Jimmy Carter photo

Statement on Defense Policy to the S.A.N.E. Organization

September 18, 1976

I have always been moved by the Biblical injunction, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. And nation shall not lift up sword against nation and neither shall they learn war anymore."

But, as we know all too well, we live in a troubled world. It is a world where man has the technological capacity to destroy himself many times over. It is a world where millions starve, but few nations lack jet fighter planes and tanks. It is a world where military spending consumes a large portion of the budgets of almost every major country.

And yet, in many ways, we have made substantial progress in the little more than a decade since President John Kennedy signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union. If elected President, I will pursue every avenue, compatible with our security, to bring about an international reduction of military spending and banish the specter of nuclear holocaust;

Even without additional international agreements, I believe that we can reduce defense spending. If elected, I would be the first President who served in the ranks of the United States Armed Forces during the post-war period. I know from first hand experience that there is significant waste in the Pentagon budget That's why I am committed to trimming away the fat so that this country has a lean, supple and muscular defense.

I have stated that there is $5 to $7 billion in waste that can be trimmed from our projected military budgets. But what I want to stress to you is that no aspect of our defense spending will be continued out of inertia. Every single item in our military budget will be forced to justify itself. I recognize that spending for new weapons systems can develop a momentum of their own; That's why I have made clear that I oppose the production of the B-l bomber at this time.

One of the most important—although little publicized—planks in the Democratic Platform is the one that talks about the eventual goal of converting military expenditures to civilian purposes. I would like to repeat the plank to you because it is one that is especially significant to me:

"The United States and other nations share a common interest in reducing military expenditures and transferring the savings into activities that raise living standards. In order to smooth the path for such changes, the Executive Branch and the Congress should encourage long-range planning by defense dependent communities, management of defense firms and unions. This process should take place within the context of the Democratic Party's commitment to planned full employment."

Conversion from military to civilian purposes will not be a simple task. It is easier to talk about beating "swords into plowshares" than it is to convert a production line from jet fighters to subway cars. It is not always easy for an engineer who has been trained in abstruse aspects of military technology to find civilian projects that need his expertise.

We must face the reality that millions of Americans depend on military spending for their economic livelihood. I remember all too well that the city of Seattle faced near-depression conditions in the early 1970's because Boeing lost several important military contracts.

Obviously, the answer is not to turn the military budget into a giant job creation program. The federal government must make military decisions for military reasons and economic decisions for economic reasons.

Instead, we must face these problems squarely through intelligent and long-range conversion planning. The dilemmas raised by the conversion of military spending to domestic purposes are not insolvable. But if we are ever going to enter an era when we can really reduce the size of the Pentagon budget, then we must begin planning for that time now.

I never want to see a day when an American President will bypass an opportunity to trim our military budget because he fears it will cause unemployment. I never want to see a day when an American President does not negotiate to reduce international armaments because he fears that it will mean a reduction in jobs at home.

There are no easy answers. But I share your goal of bringing an end to 30 years of an ever-spiraling arms race. That's why, if elected President, I will do my utmost to implement the economic conversion plank in the Democratic Platform.

The B-l Bomber

I oppose production of the B-l bomber at this time. I believe that research and development should continue. The decision on the production of this weapon system should be made by the next administration. An addition to our manned bomber fleet may become necessary, but I do not think the B-l meets this need at this time.


The CIA should not be abolished. We need some sort of intelligence gathering service. We cannot rely upon public relations handouts from Communist countries as our sources of information. But there is only one person who ultimately can be responsible for the actions of the CIA. That man is the President. As President, I can assure you that I will take full responsibility for all of the agency's actions.

We have learned recently that never again should our country become militarily involved in the internal affairs of another country unless there is a direct and obvious threat to the security of the United States or its people. We must not use the CIA or other covert means to effect violent change in any government or government policy. Such involvements are not in the best interests of world peace, and they are almost inherently doomed to failure.

We must never again keep secret the evolution of our foreign policy from the Congress and the American people. They should never again be misled about our options, commitments, our progress, or our failures. If the President sets all policies openly, reaching agreement among the leaders of both parties rather than letting a handful of people plot the policy behind closed doors, then we will avoid costly mistakes and have the support of our citizens in dealing with other nations.

The CIA must operate within the law. The President must be willing to accept responsibility for the mistakes within the Executive Branch and to take specific steps to see they do not recur. Intelligence is a service to allow foreign policy to be based on more complete information. The function of the intelligence agency should be to provide this service, not to overthrow governments or make foreign policy unilaterally or in secret.

Maritime Policy

The United States need a strong, privately owned and operated American flag merchant fleet capable of carrying all domestic water-borne commerce and a substantial proportion of its foreign commerce. We must be able to ship imports and exports during normal times of national emergency when our access to foreign flag shipping might be suddenly curtailed. An effective American flag fleet must be backed by a force of skilled and highly trained seaman and managers trained in both industry and government-run schools. In addition, it should be supported by a complex of shipyards able to produce and maintain naval vessels of all types.

Unfortunately, our national ship construction program is lagging. In 1970, Congress with only two dissenting votes enacted a 10 year program to construct 300 merchant ships. After six years only 58 vessels have been contracted for construction, and funds requested by the President and approved by Congress for merchant ship construction remain unspent.

The demands of national defense and economic security require a clearly defined and implemented national maritime policy. It should include:

(1) A commitment to a higher level of coordination of the diverse sub-Cabinet activities involved in maritime policy. One way this might be achieved would be through appointment of a Maritime Affairs Advisor to the President, who would serve as a member of the National Security Council.

(2) Continued commitment to the program set forth by the Merchant Marine Act of 1970 and to its objective of maintaining, under the American flag, a fleet whose vessels are in all respects competitive in original cost, operating cost, productivity and versatility to foreign flag fleets.

(3) A commitment to develop a national cargo policy to assure the American flag fleet access to a fair share of all types of cargo in the American trade.

A strong national maritime policy will ensure U.S. political and economic independence in a period of world turmoil and aggressiveness. At the same time this policy will preserve many productive jobs, improve our balance of payments, increase our tax base, provide an incentive for private capital investment, and maintain the American flag as a strong force worldwide.

The Space Program

Over the last 15 years, NASA has carried out with remarkable success its mission in the areas of aeronautical research and space exploration. Clearly this agency's expertise is needed in emerging priority civilian programs.

As a farmer, I am very much interested in the contribution that NASA's earth resources satellite and remote sensing technology can make to agriculture and to solving the problems of meeting future demand for food as well as for energy, raw materials and water.

While I was Governor of Georgia, data from the ERTS satellite (now called "Landsat") played a valuable role in the preparation of statewide water resource, geologic, landform, and vegetation maps as well as in the investigation of regional mineral resources and in the charting of sediment on the Georgia coast. Land cover maps were prepared using ERTS imagery for the southwestern portion of the state and for the Atlanta area, using computer techniques at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Another important area is the prospect of vastly improved telecommunications through the use of satellites. In a time of widespread inflation and high unemployment, telecommunications—including the telephone, mobile radio, television, satellites, and computers—is one of the few sectors of the economy which has consistently provided more jobs with increased productivity. New applications of telecommunications can do much more to improve our quality of life and conserve our scarce resources.

The federal government can, through agencies such as NASA, play a constructive role in encouraging more innovative uses of telecommunications and information services—particularly for improving productivity in the delivery of public services by federal, state, and local government agencies.

The creative scientific abilities gathered by NASA should be used to develop technologically feasible solutions to many of the problems facing our nation such as the development of new energy sources and better transfer of technological innovations.

Jimmy Carter, Statement on Defense Policy to the S.A.N.E. Organization Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347659

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