109. Address by President Carter on the State of the Union Before a Joint Session of Congress1

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker,2 Members of the 96th Congress, and my fellow citizens:

Tonight I want to examine in a broad sense the state of our American Union—how we are building a new foundation for a peaceful and a prosperous world.

Our children who will be born this year will come of age in the 21st century. What kind of society, what kind of world are we building for them? Will we ourselves be at peace? Will our children enjoy a better quality of life? Will a strong and united America still be a force for freedom and prosperity around the world?

Tonight, there is every sign that the state of our Union is sound.

Our economy offers greater prosperity for more of our people than ever before. Real per capita income and real business profits have risen substantially in the last 2 years. Farm exports are setting an all-time record each year, and farm income last year, net farm income, was up more than 25 percent.

Our liberties are secure. Our military defenses are strong and growing stronger. And more importantly, tonight, America—our beloved country—is at peace.

Our earliest national commitments, modified and reshaped by succeeding generations, have served us well. But the problems that we face today are different from those that confronted earlier generations of Americans. They are more subtle, more complex, and more interrelated. At home, we are recognizing ever more clearly that government alone cannot solve these problems. And abroad, few of them can be solved by the United States alone. But Americans as a united people, working with our allies and friends, have never been afraid to face problems and to solve problems, either here or abroad.

The challenge to us is to build a new and firmer foundation for the future—for a sound economy, for a more effective government, for [Page 541] more political trust, and for a stable peace, so that the America our children inherit will be even stronger and even better than it is today.

We cannot resort to simplistic or extreme solutions which substitute myths for common sense.

In our economy, it is a myth that we must choose endlessly between inflation and recession. Together, we build the foundation for a strong economy, with lower inflation, without contriving either a recession with its high unemployment or unworkable, mandatory government controls.

In our government, it is a myth that we must choose between compassion and competence. Together, we build the foundation for a government that works—and works for people.

In our relations with our potential adversaries, it is a myth that we must choose between confrontation and capitulation. Together, we build the foundation for a stable world of both diversity and peace.

[Omitted here is the portion of the address devoted to domestic policy.]

A strong economy and an effective government will restore confidence in America. But the path of the future must be charted in peace. We must continue to build a new and a firm foundation for a stable world community.

We are building that new foundation from a position of national strength—the strength of our own defenses, the strength of our friendships with other nations, and of our oldest American ideals.

America’s military power is a major force for security and stability in the world. We must maintain our strategic capability and continue the progress of the last 2 years with our NATO Allies, with whom we have increased our readiness, modernized our equipment, and strengthened our defense forces in Europe. I urge you to support the strong defense budget which I have proposed to the Congress.3

But our national security in this complicated age requires more than just military might. In less than a lifetime, world population has more than doubled, colonial empires have disappeared, and a hundred new nations have been born. Mass communications, literacy, and migration to the world’s cities have all awakened new yearnings for economic justice and human rights among people everywhere.

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This demand for justice and human rights is a wave of the future. In such a world, the choice is not which super power will dominate the world. None can and none will. The choice instead is between a world of anarchy and destruction, or a world of cooperation and peace.

In such a world, we seek not to stifle inevitable change, but to influence its course in helpful and constructive ways that enhance our values, our national interests, and the cause of peace.

Towering over this volatile, changing world, like a thundercloud on a summer day, looms the awesome power of nuclear weapons.

We will continue to help shape the forces of change, to anticipate emerging problems of nuclear proliferation and conventional arms sales, and to use our great strength and influence to settle international conflicts in other parts of the world before they erupt and spread.

We have no desire to be the world’s policeman. But America does want to be the world’s peacemaker.

We are building the foundation for truly global cooperation, not only with Western and industrialized nations but with the developing countries as well. Our ties with Japan and our European allies are stronger than ever, and so are our friendly relations with the people of Latin America, Africa, and the Western Pacific and Asia.

We’ve won new respect in this hemisphere with the Panama Canal treaties. We’ve gained new trust with the developing world through our opposition to racism, our commitment to human rights, and our support for majority rule in Africa.

The multilateral trade negotiations are now reaching a successful conclusion, and congressional approval is essential to the economic well-being of our own country and of the world. This will be one of our top priorities in 1979.

We are entering a hopeful era in our relations with one-fourth of the world’s people who live in China. The presence of Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping next week will help to inaugurate that new era.4 And with prompt congressional action on authorizing legislation, we will continue our commitment to a prosperous, peaceful, and secure life for the people of Taiwan.

I’m grateful that in the past year, as in the year before, no American has died in combat anywhere in the world. And in Iran, Nicaragua, Cyprus, Namibia, and Rhodesia, our country is working for peaceful solutions to dangerous conflicts.

In the Middle East, under the most difficult circumstances, we have sought to help ancient enemies lay aside deep-seated differences that have produced four bitter wars in our lifetime.

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Our firm commitment to Israel’s survival and security is rooted in our deepest convictions and in our knowledge of the strategic importance to our own Nation of a stable Middle East. To promote peace and reconciliation in the region, we must retain the trust and the confidence both of Israel and also of the Arab nations that are sincerely searching for peace.

I am determined, as President, to use the full, beneficial influence of our country so that the precious opportunity for lasting peace between Israel and Egypt will not be lost.

The new foundation of international cooperation that we seek excludes no nation. Cooperation with the Soviet Union serves the cause of peace, for in this nuclear age, world peace must include peace between the super powers—and it must mean the control of nuclear arms.

Ten years ago, the United States and the Soviet Union made the historic decision to open the strategic arms limitations talks, or SALT. The purpose of SALT, then as now, is not to gain a unilateral advantage for either nation, but to protect the security of both nations, to reverse the costly and dangerous momentum of the nuclear arms race, to preserve a stable balance of nuclear forces, and to demonstrate to a concerned world that we are determined to help preserve the peace.

The first SALT agreement was concluded in 1972. And since then, during 6 years of negotiation by both Republican and Democratic leaders, nearly all issues of SALT II have been resolved. If the Soviet Union continues to negotiate in good faith, a responsible SALT agreement will be reached.

It’s important that the American people understand the nature of the SALT process.

SALT II is not based on sentiment; it’s based on self-interest—of the United States and of the Soviet Union. Both nations share a powerful common interest in reducing the threat of a nuclear war. I will sign no agreement which does not enhance our national security.

SALT II does not rely on trust; it will be verifiable. We have very sophisticated, proven means, including our satellites, to determine for ourselves whether or not the Soviet Union is meeting its treaty obligations. I will sign no agreement which cannot be verified.

The American nuclear deterrent will remain strong after SALT II. For example, just one of our relatively invulnerable Poseidon submarines—comprising less than 2 percent of our total nuclear force of submarines, aircraft, and land-based missiles—carries enough warheads to destroy every large- and medium-sized city in the Soviet Union. Our deterrent is overwhelming, and I will sign no agreement unless our deterrent force will remain overwhelming.

A SALT agreement, of course, cannot substitute for wise diplomacy or a strong defense, nor will it end the danger of nuclear war. But [Page 544] it will certainly reduce that danger. It will strengthen our efforts to ban nuclear tests and to stop the spread of atomic weapons to other nations. And it can begin the process of negotiating new agreements which will further limit nuclear arms.

The path of arms control, backed by a strong defense—the path our Nation and every President has walked for 30 years—can lead to a world of law and of international negotiation and consultation in which all peoples might live in peace. In this year, 1979, nothing is more important than that the Congress and the people of the United States resolve to continue with me on that path of nuclear arms control and world peace. This is paramount.

I’ve outlined some of the changes that have transformed the world and which are continuing as we meet here tonight. But we, in America, need not fear change. The values on which our Nation was founded—individual liberty, self-determination, the potential for human fulfillment in freedom—all of these endure. We find these democratic principles praised, even in books smuggled out of totalitarian nations and on wallposters in lands which we thought were closed to our influence. Our country has regained its special place of leadership in the worldwide struggle for human rights. And that is a commitment that we must keep at home, as well as abroad.

The civil rights revolution freed all Americans, black and white, but its full promise still remains unrealized. I will continue to work with all my strength for equal opportunity for all Americans—and for affirmative action for those who carry the extra burden of past denial of equal opportunity.

We remain committed to improving our labor laws to better protect the rights of American workers. And our Nation must make it clear that the legal rights of women as citizens are guaranteed under the laws of our land by ratifying the equal rights amendment.

As long as I’m President, at home and around the world America’s examples and America’s influence will be marshaled to advance the cause of human rights.

To establish those values, two centuries ago a bold generation of Americans risked their property, their position, and life itself. We are their heirs, and they are sending us a message across the centuries. The words they made so vivid are now growing faintly indistinct, because they are not heard often enough. They are words like justice, equality, unity, truth, sacrifice, liberty, faith, and love.

These words remind us that the duty of our generation of Americans is to renew our Nation’s faith—not focused just against foreign threats but against the threats of selfishness, cynicism, and apathy.

The new foundation I’ve discussed tonight can help us build a nation and a world where every child is nurtured and can look to the fu[Page 545]ture with hope, where the resources now wasted on war can be turned towards meeting human needs, where all people have enough to eat, a decent home, and protection against disease.

It can help us build a nation and a world where all people are free to seek the truth and to add to human understanding, so that all of us may live our lives in peace.

Tonight, I ask you, the Members of the Congress, to join me in building that new foundation—a better foundation—for our beloved country and our world.

Thank you very much.

  1. Source: Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, pp. 103–109. The President delivered the address at 9:04 p.m. in the House Chamber at the Capitol. O’Neill introduced the President. The President’s address was broadcast live on radio and television. In his diary entry for January 23, the President characterized the address: “I made a briefer, clearer, more balanced State of the Union address this evening. I thought the delivery was relatively poor, but it got good reviews. At least that chore is out of the way for another year.” (White House Diary, p. 281)
  2. Reference is to President Pro Tempore of the Senate Magnuson and Speaker of the House O’Neill.
  3. In his January 22 message to the Congress transmitting the administration’s FY 1980 budget, the President indicated that the defense budget “provides for growth in outlays in real terms of 3% above the current year’s spending.” He noted that the budget also “continues my policy of steady modernization of our strategic forces and improved combat readiness of our tactical forces.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, pp. 98) The President signed official copies of the budget at a January 22 ceremony held in the Cabinet Room at the White House. For the text of his remarks, see ibid., pp. 95–96.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 104.