Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council Luncheon in California

March 31, 1983

The President. Thank you, Dr. Singleton,1 the president, and presidents past, and distinguished guests, and you ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for a very warm welcome. I can tell you that our eyes turn westward constantly in Washington. The only problem with coming out here is it's so hard to go back. [Laughter]

1 Henry Singleton, president of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

Last week, I spoke to the American people about our plans for safeguarding this nation's security and that of our allies. And I announced a long-term effort in scientific research to counter someday the menace of offensive nuclear missiles. What I have proposed is that nations should turn their best energies to moving away from the nuclear nightmare. We must not resign ourselves to a future in which security on both sides depends on threatening the lives of millions of innocent men, women, and children. And today, I would like to discuss another vital aspect of our national security: our efforts to limit and reduce the danger of modern weaponry.

We live in a world in which total war would mean catastrophe. We also live in a world that's torn by a great moral struggle between democracy and its enemies, between the spirit of freedom and those who fear freedom.

In the last 15 years or more, the Soviet Union has engaged in a relentless military buildup, overtaking and surpassing the United States in major categories of military power, acquiring what can only be considered an offensive military capability. All the moral values which this country cherishes-freedom, democracy, the right of peoples and nations to determine their own destiny, to speak and write, to live and worship as they choose—all these basic rights are fundamentally challenged by a powerful adversary which does not wish these values to survive.

This is our dilemma, and it's a profound one. We must both defend freedom and preserve the peace. We must stand true to our principles and our friends while preventing a holocaust.

The Western commitment to peace through strength has given Europe its longest period of peace in a century. We cannot conduct ourselves as if the special danger of nuclear weapons did not exist. But we must not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the problem, to abdicate our moral duty. This is the challenge that history has left us.

We of the 20th century who so pride ourselves on mastering even the forces of nature—except last week when the Queen was here— [laughter] —we're forced to wrestle with one of the most complex moral challenges ever faced by any generation. Now, my views about the Soviet Union are well known, although, sometimes I don't recognize them when they're played back to me. [Laughter] And our program for maintaining, strengthening, and modernizing our national defense has been clearly stated. Today, let me tell you something of what we're doing to reduce the danger of nuclear war.

Since the end of World War II the United States has been the leader in the international effort to negotiate nuclear arms limitations. In 1946, when the United States was the only country in the world possessing these awesome weapons, we did not blackmail others with threats to use them, nor did we use our enormous power to conquer territory, to advance our position, or to seek domination. Doesn't our record alone refute the charge that we seek superiority, that we represent a threat to peace?

We proposed the Baruch plan for international control of all nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, for everything nuclear to be turned over to an international agency. And this was rejected by the Soviet Union. Several years later, in 1955, President Eisenhower presented his "open skies" proposal, that the United States and the Soviet Union would exchange blueprints of military establishments and permit aerial reconnaissance to ensure against the danger of surprise attack. This, too, was rejected by the Soviet Union.

Now, since then, some progress has been made, largely at American initiative. The 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibited nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, or under water. The creation of the "Hot Line" in 1963, upgraded in 1971, provides direct communication between Washington and Moscow to avoid miscalculation during a crisis. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 sought to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. In 1971 we reached an agreement on special communication procedures to safeguard against accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons and on a seabed arms control treaty, which prohibits the placing of nuclear weapons on the seabed of the ocean floor. The Strategic Arms Limitation Agreements of 1972 imposed limits on antiballistic missile systems and on numbers of strategic, offensive missiles. And the 1972 Biological Warfare Convention bans—or was supposed to ban—the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons.

But while many agreements have been reached, we've also suffered many disappointments.

The American people had hoped, by these measures, to reduce tensions and start to build a constructive relationship with the Soviet Union. Instead, we have seen Soviet military arsenals continue to grow in virtually every significant category. We've seen the Soviet Union project its power around the globe. We've seen Soviet resistance to significant reductions and measures of effective verification, especially the latter. And, I'm sorry to say, there have been increasingly serious grounds for questioning their compliance with the arms control agreements that have already been signed and that we've both pledged to uphold. I may have more to say on this in the near future.

Coming into office, I made two promises to the American people about peace and security. I promised to restore our neglected defenses, in order to strengthen and preserve the peace, and I promised to pursue reliable agreements to reduce nuclear weapons. Both these promises are being kept.

Today, not only the peace but also the chances for real arms control depend on restoring the military balance. We know that the ideology of the Soviet leaders does not permit them to leave any Western weakness unprobed, any vacuum of power unfilled. It would seem that to them negotiation is only another form of struggle. Yet, I believe the Soviets can be persuaded to reduce their arsenals—but only if they see it's absolutely necessary. Only if they recognize the West's determination to modernize its own military forces will they see an incentive to negotiate a verifiable agreement establishing equal, lower levels. And, very simply, that is one of the main reasons why we must rebuild our defensive strength.

All of our strategic force modernization has been approved by the Congress except for the land-based leg of the Triad. We expect to get congressional approval on this final program later this spring. A strategic forces modernization program depends on a national, bipartisan consensus. Over the last decade, four successive administrations have made proposals for arms control and modernization that have become embroiled in political controversy. No one gained from this divisiveness; all of us are going to have to take a fresh look at our previous positions. I pledge to you my participation in such a fresh look and my determination to assist in forging a renewed, bipartisan consensus.

My other national security priority on assuming office was to thoroughly reexamine the entire arms control agenda. Since then, in coordination with our allies, we've launched the most comprehensive program of arms control initiatives ever undertaken. Never before in history has a nation engaged in so many major simultaneous efforts to limit and reduce the instruments of war.

Last month in Geneva the Vice President committed the United States to negotiate a total and verifiable ban on chemical weapons. Such inhumane weapons, as well as toxin weapons, are being used in violation of international law in Afghanistan, in Laos, and Kampuchea.

Together with our allies, we've offered a comprehensive, new proposal for mutual and balanced reduction of conventional forces in Europe.

We have recently proposed to the Soviet Union a series of further measures to reduce the risk of war from accident or miscalculation. And we're considering significant new measures resulting in part from consultations with several distinguished Senators.

We've joined our allies in proposing a Conference on Disarmament in Europe. On the basis of a balanced outcome of the Madrid meeting, such a conference will discuss new ways to enhance European stability and security.

We have proposed to the Soviet Union improving the verification provisions of two agreements to limit underground nuclear testing, but, so far, the response has been negative. We will continue to try.

And, most importantly, we have made far-reaching proposals, which I will discuss further in a moment, for deep reductions in strategic weapons and for elimination of an entire class of intermediate-range weapons.

I am determined to achieve real arms control—reliable agreements that will stand the test of time, not cosmetic agreements that raise expectations only to have hopes cruelly dashed.

In all these negotiations certain basic principles guide our policy. First, our efforts to control arms should seek reductions on both sides—significant reductions. Second, we insist that arms control agreements be equal and balanced. Third, arms control agreements must be effectively verifiable. We cannot gamble with the safety of our people and the people of the world. Fourth, we recognize that arms control is not an end in itself, but a vital part of a broad policy designed to strengthen peace and stability. It's with these firm principles in mind that this administration has approached negotiations on the most powerful weapons in the American and Soviet arsenals-strategic nuclear weapons.

In June of 1982 American and Soviet negotiators convened in Geneva to begin the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, what we call START. We've sought to work out an agreement reducing the levels of strategic weapons on both sides. I proposed reducing the number of ballistic missiles by one-half and the number of warheads by one-third. No more than half the remaining warheads could be on land-based missiles. This would leave both sides with greater security at equal and lower levels of forces. Not only would this reduce numbers; it would also put specific limits on precisely those types of nuclear weapons that pose the most danger.

The Soviets have made a counterproposal. We've raised a number of serious concerns about it. But—and this is important-they have accepted the concept of reductions. Now, I expect this is because of the firm resolve that we have demonstrated. In the current round of negotiations, we've presented them with the basic elements of a treaty for comprehensive reductions in strategic arsenals. The United States also has, in START, recently proposed a draft agreement on a number of significant measures to build confidence and reduce the risks of conflict. This negotiation is proceeding under the able leadership of Ambassador Edward Romney on our side—Edward Rowny, I should say, is on our side.

We're also negotiating in Geneva to eliminate an entire class of new weapons from the face of the Earth. Since the end of the mid-1970's, the Soviet Union has been deploying an intermediate-range nuclear missile, the SS-20, at a rate of one a week. There are now 351 of these missiles, each with three highly accurate warheads capable of destroying cities and military bases in Western Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

NATO has no comparable weapon, nor did NATO in any way provoke this new, unprecedented escalation. In fact, while the Soviets were deploying their SS-20's, we were taking a thousand nuclear warheads from shorter range weapons out of Europe.

This major shift in the European military balance prompted our West European allies themselves to propose that NATO find a means of righting the balance. And in December of '79, they announced a collective two-track decision. First, to deploy in Western Europe 572 land-based cruise missiles and Pershing II ballistic missiles, capable of reaching the Soviet Union. The purpose: to offset and deter the Soviet SS-20's. The first of these NATO weapons are scheduled for deployment by the end of this year. Second, to seek negotiations with the Soviet Union for the mutual reduction of these intermediate-range missiles.

In November of 1981 the United States, in concert with our allies, made a sweeping new proposal: NATO would cancel its own deployment if the Soviets eliminated theirs. The Soviet Union refused and set out to intensify public pressures in the West to block the NATO deployment, which has not even started. Meanwhile, the Soviet weapons continue to grow in number.

Our proposal was not made on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. We're willing to consider any Soviet proposal that meets these standards of fairness. An agreement must establish equal numbers for both Soviet and American intermediate-range nuclear forces. Other countries' nuclear forces, such as the British and French, are independent and are not part of the bilateral U.S.-Soviet negotiations. They are, in fact, strategic weapons, and the Soviet strategic arsenal more than compensates for them. Next, an agreement must not shift the threat from Europe to Asia. Given the range in mobility of the SS-20's, meaningful limits on these and comparable American systems must be global. An agreement must be effectively verifiable. And an agreement must not undermine NATO's ability to defend itself with conventional forces.

We've been consulting closely with our Atlantic allies, and they strongly endorse these principles.

Earlier this week, I authorized our negotiator in Geneva, Ambassador Paul Nitze, to inform the Soviet delegation of a new American proposal which has the full support of our allies. We're prepared to negotiate an interim agreement to reduce our planned deployment if the Soviet Union will reduce their corresponding warheads to an equal level. This would include all U.S. and Soviet weapons of this class, wherever they're located.

Our offer of zero on both sides will, of course, remain on the table as our ultimate goal. At the same time, we remain open—as we have been from the very outset—to serious counterproposals. The Soviet negotiators have now returned to Moscow, where we hope our new proposal will receive careful consideration during the recess. Ambassador Nitze has proposed and the Soviets have agreed that negotiations resume in mid-May, several weeks earlier than scheduled.

I'm sorry that the Soviet Union, so far, has not been willing to accept the complete elimination of these systems on both sides. The question I now put to the Soviet Government is: If not elimination, to what equal level are you willing to reduce? The new proposal is designed to promote early and genuine progress at Geneva.

For arms control to be truly complete and world security strengthened, however, we must also increase our efforts to halt the spread of nuclear arms. Every country that values a peaceful world order must play its part.

Our allies, as important nuclear exporters, also have a very important responsibility to prevent the spread of nuclear arms. To advance this goal, we should all adopt comprehensive safeguards as a condition for nuclear supply commitments that we make in the future. In the days ahead, I'll be talking to other world leaders about the need for urgent movement on this and other measures against nuclear proliferation.

Now, that's the arms control agenda we've been pursuing. Our proposals are fair. They're far-reaching and comprehensive. But we still have a long way to go.

We Americans are sometimes an impatient people. I guess it's a symptom of our traditional optimism, energy, and spirit. Often, this is a source of strength. In a negotiation, however, impatience can be a real handicap. Any of you who've been involved in labor-management negotiations or any kind of bargaining know that patience strengthens your bargaining position. If one side seems too eager or desperate, the other side has no reason to offer a compromise and every reason to hold back, expecting that the more eager side will cave in first.

Well, this is a basic fact of life we can't afford to lose sight of when dealing with the Soviet Union. Generosity in negotiation has never been a trademark of theirs. It runs counter to the basic militancy of Marxist-Leninist ideology. So, it's vital that we show patience, determination, and above all, national unity. If we appear to be divided, if the Soviets suspect that domestic political pressure will undercut our position, they'll dig in their heels. And that can only delay an agreement and may destroy all hope for an agreement.

That's why I've been concerned about the nuclear freeze proposals, one of which is being considered at this time by the House of Representatives. Most of those who support the freeze, I'm sure, are well intentioned, concerned about the arms race and the danger of nuclear war. No one shares their concern more than I do. But however well intentioned they are, these freeze proposals would do more harm than good. They may seem to offer a simple solution. But there are no simple solutions to complex problems. As H. L. Mencken once wryly remarked, he said, "For every problem, there's one solution which is simple, neat, and wrong." [Laughter]

The freeze concept is dangerous for many reasons. It would preserve today's high, unequal, and unstable levels of nuclear forces, and, by so doing, reduce Soviet incentives to negotiate for real reductions.

It would pull the rug out from under our negotiators in Geneva, as they have testified. After all, why should the Soviets negotiate if they've already achieved a freeze in a position of advantage to them?

Also, some think a freeze would be easy to agree on, but it raises enormously complicated problems of what is to be frozen, how it is to be achieved and, most of all, verified. Attempting to negotiate these critical details would only divert us from the goal of negotiating reductions for who knows how long.

The freeze proposal would also make a lot more sense if a similar movement against nuclear weapons were putting similar pressures on Soviet leaders in Moscow. As former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown has pointed out, the effect of the freeze "is to put pressure on the United States, but not on the Soviet Union."

Finally, the freeze would reward the Soviets for their 15-year buildup while locking us into our existing equipment, which in many cases is obsolete and badly in need of modernization. Three-quarters of Soviet strategic warheads are on delivery systems 5 years old or less. Three-quarters of the American strategic warheads are on delivery systems 15 years old or older. The time comes when everything wears out. The trouble is it comes a lot sooner for us than for them. And, under a freeze, we couldn't do anything about it.

Our B-52 bombers are older than many of the pilots who fly them. If they were automobiles, they'd qualify as antiques. A freeze could lock us into obsolescence. It's asking too much to expect our service men and women to risk their lives in obsolete equipment. The 2 million patriotic Americans in the armed services deserve the best and most modern equipment to protect them and us.

I'm sure that every President has dreamt of leaving the world a safer place than he found it. I pledge to you, my goal—and I consider it a sacred trust—will be to make progress toward arms reductions in every one of the several negotiations now underway.

I call on all Americans of both parties and all branches of government to join in this effort. We must not let our disagreements or partisan politics keep us from strengthening the peace and reducing armaments.

I pledge to our allies and friends in Europe and Asia, we will continue to consult with you closely. We're conscious of our responsibility when we negotiate with our adversaries on conditions of—or issues of concern to you and your safety and well-being.

To the leaders and people of the Soviet Union, I say, join us in the path to a more peaceful, secure world. Let us vie in the realm of ideas, on the field of peaceful competition. Let history record that we tested our theories through human experience, not that we destroyed ourselves in the name of vindicating our way of life. And let us practice restraint in our international conduct, so that the present climate of mistrust can some day give way to mutual confidence and a secure peace.

What better time to rededicate ourselves to this undertaking than in the Easter season, when millions of the world's people pay homage to the One who taught us, peace on Earth, good will toward men?

This is the goal, my fellow Americans, of all the democratic nations—a goal that requires firmness, patience, and understanding. If the Soviet Union responds in the same spirit, we're ready. And we can pass on to our posterity the gift of peace—that and freedom are the greatest gifts that one generation can bequeath to another.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Mr. Haddad. 2 Thank you very, very much, Mr. President.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Reagan has graciously agreed to answer a few questions from the audience. We respectfully ask that the questions be short and to the point, and no speeches. [Laughter]

We'll start over here. Yes, sir?

2 Edmonde A. Haddad, executive director of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

Kenneth L. Adelman

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Haddad. Would the President please give us an update on the nomination of Kenneth Adelman?

The President. Well, it will be taken up now by the Senate, because it has passed out of committee to the floor, although it passed out with a one margin negative vote against him.

I am optimistic that the Senate will ratify him. He is an excellent choice. He does have the knowledge and experience and ability that we need, and he is highly respected in diplomatic circles. And I just think that since the biggest thing that they could ever find out against him in the committee was that somebody wrote him a letter and they didn't like the letter—he didn't write it, he received it. [Laughter] And I think he should be ratified, and I'm looking forward to it.

Mr. Haddad. Thank you. Another question. That gentleman right over there. Yes, sir?

1984 Presidential Campaign

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Haddad. Thank you. The gentleman says in view of the delay of agreement or of the Soviets on arms control, wouldn't it be better for the President to declare his intention to run for office again earlier?

The President. Well, I can't give a very specific answer to that. I can only say that, you know, if too early you become a lame-duck and then you can't get anything done—and if the answer is one way. And if the answer is the other way, then everything you try to do is viewed as being political and part of a campaign.

I have said that I think the people tell you whether you should seek reelection or not, and I will remember your response to the question.

Mr. Haddad. The gentleman in the tan suit standing in the back.

Guidelines for the Press—

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Haddad. The gentleman questions the new guidelines set by the White House and the President on the press. Are we not imitating our adversaries when we set such tough guidelines?

The President. No, I don't believe so. What we're trying to control is what seems to be the favorite game of Washington-even more popular than the Redskins—and that is leaks. As a matter of fact, I think sometimes that we ought to just turn to the chandeliers and tell them what it is that we're trying to do, because they must have ears. [Laughter]

The trouble is, some of the leaks are unfounded, or they're from people down in the bureaucracy someplace who only know a part of what they're leaking. Sometimes it is misinformation on, maybe, a memorandum of options that has been presented to the Cabinet and to the President. And they're leaked before they've even been seen. And they're leaked as being decisions that have already been made.

But the worst part of it is that then the interpretation that is very often put on this incomplete or misinformation is such that it actually can endanger the things that I have been talking about here today. If you're going to negotiate, you can't be in the position of saying in advance, "Well, what's your backup position, or what are you going to do, and what is your strategy?" And yet, this comes about in the press and leads the other side of the table to believe, "Well, they're considering something else."

We have actually had to do something in the line of explaining and apologizing when leaks that are absolutely fallacious, have brought a difference, a kind of confrontation between ourselves and some of our friends and allies in the world. And all we've proposed is methods of intercepting the leaks from the government, itself, to the press.

But I don't believe that we're making it difficult at all. As a matter of fact, I have increased the amount of time that I'm going to spend with the press. And we started last week on that, so that they will have greater access to me. And I just think that the press must recognize it, too, has a responsibility for the welfare of the Nation.

The Middle East

Mr. Haddad. Mr. President, Ambassador Habib 3 has just returned from the Middle East. I wonder if you could give us an update on your peace initiative, where it stands in the Middle East at this time.

3 Philip C. Habib, the President's Special Representative for the Middle East.

The President. Well, it has been a frustrating experience. And there have been gains made. But there are still some points of disagreement.

We believed in the original proposal-and this has been confirmed by many nations in the Middle East—that we cannot proceed with the general subject of overall peace for that troubled area until the forces that are in Lebanon get out, and the Lebanese Government is at last, after all these years, allowed to establish its own sovereignty over its own land. Lebanon has asked for this at the—the Israelis are still in there, the Syrians are still with occupying forces, and there are elements of the PLO still there. And what we have sought is a withdrawal of these forces to their own borders. This is one of the reasons for the multinational forces being there, to help Lebanon maintain order while they bring this about, and then proceed at the negotiating table to take up the overall problems.

Very simply, what the whole goal of our plan is—and it's being delayed until we can get this clearing of Lebanon—the goal is to create more Egypts. Egypt and Israel were once at war, and they came together with a peace treaty and became friends there in the Middle East. I don't think that it's impossible to believe that among the Arab States there are other potential Israels and that—my dream is that Israel can only know real security if it doesn't have to remain an armed camp far beyond what its size warrants, but could know the security of being surrounded by neighbors that recognize its right to exist as a nation and have signed peace treaties with them.

Thank you.

Mr. Haddad. All right. This lady right over here.

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Haddad. This lady compliments the President. She's just returned from a trip in Latin America and say they all support us there or

The President. Thank you very much.

Mr. Haddad. This questioner right here.

Arms Sales to Israel

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Haddad. Thank you. The gentleman wonders with the installation of Soviet SAM-5's in Syria, is the President prepared to release the American planes scheduled for shipment to Israel?

The President. You must realize that under the law—the law exists now—those weapons must be for defensive purposes. And this is, again, one of the obstacles presented by the stalemate in Lebanon. While these forces are in the position of occupying another country that now has asked them to leave, we are forbidden by law to release those planes. They're F-16's, the planes that are on order. And it's as simple as the other forces returning to their own countries and letting Lebanon be Lebanon.

Mr. Haddad. This'll be the last question, ladies and gentlemen, the last question. And before—would all please remain seated until the Presidential party leaves the room?

The gentleman over here, yes.

U.S.-European Relations

Q. [Inaudible]

Mr. Haddad. Would the President support a greater public relations for a closer relationship with the peoples of Europe, inasmuch as they seem to be our first line of defense?

The President. Yes. And we have been trying to do more in that regard.

I think the relationship that we have with the countries of Western Europe now, between our government and theirs, is probably better and firmer than it's ever been. But it is true that there is a great counterpropaganda effort there trying to divide us from our allies, or divide them from us, and at the same time to prevent the deployment, the scheduled deployment of the Pershings and the cruise missiles versus the SS-20's.

And we have—this was part of the reason for Vice President Bush's trip there. We are using other measures. I don't know whether we can actually turn around some of the people that have organized, as they have here, in regard to the nuclear freeze and so forth. I understand they're planning over this weekend sizable demonstrations there.

But you're right, we have not been the best, in years past, at matching our adversaries in propaganda. And we've got something to sell, and we better start selling it. Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:55 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Prior to his appearance at the luncheon, he attended a reception for council members at the hotel.

Following his remarks, the President went to Rancho del Cielo, his ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council Luncheon in California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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