321. Editorial Note
President Ronald Reagan discussed the foundational concepts of his administration’s foreign policy and their impact upon the U.S.-Soviet relationship in remarks made before the World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts at the Springfield Civic Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, on April 21, 1988. Suggesting that “the prospects for freedom” had seemed unlikely at the beginning of the decade, he recalled that democracy had been “on the defensive” throughout the world due to a variety of global events and crises dramatized by the media. However, the economic recovery of the democracies, including the United States, he noted, had laid such concerns to rest. This recovery stemmed from adherence to several principles: “Trust the people, let government get out of the way, and leave unharnessed the energy and dynamism of free men and women.” Linking this development to U.S. foreign policy, Reagan remarked: “But I’ve come here today to suggest that this notion of trusting the power of human freedom and letting the people do the rest was not just a good basis for our economic policy, it proved a solid foundation for our foreign policy as well. That’s what we’ve given to the people, why we have repeated what they instinctively knew, but what the experts had shied away from saying in public. We spoke plainly and bluntly. We rejected what Jeane Kirkpatrick calls moral equivalency. We said freedom was better than totalitarianism. We said communism was bad. We said a future of nuclear terror was unacceptable. We said we stood for peace, but we also stood for freedom. We said we held fast to the dream of our Founding Fathers: the dream that someday every man, woman, and child would live in dignity and in freedom. And because of this, we said containment was no longer enough, that the expansion of human freedom was our goal. We spoke for democracy, and we said [Page 1470] that we would work for the day when the people of every nation enjoyed the blessing of liberty.
“Well, at first, the experts said this kind of candor was dangerous, that it would lead to a worsening of Soviet-American relations. But far to the contrary, this candor made clear to the Soviets the resilience and strength of the West; it made them understand the lack of illusions on our part about them or their system. By reasserting values and defining once again what we as a people and a nation stood for, we were of course making a moral and spiritual point. And in doing this, we offered hope for the future, for democracy; and we showed we had retained that gift for dreaming that marked this continent and our nation at its birth.
“But in all this we were also doing something practical. We had learned long ago that the Soviets get down to serious negotiations only after they are convinced that their counterparts are determined to stand firm. We knew the least indication of weakened resolve on our part would lead the Soviets to stop the serious bargaining, stall diplomatic progress, and attempt to exploit this perceived weakness. So, we were candid. We acknowledged the depth of our disagreements and their fundamental, moral import. In this way, we acknowledged that the differences [that] separated us and the Soviets were deeper and wider than just missile counts and number of warheads. As I’ve said before, we do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And I spoke those words to General Secretary Gorbachev at our very first meeting in Geneva.
“And that was why we resolved to address the full range of the real causes of that mistrust and raise the crucial moral and political issues directly with the Soviets. Now, in the past, the full weight of the Soviet-American relationship all too often seemed to rest on one issue: arms control, a plank not sturdy enough to bear up the whole platform of Soviet-American relations. So, we adopted not just a one-part agenda of arms control but a broader four-part agenda. We talked about regional conflicts, especially in areas like Afghanistan, Angola, and Central America, where Soviet expansionism was leading to sharp confrontation. We insisted on putting human rights on our bilateral agenda, and the issue of Soviet noncompliance with the Helsinki accords. We also emphasized people-to-people exchanges, and we challenged the Soviets to tear down the artificial barriers that isolate their citizens from the rest of the world. As for the final item on the agenda, arms control, even that we revised. We said we wanted to go beyond merely establishing new limits that would permit even greater buildups in nuclear arms. We insisted on cutting down, reducing, not just controlling, the number of weapons—arms reductions, not just arms control.[Page 1471]
“And now this approach to the Soviets—public candor about their system and ours, a full agenda that put the real differences between us on the table—has borne fruit. Just as we look at leading indicators to see how the economy is doing, we know the global momentum of freedom is the best leading indicator of how the United States is doing in the world. When we see a freely elected government in the Republic of Korea; battlefield victories for the Angolan freedom fighters; China opening and liberalizing its economy; democracy ascending in Latin America, the Philippines, and on every other continent—where these and other indicators are strong, so too is America and so too are our hopes for the future.
“And yet even while freedom is on the march, Soviet-American relations have taken a dramatic turn into a period of realistic engagement. In a month I will meet Mr. Gorbachev in Moscow for our fourth summit since 1985. Negotiations are underway between our two governments on an unparalleled number of issues. The INF treaty is reality, and now the Senate should give its consent to ratification. The START treaty is working along. And I know that on everyone’s mind today is this single, startling fact: The Soviets have pledged that next month they will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan. And if anyone had predicted just a few years ago that by the end of this decade a treaty would be signed eliminating a whole class of nuclear weapons, that discussions would be moving along toward a 50-percent reduction in all strategic nuclear arms, and that the Soviets had set a date certain for pulling out of Afghanistan, that individual would have faced more than a little skepticism. But that, on the eve of the fourth summit, is exactly where we are.”
The President then summarized the major issues requiring “crucial definition” in advance of the summit. These included Afghanistan, Ethiopian famine, Nicaragua, and human rights, including the rights to emigration and travel. He concluded his remarks by stating: “You here today at the World Affairs Council understand better than most this lesson about how much all of us have in common as members of the human race. It is governments, after all, not people, who put obstacles up and cause misunderstandings. When I spoke at the United Nations several years ago, I mentioned some words of Gandhi, spoken shortly after he visited Britain in his quest for independence in India. ‘I am not conscious of a single experience throughout my 3 months in England and Europe,’ he said, ‘that made me feel that after all East is East and West is West. On the contrary, I have been convinced more than ever that human nature is much the same, no matter under what clime it flourishes, and that if you approached people with trust and affection, you would have tenfold trust and thousandfold affection returned to you.’[Page 1472]
“Well, you in the World Affairs Council have done much praiseworthy work in this area. And I’m hopeful that American foreign policy, based as it has been on strength and candor, is opening a way to a world where trust and affection among peoples is an everyday reality. This is my hope as I prepare to leave for Moscow. I’m grateful for your prayers and for your support. I thank you, and God bless you.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1988–1989, Book I, pages 488–493; all brackets are in the original.) For the text of the question and answer session following the President’s remarks, see ibid., pages 493–496.