineffectiveness? What kind of ineffectiveness does this mean? What can't these forces do?

Governor Carter. There is very little correlation between Reserve Forces, say Army Reserve and National Guard, on the one hand, with each other or with the Regular Forces. There is very little sharing of tactical responsibility within a certain region of our country. The readiness of Reserve Forces is doubtful, there is very little compatibility between promotion, pay, and training on the one hand for the Reserve Forces, and for those in the Regular Forces. There is a sharp distinction between all the peaceful functions within the Reserve Forces and the National Guard which comes under a governor, with the immediate transfer of that responsibility to the President if the Reserve Forces should be needed. And the degree of quality, weapons, is almost completely absent in many of the Reserve Forces. One of the things that is obvious to me is that the Reserve Forces, say, in the state quite often are shot through with politics—promotion procedures, quality of training—are heavily protected by governors and adjutant generals, and other leaders of the National Guard, from encroachment of influence from Washington. I agree that this should be independent, but I think the only way to circumvent that desire for autonomy on the part of the governors and the adjutant generals, is for them to be involved in the initial study of the changes that need to be made. And I believe that if this is done successfully, that these long-needed changes can be consummated.

Q. This sounds like there are drastic changes ahead for these local units.

Governor Carter. I would guess that's true. And the changes would come in two categories. One is increasing substantially their ability of readiness for defending this country. And second, a much tighter interrelationship, a much greater sharing of responsibility with the Regular Forces. That's where the two problems lie. And I don't believe you will ever have a President who is politically strong enough to run over a governor, or to run over 50 governors and to institute changes unilaterally from Washington. But if the governors as a group, or representatives of the governors, can work with the Defense Department, the President, in evolving preferred changes, I believe that is the avenue for possible success. There was unanimous agreement yesterday among everyone who has ever served as an adviser to the Defense Department that this is a gross need in our country.

Q. Could I ask each of you what your present position would be on the B-l bomber?

Governor Carter. I think this is one point where we might disagree. I don't favor at this point construction of the B-l bomber. I do favor a continued research and development program on the B-l bomber if it should become necessary in the future. But I don't favor construction at this point.

Senator Mondale. I think we agree on that. When I voted for this B-l authorization, it was for research and development. At the time I issued a statement that I thought the B-l could be restructured. We needed a follow-on bomber, and we wanted to get around this counterforce strategy that was then sort of the upfront official policy of the Defense Department. I think we need a follow-on bomber. I think that research and development ought to go forward, and I voted for the Culver amendment just a few weeks ago to do so, but I don't think we should make the decision to go into production until we've decided that that's the best follow-on bomber to have.

Q. Senator, how are you going to vote on that this week?

Senator Mondale. It depends on what form it is in. If it's research and development I will vote for it. If it's a delay until next year on the question of procurement, I will vote for that.

Governor Carter. We have not discussed this with each other, and in fact we agree.

I might say this, this is such a complicated question, with the alternative bomber fleet we presently have the FB-111, the B-52, the upcoming increased dependence on cruise missiles, the possible inclusion of Backfire, the Russian bomber in the SALT II talks with the cruise missile. It's a fluid situation. But I think that Senator Mondale has expressed it very well. We ought to keep the B-l bomber as a potential weapon, and not authorize its construction until it is obviously needed. I would personally like to see all weapon systems that are capable of delivering nuclear arms included in the SALT talks, including the Backfire and the cruise missile. I have not discussed with the SALT negotiators opposition or the reasons for avoiding this subject. But I think that if we are going to have SALT talks, including all delivery systems that involve nuclear weapons, [it] would be advantageous for humanity, and I believe in the long run that would benefit our own country as well.

One other point, I spent most of this morning working on the postal registration bill. The Senate passed its charter a long time ago; it's been bogged down in the House. And I talked to Congressman Tip O'Neill. I also talked to the Speaker and they talked to Representative Frank Thompson, who is chairman of the committee, and to Representative Madden, who's the chairman of the Rules Committee, and I'm very eager to see the restraints on voter registration removed. In my acceptance speech I called for universal registration, which I favored. As a matter of fact, when I announced for President in 1974, I also called for universal voter registration. I see no reason for the government to put an obstacle in the way of someone who wants to vote. And my assurance this morning was that the postal registration bill would be coming out of the Rules Committee no later than this week, and I'm going to do all I can to encourage the House to pass the bill, and encourage the President to sign it. If the President should veto the bill, removing the right of American people to have the chance to vote, then I'll also do everything I can to encourage an override of that veto. I think it is a very important point, particularly in our 2OOth birthday year, to give the American people, for a change, an easy way, an unrestricted way, to register to vote in the upcoming election. The Republicans have always opposed it, and I think it's time for us to put the issue in the forefront of the consciousness of the American people, and I believe it's a very important one, and I believe it has a good chance this year of finally getting it signed.

Q. Are you encouraged with the relationship that you have developed with the congressional leadership? Is it going well so far do you think?

Governor Carter. Yes. I think it is going very well. I believe it is accurate to say that my phone calls to the Majority Leader, to the Speaker, were a major factor in their willingness to revive the bill that has been bogged down in committee for a long time, and this is a normal circumstance. Yes, I think the relationship is very good. I don't ever intend though, to be reticent about speaking out on things which I consider to be at fault, even within the Democratic Congress. I think that, for instance, the present consideration of the tax reform bill, which concerns me very much, this is one of the things that I will be talking about after our meeting this afternoon. And I think that this ought to be done in a way to carry out the statement that I made in my acceptance speech that the present tax laws are disgraceful, that they ought not to be considered in secret, that the doors ought to be open and the American people ought to understand these special tax breaks in these bills. In our session this afternoon, that is one of the things that will be covered. We're going to try to get to taxation, budgeting, and economics or finance. And their interrelationship with one another. And this will be a very important learning process for all of us.

Jimmy Carter, Press Briefing in Plains, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347604

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