Today, I am here with some of our nation's leading statesmen and defense experts. And there is broad agreement that our nation needs a new approach to nuclear security that matches a new era.
When it comes to nuclear weapons, the world has changed faster than US policy. The emerging security threats to the United States, its friends and allies, and even to Russia, now come from rogue states, terrorist groups and other adversaries seeking weapons of mass destruction, and the means to deliver them. Threats also come from insecure nuclear stockpiles and the proliferation of dangerous technologies. Russia itself is no longer our enemy. The Cold War logic that led to the creation of massive stockpiles on both sides is now outdated. Our mutual security need no longer depend on a nuclear balance of terror.
While deterrence remains the first line of defense against nuclear attack, the standoff of the Cold War was born of a different time. That was a time when our arsenal also served to check the conventional superiority of the Warsaw Pact. Then, the Soviet Union's power reached deep into the heart of Europe - to Berlin, Warsaw, Budapest, Prague. Today, these are the capitals of NATO countries. Yet almost a decade after the end of the Cold War, our nuclear policy still resides in that already distant past. The Clinton-Gore administration has had over seven years to bring the US force posture into the post-Cold War world. Instead, they remain locked in a Cold War mentality.
It is time to leave the Cold War behind, and defend against the new threats of the 21st century.
America must build effective missile defenses, based on the best available options, at the earliest possible date. Our missile defense must be designed to protect all 50 states - and our friends and allies and deployed forces overseas - from missile attacks by rogue nations, or accidental launches.
The Clinton administration at first denied the need for a national missile defense system. Then it delayed. Now the approach it proposes is flawed - a system initially based on a single site, when experts say that more is needed. A missile defense system should not only defend our country, it should defend our allies, with whom I will consult as we develop our plans. And any change in the ABM treaty must allow the technologies and experiments required to deploy adequate missile defenses. The administration is driving toward a hasty decision, on a political timetable. No decision would be better than a flawed agreement that ties the hands of the next President and prevents America from defending itself.
Yet there are positive, practical ways to demonstrate to Russia that we are no longer enemies. Russia, our allies and the world need to understand our intentions. America's development of missile defenses is a search for security, not a search for advantage.
America should rethink the requirements for nuclear deterrence in a new security environment. The premises of Cold War nuclear targeting should no longer dictate the size of our arsenal. As president, I will ask the Secretary of Defense to conduct an assessment of our nuclear force posture and determine how best to meet our security needs. While the exact number of weapons can come only from such an assessment, I will pursue the lowest possible number consistent with our national security. It should be possible to reduce the number of American nuclear weapons significantly further than what has already been agreed to under START II, without compromising our security in any way. We should not keep weapons that our military planners do not need. These unneeded weapons are the expensive relics of dead conflicts. And they do nothing to make us more secure.
In addition, the United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status - another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation. Preparation for quick launch - within minutes after warning of an attack - was the rule during the era of superpower rivalry. But today, for two nations at peace, keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch. So, as president, I will ask for an assessment of what we can safely do to lower the alert status of our forces. These changes to our forces should not require years and years of detailed arms control negotiations. There is a precedent that proves the power of leadership. In 1991, the United States invited the Soviet Union to join it in removing tactical nuclear weapons from the arsenal. Huge reductions were achieved in a matter of months, making the world much safer, more quickly.
Similarly, in the area of strategic nuclear weapons, we should invite the Russian government to accept the new vision I have outlined, and act on it. But the United States should be prepared to lead by example, because it is in our best interest and the best interest of the world. This would be an act of principled leadership - a chance to seize the moment and begin a new era of nuclear security. A new era of cooperation on proliferation and nuclear safety.
The Cold War era is history. Our nation must recognize new threats, not fixate on old ones. On the issue of nuclear weapons, the United States has an opportunity to lead to a safer world - both to defend against nuclear threats and reduce nuclear tensions. It is possible to build a missile defense, and defuse confrontation with Russia.
America should do both.
Address to the Nation from Washington D.C.