Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks Announcing Changes in the United States Position at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks

June 08, 1983

Good morning.

The strategic arms talks, or START, as we have named it, officially resumed today in Geneva, and I would like to speak for a moment about my hopes for these important negotiations and about changes which I've decided to make in our START proposal. Such changes reflect concerns and recommendations of the Scowcroft commission, the Congress, and others. They offer the prospect of new progress toward a START agreement.

Before discussing these specifics, I would like to comment on what I see as very positive developments taking place both here and abroad.

I'm happy to say that today there's a growing sense that we're making progress. I just met in Williamsburg, as you perhaps have heard, with the leaders of the major industrialized nations, and I was struck there not only by the facts and figures pointing toward economic recovery but also by a spirit of optimism and cooperation which was remarkable. This same spirit is visible in our discussion on security issues.

In NATO, as in other alliances, there's a new feeling of partnership. The Atlantic alliance is alive and well, and its close consultations are a source of strength and participation for each of its members. At least as important, and very gratifying to me, is the new spirit of bipartisanship on national security issues which is increasingly evident in both Houses of Congress.

When I established the Scowcroft commission, I could not then foresee the impact that this outstanding panel would have. Clearly, the Commission's work, which went beyond MX to address critical issues of deterrence and arms control, has become a major stimulus to the rethinking of national policy. The Commission's report challenged some favorite assumptions and called for changes in our strategic planning. At the same time, it expressed support for my administration's most heartfelt objectives in arms control—deep reductions, modernization for stability's sake, and the elimination of the first-strike threat.

I have pledged to Congress my full support for the Scowcroft commission recommendations and my intention to incorporate them in our START proposal. So that we can continue to benefit from the wisdom of its counsel, I intend to ask the Commission to continue to serve. Its bipartisan membership will thus be able to provide timely advice to me, both with respect to the adoption of its proposals into our defense program, and our arms control policies.

In recent weeks, I and officials of my administration have had an extensive series of private meetings with many Members of Congress. We've reviewed implications for the START negotiations of the Scowcroft commission recommendations and also of the mutual guaranteed build-down advocated by a number of distinguished Members of the Congress. The review of our START position was capped by four recent meetings, three yesterday and one today.

Yesterday morning at a meeting of the National Security Council, my senior advisers and I reviewed major implications and options. We also considered a range of congressional viewpoints. Yesterday afternoon I met with groups of Senators and Congressmen whose interest and expertise in arms control I value highly. I discussed with them the major issues before us. And this morning, I met with the leadership of both Houses of the Congress. And throughout the START negotiations, the administration has consulted with our allies.

Three full rounds of negotiations of START are now behind us. It's my judgment that these rounds have been useful and have permitted us to cover necessary ground. However, due largely to Soviet intransigence, we have not yet made meaningful progress on the central issues. I remain firmly committed to take whatever steps are necessary to increase the likelihood of real, substantive progress toward an agreement involving significant reductions in U.S. and Soviet strategic nuclear arsenals and in the national security interests of both sides.

Above all, our goal is to maintain a stable nuclear balance in order to reduce the risk of war. Our efforts in the START negotiations must be guided by that objective.

The report of the Scowcroft commission offers us a new opportunity for progress. It has provided a consistent and coherent framework to guide our thinking about the fundamental elements of our national security policy—deterrence, defense, and arms control. But more than that, it has provided the basis for renewed, bipartisan support for that policy.

To capitalize on this critical opportunity and on the basis of the widest possible range of advice, I have directed new steps toward progress in achieving real arms reductions at the START negotiations. The purpose of this guidance, provided to Ambassador Ed Rowny, our Chief START Negotiator, is to adjust the U.S. START position to bring it into line with the Scowcroft commission's recommendations and to provide additional flexibility to our negotiators in pursuing our basic goals.

Although we have put forth a comprehensive proposal on limiting strategic ballistic missiles and bombers, our primary aim in the START negotiations has been, and continues to be, to reduce the threat posed by the most destabilizing systems, namely ballistic missiles. To achieve that aim, measures that constrain the number and destructive capability and potential of ballistic missile warheads are essential. Our proposed limit of 5,000 total ballistic missile warheads—a reduction by one-third of the current level—remains the central element of the U.S. START position.

The U.S. START position tabled in previous negotiating rounds includes another constraint. It would have limited each side to no more than 850 deployed ballistic missiles. This measure was never viewed as being as useful or important a constraint as the limit on total ballistic missile warheads. The Scowcroft commission report specifically suggested that it should be reassessed, since it could constrain the evolution we seek towards small, single-warhead ICBM's. Acting upon the Commission's recommendation, I have now directed our negotiators to adjust our position on deployed ballistic missiles by relaxing our current proposal for an 850 deployed ballistic missile limit.

At the same time, the United States remains firm on the point that the destructive capability and potential of ballistic missiles must be addressed in START. Our current position includes a network of constraints designed to lead toward a more stable strategic balance at reduced force levels while addressing the destructive potential of missiles.

The Soviets and others have complained that these constraints are designed to dictate Soviet force structure according to U.S. standards. This is not the case. We believe, as does the Scowcroft commission, that ability-or stability—can be increased by limitations on the destructive capability and potential of ballistic missiles. As a consequence, we will continue to propose such constraints which indirectly get to the throw-weight problem, while making clear to the Soviets our readiness to deal directly with the corresponding destructive capability, if they prefer.

There may be more than one way to achieve our objective of greater stability at reduced levels of arms. So, I've instructed Ambassador Rowny to make clear to the Soviet delegation our commitment to our fundamental objectives, but I have also given him the flexibility to explore all appropriate avenues for meeting our goals. I sincerely hope that the Soviet Union will respond with corresponding flexibility.

Finally, high priority work is continuing on how the mutual and guaranteed builddown concept proposed by several United States Senators can be applied in our quest for significant and stabilizing strategic arms reductions.

These actions reflect a bipartisan consensus on arms control and new flexibility in the negotiations—steps to be viewed by the Soviets and all others who have a stake in world peace. To the leaders of the Soviet Union, I urge that this new opportunity not be lost. To America's friends and allies around the world, I say that your steadfast support for the goals of both deterrence and arms control is essential in the future. To Congress and to the American people, I say let us continue to work together in a bipartisan spirit so that these days will be spoken of in the future as the time when America turned a corner. Let us put our differences behind us. Let us demonstrate measured flexibility in our approach, while remaining strong in our determination to reach our objectives of arms reduction, stability, and security. Let us be leaders in the cause of peace.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:02 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks Announcing Changes in the United States Position at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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