Harry S. Truman photo

Radio and Television Report to the American People on International Arms Reduction.

November 07, 1951

[Broadcast from the White House at 10:30 p.m.]

My fellow Americans, and free peoples all around the world:

The General Assembly of the United Nations is now meeting in Paris. This great town meeting of the world has assembled for its annual session. What is done there will be of vital importance to us in the United States and to all the people of the earth.

A few hours ago the United States, Great Britain, and France announced that they would present to the General Assembly a joint proposal of great significance. This is a proposal for lessening the burden of armaments which now bears so heavily upon the world. It is a commonsense way of getting started toward the regulation and balanced reduction of all armed forces and all implements of war, including atomic weapons. We hope the General Assembly will consider this proposal as an urgent and important matter.

Tonight, I want to tell you something about this proposal, and why we are making it.

Let's begin by talking about the nature of the disarmament problem.

All of us know how difficult the world situation is today. Fighting is going on in Korea, and the threat of Communist aggression hangs over many other parts of the world. To meet this situation the United States is now rapidly building up its armed forces. So are other free countries.

We are doing this because we must. The Soviet Union and its satellites have very large military forces ready for action. The Soviet Union has a growing stock of atomic bombs. The aggression in Korea has shown that Communist imperialism will resort to open warfare to gain its ends.

In these circumstances, we must have strong military defenses and we are building them.

General Eisenhower has just given me an encouraging report of the progress that is being made under his command in Europe. Serious difficulties still remain, and they will require vigorous effort from us and from our allies. But the free nations of Europe are creating effective defenses. As a result of General Eisenhower's visit, arrangements are being made to speed up the training and equipment of the combined defense forces in Europe.

We shall continue to build strong defenses in Europe and in other parts of the world-just as long as that is necessary.

Our own armed forces and those of our allies are essential to the protection of freedom. They are an essential part of our efforts to prevent another world war. As they increase in size and effectiveness, they make it plain to an aggressor that he can have no hope of quick and easy conquest. As the Kremlin comes to see that its aggressive policies cannot pay off, it may abandon them and join in reasonable settlements of world problems.

This buildup of the defenses of the free world is one way to security and peace. As things now stand, it is the only way open to us.

But there is another way to security and peace--a way which we would much prefer to take. We would prefer to see the nations cut down their armed forces on a balanced basis that would be fair to all. This is the way we hoped the world would follow 6 years ago, when we helped to set up the United Nations. And it is what we are still working for--an international order without the burden of tremendous armaments.

It may seem strange to talk about reducing armed forces and armaments when we are working so hard to build up our military strength. But there is nothing inconsistent about these two things. Both have the same aim--the aim of security and peace. If we can't get security and peace one way, we must get it the other way.

The way of reducing armaments--the way we prefer--can be undertaken only if there is a workable international system which makes reduction possible without endangering the security of any nation. No country can afford to reduce its defenses unless it is sure the other fellow is reducing his at the same time. To reduce armaments, therefore, we must have, first of all, a safe and a fair procedure.

Three weeks ago, in a speech in North Carolina, I said that we are willing, as we have always been, to sit down in the United Nations with the Soviet Union, and all the other countries concerned, and work together for lessening the burden of armaments. The proposal we have announced today, along with France and Great Britain, offers a practical way to do just that.

This proposal is in the nature of a fresh approach. It has been very carefully prepared, and we believe it is an improvement over the previous approaches. If it is accepted it will open a way to reduce armaments and lessen the risk of war.

The basic principles for a real, workable system for reducing armaments are well known. I outlined them in my speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations a little more than a year ago. The General Assembly has endorsed them. They are simple, and here they are. First, such a system must include all types of weapons-such a system must include all types of weapons; second, it must be accepted by all nations having substantial armed forces; and third, it must be based on safeguards that will insure the compliance of all nations-in other words, it must be foolproof.

I also suggested to the General Assembly that the two United Nations commissions working on the control of armaments be consolidated into one. One of these commissions has been working on atomic energy, and the other commission on all other types of weapons and armed forces. It is clear, however, that all types of weapons and armed forces must be covered by one overall plan, and should therefore be under the jurisdiction of the same United Nations commission.

As a result of work during the past year, the General Assembly is now in a position to merge the two commissions and to direct the new body to get to work on concrete steps for reducing and controlling all kinds of armaments.

We hope the proposal we are now making will be the first order of business of this new commission.

Let me tell you just what it is that we are proposing.

First, we propose that a continuing inventory of all armed forces and armaments be undertaken. This inventory would take place in every country having substantial military power, and it would be checked and verified in each of those countries by inspectors who are nationals of other countries, working under the United Nations. These inspectors would have authority to find out what the real facts are.

Second, we propose that, while this process of inventory and inspection is taking place, the nations work out specific arrangements for the actual reduction of armed strength.

Third, we propose, on the basis of these two steps, that the reductions which are the goal of the program be made as soon as that can be done with full knowledge and fairness to all.

Such a program would have to be agreed upon by all the countries having substantial military power and ratified according to their own constitutional practices.

The key to this plan is the proposal to find out exactly and precisely what arms and armed forces each country has. This is the first essential, on which all else depends. Unless this step is taken, no real progress can be made toward regulating and reducing armaments.

Any nation which is not willing to agree to this step, and to carry it out, is not really interested in disarmament. The Soviet Government has at various times talked about reducing armaments, but they never have proposed an effective system for finding out the facts. No responsible government can agree to cut its own defenses unless it knows where such a cut will leave it in relation to the armed forces of other countries. That is why we propose the first step of an honest, continuing inventory of all armed forces and armaments, including atomic weapons.

Such an inventory would proceed by stages, disclosing the least vital information first, and then proceeding to more sensitive areas. Each stage would be completed before the next began, until all armed forces and armaments of every kind had been included.

There is another important point. Any program for reducing armaments will necessarily be complex and even with the fullest cooperation of all the parties, will take quite a while to work out and put into effect. Even after it is put into effect, there will have to be safeguards against its violation. The fact-finding, therefore, must be continuous. It cannot be a one-shot affair. The fact finders must know not only what the state of armament is on any given date, but how it is proceeding--whether the armed forces of the country concerned are increasing or diminishing.

As the facts are revealed, progress can be made toward working out, by mutual agreement, the exact amounts and kinds of armaments and armed forces which each country will finally be permitted to have. It might be possible, for example, to agree that each country would have armed forces proportionate to its population, with a ceiling beyond which no country could go. Furthermore, each country might be limited to using no more than a fixed portion of its national production for military purposes. That is most important. That is the key to armament reduction.

With respect to atomic weapons, the plan already approved by a majority of the United Nations fits right into this present proposal of ours for the control and reduction of armaments. Atomic weapons would be revealed at the appropriate stage in the process of disclosure. Such weapons would ultimately be prohibited, and atomic energy would be controlled under the provisions of the United Nations plan. We continue to support this plan as it now stands, but we are, of course, always ready to consider any better plan.

Let me stress that each stage of this program for reducing armaments would be entered upon only after the previous one had been completed. And each stage would be continuously policed by inspectors, who would report any breach of faith.

If the Soviet Union and its satellites are really afraid of the intentions of any of the free countries, as they say they are, here is a plan they can adopt with safety. It would give them the same protection, every step of the way, that it gives every other country. And on the other hand, we can afford to go into such a plan as this because we would have safeguards against bad faith.

All nations would have to lay their cards on the table and keep them there at all times--face up.

Here, then, is a real, down-to-earth approach, fair to all concerned. It would move forward step by step. Each step, when completed, would build up mutual confidence for the next step. If at any stage there were a breach of trust, or an act of bad faith, all participating nations would have immediate notice, and could act in time to protect themselves.

In the face of the long and gloomy history of our negotiations with the Soviet Union, there are, no doubt, many people who think that any further attempts to control and reduce armaments are a waste of time. It is true that we have experienced much bad faith, deceit, and broken promises on the part of the Soviet Union over the last 6 years. It is true that we have met rebuffs and refusals from the Soviet Government, ever since the day we offered to give up our monopoly of atomic weapons and to prohibit them under a system of international control.

Nevertheless, as responsible men and women, we must try for disarmament in spite of all difficulties. We cannot permit the history of our times to record that we failed by default.

We make this proposal because it is the right thing to do. We are not making it in any sudden spirit of optimism. We are not making it as a last gesture of despair. We are making it because we share, with all the members of the United Nations, the responsibility of trying to bring about conditions which will assure international peace and security in the world.

The people of the world want peace. To work in every possible way for peace is a duty which we owe not only to ourselves, but to the whole human race.

In making our proposal for reducing armaments, we are not suggesting that the crisis in world affairs has passed, or even that it has lessened. I am sorry to say it has not lessened. We cannot afford, for one minute, to let down our guard, or to falter in our defense program. We must not weaken in our firm stand to resist aggression in Korea.

While aggression and fighting continue-as in Korea--and while the major political issues that divide the nations remain unsettled, real progress toward reducing armaments may not be possible.

But we cannot fail to bring before the world the problem of growing armaments, which presses so heavily on all mankind. We believe deeply that discussions of this question in the United Nations can and should begin now, even though tensions are high. Indeed, one way to reduce these tensions is to start work on such proposals as the one we are now making.

I urge the Kremlin to accept this proposal. I urge them to make it known to the people of the Soviet Union. The men in the Kremlin are responsible for the lives and the future of a great nation--of a great and creative people--a people who long for peace, even as all people long for peace. The men in the Kremlin must know how the people behind the Iron Curtain are crushed down by the burden of armaments and production for war--how they hope for release and for enjoyment of the better things of life.

And there can be a release from the burden of increasing armaments and the fear of war. The nations are not helpless chips in the tide of events. They can control their destiny, if they will. The burden of armaments can be lifted. It can be done. And if it is done, think what a prospect would open up for the future of mankind.

The United States and other countries are now helping the people of the free nations to fight against the ancient enemies of man--hunger, disease, and injustice. But what we can do now is sharply limited by the cost of maintaining defenses to prevent aggression and war. If that cost could be reduced-if the burden of armaments could be lessened, new energies and resources would be liberated for greatly enlarged programs of reconstruction and development.

New hope and opportunities would be given everywhere for better conditions of life. There would be greater freedom-greater production--greater enjoyment of the fruits of peaceful industry. Through the United Nations we could wage the only kind of war we seek--the war against want and human misery.

In the lifetime of our own generation, we could bring about the greatest period of progress for the world in all recorded history.

This is our vision. This is our hope. This is what all free people have been striving for. We are determined to gain these tremendous opportunities for human progress. We are determined to win real peace--peace based on freedom and justice.

We will do it the hard way if we must-by going forward as we are doing now, to make the free world so strong that no would-be aggressor will dare to break the peace.

But we will never give up trying for another way to peace--the way of reducing the armaments that make aggression possible.

That is why we are making these new proposals to the United Nations. We offer them in good faith and we ask that they be considered in good faith.

We hope all other nations will accept them--and will join with us in this great enterprise for peace.

Harry S Truman, Radio and Television Report to the American People on International Arms Reduction. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231278

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