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79. Editorial Note

On April 15, 1976, President Ford met with Secretary of State Kissinger, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Assistant for National Security Affairs Scowcroft, and his Chief of Staff Cheney. The meeting, held in the Oval Office from 9:31 to 10:19 a.m., began as follows:

“President: I have decided to make a major defense and foreign policy speech before the DAR next Wednesday. Hartmann has done a redraft. It is tough—it takes on Reagan. Will you all look at it so I can have it in final from by Saturday? It is a little tough on the Soviet Union but says we will negotiate. . .

Kissinger: The problem with the Soviet Union is that détente is really right. Second, you will have to do deal with them after November. It really isn’t so that they are being irresponsible—except in Angola. And politically, if it is Humphrey and they [the Soviets] decide that Humphrey is preferable, they can be troublesome.

“President: I don’t think it really does that. [He describes what is in the speech.]

Kissinger: Schlesinger is now saying the way we play détente is like the cold war.

“President: Reagan, you notice, is not now saying that we are behind strategically. He is now emphasizing the conventional needs.

Rumsfeld: We need to avoid wild swings from euphoria to an all-out cold war with the Soviet Union.”

The record of the meeting is in the Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 19, April 15, 1976—Ford, Kissinger, Rumsfeld. Brackets are in the original.

Ford and Kissinger again discussed the upcoming speech during their Oval Office meeting, held on Wednesday, April 21, from 9:20 to 9:55 a.m.

Kissinger: If the speech is the one you sent me. I think it is good. I don’t think a President can say we are second best.

“President: I agree. We had quite a battle over it, but Brent and I won.”

The record of the meeting is ibid., April 21, 1976—Ford, Kissinger.

Later that morning, Ford delivered his speech in Constitutional Hall to the 85th Continental Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Following some opening remarks, the President said, “Over the past several weeks, as the 1976 political campaigns have begun to heat up, more and more attention has focused on the issue of America’s military strength.” He went on, “recent charges that the United States is in a position of military inferiority, that we have ac[Page 333]cepted Soviet world domination are complete and utter nonsense. If there is any single standard which has guided my years in public service it has been this: The freedom and security of the United States of America must always be preserved.” Ford pledged “that as long as I hold this office I intend to see to it that the United States will never become second to anybody, period.”

As evidence, Ford recalled that “defense spending represented the lowest share of GNP since 1947” when he became president in August 1974. “There was cause to be concerned about the future security of the country, particularly if the Congress continued to hack away at our military budgets. If the Soviet Union continued to expand its capabilities and we continued to bleed our own defense forces, it was inevitable that the United States would eventually become a second-rate power. Clearly the adverse trend had to be reversed, and I set out to make that one of the foremost objectives of my administration.” The President recounted that, in January 1975, he submitted his first budget calling for a 10 percent increase in defense spending, a request subsequently reduced by the Congress. In January 1976, Ford submitted an even bigger defense budget calling for a 14 percent hike in spending. This time, he reported that Congress recently had acted favorably upon his request, having taken “the first steps toward committing us to the biggest single increase in defense spending since the Korean War.” His administration also had expanded the Army from 13 to 16 divisions and “laid the keel for the first of a new class of nuclear submarines to be armed with the most accurate submarine ballistic missiles in the world. The Trident missile fleet will be the foundation for a formidable, technologically superior force through the 1980s. We are now completing the final testing of the world’s most modern and capable strategic bomber, the B–1. We are also accelerating work on a new intercontinental ballistic missile for the 1980s. We are developing a new cruise missile for our air and naval forces.”

As a result, Ford said, the United States remained “unsurpassed in military capability,” making it “the single most powerful nation on Earth—indeed, in all history—and we are going to keep it that way.” For the full text of Ford’s speech, see Public Papers: Ford, 1976, vol. II, pp. 1139–1145.