Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Events in Paris.

May 25, 1960

[ Delivered from the President's Office at 8 p.m. ]

My fellow Americans:

Tonight I want to talk with you about the remarkable events last week in Paris, and their meaning to our future.

First, I am deeply grateful to the many thousands of you, and to representatives in Congress, who sent me messages of encouragement and support while I was in Paris, and later upon my return to Washington. Your messages clearly revealed your abiding loyalty to America's great purpose--that of pursuing, from a position of spiritual, moral and material strength--a lasting peace with justice.

You recall, of course, why I went to Paris ten days ago.

Last summer and fall I had many conversations with world leaders; some of these were with Chairman Khrushchev, here in America. Over those months a small improvement in relations between the Soviet Union and the West seemed discernible. A possibility developed that the Soviet leaders might at last be ready for serious talks about our most persistent problems--those of disarmament, mutual inspection, atomic control, and Germany, including Berlin.

To explore that possibility, our own and the British and French leaders met together, and later we agreed, with the Soviet leaders, to gather in Paris on May 16.

Of course we had no indication or thought that basic Soviet policies had turned about. But when there is even the slightest chance of strengthening peace, there can be no higher obligation than to pursue it.

Nor had our own policies changed. We did hope to make some progress in a Summit meeting, unpromising though previous experiences had been. But as we made preparations for this meeting, we did not drop our guard nor relax our vigilance.

Our safety, and that of the free world, demand, of course, effective systems for gathering information about the military capabilities of other powerful nations, especially those that make a fetish of secrecy. This involves many techniques and methods. In these times of vast military machines and nuclear-tipped missiles, the ferreting out of this information is indispensable to free world security.

This has long been one of my most serious preoccupations. It is part of my grave responsibility, within the over-all problem of protecting the American people, to guard ourselves and our allies against surprise attack.

During the period leading up to World War II we learned from bitter experience the imperative necessity of a continuous gathering of intelligence information, the maintenance of military communications and contact, and alertness of command.

An additional word seems appropriate about this matter of communications and command. While the Secretary of Defense and I were in Paris, we were, of course, away from our normal command posts. He recommended that under the circumstances we test the continuing readiness of our military communications. I personally approved. Such tests are valuable and will be frequently repeated in the future.

Moreover, as President, charged by the Constitution with the conduct of America's foreign relations, and as Commander-in-Chief, charged with the direction of the operations and activities of our Armed Forces and their supporting services, I take full responsibility for approving all the various programs undertaken by our government to secure and evaluate military intelligence.

It was in the prosecution of one of these intelligence programs that the widely publicized U-2 incident occurred.

Aerial photography has been one of many methods we have used to keep ourselves and the free world abreast of major Soviet military developments. The usefulness of this work has been well established through four years of effort. The Soviets were well aware of it. Chairman Khrushchev has stated that he became aware of these flights several years ago. Only last week, in his Paris press conference, Chairman Khrushchev confirmed that he knew of these flights when he visited the United States last September.

Incidentally, this raises the natural question--why all the furor concerning one particular flight? He did not, when in America last September charge that these flights were any threat to Soviet safety. He did not then see any reason to refuse to confer with American representatives.

This he did only about the flight that unfortunately failed, on May 1, far inside Russia.

Now, two questions have been raised about this particular flight; first, as to its timing, considering the imminence of the Summit meeting; second, our initial statements when we learned the flight had failed.

As to the timing, the question was really whether to halt the program and thus forego the gathering of important information that was essential and that was likely to be unavailable at a later date. The decision was that the program should not be halted.

The plain truth is this: when a nation needs intelligence activity, there is no time when vigilance can be relaxed. Incidentally, from Pearl Harbor we learned that even negotiation itself can be used to conceal preparations for a surprise attack.

Next, as to our government's initial statement about the flight, this was issued to protect the pilot, his mission, and our intelligence processes, at a time when the true facts were still undetermined.

Our first information about the failure of this mission did not disclose whether the pilot was still alive, was trying to escape, was avoiding interrogation, or whether both plane and pilot had been destroyed. Protection of our intelligence system and the pilot, and concealment of the plane's mission, seemed imperative. It must be remembered that over a long period, these flights had given us information of the greatest importance to the nation's security. In fact, their success has been nothing short of remarkable.

For these reasons, what is known in intelligence circles as a "covering statement" was issued. It was issued on assumptions that were later proved incorrect. Consequently, when later the status of the pilot was definitely established, and there was no further possibility of avoiding exposure of the project, the factual details were set forth.

I then made two facts clear to the public: first, our program of aerial reconnaissance had been undertaken with my approval; second, this government is compelled to keep abreast, by one means or another, of military activities of the Soviets, just as their government has for years engaged in espionage activities in our country and throughout the world. Our necessity to proceed with such activities was also asserted by our Secretary of State who, however, had been careful--as was I--not to say that these particular flights would be continued.

In fact, before leaving Washington, I had directed that these flights be stopped. Clearly their usefulness was impaired. Moreover, continuing this particular activity in these new circumstances could not but complicate the relations of certain of our allies with the Soviets. And of course, new techniques, other than aircraft, are constantly being developed.

Now I wanted no public announcement of this decision until I could personally disclose it at the Summit meeting in conjunction with certain proposals I had prepared for the conference.

At my first Paris meeting with Mr. Khrushchev, and before his tirade was made public, I informed him of this discontinuance and the character of the constructive proposals I planned to make. These contemplated the establishment of a system of aerial surveillance operated by the United Nations.

The day before the first scheduled meeting, Mr. Khrushchev had advised President de Gaulle and Prime Minister Macmillan that he would make certain demands upon the United States as a precondition for beginning a Summit conference.

Although the United States was the only power against which he expressed his displeasure, he did not communicate this information to me. I was, of course, informed by our allies.

At the four power meeting on Monday morning, he demanded of the United States four things: first, condemnation of U-2 flights as a method of espionage; second, assurance that they would not be continued; third, a public apology on behalf of the United States; and, fourth, punishment of all those who had any responsibility respecting this particular mission.

I replied by advising the Soviet leader that I had, during the previous week, stopped these flights and that they would not be resumed. I offered also to discuss the matter with him in personal meetings, while the regular business of the Summit might proceed. Obviously, I would not respond to his extreme demands. He knew, of course, by holding to those demands the Soviet Union was scuttling the Summit Conference.

In torpedoing the conference, Mr. Khrushchev claimed that he acted as the result of his own high moral indignation over alleged American acts of aggression. As I said earlier, he had known of these flights for a long time. It is apparent that the Soviets had decided even before the Soviet delegation left Moscow that my trip to the Soviet Union should be cancelled and that nothing constructive from their viewpoint would come out of the Summit Conference.

In evaluating the results, however, I think we must not write the record all in red ink. There are several things to be written in the black. Perhaps the Soviet action has turned the clock back in some measure, but it should be noted that Mr. Khrushchev did not go beyond invective-a time-worn Soviet device to achieve an immediate objective. In this case, the wrecking of the Conference.

On our side, at Pads, we demonstrated once again America's willingness, and that of her allies, always to go the extra mile in behalf of peace. Once again, Soviet intransigence reminded us all of the unpredictability of despotic rule, and the need for those who work for freedom to stand together in determination and in strength.

The conduct of our allies was magnificent. My colleagues and friends--President de Gaulle and Prime Minister Macmillan--stood sturdily with the American delegation in spite of persistent Soviet attempts to split the Western group. The NATO meeting after the Pads Conference showed unprecedented unity and support for the alliance and for the position taken at the Summit meeting. I salute our allies for us all.

And now, most importantly, what about the future?

All of us know that, whether started deliberately or accidentally, global war would leave civilization in a shambles. This is as true of the Soviet system as of all others. In a nuclear war there can be no victors-only losers. Even despots understand this. Mr. Khrushchev stated last week that he well realizes that general nuclear war would bring catastrophe for both sides. Recognition of this mutual destructive capability is the basic reality of our present relations. Most assuredly, however, this does not mean that we shall ever give up trying to build a more sane and hopeful reality--a better foundation for our common relations.

To do this, here are the policies we must follow, and to these I am confident the great majority of our people, regardless of party, give their support:

First. We must keep up our strength, and hold it steady for the long pull--a strength not neglected in complacency nor overbuilt in hysteria. So doing, we can make it clear to everyone that there can be no gain in the use of pressure tactics or aggression against us and our Allies.

Second. We must continue businesslike dealings with the Soviet leaders on outstanding issues, and improve the contacts between our own and the Soviet peoples, making clear that the path of reason and common sense is still open if the Soviets will but use it.

Third. To improve world conditions in which human freedom can flourish, we must continue to move ahead with positive programs at home and abroad, in collaboration with free nations everywhere. In doing so, we shall continue to give our strong support to the United Nations and the great principles for which it stands.

Now as to the first of these purposes--our defenses are sound. They are tailored to the situation confronting us.

Their adequacy has been my primary concern for these past seven years--indeed throughout my adult life.

In no respect have the composition and size of our forces been based on or affected by any Soviet blandishment. Nor will they be. We will continue to carry forward the great improvements already planned in these forces. They will be kept ready--and under constant review.

Any changes made necessary by technological advances or world events will be recommended at once.

This strength--by far the most potent on earth--is, I emphasize, for deterrent, defensive and retaliatory purposes only, without threat or aggressive intent toward anyone.

Concerning the second part of our policy--relations with the Soviets-we and all the world realize, despite our recent disappointment, that progress toward the goal of mutual understanding, casing the causes of tensions, and reduction of armaments is as necessary as ever.

We shall continue these peaceful efforts, including participation in the existing negotiations with the Soviet Union. In these negotiations we have made some progress. We are prepared to preserve and build on it. The Allied Paris communiqué and my own statement on returning to the United States should have made this abundantly clear to the Soviet government.

We conduct these negotiations not on the basis of surface harmony nor are we deterred by any bad deportment we meet. Rather we approach them as a careful search for common interests between the Western allies and the Soviet Union on specific problems.

I have in mind, particularly, the nuclear test and disarmament negotiations. We shall not back away, on account of recent events, from the efforts or commitments that we have undertaken.

Nor shall we relax our search for new means of reducing the risk of war by miscalculation, and of achieving verifiable arms control.

A major American goal is a world of open societies.

Here in our country anyone can buy maps and aerial photographs showing our cities, our dams, our plants, our highways--indeed, our whole industrial and economic complex. We know that Soviet attaches regularly collect this information. Last fall Chairman Khrushchev's train passed no more than a few hundred feet from an operational ICBM, in plain view from his window. Our thousands of books and scientific journals, our magazines, newspapers and official publications, our radio and television, all openly describe to all the world every aspect of our society.

This is as it should be. We are proud of our freedom.

Soviet distrust, however, does still remain. To allay these misgivings I offered five years ago to open our skies to Soviet reconnaissance aircraft on a reciprocal basis. The Soviets refused. That offer is still open. At an appropriate time America will submit such a program to the United Nations, together with the recommendation that the United Nations itself conduct this reconnaissance. Should the United Nations accept this proposal, I am prepared to propose that America supply part of the aircraft and equipment required.

This is a photograph of the North Island Naval Station in San Diego, California. It was taken from an altitude of more than 70 thousand feet. You may not perhaps be able to see them on your television screens, but the white lines in the parking strips around the field are clearly discernible from 13 miles up. Those lines are just six inches wide.

Obviously most of the details necessary for a military evaluation of the airfield and its aircraft are clearly distinguishable.

I show you this photograph as an example of what could be accomplished through United Nations aerial surveillance.

Indeed, if the United Nations should undertake this policy, this program, and the great nations of the world should accept it, I am convinced that not only can all humanity be assured that they are safe from any surprise attack from any quarter, but indeed the greatest tensions of all, the fear of war, would be removed from the world. I sincerely hope that the United Nations may adopt such a program.

As far as we in America are concerned, our programs for increased contacts between all peoples will continue. Despite the suddenly expressed hostility of the men in the Kremlin, I remain convinced that the basic longings of the Soviet people are much like our own. I believe that Soviet citizens have a sincere friendship for the people of America. I deeply believe that above all else they want a lasting peace and a chance for a more abundant life in place of more and more instruments of war.

Finally, turning to the third part of America's policy--the strengthening of freedom--we must do far more than concern ourselves with military defense against, and our relations with, the Communist Bloc. Beyond this, we must advance constructive programs throughout the world for the betterment of peoples in the newly developing nations. The zigs and zags of the Kremlin cannot be allowed to disturb our worldwide programs and purposes. In the period ahead, these programs could well be the decisive factor in our persistent search for peace in freedom.

To the peoples in the newly developing nations urgently needed help will surely come. If it does not come from us and our friends, these peoples will be driven to seek it from the enemies of freedom. Moreover, those joined with us in defense partnerships look to us for proof of our steadfastness. We must not relax our common security efforts.

As to this, there is something specific all of us can do, and right now. It is imperative that crippling cuts not be made in the appropriations recommended for Mutual Security, whether economic or military. We must support this program with all of our wisdom and all of our strength. We are proud to call this a nation of the people. With the people knowing the importance of this program, and making their voices heard in its behalf throughout the land, there can be no doubt of its continued success.

Fellow Americans, long ago I pledged to you that I would journey anywhere in the world to promote the cause of peace. I remain pledged to pursue a peace of dignity, of friendship, of honor, of justice.

Operating from the firm base of our spiritual and physical strength, and seeking wisdom from the Almighty, we and our allies together will continue to work for the survival of mankind in freedom--and for the goal of mutual respect, mutual understanding, and openness among all nations.

Thank you, and good night.

Note: On August 28, the White House made public an exchange of letters between James C. Hagerty, Press Secretary to the President, and the Joint Editorial Board of Moscow News and Nouvelles de Moscou. In a letter dated June 25, the Board returned copies of the President's address, received that day from the U.S. Embassy, stating that it was "directed essentially against the friendship between our peoples." The Press Secretary's letter, dated August 15, stated that the Board's letter confirmed the fact that the Soviet press is not free to publish or broadcast any viewpoint running counter to the policies of the Soviet Government.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Events in Paris. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234523

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