Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Administration Supporters at a White House Briefing on Arms Control, Central America, and the Supreme Court

November 23, 1987

Well, thank you very much, and welcome to the Old Executive Office Building. And I think it'll keep right on getting older, too. They tell me that the granite walls are 4 feet thick. They don't make them like that anymore.

Well, it's wonderful to see so many familiar faces, so many old friends and supporters. Together we've won some remarkable victories in the last 7 years. But as I told Cap Weinberger the other day at the Pentagon, the job isn't finished, and anyone who thinks we're going to be just sitting around on our laurels these last 14 months better guess again. It's like the story of Winston Churchill toward the close of World War II. He was visited by a delegation from the Temperance League and was chastised by one woman who said, "Mr. Prime Minister, I've heard that if all the brandy you had drunk since the war began were poured into this room it would come all the way up to your waist." And Winston looked dolefully down at the floor and then at his waist, then up to the ceiling, and said, "Ah, yes, madam, so much accomplished and so much more left to do." [Laughter]

Well, one thing left to do, one of the great challenges of these next months, will be seeing if we can work out with the Soviet Union a better answer to nuclear weapons. As you know, I'll be meeting here in Washington with General Secretary Gorbachev unless some hitch develops that we can't foresee. But if all goes well, we'll sign an agreement that will for the first time in history eliminate an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles. It's a good bargain: For every nuclear warhead of our own we remove, they'll have to give up four.

It would, however, be hasty to assume that we're at the point where we're ready to put pen to paper and sign the treaty. For one thing, in at least one important area, verification, the treaty is not yet complete. Any treaty that I agree to must provide for effective verification, including on-site inspection of facilities before and during reduction and short-notice inspection afterward. The verification regime we've put forward in Geneva is the most stringent in the history of arms control negotiations. I actually learned a couple of words in Russian in order to talk about this with the General Secretary: Dovorey no provorey. That is a proverb in Russia that says: "Trust, but verify." [Laughter]

We have come this far only because we've been patient and unwavering in our commitment to a strong and vital national defense. Contrary to what some have said, we've been at this for some time. As I said at West Point, we made this proposal—this treaty that we're talking about—we made this proposal nearly 6 years ago. Our opponents dismissed it as unrealistic, because it was too one-sided in our favor. And then the Soviets tried to get us to eliminate the SDI program. I refused. The moral is that patience, consistency, firm negotiating, and clear objectives count much more with the Soviets than good intentions. And I am for this agreement not because I have any illusions about the Soviet system but because of the good deal for the United States and its allies. That's why I'm asking for your support and help in convincing the Senate—if we once sign, and when we once sign this-to ratify this treaty.

We're also moving ahead when negotiation-or with negotiations on our proposal to reduce U.S. and Soviet strategic arsenals by half. Our Geneva negotiators have made progress. And the Soviets must, however, stop holding strategic offensive missile reductions hostage to measures that would cripple our research and development of SDI.

It's no longer a secret that the Soviet Union has spent billions upon billions of dollars developing and deploying their own antiballistic missile defenses. Research and development in some parts of the Soviet strategic defense program—we call it the Red Shield—began more than 15 years ago. Today Soviet capabilities include everything from killer satellites to the modernized ABM defenses that ring Moscow. More than 10,000 Soviet scientists and engineers are working on military lasers alone, with thousands more developing other advanced technologies, such as particle beam and kinetic energy weapons.

The Soviet Red Shield program actually dwarfs our SDI. Yet there's been a strange tendency by some in Congress to discuss SDI as if its funding could be determined by purely domestic considerations, unconnected to what the Soviets are doing. SDI is too important to be subject to congressional logrolling. It's a vital insurance policy, a necessary part of any national security strategy that includes deep reductions in strategic weapons. In decades to come, it will underwrite all of us against Soviet cheating on both strategic and intermediate-range missile agreements. SDI leads us away from the days of mutual assured destruction to a future of mutual assured safety. And it goes hand in hand with arms reductions. We cannot, we will not, bargain it away to get strategic arms reductions.

SDI will also protect us against accidental missile launches and ballistic missile threats—whether with nuclear, conventional, or chemical warheads—from outlaw regimes. In the decades ahead, we can't be sure just who will get access to ballistic missile technology, how competent they will be or how rational. We've had madmen come to power before in countries in the world. We must have an insurance policy against that day, as well.

So, no, SDI is not a bargaining chip. It is a— [applause] —thank you. It's a cornerstone of our security strategy for the 1990's and beyond. We will research it. We will develop it. And when it's ready, we'll deploy it. Just remember this: If both sides have defenses, it can be a safer world. You know, with the present deterrent that we have-the MAD policy, mutual assured destruction—I've never been able to feel very safe with the knowledge that if they blow us up we'll be blowing them up at the same time. [Laughter] I'd like to leave them around if they'll leave us around. [Laughter] If we leave the scientists—or the Soviets with a monopoly in this vital area, our security will be gravely jeopardized, and we mustn't let that happen.

Now, if I may, I'd like to turn to another issue of vital importance: freedom and democracy in Central America. With our aid, the Nicaraguan freedom fighters have made impressive gains in the field and brought the Communist Sandinistas to do something that they never would have done otherwise: negotiate. I hope the Members of our own Congress will not forget this important fact: Without the freedom fighters, there would be no Arias peace plan, there would be no negotiations and no hope for democracy in Nicaragua. An entrenched, hostile Communist regime in Nicaragua would be an irreversible fact of life, and the Sandinistas would have permanently consolidated and fortified a new Cuba on the American mainland.

Within the next few weeks, Congress will have to vote on further aid to the freedom fighters. Without that aid, the Sandinistas will know all they have to do is play a waiting game. They'll have no incentive to negotiate, no incentive to make real concessions to fulfill the peace agreement. If Congress pulls the plug on the freedom fighters, they will have accomplished what billions of dollars in Soviet aid could not: extinguishing all hope of freedom in Nicaragua and leaving the neighboring Central American democracies naked to Communist aggression.

It's the Nicaraguan freedom fighters who brought the Sandinistas to the negotiating table. It is the freedom fighters—and only the freedom fighters—who can keep them there. If we're serious about the peace process, we must keep the freedom fighters alive and strong until they can once again return home to take part in a free and democratic Nicaraguan society. They're brave men, and they've sacrificed much in the cause of freedom, and they deserve no less. There will be few more important votes in Congress than this one, and as I have so often in the past, I'll be counting on your active support. With your help, I know we can win this one.

Now, as you know, on Friday we announced a bipartisan agreement on the budget that will cover not just 1 year but 2. Now, this may not be the best deal that could be made, but it is a good, solid beginning. It provides the necessary services for our people, maintains our national security, and does so at a level that does not overburden the average American taxpayer. We have committed ourselves to a fiscal path that will lead to continued economic growth and opportunity and provide a solid base for economic stability in the future.

And finally, I'd like to say a few words about another subject of great importance to all of us: the confirmation of Judge Kennedy as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. In choosing to nominate Judge Kennedy to the Supreme Court, I kept in mind the fact that criminal eases make up the largest category of eases the Supreme Court must decide. These cases are especially important to the poor, the inner-city residents, and minority groups, since these Americans are victimized by crime to a disproportionate extent.

Judge Kennedy's record on criminal law is clear; indeed, he has participated in hundreds of criminal law decisions. He has earned a reputation as a jurist who is tough, but fair. His decisions have helped, rather than hindered, the search for truth in the courtroom. And he's been sensitive to the needs of law enforcement professionals, who each day risk their lives in the real world of street crime and violence.

Every day that passes with the Supreme Court below full strength impairs the people's business in that crucially important body. Judge Kennedy has already won bipartisan praise from the Senate, and I know you join me in looking forward to prompt Senate hearings, conducted in a spirit of cooperation.

Well, obviously we've got our work cut out for us, and as I said, there will be no resting on our laurels. In politics, as in life, if you're not moving forward, you're slipping back. So, we're turning on the gas. We're putting the pedal to the metal—as they say—and we're making tracks. And when I say "we," believe me, I'm talking about all of us here together, because you've been so much a part of everything that we've accomplished so far. And now, in these 14 months remaining, let's just pin some of those things down so they won't disappear once we're not working together.

And I want to thank you all very much, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Administration Supporters at a White House Briefing on Arms Control, Central America, and the Supreme Court Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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