12. Editorial Note

On September 30, 1980, Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan took part in an Associated Press (AP) interview in New York. Reagan answered questions about both foreign and domestic politics, including questions related to the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II), signed by President Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on June 18, 1979.

The interviewer asked: “If you were elected, would you withdraw the SALT II treaty from Senate consideration?”

Reagan responded: “Yes. But, at the same time I did, I would make it plain that I was prepared to sit down with the Russians for as long as it might take to negotiate a legitimate arms limitation agreement. My objection to SALT II is it is not arms limitation. It legitimizes [the] arms race. It begins by letting the Soviet Union build 3,000 more warheads, then we can build some to catch up on, only we can’t catch up until 1990. I think it is a fatally flawed treaty, and it isn’t arms limitation. If we’re really going to try to remove the danger to the world today, let’s sit down with the intention voiced and the agreement of the other side that we’re going to find a way to fairly reduce the strategic weapons so that neither one of us can threaten the other.”

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The interviewer continued, “To parity, to equality?”

Reagan answered: “To whatever is necessary that we cannot be a threat to each other.”

Reagan also answered a broader follow-up question concerning arms talks with the Soviet Union: “Would you want to begin arms talks with the Soviet Union at the present military strength, or would you want to wait until the United States was able to build up its strength to a point where you thought there was military parity with the Soviet Union?”

He replied, “I’d have to look to see whether it would be sufficient just for us to start, but I don’t think that we should sit at the table the way we have in the past. This is one of the things that’s been wrong. We have been unilaterally disarming at the same time we’re negotiating supposedly arms limitation with the other fellow, where all he has to do is sit there and not give up anything and his superiority increases. He will be far more inclined to negotiate in good faith if he knows that the United States is engaged in building up its military.”

The interviewer responded, “So you wouldn’t wait to start new negotiations?”

Reagan commented, “No, I think that if you start, they know our industrial strength. They know our capacity. The one card that’s been missing in these negotiations has been the possibility of an arms race. Now the Soviets have been racing, but with no competition. No one else is racing. Now they know the difference between their industrial power and ours. And so I think that we’d get a lot farther at the table if they know that as they continue, they’re faced with our industrial capacity and all that we can do.”

The interviewer then asked: “Would an absolute reduction in the existing levels of arms in the United States and Soviet Union be a requirement for a treaty?”

Reagan answered: “It’s either that or a buildup on our side to the point that once again the possibility of a preemptive strike has been eliminated.”

The interviewer continued: “The theory behind the treaty that the President submitted was that you put a lid somewhere, even on the increase. But you seem to be saying that you want an absolute reduction.”

Reagan responded: “The only choice between that then would be parity by our matching what we know them to have. And it would, I think, make a lot more sense for both our countries to reduce it down.”

The interviewer asked: “It would have to be a Soviet reduction to our level,” to which Reagan stated: “Yes.”

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The interviewer then asked: “Given the hard line that you’ve taken with the Soviet Union and the political realities in the Kremlin, how long do you think it would take to convince the Soviet Union to come to the bargaining table?”

Reagan responded: “Well, I don’t know, the Soviet Union wouldn’t be confused about where I stood, and I think sometimes they’d feel better if they know what the game is and who the players are.” (“Excerpts From Reagan Interview on Policies He Would Follow,” New York Times, October 2, 1980, page B13)