13. Conversation among President Nixon and Republican Congressional Leaders1
[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to national security policy.]
Nixon: But I can’t go in and tell them to take it out of Defense, because I can’t be responsible for saying that I know that, for example, several fellows got—put in something saying that the UN—and some of our good guys—they’re all good guys—they’re trying to think these things through. We’re going through the same rather deadly [unclear] syndrome that they went through before we had our last meeting with the Soviets. You remember? Remember what they said? “Why don’t we have a moratorium on our defense expenditures, particularly the new items, until we have the SALT talks?” Remember? Remember? “Don’t build the ABM. Don’t commit to it until we have the SALT talks.” Then you don’t have any built.
The whole point was, if you had ever sat in those negotiations with Brezhnev, there wouldn’t have been any arms limitation unless we’d have had something to give to them that they wanted to stop. And if we had stopped it unilaterally, they’d say, “Fine. Now, what else do you have to give?” Now, at this point, believe me, at this point, we have two very significant things tonight. This relates to our whole budget.
The argument that you’re going to hear is to take it out of Defense. At this point, you’ll have the argument that, first, we can cut it out of Defense and particularly since we are going to have—which we are—very significant arms talks with the Russians some time this year. But I can assure you that in the event that the Congress, before those talks, cuts the Defense budget, or refuses to approve those items we have asked for, I will not be able to negotiate an arms settlement. In other words, ironically, those who are for disarmament and who think they are voting for it by unilaterally cutting armaments will be torpedoing the best chance this country’s ever had to have a real arms limitation. That’s what it is. And those who vote for, and what we have asked for [Page 40] in arms, will give us the chips that we need to negotiate with the Russians to stop their buildup.
Look, what is the danger in the world today and tomorrow? Does the United States threaten anybody? Not at all. But you look what the Russians are doing, their big SS–9s.2 Most of those things are MIRV’d. We are going to have a threat such as—It may not frighten us, but it will certainly, completely demoralize our allies in Europe, the Japanese, and the rest who are damned easily demoralized.
You know, let me come back to the other thing. In other words, on Defense, it isn’t just a question of budget on Defense. The question is whether you want to torpedo the great opportunities that we have, the greatest opportunity for limitation of arms on a permanent basis that we’ve had in this century, probably in history. That’s exactly what’s going to happen. So, I’m going to have to fight it right down the line, and I shall. And that’s the way it’s going to be presented.
Now, you take the—you take the European troop thing. I noticed Herman Talmadge,3 a very strong man, a good national defense man, coming out and saying we should take maybe a 100,000 of our 300,000 out of Europe. Sure we should. We should take them all back. Why shouldn’t these Europeans defend themselves? They’re rich enough. It’s their Europe, et cetera, et cetera. Why are we there? You can make those arguments. I could do it. All of us on Defense, you fellows have done about as good as the other side anymore, but more responsible. But why won’t you do it now? The reason is that in the fall we are going to have some very important negotiations with the Warsaw Pact countries, including the Russians, about the mutual reductions of forces in Europe.
Now, if the Congress before that says, “Oh, we’re going to reduce our forces by 200,000,” what does that mean? All incentive they have to reduce theirs is lost and you increase the threat of war. But more important, you increase the threat of blackmail on their part of their weaker Europeans. You destroy the balance. What I am saying is this: the two—I’m always amused by the fact that they give in—not amused, but puzzled by it, shall I say, that never did anything but puzzle me, that I see they feel that some of our critics and then in the press, and the rest, praising the administration about the great initiative toward China, the great initiative toward the Soviet Union, and arms limitation. Isn’t this all marvelous and so forth and so on? And now we’ve got the end of the war in Vietnam. Within a week everybody, we trust, will be home, and all our POWs will be home. And as a result of that, [Page 41] now is the time for us to cut back on our arms and cut back on our forces in Europe because we have a new era of peace.
What we have to realize is that the great initiatives of 19724 could not have happened had we not had the strength in defense and the forces in Europe which we have today. And, what is more important, we can’t now really cap it all with permanent limitations on offensive weapons, which is what’s involved in the next SALT, and with the possible beginning on a mutual reduction in Europe unless the United States is in a position to say, “We’ve got something that you want to reduce, now what are you going to tell us?” That’s where it is.
So, under these circumstances, we—we’re in the ironic position—and I know that many—I know many of you as sort of the hawks, you’re the Senate hawks, or whatever you want to call it, or the big defense men, you go home to your districts and you speak before a high school or in front of a student body and they’ll say: “Why are you pro-war? Why are you for armaments? Why is it that you fellows always want to spend more? Why aren’t you for spending money for the ghettos, and more for those poor folks, and all the rest?” And the point is: the men who have had the guts to stand up on a strong, national defense are the men who are responsible for the greatest progress in reducing tensions in the world that the world has seen in the year 1972: the China initiative, the Russia initiative, and the end of the war in Vietnam.5 And now, in the year 1973, to change that game plan at half time and to lose it all in the second half would be the greatest irresponsibility I could think of. And that’s the thing we’ve got to do. I know it’s hard to stand up to them. I know that. And, incidentally, I’m going to—I think you ought to—have to be warned a bit on this. The fellows that can go back and talk to their colleges, and talk to their muddled-headed newspaper people, editors, and so forth, some are Republican and some are not. But when they go back and say, “Gee, I’m really for peace because, you see, I think we should now that we’ve got Vietnam over with and the rest that now’s the time for the United States to cut ten billion dollars out of the Defense budget, to get this great danger of nuclear war that hangs over the world reduced.” Think a moment before you do that. It will sell to those clowns out there. They don’t know better.
But what is the danger to the world today? Does the U.S. threaten anybody in the world? Do [sic] our nuclear power threaten anybody in the world? Of course not. The only threat to the world’s freedom and the world’s peace is the Soviet Union today and the PRC twenty years from now and therefore the United States, therefore, has to use this last, [Page 42] ultimate moment. It is the last moment because whenever we fall behind we’ll have no chips at all. This last moment, when we’re still even, to attempt to negotiate a mutual reduction. If it’s done mutually, Europe will continue to be safe. If it’s done unilaterally, with us going down and the Russians staying up, the Germans [snaps]... like that and Europe’s finished.
And if it’s done unilaterally in terms of arms, in terms of the big—shall we say, the SS–9s, and the Trident, and all the rest, the U.S. says, “No, we’re not going to build all these weapons. We’re going to sort of have some Research and Development,” when our intelligence shows the Russians are building them like crazy today. They’re building them like crazy. Why? You know why? Because they’re building them bigger that we may have a freeze. Um-mmm. So what do we do while they build? We cut back? They’ll do two things. It means that if they’re too high then they’ll want to freeze us at a lower level, and that would be bad. But the other point is that in order to really have a world in which there is a chance for peace, and it’s never going to be because, as I’ve said, I mentioned to many of you, it’s because Chou En-Lai and Nixon shook hands and got to know each other; Brezhnev and Nixon hit it off because they both came from poor families; all that gobbeldy-gook you read in the columns. That’s all crap. It happens only because the president of the United States, whoever he is, represents a nation that is strong enough and respected enough to be paid attention to. We are the force for peace in the world. As long as I’m here, and I’m sure as long as whoever succeeds me here, Democrat or Republican I trust, the power of this country will always be used for the purpose of reducing the danger of war, not increasing it, for reducing the burden of armaments, not increase [sic] it. And so, what do we do? Throw away that power? And then say, “Well, maybe the Russians, they will be number one and we’ll be number two?” And that’s what’s really involved. Can you really believe that Brezhnev, or Podgorny, or Kosygin—that’s the top—or those younger military guys that I saw sitting around them, those cold-eyed, tough, ruthless fellows who may succeed, that when they’re number one they’re going to come and say, “Look, we’ve got to reduce the danger of war in the world, so we are going to unilaterally reduce?” Baloney. What are they going to do? They’re going to come down when we come down. And they’re going to come down only because we have something that we’re doing that they want to limit. And they will deal with something they’re doing. Well, this is all digression.
What I really want to get at is this: You’re going to hear the argument made, you’re going to hear a few in your conference, you’re going to hear it in [unclear] and I understand it, and from some of our good Republicans who say, “My God, after going through last year, and after all these great things toward peace and so forth, why don’t we just take [Page 43] it out of the Armed Services budget?” It isn’t there, first. But, even assuming that it was there, let me say: you will cut the legs off the President of the United States as he tries to negotiate the two most important agreements since World War Two: the limitation of arms with the Russians, on the limited basis of nuclear arms; and, the reduction of forces in Europe. That’s what you’re voting for. So, under these circumstances there’s no easy way out. You can’t say, “Look, I’m for a two-hundred fifty billion [dollars], two-sixty-nine ceiling, and I’m for 600 million more for the Vocational Rehabilitation because that’s an important program. Where are you going to get it, Senator? Well, that’s easy: we can cut it out of the arms budget.” That’s an escape act, but it’s not an honest one. It won’t work.
[Omitted here is general discussion about the Defense budget, MBFR, and Ostpolitik.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation No. 119–2. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. The transcript is part of a larger conversation that occurred between 8:38 and 10:26 a.m. Attendees were as follows: Senators Scott, Griffin, Tower, Cotton, Bennett, and Brock, Hansen, Bellmon, Cook, and Bartlett; Representatives Ford, Arends, Anderson, Edwards, Rhodes, Conable, Wilson, Martin, Devine, Clawson, Talcott, Collier, and Johnson; administration officials Stein, Dunlop, Ash, Ehrlichman, Cole, Timmons, Cook, Korologos, and Ziegler; and Chairman of the Republican National Committee George H.W. Bush. Ford left the meeting at 9:15 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)↩
- See footnote 5, Document 7.↩
- Senator Herman Talmadge (D-Georgia).↩
- See footnotes 2–4, Document 8.↩
- See footnote 5, Document 8.↩