144. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in all North Atlantic Treaty Organization Capitals, Japan, Australia, China, and New Zealand1



  • The President’s March 23 Defense Speech.2

1. In his speech tonight the President will announce that he will direct, consistent with our obligations under the ABM treaty3 and [Page 558] recognizing the need for close consultations with our allies, the development of a long comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program in defensive systems which, if successful, might ultimately eliminate the threat posed by ballisitic missiles. This initiative could lead to increasing reliance upon the contribution of defensive systems rather than on such missiles.

2. In doing so the President fully recognizes that as we pursue our defensive technologies, we must remember that our allies rely upon US strategic offensive power to deter attacks against them. Their vital interests and ours remain inextricably linked. We will continue fully to honor our commitments.

3. The technological challenge is certainly great, but if met successfully, the goal would be ultimately to end the era of reliance on ballistic missiles. In fact, the reduction in the direct threat posed to our societies and populations by ballistic missiles would make even more credible the deterrence provided by our other forces.

4. In his speech, the President also intends to increase the American people’s understanding of the reasons for our defense modernization program and the need to sustain a substantial defense effort, despite the economic costs it entails. He plans to draw attention to the sustained Soviet military buildup, the impressive advancement in the quality as well as the quantity of Soviet weapons systems, and the increased Soviet willingness to translate Soviet power into political intimidation.

5. His main thrust in doing so is to explain why freedom, security and peace depend on our program of rearmament. His objective is to rise above a sterile debate about this or that level of defense spending and concentrate on the threats we face and the steps needed to counter them.

6. The President’s speech will be nationally televised at 8:00 PM Eastern standard time, March 23, (1:00 AM Greenwich mean time, March 24). Action addressees, at the first opportunity thereafter, should transmit the substance of the previous paragraphs to host governments, drawing on the following talking points and, as appropriate, on the questions and answers provided in para 10 below. Info addressees except for military addressees as appropriate may also convey the substance of these points to host governments.

7. For military addressees: the content of this message is provided for your information only. It should not RPT not be used by command information officers to respond to media queries. Queries regarding President’s speech should be referred to the White House until [Page 559] otherwise instructed. Public affairs guidance will be promulgated by OSAD–PA by separate message.4

8. Begin talking points:

The President indicated that he is prepared, with appropriate consultation, to direct a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to develop a technology for defense against the threat posed by ballistic missiles. These steps may permit a future—after the turn of the century—policy which relies on defense ballistic missile attack rather than exclusively on retaliation.
The President’s initiative has the full support of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the President’s senior advisors, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The initiative would in no way lead to shifts in priorities away from necessary strategic and intermediate range nuclear force modernization. These forces are clearly needed to offset the massive buildup in Soviet offensive capabilities and to hold the line until a more defense-oriented posture becomes possible.
The goal in the INF and START talks remains what it has been: the elimination of an entire class of nuclear missiles—in the former; significant reductions in nuclear armaments in the latter. This initiative complements our other efforts to reduce or eliminate the threat posed by nuclear offensive weapons.
We want to emphasize that it in no way signals any change in US policy regarding the ABM treaty.
The US will work closely with the Allies to ensure that their security is enhanced by the developments we undertake and to maintain an effective common deterrent against the entire spectrum of possible aggression. End talking points.

[Omitted here is a section containing anticipated questions and answers.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D830162–0439. Unclassified; Immediate. Sent for information to the Department of Defense, the White House, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sent for information Immediate to all diplomatic posts, CSA, CNO, CSAF, CMC, CINCAD Peterson AFB, CINCLANT Norfolk, UNCINCEUR Vailhingen, CINCMAC Scott AFB, CINCPAC Honolulu, USCINCCENT Macdill AFB, USCINCRED Macdill AFB, USCINCSO Quarry Heights, and CINCSAC Offutt AFB. Drafted by Kanter and Caldwell; cleared by Dobbins, McManaway, Howe, and in S/S–O, and in substance by McFarlane, Iklé, and Gorman (JCS); approved by Eagleburger.
  2. See Document 145.
  3. See footnote 9, Document 91.
  4. Not found.