Radio Address to the Nation on Nuclear Weapons
My fellow Americans:
Throughout our history and particularly in recent years, America's taken on an ever-increasing role as peacemaker—taking the initiative time after time to try to help countries settle their differences peacefully. I don't need to recite the list of diplomatic efforts spanning all administrations in which we've been instrumental in ending war and restoring peace.
Yet, there are some who still ask which nation is the true peacemaker—the United States or the Soviet Union? Well, let us ask them, which country has nearly 100,000 troops trying to occupy the once nonaligned nation of Afghanistan? Which country has tried to crush a spontaneous workers' movement in Poland? And what country has engaged in the most massive arms buildup in history? Or, let's put the question another way. What country helped its World War II enemies back on their feet? What country is employing trade aid and technology to help the developing peoples of the world and actively seeking to bring peace to the Middle East, the South Atlantic, and to southern Africa?
The answer is clear, and it should give us both pride and hope in America. Today, I know there are a great many people who are pointing to the unimaginable horror of nuclear war. I welcome that concern. Those who've governed America throughout the nuclear age and we who govern it today have had to recognize that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
So, to those who protest against nuclear war, I can only say, "I'm with you." Like my predecessors, it is now my responsibility to do my utmost to prevent such a war. No one feels more than I the need for peace.
Throughout the first half of my lifetime, the entire world was engaged in war, or in recovering from war, or in preparing for war. Since the end of World War II, there's not been another world conflict. But there have been and are wars going on in various other parts of the world.
This stretch of 37 years since World War II has been the result of our maintaining a balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union and between the strategic nuclear capabilities of either side. As long as this balance has been maintained, both sides have been given an overwhelming incentive for peace.
In the 1970's, the United States altered that balance by, in effect, unilaterally restraining our own military defenses while the Soviet Union engaged in an unprecedented buildup of both its conventional and nuclear forces.
As a result, the military balance which permitted us to maintain the peace is now threatened. If steps are not taken to modernize our defense, the United States will progressively lose the ability to deter the Soviet Union from employing force or threats of force against us and against our allies.
It would be wonderful if we could restore our balance with the Soviet Union without increasing our own military power. And ideally, it would be a long step in ensuring peace if we could have significant and verifiable reductions of arms on both sides. But let's not fool ourselves. The Soviet Union will not come to any conference table bearing gifts. Soviet negotiators will not make unilateral concessions. To achieve parity, we must make it plain that we have the will to achieve parity by our own effort.
Many have been attracted to the idea of a nuclear freeze. Now, that would be fine if we were equal in strategic capability. We're not. We cannot accept an agreement which perpetuates current disparities.
The current level of nuclear forces is too high on both sides. It must be the objective of any negotiations on arms control to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons.
Since World War II, the United States has attempted to get Soviet agreement to such reductions countless times. We began back when we alone had such weapons. We were never able to persuade the Soviet Union to join in such an understanding, even when we proposed turning all nuclear material and information over to an international body and when we were the only nation that had nuclear weapons.
We're preparing a new arms reduction effort with regard to strategic nuclear forces and are already in negotiations in Geneva on intermediate-range missiles threatening Europe. Our objective in these talks is for the elimination of such missiles on the strategic nuclear forces. We will aim on those at substantial reductions on both sides leading to equal and verifiable limits. We'll make every effort to reach an agreement that will reduce the possibility of nuclear war.
If we can do this, perhaps one day we can achieve a relationship with the Soviet Union which doesn't depend upon nuclear deterrents to secure Soviet restraint.
I invite the Soviet Union to take such a step with us. And I ask you, the American people, to support our efforts at negotiating an end to this threat of doomsday which hangs over the world.
Thank you, and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, Md.
Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on Nuclear Weapons Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245119