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Written Responses to Questions Submitted by the Finnish Newspaper Helsingin Sanomat

May 19, 1988

President's Visit to Helsinki

Q. Why did you choose Helsinki as your stopover on your flight to Moscow?

The President. For starters, 1988 is an official U.S. Year of Finnish-American Friendship. I was most pleased to have welcomed Prime Minister Holkeri in Washington and to have this chance to stop in your capital. Moreover, Secretary of State Shultz, who as you know has visited Finland on several occasions during the past year, made two persuasive points. First, he told me that Finnish hospitality is too good to be missed. He has found Helsinki an excellent place to rest and prepare for the work ahead and thought that I would, too. Second, he pointed out to me that Finland is a country that has learned to live in close proximity to the Soviet Union. Finnish leaders have a unique perspective on that country, which Secretary Shultz has found informative on his previous trips. I hope to benefit in the same way from my conversation with President Koivisto and other Finnish leaders.

Naval and Air Forces in Europe

Q. The President of Finland, Mauno Koivisto, has proposed talks on confidence- and security-building measures in the Northern Sea areas. Do you think such talks could be linked to other negotiations on conventional force reductions or with proposals for a Nordic nuclear free zone?

The President. We consider freedom of navigation in international air and sea spaces vitally important to the maintenance of peace and security. Western naval and air activities, including those in the Northern Sea areas, form an essential element in current NATO defensive strategy. Unconstrained access to air and sea lines of communication constitute the lifeline between North America and all of our European friends. The strength of Warsaw Pact ground forces on the European land mass makes it all the more important that Western naval and air forces remain free from restriction on the periphery of the continent. Constraints would, in our view, weaken Western deterrence against those who might contemplate military aggression or political intimidation, thereby diminishing stability and security in Europe.

As naval and air forces tend to have global, not region-specific, commitments and responsibilities, it would seem inappropriate to regulate their activities in the context of a regional security regime. Moreover, compliance with restrictions on naval/ air maneuvers over the high seas would be extremely difficult—indeed, impossible for most countries—to verify.

For these and other reasons, East and West have traditionally agreed to omit naval forces from conventional arms control negotiations in Europe. This is true for the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks taking place in Vienna, for the upcoming Conventional Stability Talks (CST), and for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). In the concluding document of the Madrid CSCE followup meeting, for example, the 35 participating states acknowledge that independent naval and air force activities fall outside the scope of CSCE security-related negotiations. We continue to believe this is the best course.

Helsinki Final Act

Q. The final document of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe was signed in Helsinki in 1975. How do you assess the implementation, or lack of implementation, of the document? How do U.S. friends and allies around the world measure up to the human rights aspects of the document?

The President. In the strictest sense, the Helsinki Final Act applies only to the 35 signatory states. Among those states, implementation has varied widely between East and West.

For the Western countries, the United States and our NATO allies as well as the neutral and nonaligned states in CSCE, the Final Act, in many respects, merely codified existing practice with regard to human rights and fundamental freedoms. The West has fully met its commitments in all three dimensions of the Helsinki process—humanitarian, military security, and economic/scientific cooperation.

Sadly, the Eastern record has been poor. During the period 1975-85, Soviet performance with regard to the human rights provisions of the Final Act actually deteriorated. The Soviets continued to arrest and jail their citizens for expressing their political and religious beliefs. Prohibitions continued on religious teaching. Emigration rates decreased dramatically by the early 1980's, particularly following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The invasion itself was a clear violation of the basic principles of the Final Act. Similar repression, in varying degrees, occurred in Eastern Europe, such as the declaration of martial law in Poland in 1981 and the suppression of the free trade union Solidarity. In all Eastern states, citizens who had joined together to monitor their governments' implementation of the Final Act were imprisoned, harassed, or forced into exile. Even in the security area, which the Soviets have tried to emphasize over humanitarian issues, the East did only the minimum necessary to comply with the Final Act's provisions and in some instances failed to comply at all.

However, there has been some improvement in the Soviet Union's human rights practices in the past 2 years. A number of political and religious prisoners have been released, and some limited voices of dissent have been allowed to be heard under the policy of glasnost. Emigration rates have increased, although they remain well below those of the late 1970's. There have been promises of institutional reform, although concrete steps have been slow to materialize.

Even with these improvements, the East still has far to go to meet the standards set down in the Final Act. Accordingly, at the current CSCE followup meeting in Vienna, we and our NATO allies continue to press the East to improve further its human rights performance. We have made improved performance one of our requirements for a successful conclusion to the meeting. I should note that Eastern implementation of the military confidence- and security-building measures adopted in Stockholm has been generally good. We are pressing the East to show the same spirit with regard to all of its CSCE commitments.

Now, you asked about other countries around the world. As I pointed out earlier, the Helsinki Final Act applies only to the 35 signatory states. Of course, the human rights standards embodied in the Final Act are universal principles also set forth in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which all United Nations members subscribe. If we take this document as a literal checklist of what ought to be, the world has a very long way to go to meet the standards which its member nations have set for themselves.

Some progress is being made. This year we will see an investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Commission of human rights practices in Cuba, and we are seeing some improvements in other countries in the world. We and our friends and allies continue to work as hard as we can to encourage improved human rights practices throughout the world.

Foreign Criticism of U.S. Policy

Q. The United States has on occasion shown considerable irritation when Sweden, for example, has criticized American policies in Central America and elsewhere. Is it then the U.S. view that neutral countries, such as Sweden and Finland, should as a rule avoid taking stands on international issues? How should neutral countries behave?

The President. The United States is a leading proponent of free speech and firmly believes neutral countries have the same full right as any other country to express their views publicly and privately on any issue that they wish. Every country is of course individually responsible for its own foreign policies and pronouncements. We have questioned the appropriateness of foreign leaders offering public advice to U.S. legislators on issues under heated domestic partisan debate, but this is a consideration that would apply to any country, neutral or otherwise.

U.S. and World Economies

Q. How does the United States plan to assure the world's unstable financial markets of the strength of its own economic policies? What kinds of agreements does the United States want with Japan and Western Europe on the revitalization of the global economy?

The President. The strength of United States economic policies is clear when one examines U.S. economic performance. The United States is in the sixth year of the current expansion. Productivity is rising. Over 16 million new jobs have been created, while inflation, previously in double digits, has come down to about 4 percent per year. Real GNP grew 4 percent in 1987 (fourth quarter to fourth quarter). Real exports increased nearly 17 percent in 1987 and made a significant contribution to real growth for the first time in 7 years. We have also made considerable progress in reducing the Federal deficit; the recent agreement between the administration and Congress produced a 2-year $76 billion deficit reduction package. In addition, the United States continues to eliminate structural rigidities in its own economy through various policy measures. The deregulation of the airline industry, for example, has increased competition, expanded the market, improved consumer choice, and lowered prices. We encourage our European partners to adopt fiscal, labor, social, welfare, and industrial policies which free up resources and make them more responsive to market signals.

There are many ways in which the United States, Europe, and Japan are cooperating to sustain world growth. The major industrial nations are supporting the economic policy coordinating process adopted at the Tokyo and Venice summits. This will be reaffirmed at the Toronto summit as well. Another step involves redressing the current external imbalances. As I pointed out earlier, the United States has taken bold steps to reduce its fiscal deficit. We are also determined to continue reducing the trade deficit and have begun to see results in this area as well. The surplus countries must also do their part in this readjustment process. Economic growth remains strong in the industrial economies, while domestic demand in Europe and especially in Japan has begun to rebound. This is a welcome and positive contribution.

All countries must also make a concerted effort to reduce trade barriers in all areas through negotiations in the Uruguay Round [multilateral trade negotiations], particularly in agriculture. Costly and inefficient agricultural subsidies distort comparative advantages, drain national treasuries, and ultimately cost consumers dearly. We must all do our share. I am determined to fight protectionist pressure in the United States in the belief that open markets benefit everyone and closed markets harm everyone. As the European Community moves toward a single market, both Finland and the United States have an interest in encouraging not only the European Community but all nations to resist the temptation to erect barriers which keep out the rest of the world.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. This will be your fourth face-to-face meeting with the Soviet leader, Mr. Gorbachev, whose country you once called the evil empire. Have you seen him develop or change as a leader? Has the Soviet Union changed? How can U.S.-Soviet relations develop?

The President. General Secretary Gorbachev has spoken clearly about the need for a broad range of political and economic reforms in the Soviet Union. At this point, it is not clear, and it may not be for years, whether significant change has occurred. We would like to see a Soviet Union that deals with its own people and with its neighbors through dialog rather than intimidation.

I think there has been a change in the nature of the U.S.-Soviet dialog in recent years. It used to be that we met only infrequently, and the subject was almost exclusively arms control. Now we have a regular dialog embracing a four-part agenda that includes human rights, regional affairs and bilateral matters, as well as arms reduction. This maturing relationship has already borne some fruit, including the INF agreement, the Afghanistan withdrawal accords, progress in human rights, and a great expansion of opportunities for U.S. and Soviet citizens to have contacts. We have a great many other subjects under discussion, including a treaty on 50-percent reductions in strategic nuclear arms and agreements on expanded cultural exchanges, as well as scientific and technical cooperation.

The United States and Soviet Union will always have differences because our political systems and views of the role of the individual in society are so different. We must be frank with each other about that. But we can also—and this has been at the root of our policy since I have been President-have a constructive relationship which is sustainable over the long term. We have made progress with this four-part agenda, and I think it provides us a good blueprint for future progress.

Arms Control

Q. How would a 50-percent reduction of long-range strategic arms affect the power realities and the political atmosphere in the world? What would be the next step?

The President. One of my highest priorities as President has been the achievement of deep reductions in strategic nuclear arms. As you know, we've made important progress toward that goal and have agreed on the basic outline of a treaty calling for 50-percent reductions in U.S. and Soviet strategic offensive nuclear arms. These reductions would make an historic contribution to international stability and security and would reduce the risk of war by establishing a framework of mutual restraint and responsibility.

The challenges of concluding such an agreement are extraordinary, and several difficult issues remain unsolved. Nonetheless, we will continue our efforts to reach agreement on a treaty that is both equitable and effectively verifiable. As we look ahead, we must also seek constructive solutions to other priority areas of security and arms reduction, including chemical weapons and conventional forces, where the Soviets have a marked advantage. The United States and its NATO allies are committed to making concrete progress in these areas: We seek greater stability at lower levels of conventional forces in Europe and a truly global and effectively verifiable ban on chemical weapons.

Of course, arms reduction alone is not a solution to the problems of East-West relations. We must address the root causes of mistrust and tension between the superpowers, such as our differing political systems and values, our contrasting views of the role of the individual within society, and the need to protect basic rights and freedoms. Our dialog over the coming years must include all issues—human rights, regional conflicts, bilateral matters, as well as arms reduction—as we continue our efforts to build a safer world.

Q. Are you today as committed to space defense and rendering ballistic missiles obsolete as you were when you gave your celebrated speech in 1983? In Reykjavik you seemed to come close to accepting the idea of a world completely free of nuclear weapons as a viable goal. Do you do so now? Under what conditions?

The President. I remain committed today to reducing our reliance for deterrence on ballistic missiles and ultimately to rendering them obsolete. I also support, as a long-term goal, the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons. However, a world free of nuclear weapons is still far from becoming a reality. In the interim, I believe strongly that we should establish a stable peace which relies more on defense than on the threat of nuclear retaliation to deter war.

There are also many other factors that must be addressed before we can realistically hope to achieve the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. For example, we must bring about a stable balance of conventional forces, a verifiable global ban on chemical weapons, greatly expanded confidence-building measures, and an overall improvement in East-West relations. Until we achieve these objectives, we must ensure that our security is protected through a safe and stable deterrent capability.

Administration Accomplishments

Q. Are you planning to write your memoirs? What would you most want your Presidency to be remembered for, and what is your greatest regret?

The President. I haven't given much thought to writing my memoirs. I am still too busy with my agenda for my remaining time in office. In terms of what I will list as my successes, on the domestic side, I think all Americans can take pride in the great economic success we have witnessed over the past few years. Inflation is well in the single-digit numbers, and economic growth is in its 66th consecutive month. We have restructured our tax policy, which has assisted in this economic growth. On the foreign policy side, we have taken real steps toward the actual elimination of nuclear weapons by the signing of the INF treaty. We have witnessed a growth of democracy worldwide, particularly in the Western Hemisphere. In Central America now, for example, of the five states we have four democracies, where when I came into office there was only one. These are just limited examples of what I would consider successes not just of my administration but of the American people. But I will leave it to historians to judge the record.

Note: The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on May 26.

Ronald Reagan, Written Responses to Questions Submitted by the Finnish Newspaper Helsingin Sanomat Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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