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Written Responses to Questions Submitted by the Swedish Newspaper Svenska Dagbladet

September 22, 1987

The President's Political Philosophy

Q. Would you tell us some key tenets of your political philosophy so that the Swedes can compare it with the philosophy of their own Premier, Ingvar Carlsson?

The President. I was elected, and reelected, on a platform that pledged to decentralize Federal programs, reduce the size and spending of the Federal Government, strengthen the national defense, restore economic prosperity through private enterprise , and foster individual initiative. As you know, I believe that individual initiative is the key to a vibrant, strong, and healthy nation. People who decide for themselves what risks to take and how hard to push for what level of personal fulfillment are the people who contribute the most to society. I strongly believe the best way to encourage economic growth is through private enterprise.

The United States has many very good programs to provide help to those who really need it and to do those things that are more effectively done by governments than by individuals. I believe there should be as direct a connection as possible between the government and the people. As you know, I have taken my message many times directly to the American people. I believe strongly in as much local community control as possible of those necessary programs—the closer the administration of the programs is to the people who receive the help, the more effective those programs will be.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. The distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union was apparently greater during your first term as President than during the second. A long time has passed since you used phrases such as "evil empire" about the Soviets. Why is the distrust on your part less today?

The President. I think that we are still a long way from the point where either the United States or the Soviet Union will be prepared to rely on simple trust in dealing with each other. We have fundamentally different political and social values. You cannot compare the totalitarian nature of the Soviet system, which lacks basic democratic and personal freedoms, with the open societies of the United States or Sweden, which are based on the rule of law and the rights of the individual. Clearly, we and the Soviets must manage our differences in a common effort to avoid the danger of conflict in this nuclear age. But that does not mean we should abandon our efforts to promote democratic values wherever possible—quite the opposite.

East- West Relations

Q. The prospect of nuclear disarmament gives the European public an enhanced sense of psychological security. But our real security, in terms of coping with the legacy of historical hostilities—imbalance of conventional armed forces, territorial claims, ethnic loyalties, trading restrictions, etc.—is hardly affected by a mutual and balanced scaling-down of nuclear capabilities. What advice do you have to Europeans to turn the psychological security of denuclearization into a real security of removed sources of conflicts?

The President. The real source of East-West tension is the fundamental difference between societies that are based on freedom and those that are not. Weapons, even nuclear weapons, are a result of this difference, not the cause of it. I have often spoken of our ultimate goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. But we must not delude ourselves; to achieve this goal will be a long and slow process. For the foreseeable future, all of us will continue to depend on nuclear deterrence to preserve both peace and freedom.

Thus, even if we are able to reach a verifiable INF agreement to eliminate a whole category of nuclear weapons, it is very misleading to talk about denuclearization. The United States will maintain its nuclear commitment to NATO. Meanwhile, we must deal with the problems created by the Warsaw Pact's advantage in conventional weapons. We must also look for ways to open up human contacts to break down ignorance and distrust. We must continue to encourage the East to permit the basic freedoms and individual liberties that we take for granted in our own societies.

Soviet-U.S. Summit Meeting

Q. What are the remaining obstacles, if any, for your next summit meeting with Mr. Gorbachev?

The President. I would very much like for the General Secretary to see this country. At Geneva I invited Mr. Gorbachev to visit the United States. But naturally we believe that meetings on the highest level must be well prepared and justified in terms of substance. I am pleased to note that an agreement in principle was reached to conclude an INF treaty during Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze's visit to Washington last week. Secretary Shultz will meet Mr. Shevardnadze again in Moscow next month to continue the efforts and to work out the details of a summit later this fall.

Central American Peace Process

Q. What role will the United States play in the peace process in Central America? The President. The United States has been involved in the regional negotiating process in Central America for several years. We have important security interests in Central America that will be well served by a resolution of the conflict in Central America that brings genuine democracy, peace, and stability to the region. The test of any agreement lies in its implementation, and we will watch closely to see whether the provisions of the agreement are carried out in letter and spirit.

Nicaraguan acceptance of full democracy-including political pluralism; freedom of the press, religion, and assembly—is an essential element of the peace plan adopted by the five Central American Presidents. I believe that all democratic states need to do everything they can to encourage this development. In particular, they need to press the Sandinistas to fulfill the commitments they have made under the Guatemala agreement to open the Nicaraguan system. We want to see the Central American nations tackle their serious economic and social problems free from outside interference, and this means the withdrawal of the large number of Soviet and Cuban advisers in Nicaragua.

Without democracy in Nicaragua, it will be difficult to bring peace and security to Central America. Internal democracy is the only effective means of assuring that the Sandinistas abide by their commitments. As it now stands, the agreement contains sufficient ambiguities that the Sandinistas might use it to eliminate the resistance without bringing democracy to Nicaragua. The pressure of the resistance is what moved the peace effort forward to begin with. Withdrawal of this pressure would remove all incentives for the Sandinistas to negotiate in good faith and could leave the Sandinistas virtually free to violate whatever they agree to. The United States is committed to helping the peace process move forward, and we will be watching very carefully to see that it is implemented fully and comprehensively.

International Concerns

Q. Do you accept the idea that small countries have a common cause in the world today and should give voice to it?

The President. Your question implies that there is somehow a difference between the cause or causes small countries should stand for—or that simply because they are small countries—in the ones they are compelled to stand for—and those that large countries support. I'm not at all sure I accept that premise.

Fundamentally all countries, large or small, should have common cause in the world today to live in peace and to prosper. Domestically, people have a right to a system based on a government of choice. Internationally, we have a right to an environment which allows people to live free from the constant fear that their national sovereignty will be encroached upon through the aggressive actions of others. The small countries certainly do have a common interest in the preservation of peace, and believe me, the big countries share the same interest.

Insofar as one considers the idea of common cause from the perspective of those broad principles, I think all countries share a common cause, and of course they should give voice to it. The United States, too, though not a small country, speaks out often and with great intensity on many causes. The term "small countries" is a very general one encompassing many different individual situations, so I'm not sure that even in moving the discussions from very broad principles to more immediate, pragmatic concerns, one can really talk about a common concern of small countries per se.

Northern European Nuclear-Free Zone

Q. Do you think that a nuclear-free zone in northern Europe would add to or subtract from Scandinavian security?

The President. I do not think that a northern European nuclear-free zone would increase security in Scandinavia. The best way to maintain security in Scandinavia, and in all of Europe, is for NATO to remain strong in order to be able to deter any threat of conflict initiated by the Warsaw Pact. NATO is a defensive alliance of free and sovereign nations; all of its members contribute according to their abilities. International agreements that would appear to create two categories of NATO members would weaken the alliance and thereby increase instability and undercut deterrence.

Public Opinion Polls

Q. It has been generally noticed that the influence of your arguments with Congress is higher when your rating in the polls is higher. The very same or an equally good White House argument seems to carry less weight when your rating goes down. Do you have any comments on the conditions of a President's effectiveness set by the opinion polls?

The President. The United States system of government is very responsive to the opinions of the American people. I think this is the bedrock foundation of its strength as a system. Public opinion polls, while often not on the top of a politician's list of favorite things, do reflect the mood and feelings of the American people—granted sometimes more, and sometimes less, accurately.

Again, one of the key features and greatest strengths of our system—and one particularly worth noting now at the 200th anniversary of our Constitution, the document which provides for the system itself—is the checks and balances between the different branches of the Government. While I may not always like a particular point of opposition, I don't think it's too surprising that some segments of Congress respond very quickly to the opinion polls and perhaps feel they can push harder at some times than others. I don't think, however, that a President's decisions regarding central issues of peace, security, and the economic health of this nation are really determined by the shifts, up and down, in the opinion polls. That's something every modern President just has to live with, and you go on and put through the programs you know are the right ones.

Note: The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on September 28.

Ronald Reagan, Written Responses to Questions Submitted by the Swedish Newspaper Svenska Dagbladet Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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