Written Responses to Questions Submitted by La Libre Belgique of Belgium
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Deployment
Q. Given its delicate political situation regarding INF deployment, why should the Belgian Government proceed with deployment f these new negotiations might make such a move unnecessary?
The President. Because Belgium, like the United States, is a member of NATO. Belgium has long been an important member and played a prominent role in the NATO alliance. As an alliance member, Belgium committed itself in 1979 to go forward with NATO's two-track approach to deployment and arms control regarding intermediaterange nuclear forces. This major decision was necessitated by the new and unprovoked threat to the West represented by the Soviet Union's buildup in SS-20 missiles, a buildup which is still going on. The deployment of cruise missiles in Belgium is a sovereign question for the Government and people of your country to decide. But it was alliance solidarity behind NATO's two-track decision that helped to bring the Soviets back to negotiations, and alliance solidarity behind the dual track approach is crucial to our prospects for success in renewed negotiations. We hope Belgium will act with its commitments under NATO's 1979 decision in mind.
Q. What does the United States expect its European allies like Belgium to do to strengthen the U.S. position in the upcoming arms control negotiations with the Soviets?
The President. As I said, alliance solidarity in proceeding with deployment is a major reason why the Soviets decided to return to Geneva. Our European allies fully appreciate this relationship between deployment and arms control. Our negotiating prospects would be seriously weakened if the Soviets believe they can get what they want in some other way than engaging seriously in a negotiating process leading to a balanced and verifiable arms control agreement.
This brings us to the question of public opinion in Belgium and throughout Europe. I can understand why some European polls, including the recent one that you published, suggest public concern about the deployments. The fact is that most people don't fully take into account the Soviet missile buildup in which the Soviets have more than a thousand warheads aimed at Western Europe. They launched an enormous disinformation campaign to persuade the people of Europe that somehow NATO is at fault for beginning to redress the balance in Europe. Our allies can help by standing firm and by making sure their publics understand the truth in this situation.
European Defense Spending
Q. Is the United States now satisfied with current levels of European defense expenditures?
The President. The share of the common defense burden our European allies are shouldering varies. The United States is certainly doing its fair share for alliance security, although assessing national defense contributions is not nearly as simple as adding up money spent. One thing is clear—massive and growing Soviet military capabilities threaten the credibility of NATO's deterrent. That's why we must all do more.
Strategic Defense Initiative
Q. What reassurance can you give Europeans that your Strategic Defense Initiative will not lead to decoupling of Europe from the protection of American strategic forces?
The President. Well, first let me explain that this program is one of vigorous research focused on advanced defensive technologies with the aim of finding ways to provide a better basis for deterring aggression, strengthen strategic stability, and increasing the security of the United States and our allies.
In March 1983 I made clear in my original speech on the Strategic Defense Initiative, which we call SDI, that no change in technology can or will alter our commitments to our allies. I have repeatedly stated our commitment to NATO, and I am pleased to reaffirm that commitment here. And from the beginning I have directed that the SDI research program look at the entire ballistic missile threat, not just those which can reach the United States.
In 1979 NATO agreed that the best way to resolve any doubts about "decoupling" was to go forward with a two-track approach of deployments and arms control of intermediate-range nuclear forces. Alliance solidarity on all issues of deterrence is essential, both for our collective security and for arms control prospects.
We look forward in the coming weeks to the opportunities presented by the recent Geneva meeting. First, we have a renewed opportunity to reduce the level of offensive nuclear weapons. Second, we can open a serious exchange with the Soviet Union on what role ought to be played by defensive systems in improving stability of deterrence.
In the course of these exchanges we hope that it will be possible to make clear how nonnuclear systems may, over time, offer us the chance to move away from reliance upon offensive forces which threaten massive destruction and, perhaps one day, move closer to reliance upon nonnuclear defense systems. We are very conscious in the United States that this will not occur overnight; that perhaps by the turn of the century, however, this evolution may be possible. Between now and then, we will have to rely upon existing forces on both sides. But perhaps in the process we can come to an understanding of how these forces can be reduced and, over time, nonnuclear, nonthreatening defensive elements can be introduced.
Q. In light of the new dialog and warming East-West relations, can we expect some relaxation of present export controls?
The President. We understand the importance of exports, especially to countries like Belgium, and fully support the lowering of trade barriers. In this regard we are working hard to cooperate on a number of export requests from Belgian firms involving U.S. technology.
With regard to the broader question, we remain concerned about the Soviets acquiring advanced technology with potential military application. It simply doesn't make sense to give our adversaries technology that they could then use to threaten the West.
Note: The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on January 13.
Ronald Reagan, Written Responses to Questions Submitted by La Libre Belgique of Belgium Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/259940