Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on the Strategic Defense Initiative

July 12, 1986

My fellow Americans:

One week ago we showed the world what it means to love liberty. The spectacular celebration of our independence and Miss Liberty's centennial will likely be described by historians as a reflection of the good will, joy, and confidence so apparent in our country. Instead of focusing on problems, America's looking for solutions. Instead of fretting about this or that shortcoming, we're out creating, building, and making things better. Instead of lamenting dangers, we're putting our best minds to work trying to find ways of making this a safer, more secure world.

And that's what I want to talk with you about today: our major research effort called the Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI, which is aimed at ridding this planet of the threat of nuclear annihilation. Back in 1983 we enlisted some of America's top scientists and set in motion a research program to see if we could find a way to defend mankind against ballistic missiles, an antimissile shield, if you will. Our SDI research is searching out a more effective, safe, and moral way to prevent war—a deterrence based on defenses which threaten no one, a deterrence that will be viewed as a success not by the threat of deadly retaliation but, instead, by its ability to protect. And never was a purely defensive system so sorely needed. Since the early 1970's the Soviet Union has been racing forward in a vast and continuing military buildup, including the expansion of their offensive nuclear arsenal and an intense effort to develop their own strategic defense. And as described in a publication issued last October by our State and Defense Departments, the Soviets also have deployed the world's only antiballistic missile system. These Soviet strategic defense programs have been termed "Red Shield" in an article in this month's Reader's Digest. They were confirmed in an open letter issued last month by a group of 30 former Soviet scientists now living in the United States.

In stark contrast, we are defenseless against the most dangerous weapons in the history of mankind. Isn't it time to put our survival back under our own control? Our search for an effective defense is a key part of a three-pronged response to the Soviet threat. We also have been moving ahead to modernize our strategic forces and, simultaneously, to reach fair and verifiable arms reduction agreements with the Soviet Union. The Soviets have yet to agree to arms reduction despite the strenuous efforts of several U.S. administrations. However, our SDI research to make nuclear missiles less effective also makes these missiles more negotiable. And when we talk about negotiations, let's be clear: Our SDI research is not a bargaining chip. It's the number of offensive nuclear missiles that need to be reduced, not the effort to find a way to defend mankind against these deadly missiles. And reliable defenses could also serve as insurance against cheating or breaking out of an arms reduction agreement.

All this makes it evermore important to keep our strategic defense research moving forward. We have set up a well-managed program which, in just over 3 years, has already accomplished much. Even faster progress than expected has been made in developing the system's "eyes"—scientists call them sensors—and its "brains," which guide an interceptor toward its target, and methods of stopping incoming missiles, especially with nonnuclear means. Technological advances now permit us to detect and track an aggressor's missiles in early flight. It is in this boost phase that missiles must be intercepted and knocked out to achieve the protection we're looking for. There have been some major achievements in the diplomatic field as well. Great Britain, West Germany, and Israel have signed agreements to participate in the research, and talks with other major allies are expected.

Nothing of great value, of course, comes cheap. But a defensive system which can protect us and allies against all ballistic missiles, nuclear or conventional, is a prudent investment. I'm sorry to say, however, that some Members of Congress would take a shortsighted course, deeply cutting the funds needed to carry out this vital program. So, it's imperative your voice is heard. In the weeks ahead, it would be a tragedy to permit the budget pressures of today to destroy this vital research program and undercut our chances for a safer and more secure tomorrow. President Eisenhower once said, "The future will belong, not to the fainthearted, but to those who believe in it and prepare for it."

I agree with that, and I know you do, too. Until next week, thanks for listening, 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 the Strategic Defense Initiative Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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