John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

February 07, 1962

THE PRESIDENT. I have two announcements to make.

[1.] In the next days and weeks, there will be a good deal said and written about two American policies, one in the field of disarmament, and the other in the field of preparations which have already been announced, to be in a position to test in the atmosphere if our national security indicates that it's desirable.

There is no inconsistency here in my judgment, because I think that we would be deeply irresponsible not to follow both courses. We are making necessary preparations for testing because of the wholly new situation created by the secretly prepared and massive series of 40 to 50 tests conducted by the Soviet Union last fall while active efforts for a test ban agreement were still going forward.

This Soviet action took place in the face of a whole series of actions and efforts on our side. In the last year we have made at least a dozen new moves in a search for an agreement, and we have restated again and again our willingness to sign an effective treaty. We stated it before, during, and after the Soviet tests. The Soviet tests not only ended the moratorium; they presented us with grave questions as to the long range safety of avoiding all atmospheric tests while the U.S.S.R. remains able to prepare in secret, and then test at will.

We are amply strong for today and tomorrow, but we must consider the future, too. These questions are still being reviewed. And there will be no testing that is not clearly necessary, but I have ordered preparations because I shall not hesitate m order the tests themselves if it is decided that they are necessary to maintain the effective deterrent strength of the United States.

Any other course would imply unilateral disarmament, and would serve no try course of peace. But at the same time, and with equal energy, we shall go on seeking a path towards a genuine and controlled disarmament. What this means for atmospheric testing is methods of inspection and control which could protect us against a repetition of prolonged secret preparations for a sudden series of major tests. If and when effective agreements can be reached, no nation will be more ready than ours to see all testing brought under control, and nuclear weapons as well. The fact that we must prudently meet our defense needs in the meantime is only one more reason for working towards disarmament. So I repeat that these two courses are consistent with each other. We must follow both at once. It would be a great error to suppose that either of them makes the other wrong or unnecessary.

I wholly disagree with those who would put all their faith in an arms race and abandon their efforts for disarmament. But I equally disagree with those who would allow us neglect of our defensive needs in the absence of effective agreements for controlled disarmament.

[2.] Secondly, I want to take this opportunity to express my pleasure at the Senate's action yesterday, retaining in the college aid bill the provision for 212,000 college scholarships. It is urgent that this provision be retained in the conference and not dropped out or compromised by another student loan program. A loan of $4,000 or $5,600 would enable many bright but needy students to receive 4 years of college, working his way for the balance. But one-half of all American families earn less than $5,600 a year, and they simply cannot take on that kind of debt. Colleges which are caught in financial squeezes themselves can afford to offer scholarships to only about 10 percent of their students. All American parents want their children to have an opportunity to go to college, but only a few are able to put aside the $7,000 which the average 4-year course now requires. The cost has nearly doubled since 1950 and, as I said in my message, this Nation as a result loses each year the talents of hundreds and thousands of our most talented high school graduates who cannot afford to postpone earning a living for 4 more years. This is a real national and individual loss, and I hope the Congress will keep the scholarships in the bill.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, in connection with your public school bill, two points: As I understand it, last year's piece of legislation is, for all intents and purposes, dead in the Rules Committee, and Mr. Powell has said he won't move unless urgently requested by you to do so. And now today, Cardinal Spellman said passage would bring an end to the parochial school system. Should your message be interpreted as that urging that Mr. Powell has talked about, and can the religious question be beaten?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, when the Rules Committee, by a vote of eight to seven, tabled the bill last year, the procedures Would now require a two-thirds vote of the Rules Committee to send it to the floor. I wish we could get a two-thirds vote. If we cannot, then another bill would have to come out of the House Education and Labor Committee, and I am hopeful that members of the Labor Committee--Education Committee-who did send the previous bill to the Rules Committee in the hope it would go to the floor--I'm hopeful that they will take action again. And, because I think it is such an urgent matter, I will do everything I can to have the Congress take favorable action on this subject this year.

Now, in regard to the second part of the question, I took the oath to defend the Constitution. The position which I've taken on this matter I've taken after legal advice from the Attorney General, and from the counsel at the Department of HEW.

It is a--I said the maximum which I thought we could carry on under the United States Constitution, and as I take my oath to defend it, that would be my position, unless the Supreme Court decision should change the previous interpretation which had been made of that constitutional provision. So I am going to continue to take the position I now take, unless--based on constitutional grounds--unless there is a new judgment by the Supreme Court.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, there seems to be some doubt, at least on the local level and in the region where this is going on, as to the right of the American people and the rest of the world to know the extent of the battle in South Viet-Nam. Could you tell us, sir, what the situation there is? How deeply are we involved in what seems to be a growing war and what are the rights of the people to know what our forces are doing?

THE PRESIDENT. There is a war going on in South Viet-Nam. I think that last week there were over 500 killings, assassinations, bombings. The casualties are high. It's a-I said last week--a subterranean war, guerrilla war of increasing ferocity. The United States, since the end of the Geneva accord setting up the South Vietnamese Government as an independent government, has been assisting Viet-Nam economically to maintain its independence and viability, and also had sent training groups out there, which have been expanded in recent weeks as the attacks on the government and the people of South Viet-Nam have increased.

We are out there on training and on transportation, and we are assisting in every way we properly can, the people of South Viet-Nam who with the greatest courage and under danger are attempting to maintain their freedom.

Now, this is an area where there is a good deal of danger and it's a matter of information. We don't want to have information which is of assistance to the enemy--and it's a matter which I think will have to be worked out with the Government of Viet-Nam, which bears the primary responsibility.

[5.] Q. My question concerns the impasse which has arisen between Secretary McNamara and the Senate subcommittee inquiring into the alleged muzzling of the military at the Pentagon. Do you support the Secretary, sir, in his refusal to identify the reviewers who have made specific changes in speeches, and have you any suggestion on how the impasse may be resolved?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'd like to first review exactly what the Secretary of Defense has made available to the committee. He has made available every speech that was given; he has made available all the changes, in each speech, which was suggested by the 14 or 15 reviewers, two-thirds of whom are military officers, most of whom have had distinguished military records; he has made available the names of all of the reviewers. He has made--he has told the committee that he will make all of the reviewers available.

He has also informed the committee that he will send an explanation for every change and the arguments for it. What he has not done, and what he, in my opinion, should not do, is attempt to subject each of these men to a long interrogation as to, personally, the reasons for which they might have taken on this word or that word. The responsibility is Secretary McNamara's and he is going to accept that responsibility and, in my opinion, that is the only way that a department can function. If he is going to get honest and loyal support from those who work for him in carrying out his policies, then Secretary McNamara must accept the responsibility, and he does accept it.

And I think he has been extremely cooperative with the committee, and I don't think that Mr. McNamara or I, however, can agree to a harassment of individuals who are only carrying out the policies dictated by their superiors. And I think that Mr. McNamara has cooperated very fully and will continue to do so in the areas which I've named.

Q. Well, sir, would you recommend that he invoke Executive privilege, if necessary?

THE PRESIDENT. If necessary, definitely.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, your statement that a wholly new situation has been created by the Soviet nuclear tests suggests, or might be interpreted to mean that they have made some breakthrough, perhaps even overtaken us in nuclear capability. Can you tell us what your estimate of our strength versus theirs is in the light of their tests?

THE PRESIDENT. My statement today indicates our feeling about our relative position today and tomorrow, but this is a matter, of course, which is of continuing concern. These tests were very intensive. They have been in preparation for many months. And we--we could see a period go by possibly of another year or year and a half secret preparations being made--and, suddenly, a new series of tests. And then extrapolations from those tests. And particularly when matters involving, for example, the antimissile missile may be involved, you have to consider very carefully what the situation is going to be not today, not next year, but 3 years or 4 years from now. The United States went far along the road in an attempt to get an agreement, not only the previous administration, but this administration. As I've said before, it was obvious that these preparations had been going on for many months. Our preparations, which I have announced before, have taken many months since the Soviet tests. This is a long, drawn-out matter. And we cannot permit these tests to go on year after year, and at the same time expect that the security of the Western World is going to be protected. So I would say that my statement describes what I think is our present position, what our future risks are, and before any definite action is taken, any final decision is made, I will comment in detail to the American people for--the reasons for whatever decision we make.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, in the circumstances which you have now described and with the preparations which you have ordered presumably going forward, have we now reached agreement with the British on the use of Christmas Island?

THE PRESIDENT. A statement on that will be forthcoming very shortly, in the next 24 hours or 48 hours.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, Governor Rockefeller had some harsh things to say about you last Thursday. It was in connection with your urban affairs proposal. I think he accused you of political fakery. I'm sure you know what he said. Would you want to comment on it?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I was interested in the statement because, as you know, in 1956 and 1957, Governor Rockefeller recommended the exact proposal that we recommended. The only difference, and I was recently examining his recommendations to President Eisenhower, was that he recommended that civil defense be included, but as we have placed civil defense under the military, that really is the only significant change. So he must have, for one reason or another, changed his point of view on it.

The second reason he criticized me was because I, in response to a question, said Mr. Weaver was going to be appointed. Now, obviously, the Governor has forgotten that on March 12, 1953, when President Eisenhower sent up the proposal for the reorganization of the establishment of the Department of HEW, on the 13th it came from the White House that he was going to appoint Mrs. Hobby to be the Secretary. And the only reason that I was astonished that the Governor then forgot it was that he then became her deputy. [Laughter] And--so that it seems to me that the situation is not altogether dissimilar. However, I did read that--Mr. Reston's column in the Times, where Mr. Fulton Lewis had said that no one could get to the right of Barry Goldwater, but now I'm not so sure. [Laughter]

[9.] Q. Mr. President, in the event the seemingly impossible task of a complete and checked to 100 percent disarmament could be arranged with the Soviets, some have speculated this would provide a very severe blow to our economy. Would you comment on that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the disarmament agency has made a study of that, and talked about some of the problems that might be forthcoming economically. But of course, we could never have a change comparable to the change we had in '45 when we went from a tremendously high expenditure, at a time when our gross national product was far less than it is today, into a terribly sharp drive, and had 3 very, very prosperous years of full employment, so that that would be the last reason, I think, that we would benefit. We can do so many more useful things from a social point of view with--if we had the funds that were available, so I don't think that's any argument against disarmament. The problem, of course, is to make sure our security is protected and that the inspection systems be adequate, and that's what's hung us up in the past.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, could I ask you to amplify your statement on nuclear tests. Did you mean to suggest that any decision taken by this Government to resume atmospheric tests will be contingent upon further or future Soviet tests?

THE PRESIDENT. No, it will be contingent upon our judgment as to the effects on our security of this series of tests, and the lessons and extrapolations that could be taken from them and what effect this might have on our security at a later date.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, last week in transmitting the report of the Disarmament and Arms Control Agency to Congress, you spoke not only of the hope but the expectation that significant progress toward workable disarmament would be made at Geneva. In the light of recent events, could you clarify this "expectation" part of it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I put more stress on our hope and our earnest desire and our feeling that this arms race is--in the long run really doesn't provide really very great security for the human race or for all of those who are involved in it. And it's our hope, and I'm sure that we're going to make a major effort at this disarmament conference to see if we can call a halt, because nuclear weapons are spreading to other countries, and if we try to look at what the world is going to look like in 1970 or 1975, with all of the dangers that we will have with weapons of this size in the hands of a good many nations, we're going to make a major effort. I was merely attempting to indicate why I did not feel that our situation in these two' areas was necessarily paradoxical.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, a businessman and politician named George Romney has accused your administration of not doing enough for business and your party of being dominated by labor unions. Would you take this opportunity to reply to those charges?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think that I'll just let Mr. Romney--I saw the program and the statement. I think that he said that neither this administration nor the previous one had done enough for business, and I think that we'll have to wait and see what--as Mr. Romney's positions evolve I think there may be a time for an appropriate comment-but I think it's still too early. [Laughter]

[13.] Q. Mr. President, the Democratic organization has been criticized as unfairly attaching the John Birch Society to the Republican .Party, sort of guilt by association. Do you believe that such far right radical groups properly belong in the Republican Party? [Laughter] And since General Walker is running as a Democrat in Texas, do you believe he properly belongs in the Democratic Party?

THE PRESIDENT. That question must have taken some--work. I will say that President Eisenhower has been as vigorous in his denunciations of the John Birch Society as l have. I think that it certainly has no place in the Republican Party of President Eisenhower, and I'm sure that among the responsible heads of the Republican Party, it has no place in their party. I quite agree, it is totally alien, I think, to both parties.

Now, in regard to the second question, everybody is free to run, and the people will decide, in either party.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, I understated that our Congo airlift has now surpassed the Berlin airlift of 1948. Could you tell me just what these supplies consist of and are we footing the bill entirely, or are the other U.N. nations also helping?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the cost of the airlift is being paid for by the United Nations, to which we contribute. One of the ways in which we had hoped to lessen our contribution, as I have said, or to make our contribution more effective, rather, was through the bond issue. But they've been carrying--since the United Nations has assumed a responsibility in the Congo, we have been carrying supplies into that area for many months. And in order to fulfill the purposes of the United Nations which I think extremely important to the Congo, and I think that the support we've given to the operations in the Congo in my opinion should be a source of satisfaction to us all.

Q. Mr. President, that U.N. bond issue proposal is meeting sharp criticism, at least vocally, on the Hill, one argument against it being that we are putting in more than our share, and another one that the interest rates are--there's a discrepancy. Mr. Stevenson, as you know, however, this morning, testified that it would be worth it if we just even had to give the $100 million to the U.N. Will you comment on the subject with your own thoughts?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have put a good many millions of dollars into support of the U.N., and we've done--we've put a lot of money in the support of a lot of operations which are designed to permit people to be free. I indicated we put a lot of money over the last 8 years into Laos. We have contributed a good deal in the effort in Viet-Nam. So that these efforts have all required expenditures of money. But we do it because we feel this is the only way that these countries can remain free. I think this bond issue represents a very sound investment for us. I am hopeful that other countries will match our effort.

The United States is carrying a heavy load, but not only in the United Nations; it's carrying a heavy load around the world. The United States is making a major effort, for example, in Berlin and Viet-Nam and in Latin America. The burdens that we carry are greater than any other free country. But I must say that if we did not carry them, in my opinion, the cause of freedom would collapse in a whole variety of ways. And, I'm hopeful as Western Europe is strengthened and the Common Market strengthened, that they will assume--not turn in, but rather out, and use the increased economic power of Western Europe to assist in maintaining the independence of these areas all around the globe, because we have been strained in our efforts to do so, although I think we ought to continue to do so, because the alternative will be a steady expansion of Communist power in all those areas, which I think would be far more expensive in the long run.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, you have just concluded talks with the Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Stikker, and also talks with General Norstad, the Supreme Commander of NAT(). Could you tell us, sir, if and how far advanced are the plans to convert NATO into an independent nuclear power?

THE PRESIDENT. I have no comment at this time. This is a matter, of course, coming from the proposal which was made by Secretary Herter and in which I stated again at Ottawa and which is a matter now of concern to the NATO Council. When the matter has proceeded to the point when decisions might be needed, then would be an appropriate time to discuss it.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, we have had several apparent setbacks and delays in our space field with the attempted moon shot, multiple satellite shot, and the postponement of the astronaut launching. What is your evaluation of our progress in space at this time? And have we changed our time table for landing a man on the moon?

THE PRESIDENT. I think we--as I've said from the beginning, we've been behind and, of course, we continue to be behind. And we are running into the difficulties which come from starting late. We, however, are going to proceed. We're making a maximum effort, as you know, and the expenditures in our space program are enormous. And, to the best of my ability, the time schedule, at least I hope, has not been changed by the recent setbacks.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, stockpile information is no easier to come by than it was prior to your statement last week that a lot of this stuff ought to be declassified. Is there a disposition to hold this up for the Senate investigation or can you light a fire under some of these agencies?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I set up today a committee under Mr. McDermott, who is the head of the agency, with the Secretaries of Defense. State, Commerce, Labor, to look into the needs, our national needs, in the event of an emergency and also to consider the declassification of various matters.

I think all this will be completed by the time the hearings begin, and then I think the hearings will make the information very complete.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, the nuclear test question has been under consideration for some months now. Could you give us some idea of the time schedule you perceive from here on with respect to completing the studies and making your decision?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we should know of--the studies and the examinations and the consideration by the Government should be, I would think, completed within the month.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, there have been reports that Mr. Gromyko, in Moscow, has adopted such a negative attitude in his discussions on Berlin with Ambassador Thompson that the administration has decided that if the talks are to continue, that the Soviets will have to take the initiative in seeking the next meeting. Could you tell us whether this is true and could you discuss your outlook and reaction to these talks?

THE PRESIDENT. No, we have not made very great progress in the talks. There has been a setting forth by each side of various positions. But I think the talks should continue and we are prepared to cooperate in continuing them--because the alternatives are not satisfactory--if we can possibly reach an accord. So we will continue to work even though the so-called probes have not produced any satisfactory common ground as yet.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, would the United States be willing, without further nuclear tests in the atmosphere, to sign a formal treaty with the Soviet Union banning such tests?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've stated that our concern would be--we stated it before, since and, as I said, afterwards--that we would sign an agreement which provided for adequate inspections system--that's correct. But adequate inspection in regard to preparations, as well as testing. Because, otherwise--

Q. My question was hinged on further tests in the atmosphere.

THE PRESIDENT. I understand that. We will support the passage of an effective treaty which provides for effective inspection, but we cannot take less in view of the fact of our experience of the past months, where it takes us many months to prepare for tests in the atmosphere. The Soviet Union could prepare in secret, and we would--unless we had adequate protection against a repetition of that incident. Any such test agreement obviously would be extremely vulnerable.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, in connection with your forthcoming statement on Christmas Island, I understand that the United Nations Trusteeship Council, particularly Russia and India, will attempt or has attempted to prohibit all atmospheric testing in the Central and South Pacific. My question is: Is this true? If it is true, how much does it weigh in your decision to resume this testing?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that one of the reasons that Christmas Island becomes a matter of importance is because of our special trustee relationship with Eniwetok and because we are anxious to maintain the spirit' as well as the letter of the trustee agreement. But in my opinion, that would not inhibit any action we might take in Christmas Island because the situation is entirely different legally and the responsibilities are entirely different, and that's also true of Johnston Island.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, with regard to the steel contract negotiations, you've said that you neither want a strike, itself, and you would like to get the contract settled soon enough to prevent the ill effects of anticipation of a strike. Do you have a date in mind by which time you think it should be settled, and how are you keeping in touch with the parties?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't have a date in mind, though I think the earlier the better because of the danger of stockpiling which will, in my opinion, produce later unemployment, if it is permitted to build up until June and July. Secretary Goldberg has been in contact with them, and I've indicated myself my strong feeling that the public interest and each of their private interests would be served by an early agreement.

Q. You have been in contact with them yourself, haven't you?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I have, yes.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, just a minute ago you expressed the hope that because of our burdens the other nations would match our purchases in the bond issue. Several Senators yesterday were suggesting that we match their purchases. Would you be willing, the administration be willing, to turn this around so that--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think we have to wait and see what the legislative prospects are. I think we ought to buy the $100 million worth. I think the other countries ought to buy $100 million worth of bonds. We are prepared to meet our responsibilities. I hope they will be. I think we should take an affirmative attitude towards the prospects of this and also to recognize how essential it is. Now, if this fails, then the U.N. will be, as Secretary Rusk said yesterday, in dire financial circumstances. It would obviously mean a complete--the emergency operation taking place in the Middle East and in the Congo would, of course, come to an end, unless we put in bilaterally a subsidy which would cause other countries to do a bilateral action of their own, and you would have chaos in the Congo and a defeat of any attempts to set up a stable and free government. I must say that I think to--that the promise there is of success against this disaster, which both administrations have been attempting to prevent, which is chaos and massive civil war and insurrections and all the rest in the Congo--I really feel we ought to go ahead on both sides. And I'm hopeful they will.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, on the test issue: if I understand what you've been saying correctly, you've introduced a new element into these negotiations--that is, inspection which would cover any possible secret preparations for tests. Is this in fact a new element that the United States is introducing and, if so, how might you meet that problem in an inspection system?

THE PRESIDENT. I think this is a matter which should be discussed at the disarmament conference. But I think that any agreement--if we're not to have an agreement whereby some time would go by and then, when the Soviets have exhausted the information they have acquired from this series of tests, suddenly overnight begin another series of tests, meanwhile 2 years have gone by and many scientists and others who might have been working on this may have gone into other occupations.

This is a--I think it's a deadly business, this competition. And I don't say that much security comes out of it. But less security would certainly come out of it if we permitted them to make a decisive breakthrough in an area like an ICBM. So that we would have to have some assurances against a repetition of this summer's incident before we would feel that the treaty was a satisfactory one. But it is a matter which should be discussed, I think, in March at the disarmament conference.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's twenty-third news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, February 7, 1962.

John F. Kennedy, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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