Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Announcement of the United States Strategic Weapons Program

October 02, 1981

The President. As President, it's my solemn duty to ensure America's national security while vigorously pursuing every path to peace. Toward this end, I have repeatedly pledged to halt the decline in America's military strength and restore that margin of safety needed for the protection of the American people and the maintenance of peace.

During the last several years, a weakening in our security posture has been particularly noticeable in our strategic nuclear forces—the very foundation of our strategy for deterring foreign attacks. A window of vulnerability is opening, one that would jeopardize not just our hopes for serious productive arms negotiations, but our hopes for peace and freedom.

Shortly after taking office, I directed the Secretary of Defense to review our strategy for deterrence and to evaluate the adequacy of the forces now available for carrying out that strategy. He and his colleagues, in consultation with many leaders outside the executive branch, have done that job well. And after one of the most complex, thorough, and carefully conducted processes in memory, I am announcing today a plan to revitalize our strategic forces and maintain America's ability to keep the peace well into the next century.

Our plan is a comprehensive one. It will strengthen and modernize the strategic triad of land-based missiles, sea-based missiles, and bombers. It will end longstanding delays in some of these programs and introduce new elements into others. And just as important, it will improve communications and control systems that are vital to these strategic forces.

This program will achieve three objectives:

—It will act as a deterrent against any Soviet actions directed against the American people or our allies;

—It will provide us with the capability to respond at reasonable cost and within adequate time to any further growth in Soviet forces;

—It will signal our resolve to maintain the strategic balance, and this is the keystone to any genuine arms reduction agreement with the Soviets.

Let me point out here that this is a strategic program that America can afford. It fits within the revised fiscal guidelines for the Department of Defense that I announced last week. And during the next 5 years, the entire cost of maintaining and rebuilding our strategic forces will take less than 15 percent of our defense expenditures. This is considerably below the 20 percent of our defense budget spent on strategic arms during the 1960's, when we constructed many of the forces that exist today. It is fair to say that this program will enable us to modernize our strategic forces and, at the same time, meet our many other commitments as a nation.

Now, let me outline the five main features of our program.

First, I have directed the Secretary of Defense to revitalize our bomber forces by constructing and deploying some 100 B-1 bombers as soon as possible, while continuing to deploy cruise missiles on existing bombers. We will also develop an advanced bomber with "stealth" characteristics for the 1990's.

Second, I have ordered the strengthening and expansion of our sea-based forces. We will continue the construction of Trident submarines at a steady rate. We will develop a larger and more accurate sea-based ballistic missile. We will also deploy nuclear cruise missiles in some existing submarines.

Third, I've ordered completion of the MX missiles. We have decided, however, not to deploy the MX in the racetrack shelters proposed by the previous administration or in any other scheme for multiple protective shelters. We will not deploy 200 missiles in 4,600 holes, nor will we deploy 100 missiles in 1,000 holes.

We have concluded that these basing schemes would be just as vulnerable as the existing Minuteman silos. The operative factor here is this: No matter how many shelters we might build, the Soviets can build more missiles, more quickly, and just as cheaply.

Instead, we will complete the MX missile which is much more powerful and accurate than our current Minuteman missiles, and we will deploy a limited number of the MX missiles in existing silos as soon as possible.

At the same time, we will pursue three promising long-term options for basing the MX missile and choose among them by 1984, so that we can proceed promptly with full deployment.

Fourth, I have directed the Secretary of Defense to strengthen and rebuild our communications and control system, a much neglected factor in our strategic deterrent. I consider this decision to improve our communications and control system as important as any of the other decisions announced today. This system must be foolproof in case of any foreign attack.

Finally, I have directed that we end our long neglect of strategic defenses. This will include cooperation with Canada on improving North American air surveillance and defense, and as part of this effort, I've also directed that we devote greater resources to improving our civil defenses.

This plan is balanced and carefully considered—a plan that will meet our vital security needs and strengthen our hopes for peace. It's my hope that this program will prevent our adversaries from making the mistake others have made and deeply regretted in the past—the mistake of underestimating the resolve and the will of the American people to keep their freedom and protect their homeland and their allies.

Now, I can only remain here for a few minutes. And I will do so for just a few questions that might deal with the statement or with policy. But for all the technical matters, I am going to turn you over to Secretary [of Defense] Cap Weinberger.

Yes, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].

Q. On that, would we be ready to use these new systems as bargaining chips in arms talks with the Soviets?

The President. Oh, I think everything having to do with arms, Helen, would have to be on the table.

Q. Mr. President, when exactly is this "window of vulnerability?" We heard yesterday the suggestion that it exists now. Earlier this morning, a defense official indicated that it was not until '84 or '87. Are we facing it right now?

The President. Well, I think in some areas we are, yes. I think the imbalance of forces, for example, on the Western front, in the NATO line—we are vastly outdistanced there. I think the fact that right now, they have a superiority at sea.

Q. Mr. President, if there is or will be a "window of vulnerability," why is the MX any less vulnerable if it's in silos, the location of which the Soviets presumably already know, unless we were going to launch on their attack?

The President. I don't know but what maybe you haven't gotten into the area that I'm going to turn over to the Secretary of Defense.

I could say this: The plan also includes the hardening of silos so that they are protected against nuclear attack. Now, we know that is not permanent. We know that they can then improve their accuracy, their power, and their ability, but it will take them some time to do that, and they will have to devote a decided effort to doing that.

Q. So this is a way then of buying time, sir?

The President. In a way, of narrowing that "window of vulnerability."

Q. Mr. President, some people already are saying that your decisions are based to a large extent on politics, domestic politics, so let me ask you about two points: One, that you never considered the racetrack system because it was proposed by Jimmy Carter, and you didn't want to have anything to do with something that he had proposed; and, two, that you're not basing the MX in Utah and Nevada because of opposition from the Mormon Church and your good friend, Senator Paul Laxalt.

The President. Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News], I can tell you now, no, the entire study of the basis for basing—I got tangled up there with two words that sounded so much alike—the MX missile was a very thorough study of all those proposals that had been made. And actually, I could refer you to the Townes Commission [Panel], their study and their report that we would not have an invulnerable missile basing by doing that; that all they would have to do is increase the number of targeted warheads on that particular area and take out the whole area; and while it would force them to build additional missiles, we would be just as vulnerable as we are in the present Minutemen.

Q. Laxalt didn't persuade you, sir?

The President. No, no.

Q. Mr. President, your predecessor killed the B-1 manned bomber because he said it couldn't penetrate Soviet air defenses. The Soviets can make a lot of progress in radar between now and 1986. Can you guarantee that the B-1 could penetrate Soviet air defenses, and is it the best plane as a cruise missile launch platform?

The President. I think, again, you're getting in—I think that my few minutes are up— [laughter] —and I'm going to turn that question over to Cap. I think I know the answer to it, but I do believe that you are getting into the kind of questions that he is properly.—

Q. Well, could you tell us why you decided to build the B-1 as opposed to your predecessor's decision not to build it? Do you think it can penetrate Soviet air space?

The President. We have to have it, because between the aging B-52 and the bomber we are developing, the newer bomber, there is too long a time gap in there and would leave us a very lengthy, vulnerable period. And the B-1 is designed not just to fill that gap, but it will then have a cruise missile carrying capacity later, in which it will still be worth the cost of building and worth having.

But now, I'm going to turn it over to Cap here for the rest of the questions.

Note: The President spoke at 2 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

The Townes Panel was organized by the Department of Defense to study alternative basing modes for the MX missile system.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Announcement of the United States Strategic Weapons Program Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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