263. Editorial Note

President Ronald Reagan discussed national security in a February 26, 1986, address to the nation, delivered 8 p.m. from the Oval Office and carried live on nationwide radio and television. After reviewing the accomplishments of his administration in the area of national security and arguing against cuts to the defense budget, the President outlined the four principles of a responsible defense program: “Some argue that our dialog with the Soviets means we can treat defense more casually. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was our seriousness about defense that created the climate in which serious talks could finally begin. Now that the Soviets are back at the table, we must not undercut our negotiators. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what some Members of Congress have done. By banning any U.S. tests of antisatellite systems, Congress not only protected a Soviet monopoly, it unilaterally granted the Soviets a concession they could not win at the bargaining table.

“So, our defense program must rest on these principles. First, we must be smart about what we build. We don’t have to copy everything the Soviets do. We don’t have to compete on Soviet terms. Our job is to provide for our security by using the strengths of our free society. If we think smart enough, we don’t have to think quite so big. We don’t have to do the job with large numbers and brute force. We don’t have to increase the size of our forces from 2 million to their 5 million as long as our military men and women have the quality tools they need to keep the peace. We don’t have to have as many tanks as the Soviets as long as we have sophisticated antitank weapons.

“Innovation is our advantage. One example: Advances in making airplanes and cruise missiles almost invisible to Soviet radar could neutralize the vast air defense systems upon which the Soviets and some of their most dangerous client states depend. But innovation is not enough. We have to follow through. Blueprints alone don’t deter [Page 1146] aggression. We have to translate our lead in the lab to a lead in the field. But when our budget is cut, we can’t do either.

“Second, our security assistance provides as much security for the dollar as our own defense budget. Our friends can perform many tasks more cheaply than we can. And that’s why I can’t understand proposals in Congress to sharply slash this vital tool. Military assistance to friends in strategic regions strengthens those who share our values and interests. And when they are strong, we’re strengthened. It is in our interest to help them meet threats that could ultimately bring harm to us as well.

“Third, where defense reform is needed, we will pursue it. The Packard Commission we created will be reporting in 2 days. We hope they will have ideas for new approaches that give us even better ways to buy our weapons. We’re eager for good ideas, for new ideas—America’s special genius. Wherever the Commission’s recommendations point the way to greater executive effectiveness, I will implement them, even if they run counter to the will of the entrenched bureaucracies and special interests. I will also urge Congress to heed the Commission’s report and to remove those obstacles to good management that Congress itself has created over the years.

“The fourth element of our strategy for the future is to reduce America’s dependence on nuclear weapons. You’ve heard me talk about our Strategic Defense Initiative, the program that could one day free us all from the prison of nuclear terror. It would be pure folly for the United States not to press forward with SDI, when the Soviets have already invested up to 20 years on their own program. Let us not forget that the only operational missile defense in the world today guards the capital of the Soviet Union, not the United States.

“But while SDI offers hope for the future, we have to consider today’s world. For too long, we and our allies have permitted nuclear weapons to be a crutch, a way of not having to face up to real defense needs. We must free ourselves from that crutch. Our goal should be to deter and, if necessary, to repel any aggression without a resort to nuclear arms. Here, again, technology can provide us with the means not only to respond to full-scale aggression but to strike back at terrorists without harming innocent civilians. Today’s technology makes it possible to destroy a tank column up to 120 miles away without using atomic weapons. This technology may be the first cost-effective conventional defense in postwar history against the giant Red army. When we fail to equip our troops with these modernized systems, we only increase the risk that we may one day have to resort to nuclear weapons.

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“These are the practical decisions we make when we send a defense budget to Congress. Each generation has to live with the challenges history delivers, and we can’t cope with these challenges by evasion. If we sustain our efforts now, we have the best chance in decades of building a secure peace. That’s why I met with General Secretary Gorbachev last year, and that’s why we’re talking to the Soviets today, bargaining—if Congress will support us—from strength.

“We want to make this a more peaceful world. We want to reduce arms. We want agreements that truly diminish the nuclear danger. We don’t just want signing ceremonies and color photographs of leaders toasting each other with champagne. We want more. We want real agreements, agreements that really work, with no cheating. We want an end to state policies of intimidation, threats, and the constant quest for domination. We want real peace.

“I will never ask for what isn’t needed; I will never fight for what isn’t necessary. But I need your help. We’ve come so far together these last 5 years; let’s not falter now. Let’s maintain that crucial level of national strength, unity, and purpose that has brought the Soviet Union to the negotiating table and has given us this historic opportunity to achieve real reductions in nuclear weapons and a real chance at lasting peace. That would be the finest legacy we could leave behind for our children and for their children.

“Thank you. God bless you, and good night.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book I, pages 275–276)

The complete address is ibid., pages 272–276. In his personal diary for February 26, the President wrote: “Then 8 P.M. my T.V. address from the Oval office—on Defense. We got more calls & wires than on any other speech on defense & the favorable ran 91.4%. ABC put a Soviet commentator on the air to reply to my speech.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, volume II, November 1985–January 1989, page 576)