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Remarks Announcing a Conventional Arms Control Initiative and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters in Brussels

May 29, 1989

The President. I'll have a brief statement before taking some questions. This morning I met with the other NATO leaders and shared with them my views on the role of the North Atlantic alliance in a changing Europe. NATO, we all agree, is one of the great success stories, and it's guaranteed the peace in Europe, provided a shield for 40 years for freedom and prosperity. And now our alliance faces new challenges at a time of historic transition as we seek to overcome the division of Europe.

I call it "beyond containment," and today I'm proposing a major initiative to help move us toward that momentous objective. If it were accepted, it would be a revolutionary conventional arms control agreement. I believe the alliance should act decisively now to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity, and I urge that NATO adopt a 4-point proposal to bring the Vienna negotiations to a speedy conclusion.

First, lock in Eastern acceptance of the proposed Western ceilings on each side's holdings of tanks and armored troop carriers. Additionally, we would seek agreement on a similar ceiling for artillery, provided there's some definitional questions that have to be resolved there. But all of the equipment reduced would be destroyed.

We would then, number two, expand our current NATO proposal so that each side would reduce to 15 percent below current NATO levels in two additional categories: Attack and assault, or transport helicopters and all land-based combat aircraft. All of the equipment reduced would be destroyed.

And third, propose a 20-percent cut in combat manpower in United States-stationed forces and a resulting ceiling in U.S. and Soviet ground and air forces stationed outside of national territory in the Atlantic-to-the-Urals zone at approximately 275,000 each. This manpower ceiling will require the Soviets to reduce their forces in Eastern Europe by about 325,000 people. Withdrawn soldiers and airmen on both sides would be demobilized.

And then, fourthly, accelerate the timetable for reaching a CFE [conventional armed forces in Europe] agreement along these lines and implementing the required reductions. I believe that it should be possible to reach such agreement in 6 months or maybe a year and to accomplish the reductions by 1992 or 1993.

Now, if the Soviet Union accepts this fair offer, the results would dramatically increase stability on the Continent and transform the military map of Europe. We can and must begin now to set out a new vision for Europe at the end of this century. This is a noble mission that I believe the alliance should be ready to undertake. And I have no doubt that we are up to the task.

And incidentally, in addition to these arms control proposals, I mentioned in there that we are prepared to change our no-exceptions policy on trade. And I called again for a ban on chemical weapons. And I would reiterate my support for our open-skies proposal, and in the meeting it was discussed by the Prime Minister of Canada.

Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]?

Q. Mr. President, does this revolutionary plan signal the end of the Cold War?

The President. Well, I don't know what it signals, except it signals a willingness on our part to really put Mr. Gorbachev to the test now. And so, I don't like to dwell in antiquated history. But I do like to get the idea that we are out front as an alliance -- because this has broad alliance support -- in challenging Mr. Gorbachev to move forward now more quickly on the most destabilizing part of the military balance, and that is on conventional forces.

Q. Well, were you pressured by him and the allies?

The President. No, I think I said when I first came in we were going to take our time and we were going to study and we're going to think it out, and we did exactly that. And you know and I know that some voices were raised in Congress that we were going too slow. But we knew exactly what we were doing all along, and we've now said: "This is what we suggest, and this is the way we plan to lead the alliance and lead the free world."

Q. Mr. President, why is it possible to make such drastic cuts in conventional weapons and not move on nuclear aircraft -- nuclear ground-based short-range missiles, which seems to disturb the Germans and really a majority of the alliance?

The President. Because the conventional forces, the existing imbalance, is so great that that is the most urgent problem and the most destabilizing.

Q. Following up on that question: If the Soviets accept this proposal, would that enable us to talk about reducing or eliminating short-range forces?

The President. After agreement was reached and after there was some implementation, yes. We are not unwilling to negotiate on SNF.

Q. What was the reaction of the NATO leaders this morning when you told them? Did you consult with all the allies before you put it on the table?

The President. We had widespread -- and I would think everyone was consulted. I know we had widespread consultation and -- --

Secretary Baker. The answer is yes.

The President. The answer is yes to all NATO members, and -- it's been done over the last few days.

Q. What did they tell you about it? Why did they find it appealing?

The President. Well, I'll leave it to them to wax euphoric. But I'll tell you, I was very, very pleased with the response in the meeting just concluded.

Q. Mr. President, can you ever see a time when you might not have nuclear forces in Europe?

The President. No.

Q. Never?

Q. Mr. President, is there any indication -- --

The President. We need the concept of flexible response, and I can't in the foreseeable future see us getting away from that.

Q. Is there any indication that this disagreement with the West Germans over the SNF issue will be resolved here at the NATO summit?

The President. Well, I'm not really at liberty to go into too much on that, because right now we put together a working group to try to work out some resolution. But you see, this bold proposal -- in terms of conventional forces -- should give those who have had difficulty with our position on SNF a chance to regroup and rethink and give them a little leeway that they haven't had heretofore.

Q. Do you expect early negotiation by the Secretary of State with Mr. Shevardnadze or Mr. Gorbachev on this proposal, Mr. President?

The President. The sooner the better.

Q. There's been some criticism in Congress, as you mentioned, about that you have been too cautious in approaching the Soviet Union. Was that sentiment expressed today by anyone, and how did they -- was there any mention of how the West should respond to Gorbachev?

The President. No, it wasn't mentioned by anyone in there. And generally, when it was -- your question about how to respond to Gorbachev -- without putting words into the mouths of various participants, there was enthusiastic endorsement. Now, I can't speak for everybody, but for those who have intervened so far.

Q. Mr. Bush, have you "costed out" this proposal? And did the budgetary constraints play any part in your decision to try to -- --

The President. No, the budgetary constraints didn't, and I haven't seen a full cost analysis. Some of this would be quite expensive for us, short-run -- the pulling people out. But we did check militarily; I did not want to propose something that was militarily unsound. And our top military people are for this. Our SACEUR Commander [General John Galvin, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe], who wears many hats, who represents many countries, obviously, is for this. And so, we checked it in that sense.

Q. Mr. President, in some of your early policy speeches, you expressed deep skepticism about what was going on in the Soviet Union. You said this new relationship cannot be bestowed; it must be earned. Your Secretary of Defense [Cheney] said he felt Gorbachev would fail. What prompted change in your thinking to make a proposal like this?

The President. This is to put it to the test. This is to say: Here we go, we're out there now with a proposal that the United States puts forward and that has widespread alliance support. Now test it. How serious are you? Are you -- really want to reduce the imbalances that exist in all these categories, or do we want rhetoric? And so, what we're saying -- we're not changing; I'm not changing my mind. I've said I want to see perestroika succeed. I said I want to see us move forward in arms reductions. Indeed, we've set a date for the resumption of the START [strategic arms reduction] talks -- but eyes wide open. And here we go now, on the offense with a proposal that is bold and tests whether the Soviet Union will move towards balance, or whether they insist on retaining an unacceptable conventional force imbalance.

I've got time for -- is this a followup?

Soviet Political and Economic Reforms

Q. This is a followup. On the subject of Mr. Gorbachev, do you believe he will fail?

The President. I want to see him succeed -- and I've said that, and I'll repeat it here. I'm not making predictions as to what's going to happen inside the Soviet Union. Those are hard tea leaves to read. But I would like to see him succeed. He seems stronger now than he has been earlier on; but he faces enormous problems. And I hope he looks at this proposal as a way to help solve some of those enormous problems. It gets to the question of finance to maintain this number of troops outside of his country.

Conventional Arms Control Initiative

Q. Mr. President, does this four-point proposal represent your conditions that the Soviets must accept before you will open talks on the short-range missiles?

The President. Well, as I said earlier, we've got to have a reduction in conventional forces and then some implementation of that proposal.

Q. Mr. President, you described this as a proposal to the other allies. Do you expect it's going to be adopted as a formal alliance position at the end of this meeting, and then will you put it on the table at CFE very soon?

The President. I can't answer procedurally. I'd like to see it adopted, but I don't know that the people have had enough time to really -- do you know what's planned on that, Al [Alton G. Keel, Jr., Ambassador to NATO]?

Ambassador Keel. I think, clearly, the alliance will adopt it, Mr. President, in terms of the concept, but then will assign it to the proper mechanism here at NATO to finish the details on it.

Q. Why actually destroy the equipment and demobilize the troops?

The President. Well, because then we get verified -- we hope -- verified reductions that last. You can't just juggle around the players on the chessboard.

Q. Mr. President, following Helen's earlier question, there's been a lot of talk at the White House recently about public relations gambits. Do you believe that this initiative by the United States puts Mr. Gorbachev on the defensive, and does it in any way put the United States back on the top of any public relations war that might be going on?

The President. Well, one, we've eschewed getting involved in a public relations battle. This is too serious a business. Alliance security is too serious; the safety and security of American forces, for which I have direct responsibility as Commander in Chief, is too serious to be jeopardized by feeling we always have to be out front on some public relations gambit. And I think we all know that in certain quarters in the United States, my administration has taken a little bit of a hammering for not engaging in the public relations battle.

But what we've been doing is formulating what I think is a very prudent plan, and now that plan is out there on the table. So, I really can't comment on the public relations aspect. What I'm interested in is the security aspect and the strength of the alliance and then the future -- the ability of the alliance to move beyond containment.

Q. A long-term benefit of this proposal would obviously be a decrease in defense spending. Now, how much of this proposal was driven by budget considerations?

The President. Well, I thought I answered that, but let me try again to be clearer: None. What drove the proposal was the military and alliance considerations. And I would agree that if this proposal is fully implemented -- longer-run, as you put it -- it would result in less spending, particularly if these troops and weapons are demobilized, as we say.

I've got time for one more and then I've got to go to a luncheon.

Q. Mr. President, just to be clear on one point, what you're proposing is an agreement with the Warsaw Pact, not anything that you will do unilaterally; that you won't take any of these steps yourselves outside an overall agreement with the -- --

The President. This is a NATO proposal, and it would be negotiated with the Pact. But it means that -- obviously, when you're dealing with the Pact -- that the Soviet Union is going to have to be the key player. And this part of the proposal, as it relates to U.S. troops, clearly is one where both the Soviet General Secretary and I have to have agreement; but I want to keep the negotiations and the initiatives inside of the alliance.

We came over here to say the alliance has worked. It's kept the peace for 40 years, and we want to continue to keep it strong. And that's one reason I am very pleased with the alliance response to our proposal. They don't see it as soloing off there, taking care of U.S. interest; they see it as in the interest of the alliance. And again, I believe I speak -- I believe -- well, I know most of the people there feel that way, and I hope all of them.

This is the last one, and then I'm going in peace.

Q. A tick-tock question: When did you make the final decision to accept this idea? How did it evolve?

The President. Twelve days ago.

Summit With President Gorbachev

Q. One last one, sir. Do you have any interest in discussing this with Mr. Gorbachev at a summit meeting? Do you have any interest or intention of discussing this proposal or other arms proposals with Mr. Gorbachev at a summit meeting?

The President. When I have a summit meeting with Mr. Gorbachev, I expect we'll discuss a wide array of subjects.

Q. Do you anticipate that this year?

The President. When that happens, I will have wide, far-flung discussions; and no date has been set for that.

Q. Why 12 days ago?

Q. Is it likely to be speeded up, though, Mr. President, because of this proposal?

The President. Hadn't thought of it, Jack [Jack Nelson, Los Angeles Times], in this connection, but I would not rule that out. But we'll see how it's digested there in Moscow -- I hope favorably.

Q. Isn't it time for a summit now, sir, now that you've laid this out?

The President. Baker's got some more work to do.

Note: The President spoke at 12:24 p.m. in the United States Mission Annex at NATO Headquarters.

George Bush, Remarks Announcing a Conventional Arms Control Initiative and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters in Brussels Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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