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Ronald Reagan on Deterrence November 23, 1982

What do we mean when we speak of nuclear deterrence? Certainly we do not want such weapons for their own sake. We do not desire excessive forces, or what some people have called overkill. Basically, it is a matter of others' knowing that starting a conflict would be more costly to them than anything they might hope to gain. And, yes, it is sadly ironic that in these modern times it still takes weapons to prevent war. I wish it did not.

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We desire peace, but peace is a goal, not a policy. Lasting peace is what we hope for at the end of our journey; it does not describe the steps we must take, nor the paths we should follow to reach that goal. I intend to search for peace along two parallel paths - deterrence and arms reduction. I believe these are the only paths that offer any real hope for an enduring peace.

And let me say I believe that if we follow prudent policies, the risk of nuclear conflict will be reduced. Certainly the United States will never use its forces except in response to attack. Through the years, Soviet leaders have also expressed a sober view of nuclear war; and if we maintain a strong deterrent, they are exceedingly unlikely to launch an attack.

Now, while the policy of deterrence has stood the test of time, the things we must do in order to maintain deterrence have changed.

You often hear that the United States and the Soviet Union are in an arms race. The truth is that while the Soviet Union has raced, we have not. In constant dollars our defense spending in the 1960's went up because of Vietnam and then it went downward through much of the 1970's. Soviet spending has gone up and up and up. In spite of a stagnating Soviet economy, Soviet leaders invest 12 to 14 percent of their country's gross national product in military spending, two to three times the level we invest.

I might add that the defense share of our United States Federal budget has gone way down, too. In 1962, when John Kennedy was President, 46 percent, almost half of the Federal budget, went to our national defense. In recent years, about one-quarter of our budget has gone to defense, while the share for social programs has nearly doubled. And most of our defense budget is spent on people, not weapons.

The combination of the Soviets' spending more and the U.S. spending proportionately less changed the military balance and weakened our deterrent. Today, in virtually every measure of military power the Soviet Union enjoys a decided advantage.

This chart (pointing to chart, "Strategic Missiles and Bombers") shows the changes in the total number of intercontinental missiles and bombers. You will see that in 1962 and in 1972, the United States forces remained about the same, even dropping some by 1982. But take a look now at the Soviet side. In 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviets could not compare with us in terms of strength. In 1972, when we signed the SALT I Treaty, we were nearly equal. But in 1982, well, that red Soviet bar stretching above the blue American bar tells the story.

I could show you chart after chart where there is a great deal of red and a much lesser amount of U.S. blue. For example, the Soviet Union has deployed a third more land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles than we have. Believe it or not, we froze our number in 1965 and have deployed no additional missiles since then.

The Soviet Union put to sea 60 new ballistic missile submarines in the last 15 years. Until last year we had not commissioned one in that same period.

The Soviet Union has built over 200 modern Backfire bombers - and is building 30 more a year. For 20 years, the United States has deployed no new strategic bombers. Many of our B-52 bombers are now older than the pilots who fly them.

The Soviet Union now has 600 of the missiles considered most threatening by both sides - the intermediate-range missiles based on land. We have none. The U.S. withdrew its intermediate-range land-based missiles from Europe almost 20 years ago.

The world has also witnessed unprecedented growth in the area of Soviet conventional forces; the Soviets far exceed us in the number of tanks, artillery pieces, aircraft and ships they produce every year. What is more, when I arrived in this office I learned that in our own forces we had planes that could not fly and ships that could not leave port, mainly for lack of spare parts and crew members.

The Soviet military buildup must not be ignored. We have recognized the problem and together with our allies we have begun to correct the imbalance. Look at this chart (accompanying chart, "Projected Defense Spending") of projected real defense spending for the next several years. Here's the Soviet line. Let us assume the Soviets' rate of spending remains at the level they have followed since the 1960's.

The blue line is the United States. If my defense proposals are passed, it will still take five years before we come close to the Soviet level. Yet the modernization of our strategic and conventional forces will assure that deterrence works and peace prevails.

Our deployed nuclear forces were built before the age of microcircuits. It is not right to ask our young men and women in uniform to maintain and operate such antiques. Many have already given their lives in missile explosions and aircraft accidents caused by the old age of their equipment. We must replace and modernize our forces, and that is why I have decided to proceed with production and deployment of the new ICBM known as the MX.

Three earlier Presidents worked to develop this missile. Based on the best advice I could get, I concluded that the MX is the right missile at the right time. On the other hand, when I arrived in office, I felt the proposal on where and how to base the missile simply cost too much in terms of money, and the impact on our citizens' lives.

I have concluded, however, it is absolutely essential that we proceed to produce this missile, and that we base it in a series of closely based silos at Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, Wyoming.

This plan requires only half as many missiles as the earlier plan and will fit in an area of only 20 square miles. It is the product of around-the-clock research that has been under way since I directed a search for a better, cheaper way. I urge the members of Congress who must pass this plan to listen and examine the facts, before they come to their own conclusion.

Some may question what modernizing our military has to do with peace. Well, as I explained earlier, a secure force keeps others from threatening us and that keeps the peace. And just as important, it also increased the products of reaching significant arms reductions with the Soviets, and that is what we really want. The United States wants deep cuts in the world's arsenal of weapons.

But unless we demonstrate the will to rebuild our strength and restore the military balance, the Soviets, since they are so far ahead, have little incentive to negotiate with us. If we had not begun to modernize, the Soviet negotiators would know we had nothing to bargain with except talk. They would know we were bluffing without a good hand because they know what cards we hold - just as we know what is in their hand.