Remarks at a White House Briefing for Chief Executive Officers of Trade Associations and Corporations on Deployment of the MX Missile

May 16, 1983

Thank you for coming today. I realize it's very rough to break away from the office on short notice, but the reason I've asked you to come is an important one -- kind of an arm-twisting session.

For more than a decade, the modernization of America's land-based, strategic missile force has been analyzed, debated, and pondered by the Congress, four administrations, countless congressional committees and subcommittees, and nearly every columnist who's ever put pen to paper. During all this time not one new United States missile has been deployed. In fact, the opposite has occurred. We've begun retiring our Titan ICBM's because of their old age -- don't think what I'm thinking. [Laughter]

ICBM, of course, stands for intercontinental ballistic missiles. And by comparison, last year alone the Soviet Union deployed more than 1,200 ICBM warheads, which is more than is projected for our entire MX Peacekeeper program. So, we've had a price -- or paid a price for our past unilateral restraint and indecision. And the growing imbalance in strategic forces has weakened the credibility of our nuclear deterrent. Our self-imposed restraint has left the Soviet Union with far less incentive to negotiate arms reductions.

The debate, analysis, and posturing are just about over. Within the next 2 weeks the Congress will decide the issue. They'll determine whether or not our deterrence, the key to peace in the nuclear age, will be strengthened. They'll also decide whether arms reduction negotiations now underway will have a chance to bring about a safer and more secure future.

When the Congress votes on the Peacekeeper program and later on the small missile funds, it'll not be just another vote. Leaders in Western Europe, in the Kremlin, leaders everywhere will be watching, because they know the decision will have a profound impact for generations to come. It's hardly possible to exaggerate the stakes that are involved.

The full Senate is scheduled to debate later this week on MX, and the House next week. The specific legislative proposal is to approve flight testing of the Peacekeeper missile and the work necessary for basing it in the existing Minuteman silos. Implicit in the vote is the okay for production of the missiles. And this is the essential first step for deployment of a hundred Peacekeeper missiles, beginning in 1986, and for the development of a new, small single-warhead ICBM which would be mobile.

Congressional approval will be a clear signal of national resolve, the critical message so necessary if we're to assure deterrence and real arms reductions.

When I endorsed the recommendations of the Scowcroft commission, I did so in large measure because of its thoughtful integration of three indispensable elements -- modernization, deterrence, and arms control. There's a direct relationship between modernization programs like the Peacekeeper and the twin objectives of deterrence and arms control. Tear the elements apart and you have less security. Keep them together and the future of peace and freedom are strengthened.

Now, this isn't a partisan issue. The Scowcroft commission demonstrated that it's possible to undertake a complex, emotional issue of extraordinary consequence and achieve bipartisan consensus. Leading Republicans and Democrats across the country and senior officials from past administrations joined our call to build and deploy the Peacekeeper and to build the small, single-warhead missile, but not so we can fight a war. They want to build those missiles so America can secure deep arms reductions and preserve the peace. So do I, and so do we all.

Now the question is whether the Congress can also reach a consensus, a consensus that 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. The security and well-being of our nation desperately require a lasting, national, bipartisan consensus. We must sustain it from one administration to the next on arms control initiatives, defense policy, and fundamental issues on foreign policy. A vote for the Peacekeeper program can lay the foundation for this consensus.

During the past several weeks, I've met with many Members of the Congress. I've provided written replies to the specific concerns expressed by individual Senators and Congressmen. And now we're approaching the critical moment. In my discussions with the Congress, I've asked all Democrats and Republicans to act responsibly and to act together to endorse the Scowcroft commission's recommendations.

Last week, two key congressional committees voted to support these recommendations. And now I'm asking you for your active support.

I want to again thank you for taking time from your busy schedules. Your presence proves you understand the stakes involved. But understanding isn't good enough. To ensure that the final decision is a reflection of a national consensus, you must express your views and make your voices heard. I hope that you'll do just that and do it soon.

The legislative clock is about to run out on this particular issue. So, again, I thank you for being here, and again, let me say -- because I'm so frustrated hearing the amateur psychoanalysis of some individuals that I don't really want arms reduction. Well, then, why did I say it over and over again in the campaign? Why did I appoint two commissions that are in Geneva -- one negotiating on the strategic missiles and the other on the intermediate-range missiles in Europe? I do want arms control.

I can't believe that this world can go on beyond our generation and on down to succeeding generations with this kind of weapon on both sides poised at each other without someday some fool or some maniac or some accident triggering the kind of war that is the end of the line for all of us. And I just think of what a sigh of relief would go up from everyone on this Earth if someday -- and this is what I have -- my hope, way in the back of my head -- is that if we start down the road to reduction, maybe one day in doing that, somebody will say, ``Why not all the way? Let's get rid of all these things.'' And that's why any of those fellows up on the Hill, lean on them. Do anything you can to persuade them that we must have this.

I know it sounds silly that -- to build a missile in order to get rid of missiles -- but we're very dangerously close to not having the deterrent that we need to keep the other fellow from using his or at least using them for blackmail. So, we have to modernize to the point that there is a deterrent, that he knows that the damage to himself would be too great to risk pushing the button. And then with that taken care of, we start down to an equal and verifiable limit on both sides.

And I'm going to quit talking because I know there are others that are going to be speaking to you, and I've got to get back to the Oval Office. But thank you all, again, very much for being here.

Note: The President spoke at 3:58 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.