Radio Address to the Nation on House of Representatives Defense Authorization Bill

 

August 16, 1986

 

My fellow Americans:

 

When I ran for the Presidency in 1980, I made a solemn commitment to do all in my power to restore to our country a national defense second to none. In that election, and again in 1984, the American people, I believe, gave me a mandate to do precisely that. Today, however, that commitment and many of the great gains we've made together these past 5 years have been placed in jeopardy by actions taken in the House of Representatives. Let me outline for you a few of the decisions which, if permitted to stand, would pull the rug out from under our arms negotiators in Geneva and, eventually, imperil the national security of the United States.

 

First, the House voted to deny the U.S. Air Force the right even to test our small antisatellite weapon called ASAT. The ASAT is designed to destroy, in the event of a conflict, Soviet military satellites that would guide Russian bombers and missiles to American targets. It is a defensive weapon built to help protect the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces at home and abroad. It's inexplicable to me how the House could deny us the right to even test this weapon when a killer satellite weapon has long been deployed inside the Soviet Union.

 

Second, the House voted to halt any nuclear test larger than a single kiloton. If that vote is permitted to stand, all testing to maintain the safety, credibility, and reliability of the U.S. strategic deterrent would come to an end. Has the majority of the House forgotten history? In 1958 the United States agreed to a similar moratorium. Three years later the Soviets unilaterally smashed that moratorium with the largest series of nuclear tests in history. It took us almost a decade to discover what the Soviets had learned from those tests, prepared in secret even as the United States relied upon a Soviet promise. We must not make the same mistake again.

 

Third, the House, by a single vote, refused to fund the chemical weapons we requested. If that vote is permitted to stand, the House will have increased the probability these dreadful weapons will one day be used. History has taught repeatedly that the best deterrent to such awful weapons is when both sides, not just one side, possess them. Hitler did not use his terrible gas weapons against the allies for a single reason -- he feared retaliation by the allies with the same kind of weapon.

 

Fourth, the House voted to severely slash our request for the Strategic Defense Initiative. But SDI is not the only -- or not only, I should say, the great hope of this country for finding a way out of the prison of mutual terror, it is an idea that helped bring the Soviets back to the negotiating table at Geneva. To gravely underfund SDI is to place in jeopardy all our hopes for arms reduction. It is to leave America indefinitely naked to missile attack, whether by accident or design. These radical cuts in SDI would permit the Soviet Union, which has been working on strategic defense for decades, to make strides at the expense of the United States.

 

Finally, the House voted to deny us any funds to move beyond the limits of SALT II, even though SALT II was never ratified, even though the Soviet Union has violated its terms. What message is received in Moscow when a majority of the House votes to force its own country to strictly observe an expired and unratified treaty the Soviet Union has itself undercut?

 

Beyond this, the House voted to cut away at several of the programs that are at the heart of this nation's strategic deterrent -- the land-based MX missile, the Trident submarine, and the advanced cruise missile. Soviet arms negotiators must be mystified today that U.S. legislators would give away in Washington what they have been unable to win at Geneva. Soviet military planners must be astonished at the blows the House delivered this week to America's national defense. Finally, the House mandated that 10 percent of countless military contracts be awarded without competition on the basis of a quota for certain businesses -- and this they call military reform. It's a step in the wrong direction.

 

Make no mistake, the House defense bill is a reckless assault upon the national defense of the United States. It threatens our hopes for arms control and moves us back toward an era in policies which the American people emphatically rejected in the last two national elections. While it is my custom not to say whether I will veto a bill until it reaches my desk, if the defense budget arrives in anything like the present form, it will be vetoed and national security will be the issue in 1986.

 

Until next week, thanks for listening. God bless you.

 

Note: The President's address was prerecorded on August 15 in the Oval Office at the White House for broadcast at 12:06 p.m. on August 16.