5. Excerpts From a Speech by Ronald Reagan1


Excerpts from Speech by Ronald Reagan at the 64th Annual Worcester County Lincoln Day Dinner

I believe that if peace in the world is to be maintained, America must be strong, reliable and predictable. That is why I have spoken extensively about the glaring defects and contradictions of this Administration’s foreign and national security policies.

Jimmy Carter risks our national security—our credibility—and damages American purposes by sending timid and even contradictory signals to the Soviet Union. The crisis of confidence which pervades this Administration has become a permanent feature of our daily lives.

I intend to continue calling the Carter Administration to account for its stewardship of American security in an increasingly dangerous and threatening world.

I have great confidence and deep admiration for the basic strength and the sound and noble convictions of the American people.

I am appalled by the lack of conviction on the part of those who now manage our foreign and defense policies. And dismayed by the extent to which our basic strength has been so bobbled up by our own government that our enemies now begin to surpass us in nearly every measure of military power.

We must take steps to reverse the trend toward weakness and confusion. The decade of the eighties has begun with a warning to the West that it must once again be prepared to defend its legitimate interests. There is a more specific warning to the United States, as the leader of the Free World. The message is simple and straight forward—“get your house in order, establish your priorities carefully and marshal your great resources for the defense of freedom.”

The prerequisite for taking even the first step to redress this shifting balance against the United States, is to formulate a coherent, [Page 15] consistent and principled grand strategy; our plan for action, our agenda for the 1980’s. And that strategy must be clearly understood at home and abroad, by friends and enemies and those who are neither. Its central principle must be the preservation of peace and freedom.

My first task would be to set in motion policies that will achieve our American priorities. And I would like to share with you tonight some of those priorities as I see them.

To begin with, we have to:

rebuild this country’s military strength; and
base our foreign policy again on the convictions of the American people.

Rebuilding our military strength will require time and prudence; a sustained effort, pursued with perseverance and guided by a long-term plan.

We have permitted the Russians to move ahead of us in every type of weaponry. The principal blame for this belongs with the Democratic-controlled Congress and, more recently, with the disastrous defense and arms control policies of the Carter Administration.

Now we most exploit fully our potential advantage in technology and work closely with our allies.

Stronger Deterrent Forces

First of all, our nuclear strategic deterrent must not be weakened. We must make our nuclear forces less vulnerable so that our adversaries will never be tempted to destroy our missiles and our bombers with a passive surprise attack. We also need more flexible and stronger deterrent forces to prevent any kind of nuclear attack and to discourage nuclear blackmail, or major armed aggression, against our allies and friends.

Naval Superiority

We need a superior navy. We are a maritime nation with vital interests and commitments overseas. Our navy must stay ahead of the Soviet build-up. This means building the ships and developing the technology that will enable us to command the oceans for the decades to come.

Military Strength

We must restore our capacity to project our military strength to those vital regions where further expansion of Soviet imperialism threatens our national security. We must have the military assets in hand that can protect our friends and our interests in the Persian Gulf region. Proclaiming [Page 16] that military force will be employed to defend those interests when we haven’t the military power to do so is a hollow “doctrine.”2

Research and Development

We have to take full advantage of the contributions that American science and technology can make to the defense of the United States and to the protection of peace. This requires a vigorous expansion of our research and development efforts.

U.S. Intelligence

We must once again restore the United States intelligence community. A Democratic Congress, aided and abetted by the Carter Administration, has succeeded in shackling and demoralizing our intelligence services to the point that they cannot function effectively as a component part of our defenses. Senseless restrictions requiring the Central Intelligence Agency to report any and all covert actions to eight Congressional committees, must be eliminated.3 National leaders must have reliable intelligence upon which to base sound policies; and this calls for a first-class intelligence capability with high morale and dedicated people. We have the means to regenerate our intelligence capabilities, and I would employ those means.

Message of Freedom

We need to get the American message out to the world in a coherent, understandable fashion. It is time to expand dramatically the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. We have a message of peace and hope and nothing to be ashamed of in the example we set for the world. Millions upon millions of people look to us as a beacon of freedom in a world that is fast losing freedom. We can convey our own deep convictions to the world, to combat the [Page 17] hostile and ceaseless communist propaganda that distorts everything we stand for.

Stronger Alliances

And finally, we need to shore up our alliance with those friends who rely on us and who truly want America to be a strong, resolute and faithful ally. The NATO alliance will certainly be tested in the near future as the Soviet Union tries to drive a wedge between us and our partners, Japan, with the free world’s second strongest economy, an industrious and creative people has no significant military strength with which to defend itself and is totally dependent on others for natural resources, oil and food. With these allies and with others we must expand our consultation and eliminate the unpredictability in our policies which weaken the bonds between us. Closer to home, we must enter the eighties with a North American continent united in purpose, utilizing the tremendous human and natural resources which await the application of our technology and our capital resources. This is the essence of the North American Accord which I have proposed.4

To influence events abroad, the United States should not have to rely on military power alone. Military strength is absolutely essential for our protection and to preserve the peace, but it must always be an instrument of last resort.

Our foreign policy should aim to avoid both retreat and the need for military intervention. We must have ways to help our friends and to defend our interests without having to send in the Marines.

We used to have such a capacity. Jimmy Carter had the option of building on that strength, but chose illusion and weakness instead.

There are sound alternatives to the disastrous policies of this Administration, and tonight I have mentioned just a few. As this campaign progresses, I will continue to evalute the policies of the Carter Administration and elaborate on alternatives which I believe will begin to restore American security.

My views on foreign policy and national security are not based upon the latest opinion poll. They rest upon recent history as I read it; upon the realities of the world beyond our borders, as I see them; and particularly upon the nature of the Soviet Union, as it exists rather than as any of us would like it to exist.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, White House Office of Speechwriting, Research Office, 1980 Campaign File, Campaign Reference File 1964–1980, Defense/Peace Strategy. No classification marking. The excerpt is printed on “Reagan for President NEWS” letterhead, prepared by the Reagan for President Campaign. Reagan delivered the speech at the 64th annual Worcester County Lincoln Day dinner. For additional information about the speech, see Lou Cannon, “Reagan’s Foreign Policy: Scrap ‘Weakness, Illusion,’ Stress Military Strength,” Washington Post, February 16, 1980, p. A3.
  2. Presumable reference to Carter’s State of the Union address (see footnote 2, Document 4) and the promulgation of what would become known as the “Carter Doctrine.” In his address, Carter stated: “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
  3. Presumable reference to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 (P.L. 93–559), which Ford signed into law on December 30, 1974. The Act included the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, co-authored by Senator Harold Hughes (D–Iowa) and Representative Leo Ryan (D–California), which amended the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87–195) to require the President to report all covert actions of the Central Intelligence Agency to several congressional committees, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. For additional information concerning the impact of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 regarding congressional reporting, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXVIII, Part 2, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy; Public Diplomacy, 1973–1976, Document 26 and footnotes 3 and 4 thereto.
  4. Reagan proposed the North American Accord in his November 13, 1979, television address announcing his candidacy for President; see Document 3.