131. Remarks by President Carter 1

United States Defense Policy

Chairman Reg Jones, members of the Business Council:

It’s indeed a pleasure for me to be with you again. This afternoon I would like to make a very important statement to you, following which the Chairman and I will walk down the hall, and I’d like to greet each one of you individually, as has been my custom in the past when we’ve been together. And then we’ll have a chance for a few questions that you might want to put to me concerning energy or inflation or legislation before the Congress or Iran or other matters of interest to you.

But my first concern, and the first concern of every President who has ever lived in this house, is and must be the security of our Nation. This security rests on many kinds of strength, on arms and also on arms control, on military power and on economic vitality and the quality of life of our own people, on modern weapons, and also on reliable energy supplies. The well-being of our friends and our allies is also of great importance to us. Our security is tied to human rights and to social justice which prevails among the people who live on Earth and to the institutions of international force and peace and order, which we ourselves have helped to build.

We all hope and work and pray that we will see a world in which the weapons of war are no longer necessary, but now we must deal with the hard facts, with the world as it is. In the dangerous and uncertain world of today, the keystone of our national security is still military strength, strength that is clearly recognized by Americans, by our allies, and by any potential adversary.

Twice in this century, each time in the aftermath of a global war, we were tempted in this country by isolationism. The first time, we suc[Page 669]cumbed to that temptation, withdrawing from our global responsibilities, and you know what the result was. A generation later the world was again engulfed by war. But after the Second World War, we built a national consensus, based on our own moral and political values, around the concept of an active role for America in preserving peace and security for ourselves and for others.

Despite all the changes that have swept across this world in the last 30 years, that basic consensus has endured. We’ve learned the mistake of military intervention in the internal affairs of another country when our own American security was not directly involved. But we must understand that not every instance of the firm application of the power of the United States is a potential Vietnam. The consensus for national strength and international involvement, already shaken and threatened, survived that divisive and tragic war.

Recent events in Iran have been a vivid reminder of the need for a strong and United America, a nation which is supported by its allies and which need not bluff or posture in the quiet exercise of our strength and in our continued commitment to international law and the preservation of peace. Today, regardless of other disagreements among ourselves, we are united in the belief that we must have a strong defense and that military weakness would inevitably make war more likely.

So, the issue we face is not whether we should be strong; the issue is how we will be strong. What will be our defense responsibilities for the 1980’s and beyond? What challenges must we confront in meeting those responsibilities? What defense programs do we need, and how much will we spend to meet them? How can we correlate most successfully our military readiness and our arms control efforts? To begin with, our defense program must be tailored to match our responsibilities.

In Europe our military forces have provided the foundation for one of the longest periods of peace and prosperity that continent has ever enjoyed. Our strength, both conventional and nuclear, helps to maintain peace while our allies work together and build together through the European Community and also nurture their historical ties to the countries of Eastern Europe. Our mutual commitments within the Atlantic Alliance are vital to us all, and those commitments are permanent and unshakable.

American military strength provides the framework within which our mature friendships with Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand all contribute to stability in the Pacific basin and throughout the world.

The prospects for peace in the Middle East have been enhanced by a strong America and by confidence in us among our friends in Egypt [Page 670] and in Israel. We are determined to continue the progress which has been made in the Middle East.

We must and we will continue to meet these and our other responsibilities. But there are reasons for concern about our ability to sustain our beneficial and our peaceful influence throughout the world—real reasons for concern.

For nearly 20 years now, the Soviet Union has been increasing its real defense spending by 3 or 4 percent each year, 3 or 4 percent compounded annually. In contrast, our own defense spending has declined in real terms every year from 1968 through 1976. This is creating a real challenge to American leadership and to our influence in the world.

We will almost certainly face other challenges, less direct, though no less serious. The 1980’s are very likely to bring continued turbulence and upheaval, as we’ve experienced in the 1970’s. Problems of energy price and energy supply will continue to strain the economy of the developed world and will put even more severe pressures on the developing nations. Political instability, which is already serious enough, may even intensify as the newer nations struggle to cope with these problems, which are serious enough for us.

As in the past, when the winds of change threaten to arouse storms of conflict, we must be prepared to join our friends and our allies in resisting threats to stability and to peace.

The steady buildup by the Soviets and their growing inclination to rely on military power to exploit turbulent situations call for calm, deliberate, and sustained American response.

Through the mid-1970’s, the United States relied on the defense strategy and also on force structures devised during the early 1960’s, a time when we enjoyed strategic nuclear superiority and a tactical nuclear monopoly, when Soviet seapower was limited and the Soviet military presence outside Eastern Europe almost nonexistent. All that had changed by the time I took office as President.

Beginning in 1976 and continuing in my own administration, we’ve set out to counterbalance the growth in Soviet military power by launching new efforts that draw on our own considerable strengths. During each of the last 4 years, there has been a moderate increase in real defense spending. In Europe we’ve taken steps, as you know, to reverse a decade of relative decline in the military strength of the Atlantic Alliance.

When I first began to meet with Atlantic Alliance leaders almost 3 years ago, I found them very troubled by the state of our military strength in the Atlantic Alliance. I promised to raise our own level of defense spending, in real terms, by some 3 percent per year and our NATO allies responded by making the same pledge. With American [Page 671] leadership, NATO also took the crucial step of adopting a bold, long-term defense program, which will extend over 15 years.2 That program is helping us to increase our capacity to deter or to defeat any surprise attack that may be launched against our European allies and, therefore, against ourselves.

We are also taking steps to redress the balance in other theater nuclear forces. This action, as you know, we’ve been pursuing in the last few days.

In the early 1960’s, the United States removed its medium-range missiles from Europe. We could do this then because there was overwhelming United States strategic superiority. But the Soviet Union did not show similar restraint. The accelerating development of their relatively long-range, mobile, multiwarhead SS–20 missile is a major escalation in theater nuclear armaments. With the advent of rough strategic parity, this new missile creates a potentially dangerous weakness in NATO’s ability to deter aggression. In the SALT II negotiations, we carefully protected our freedom to correct this weakness.

Just a few hours ago, I was informed that the NATO Alliance resolved to strengthen its theater nuclear weapons to offset actual Soviet deployments. The agreement reached this afternoon in Europe was a unanimous agreement very encouraging to all of us.3 Now, on the basis of strength, we can negotiate with the Warsaw Pact to reduce nuclear weapons and also to reduce, we hope, conventional weapons throughout the European theater.

In the area of intercontinental or strategic forces, we also face adverse trends that must be corrected. Improved Soviet air defenses now threaten to make our strategic bombers vulnerable. The cruise missile will be our solution to that problem. Production of the first generation of air-launched cruise missiles will begin next year.

In addition, our land-based Minuteman ICBM’s are becoming increasingly vulnerable because of the improved accuracy of the Soviet Union’s multiwarhead missiles. That’s why we decided last spring to produce the MX missile.4 The relatively small number of MX missiles to be deployed will have mobility and a large number of shelters and will be far less vulnerable than our present fixed-shelter Minutemen.

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Further, in response to any first strike against us, the MX will have the capability to attack a wide variety of Soviet military targets. The MX missile, deployed as I’ve just described, will not undermine stability, but it will deter attack and encourage negotiations on further nuclear arms limits. In addition, by increasing the difficulty of any contemplated Soviet strike, it will contribute to the survivability of our own strategic bombers and submarines. Even with SALT II, America needs the MX to maintain the strategic nuclear balance.

We are also modernizing our strategic submarine force. The first new Trident submarine has already been launched, and the first of our new Trident missiles, with a range of more than 4,000 miles, have already been put to sea.

Thus, each leg of our strategic triad is being modernized—cruise missiles for our bombers, the MX for our intercontinental missiles, and Trident for our undersea deterrent. Nor will we neglect our conventional forces, though here we must rely heavily on the parallel efforts of our allies, in Asia as well as in Europe. They must bear their proportional share of the increased costs of a common defense.

I’m determined to keep our naval forces more powerful than those of any other nation on Earth. Our shipbuilding program will sustain a 550-ship Navy in the 1990’s, and we will continue to build the most capable ships afloat. Seapower is indispensable to our global strategy, in peace and also in war.

And finally, we are moving rapidly to counterbalance the growing ability of the Soviet Union, directly or through surrogates, to use its military power in Third World regions, and we must be prepared to deal with hostile actions against our own citizens or our vital interests from others as well. For this purpose, we need not only stronger forces but better means for rapid deployment of the forces that we already have.

Our 1981 defense budget and our 5-year defense program will meet this need in two different ways. The first will be a new fleet of maritime prepositioning ships that will carry the heavy equipment and the supplies for three Marine brigades that can be stationed in forward areas where United States forces may be needed. With their supplies already near the scene of action, the troops themselves can then be moved in by air very rapidly. The second innovation will be a new fleet of large cargo aircraft to carry Army tanks and other equipment over intercontinental distances. Having rapid deployment forces does not necessarily mean that we will use them. We intend for their existence to deter the very developments that would otherwise invoke their use.

We must always remember that no matter how capable or advanced our weapons systems, our military security depends on the abilities, the training, and the dedication of the people who serve in our [Page 673] Armed Forces. I’m determined to recruit and to retain, under any foreseeable circumstances, an ample level of such skilled and experienced military personnel.

To sum up, the United States is taking strong action: first, to improve all aspects of our strategic forces, thus assuring our deterrent to nuclear war; second, to upgrade our forces in NATO and in the Pacific, as part of a common effort with our allies; third, to modernize our naval forces and keep them the best in the world; fourth, to strengthen our rapid deployment capabilities to meet our responsibilities outside NATO; and fifth, to maintain an effective force of highly trained military personnel.

We must sustain these commitments in order to maintain peace and security in the 1980’s. To ensure that we press forward vigorously, I will submit for fiscal year 1981 a budget to increase funding authority for defense to more than $157 billion, a real growth of more than 5 percent over my request for fiscal year 1980.5 Just as in 1979 and in 1980, requested outlays for defense during fiscal year 1981 will grow by more than 3 percent, in real terms, over the preceding year. We will sustain this effort.

My 5-year defense program provides a real funding increase that will average more than 4½ percent each year. I intend to carry out this program. With careful and efficient management, we should be able to do so within the budget increases I propose. If inflation increases or exceeds the projected rates that we now expect, I intend to adjust the defense budget as needed, just as has been done in 1980 fiscal year.

Much of this program which I’ve outlined to you will take 5 years or more to reach fruition. The imbalances it will correct have been caused by more than a decade of disparity. This cannot be remedied overnight, so we must be willing to see this program through. To ensure that we do so, I’m setting a growth rate for defense that will be tolerable for our country over the long haul.

The most wasteful and self-defeating thing that we could do would be to start this necessary program, then alter it or cut it back after a year or two when such an action might become politically attractive. The defense program that I’m proposing for the next 5 years will require some sacrifice—but sacrifice that we can well afford. It will not increase at all the percentage of our gross national product devoted to defense, which will remain steady at almost exactly 5 percent per year.

We must have a long-range, balanced approach to the allocation of Federal expenditures. We will continue to meet such crucial needs, of [Page 674] course, as jobs and housing and education and health, but we must realize that a prerequisite to the enjoyment of such progress is to assure peace for our Nation. So in asking congressional support for our defense efforts, I’m asking for consistent support, steadfast support—not just for 1980 or 1981, but until these commitments have been fulfilled.

Sustained American strength is the only possible basis for the wider, truly reciprocal détente which we seek with the Soviet Union. Only through strength can we create global political conditions hospitable to worldwide economic and political progress and to controlling both conventional and nuclear weapons.

As the strongest, most advanced country on Earth, we have a special obligation to seek security through arms control as well as through military power. So, I welcome the debate by the Senate in its consideration of the SALT II treaty. It will enable us to build a clearer understanding that these efforts in both arms control and in defense are vital to our security and they are mutually compatible, one with another.

There are several reasons why SALT II will strengthen the military aspect of our national security:

First, we can better maintain strategic equivalence in nuclear weapons with SALT II. Without it, the Soviet Union can add more to the power of their own forces, widen any advantage that they may achieve in the early 1980’s, and conceal from us what they are doing. For us, maintaining parity with these uncontrollable Soviet activities would add to our costs in time, money, and also uncertainty about our own safety.

Second, we can better maintain the combat efficiency and readiness of our non-nuclear forces with SALT II than we can without it. Whatever the level of the defense budget, more of it will have to go into strategic weapons, atomic weapons, if SALT II is not ratified.

Third, we can better strengthen the unity, resolve, and capability of the NATO Alliance with SALT II than we can without it. That’s why the heads of other NATO countries have urged strongly its ratification.

Fourth, we can better continue the SALT process, which has now been going on for more than 30 years, the process of negotiating further reductions in the world’s nuclear arsenals, with SALT II than without it. Without SALT II and all its limits, its rules, and definitions in place, any agreement in SALT III would, at the very best, take many more years to achieve.

And finally, we can better control the proliferation of nuclear weapons among currently non-nuclear nations with SALT II than without it. This could be one of the most important factors involved in our pending decision on the SALT treaty.

All of these issues are extremely important and they are intimately interrelated. A strong defense is a matter of simple common sense; so is SALT II.

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I will do my utmost as President to keep America strong and to keep our Nation secure, but this cannot be done without sustained effort and without some sacrifice, which our Nation can certainly afford.

The best investment in defense is in weapons that will never have to be used and in soldiers who will never have to die. But the peace we enjoy is the fruit of our strength and our will to use this strength if we need to. As a great nation devoted to peace, we must and we will continue to build that American strength.6

Thank you very much.

  1. Source: Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book II, pp. 2232–2237. The President spoke at 5 p.m. in the East Room of the White House before members of the Business Council. Brzezinski sent a proposed speech outline to the President under an October 17 cover memorandum, requesting the President’s “reactions and guidance.” He indicated that he and his staff planned to develop a draft for subsequent revision by the President’s speechwriters, adding, “It is meant to be a serious speech and not an exercise in oratory, and therefore I do want to focus on substance above all.” Brzezinski continued: “I think it would also be better to keep plans for the speech restricted, because otherwise the exercise will degenerate into ‘group-think’ (like the Cuban brigade speech, which at one time had as many as 14 people drafting it). It is impossible to do a decent job in such a context.” The President wrote “Zbig, ok—proceed. J” in the top right-hand corner of the memorandum. (Carter Library, Hertzberg Donated Historical Material, Speech Files, Box 12, President’s Address to the Business Council—Part II Defense Speech 12/12/79)
  2. See footnote 10, Document 90.
  3. Reference is to the communiqué issued on December 12 at a special meeting in Brussels of NATO Foreign and Defense Ministers, the Ministers agreed to deploy 108 Pershing II launchers and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles in order to replace existing Pershing I–A missiles. In addition, as part of TNF modernization, 1,000 U.S. nuclear warheads would be withdrawn from Europe as soon as feasible. For the text of the communiqué, see Department of State Bulletin, February 1980, p. 16.
  4. See Document 125.
  5. The President submitted the FY 1981 budget to Congress on January 28, 1980. For his remarks at the budget signing ceremony and the text of the budget message, see Public Papers: Carter, 1980–81, Book I, pp. 225–232.
  6. On the last page of the outline that Brzezinski sent the President in October (see footnote 1 above), Carter added: “a) Record of peace b) Peace depends on recognition of our military strength and national will c) Security of U.S. paramount responsibility d) Best investment in defense is weapons never used and soldiers who never die—because we are strong.”