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Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "The Security Gap"

October 24, 1968

For eight months I have criss-crossed America discussing major national problems. Tonight I report on the greatest Federal effort of all — our nation's defense.

The hard truth is this: the present state of our defenses is too close to peril point, and our future prospects are in some respects downright alarming. We have a gravely serious security gap.

When the Eisenhower Administration took office, one problem we faced was much as it is today. America was hopelessly bogged down in a quicksand war — Korea.

Very quickly, we ended that war. When we left the government, America was still at peace, and not one American boy had been killed or wounded on any battlefield for eight years.

Moreover, our nation was the acknowledged leader of the Free World. Our superiority in weapons was unquestioned. Our planning of diplomatic and military ventures had been conducted in a way to hold the initiative for peace. There was no waiting for crisis to develop. No wandering aimlessly into trouble and frantically devising patchwork solutions.

In those days America's policies recognized that if we were weak on small issues, we would soon be challenged on large issues. The Eisenhower position was that prudent firmness under-girds peace, but timidity, impulsiveness, and indecision lead toward war — further, that a consistent display of strength and determination prevent the miscalculations that stumble nations into dangerous encounters and war.

I retrace this history because it explains why, during the eight Eisenhower years, there was not a Berlin wall, no Bay of Pigs, no Cuban missile crisis, no Americans fighting in Southeast Asia, no Pueblo piracy. It also explains why our globe-encircling alliances stayed strong and firm.

The point is: a nation doesn't accidently keep the peace; it takes strength, careful planning, holding to principle — yes, and determination and courage as well — to keep American boys out of war.

Now let's measure where we are today, eight years later. First, let's check our weapons.

Eight years ago, when the Eisenhower Administration ended, we had a 50 percent advantage over the Soviet Union in the number of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles — the crucial weapon. Today that advantage, so important during the Cuban crisis, has become only marginal. The trend is that even this slight edge will soon be gone.

Eight years ago our numerical advantage over the Soviets in bombers was 30 percent. Now it's more than the other way around. Today the Soviets are 50 percent ahead of us.

Eight years ago, in nuclear submarines, we had a 500 percent advantage. Already it is down four-fifths and each year shrinks still more.

Eight years ago we had a decisive lead in tactical aircraft. Now the Soviets are ahead not only in numbers but also in quality. We have produced only one new aircraft of this type since 1960 while the Soviets have put out seven. Nearly all our planes today were developed by the Eisenhower Administration 10 or 15 years ago.

Eight years ago we had a large strategic stockpile of defense supplies and weapons. But the present Administration has used it to support the Vietnam war. Now it is seriously depleted. And so also is our ability to meet a future major crisis.

There are other examples, but already you know the disturbing truth. Simply this: in recent years our country has followed policies which now threaten to make America second best both in numbers and quality of major weapons.

That is why I charge the opposition with creating a security gap for America.

What is at stake here is far more than military hardware — ships, missiles, tanks, and guns. Our huge defense apparatus is our guardian of peace.

If we allow our superior strength to become second best — if we let those who threaten world peace outpace us — in time we will generate tensions which could lead to war, first, by our display of physical weakness and flabby will, and second, by tempting an aggressor to take risks that would compel us to respond.

I stress that point, because soon after our Eisenhower team left office, the new Administration reached a grave misjudgment. The idea was, if America kept up her numerical superiority, if we also stayed ahead in new weapons, we would provoke the Communist leaders, and this would dash our hopes for friendly relations and peace.

Apparently these planners had persuaded themselves they could quickly reconcile our differences with the Communist world. The Soviets, they reasoned, had tired of trouble abroad; they had troubles at home; they had lost their expansionist fervor; they had become defensive minded.

It was concluded that, by marking time in our own defense program, we could induce the Communists to follow our example, slacken their own effort, and then we would have peace in our time.

Such were the dreams that crimped our national defense program. Out of it all evolved a peculiar, unprecedented doctrine called "parity." This meant America would no longer try to be first. We would only stay even.

This concept has done us incalculable damage.

We must move, if we can, from confrontation to negotiation, and as President I would actively pursue that goal. But, just as it takes two to negotiate, so it takes two to avoid confrontations.

In a very real sense we are always in a confrontation with actual and potential adversaries in the world. There is a constant question: is the continuing confrontation to be kept limited and safe or is it to become all-out and dangerous.

The gross national product of the United States is nearly double that of the Soviets, and we have a superior technology. In order to arrive at a meaningful power balance with the Soviets these basic economic and technological strengths would also have to be equalized.

For us deliberately to let a weaker but basically expansionist nation achieve parity with us indicates an erosion of our commitment and will. It encourages the Soviets to press eagerly on — to step up their drive for strategic superiority — and then they would harshly exploit their superior strength against our sagging capabilities. In short, this "parity" concept means superiority for potential enemies. We cannot accept this concept and survive as a free people.

Other notions of this same cult of planners have hurt our country.

The Vietnam war is a tragic example. It has been painstakingly nurtured year after year by a new policy of "gradualism" until it has become the longest and one of the bloodiest, more costly military ventures in our history.

With these mistakes respect abroad for America has plummeted, to the point where a fourth rate military power, North Korea, felt free, impudently, to seize the U.S.S. Pueblo on the high seas. Today, ten months later, the ship is still in their hands. The crew is still held captive. It is an incredible humiliation of the United States.

I cannot presume to explain why such peculiar ideas were found worthy by our government, particularly in view of the emphatic Soviet declarations of their own designs. As long as six years ago the Soviet Minister of Defense, the late Marshall Malinovski, stated: "We do not intend to fall behind in development or be inferior to our public enemies in any way ... In the competition for quality of armaments in 'the future' . . . (our) superiority will evermore increase."

So the Soviets have vigorously advanced their military effort as we put ours in second gear. They have raised the quantity and quality of their ballistic missiles. They have greatly increased their submarine-launching ballistic missile capability. They have developed a land-mobile version of an inter-continental missile.

For the first time the Soviets have moved large modern naval forces into the Mediterranean.

They have deployed an anti-missile defense system. They have tested and developed an orbital bombardment system.

Their rapid advances in tactical aircraft have brought Communist bloc countries to near equality with the United States and the free world. In submarines they have made major quality improvements and have a vast numerical advantage. They are still building and stockpiling immensely powerful nuclear weapons, even as they test entirely new families of smaller tactical and naval nuclear weapons.

Recently we learned they are perfecting ballistic-missile multiple warheads far more powerful than our own. This is a grave menace to the United States, as well as a body blow to our continuing efforts toward effective arms control.

And, as all Americans bitterly know, the Soviets have been and still are the arsenal and the trainers of the North Vietnamese and have escalated this jungle battle into a major war. In addition, they continue to add fuel to the Mideast tinderbox.

Considering these developments, it is evident the last two Administrations failed in their defense responsibilities. Worse, they have so positioned our country that by 1970 or 1971 we could find ourselves with a "Survival Gap" — discovering then that we are irretrievably behind in the most critical areas.

I must add one further criticism.

Earlier I mentioned the careful planning of the Eisenhower period. I was referring particularly to an official body known as the National Security Council. This Council, chaired by the President, was established by law to integrate our diplomatic, military, and economic policies. It was our assurance that America would not aimlessly drift in world affairs, but would control and direct their course.

Throughout the Eisenhower period this Council met week in and week out under President Eisenhower's personal direction. I attended these weekly meetings for eight years, and during the President's absences due to illness, it fell to me to preside. The process was, of course, not flawless, but it was the controlling element in our success in keeping the peace throughout our eight White House years.

Since 1960, this Council has virtually disappeared as an operating function. In its place there have been catch-as-can talk-fests between the President, his staff assistants, and various others. I attribute most of our serious reverses abroad since 1960 to the inability or disinclination of President Eisenhower's successors to make effective use of this important Council.

So the risks facing our country have intensified these past eight years. Wrong policy assumptions — unrealism in numbers and kinds of weapons — laxity in research and development — flaws in the decision making process — a disregard of timing — allowing the Soviets to move rapidly toward parity and in some areas to achieve superiority — a near breakdown of top policy-making procedures — these have been somber developments for our country.

I am intensely dissatisfied with these conditions.

As President I would move promptly to correct these mistakes of judgement and action.

I intend to initiate a major reorganization of the Department of Defense to correct its overcentralization and streamline its top level over-staffing.

I intend to restore ready access of our top military professionals to the President of the United States, as contemplated by the National Security Act.

I intend to root out the "whiz kid" approach which for years in the Defense Department has led our policies and programs down the wrong roads.

I intend to restore our objective of clear-cut military superiority — meaning by this the aggregate that constitutes real superiority rather than competition weapon by weapon.

I intend to revitalize research and development, for our success in deterring war may wholly depend on our success in keeping the United States first in military science and technology.

I intend to restore the National Security Council to its pre-eminent role in national security planning.

And I intend to do away with wishful thinking either as to the capability or the intent of potential enemies.

It is clear from what I have reported tonight that America urgently needs new leadership for tomorrow —a new leadership to restore our world position — a new leadership so our nation can apply its great power and influence to the building of a stable, international order.

I repeat: the peace we won and kept during the Eisenhower Administration was not accidental or lucky. We stayed at peace because of careful planning, diplomatic skill, national strength, and constant vigilance in the day-to-day interaction of statesmen. Thus we prevented the false moves and miscalculations that bring on crises and wars.

This, then, is why I have dealt so extensively tonight with the state of our defenses. In calling for strength — in resisting deterioration of our position relative to the Soviet Union — in stressing vigorous development of new weaponry — our object is not belligerency, not turning ourselves into an international bully, not truculence or arrogance — but the very opposite. Strength we want and strength we need — to win and hold the peace. Our next President must be able to negotiate effectively with the Soviet Union and other nations on such issues as limitation of armaments. We will need to bargain on our side not with concern but with confidence — not from weakness but with the persuasiveness of respectable and evident power.

As President Kennedy said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." The United States was in that position of assurance through strength when President Kennedy took office. He was still in that position when he suddenly confronted the Cuban missile crisis. For America's sake — for the cause of world peace — our next President must be in the same position.

This is, then, a fateful election year. Let us together refashion the conditions, the atmosphere, the environment that can lead to a durable peace. In that great effort I ask your confidence and your support.

APP NOTE: From section six of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "Quest for Peace".

Richard Nixon, Remarks on the CBS Radio Network: "The Security Gap" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project