Remarks Endorsing the Recommendations in the Report of the President's Commission on Strategic Forces

April 19, 1983

Later today, I'll send a report to the Congress which endorses the recommendations of the bipartisan Commission on Strategic Forces, urges prompt congressional action and support. This distinguished panel's recommendations are important for two reasons: The actions they propose will preserve stable deterrence and thus protect the peace, and they will add solid incentives and credibility to our efforts to negotiate arms reductions that can pave the way to a more secure and peaceful future.

On the 23d of March, I spoke to the American people about our program for strengthening this nation's security and that of our allies and announced a long-term research effort to reduce, someday, the threat posed by nuclear ballistic missiles. A week later in Los Angeles, I expanded our efforts to limit and reduce this danger through reliable, verifiable, and stabilizing arms control agreements. Both of these paths lead to a common goal: preventing conflict, reducing the risk of war, and safeguarding the peace.

Every American President has accepted this crucial objective as his most basic responsibility. But preserving the peace requires more than wishful thinking and vague good intentions. Concrete, positive action is required to free the world from the specter of nuclear conflict. And that's why we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve nuclear stability at the lowest possible levels.

Our words, policies, and actions all make clear to the world our country's deeply held conviction that nuclear war on any scale would be a tragedy of unparalleled scope. Time and again, America has exercised unilateral restraint, good will, and a sincere commitment to effective arms control. Unfortunately, these actions alone have not yet made us truly safer, and they haven't reduced the danger of nuclear war. Over the past year, for example, the Soviets have deployed over 1,200 intercontinental ballistic missile warheads, more than the entire Peacekeeper program.

The history of American involvement in arms control shows us what works and what doesn't work. The fact is that in the past our one-sided restraint and good will failed to promote similar restraint and good will from the Soviet Union. They also failed to produce meaningful arms control. But history also teaches us that when the United States has shown the resolve to remain strong, stabilizing arms control can be achieved.

In the late sixties, we made a major effort to negotiate an antiballistic missile treaty with the Soviet Union. After the Soviet leadership demonstrated a clear lack of interest, the Congress agreed to fund an antiballistic missile building program. And the result was predictable. Once the Soviets knew we were going ahead, they came to the negotiating table, and we negotiated a treaty. It was formally adopted and remains in force today.

Obviously, the best way to nuclear stability and a lasting peace is through negotiations. And this is the course that we've set. And if we demonstrate our resolve, it can lead to success.

It was against this background that I established a bipartisan Commission on Strategic Forces last January and directed it to review the strategic program for United States forces with particular emphasis on intercontinental ballistic missile systems and their basing. A distinguished bipartisan panel of Americans who served on the Commission, and those who served as senior counselors, have performed a great service to their country, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.

Brent Scowcroft, the Commission's Chairman, other Commission members, Harold Brown, and the senior consultants are here today. I want to express my appreciation to you all for a tough job extraordinarily well done.

In the finest spirit of bipartisanship, the Commission unanimously arrived at clear, important recommendations on some of the most difficult issues of our time. During the past 3 months, the Commission held dozens of formal meetings and numerous small conferences. They talked to over 200 technical experts and consulted closely with the Congress. The Commission members sought a common objective: to achieve a greater degree of national consensus concerning our approach to strategic force modernization and arms control.

As the Constitution's [Commission's] report concludes, ``If we can begin to see ourselves in dealing with these issues, not as political partisans or as crusaders for one specific solution to a part of this complex set of problems, but rather as citizens of a great nation with the humbling obligation to persevere in the long-run task of preserving both peace and liberty for the world, a common perspective may finally be found.'' Well, these words guided the work of the Commission. It is my fervent hope that they will guide all of us as we work toward the solution of what has been a difficult and lengthy issue.

The Commission has completed its work and last week submitted its report to me. It was immediately released, as you know, to the public. After reviewing the report, I met with the National Security Council. They endorse the Commission's recommendations, as do all the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And so do I.

First, the Commission urges us to continue the strategic modernization program which I announced in October of 1981. It reaffirms that the need remains for improvements in the command, control, and communications of our strategic forces, and continuation of our bomber, submarine, and cruise missile program.

Second, the Commission urges modernization of our ICBM forces. We should immediately proceed to develop and produce the Peacekeeper missile and deploy 100 in existing Minuteman silos near Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. At the same time, the Commission recommends that we begin engineering the design for a small, single-warhead missile. If strategic and technical considerations warrant, this missile could be ready for deployment in the early 1990's. Incidentally, this modernization program will save about $1\1/2\ billion in 1984 and even more than that in each of the next 2 years.

Third, the Commission recommends major research efforts in strategic defense and a thorough research program of hardening, making our land-based missile systems more secure. This modernization effort is the final component of our comprehensive, strategic program. It will mean a safer, more secure America. And it will provide clear evidence to the Soviet Union that it is in their best interest to negotiate with us in good faith and with seriousness of purpose. That adds up to an important incentive for both arms control and deterrence, for peace and security now and far into the future.

Finally, the Commission underscores the need for ambitious arms control negotiations, negotiations that would lead to agreements that are balanced, promote stability in time of crisis, and result in meaningful, verifiable reductions. These are precisely the objectives of our arms control proposals now on the table in Geneva. These are -- well, I want to reemphasize that we're in Geneva seeking equitable, reliable agreements that would bring real reductions.

So, the task before us is to demonstrate our resolve, our national will, and our good faith. That's absolutely essential both for maintaining an effective deterrent and for achieving successful arms reductions. Make no mistake, unless we modernize our land-based missile systems, the Soviet Union will have no real reason to negotiate meaningful reductions. If we fail to act, we cannot reasonably expect an acceptable outcome in our arms control negotiations, and we will also weaken the deterrent posture that has preserved the peace for more than a generation.

Therefore, I urge the Congress to join me now in supporting this bipartisan program to pursue arms control agreements that promote stability, to meet the needs of our ICBM force today, and to move to a more stable ICBM structure in the future.

To follow up on the Commission's recommendations, I have asked Brent Scowcroft in his capacity as Chairman to keep me closely advised as this issue moves toward resolution, particularly as it relates to arms control.

For more than a decade, each of four administrations made proposals for arms control and modernization. Unfortunately, each became embroiled in political controversy. The members of the Commission, the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I have all had to take fresh looks at our previous positions. But despite the wide range of views these groups have held in the past, we now have a program that has our unanimous support.

Support by the Congress and the American people for this consensus will unite us in our common search for ways to strengthen our national security, reduce the risk of war, and ultimately reduce the level of nuclear weapons. We can no longer afford to delay. The time to act is now.

Thank you all very much for being here, and again I thank the Commission for their fine work.

Note: The President spoke at 10:05 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Earlier in the day, the President met in the Cabinet Room with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to discuss the report.