80. Editorial Note
On January 26, 1982, at 9 p.m., President Ronald Reagan delivered his first State of the Union address before both Houses of Congress. His remarks were broadcast live on nationwide radio and television. After an introduction by Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas “Tip” O’Neill (D–Massachusetts), the President discussed domestic policy before emphasizing the accomplishments made in the area of foreign relations during 1981: “So far, I’ve concentrated largely, now, on domestic matters. To view the state of the Union in perspective, we must not ignore the rest of the world. There isn’t time tonight for a lengthy treatment of social—or foreign policy, I should say, a subject I intend to address in detail in the near future. A few words, however, are in order on the progress we’ve made over the past year, reestablishing respect for our nation around the globe and some of the challenges and goals that we will approach in the year ahead.
“At Ottawa and Cancun, I met with leaders of the major industrial powers and developing nations. Now, some of those I met with were a little surprised that I didn’t apologize for America’s wealth. Instead, I spoke of the strength of the free market-place system and how that system could help them realize their aspirations for economic development and political freedom. I believe lasting friendships were made, and the foundation was laid for future cooperation.
“In the vital region of the Caribbean Basin, we’re developing a program of aid, trade, and investment incentives to promote self-sustaining growth and a better, more secure life for our neighbors to the south. Toward those who would export terrorism and subversion in the Caribbean and elsewhere, especially Cuba and Libya, we will act with firmness.
“Our foreign policy is a policy of strength, fairness, and balance. By restoring America’s military credibility, by pursuing peace at the negotiating table wherever both sides are willing to sit down in good faith, and by regaining the respect of America’s allies and adversaries alike, we have strengthened our country’s position as a force for peace and progress in the world.
“When action is called for, we’re taking it. Our sanctions against the military dictatorship that has attempted to crush human rights in Poland—and against the Soviet regime behind that military dictatorship—clearly demonstrated to the world that America will not conduct ‘business as usual’ with the forces of oppression. If the events in Poland continue to deteriorate, further measures will follow.
“Now, let me also note that private American groups have taken the lead in making January 30th a day of solidarity with the people of [Page 301] Poland. So, too, the European Parliament has called for March 21st to be an international day of support for Afghanistan. Well, I urge all peace-loving peoples to join together on those days, to raise their voices, to speak and pray for freedom.
“Meanwhile, we’re working for reduction of arms and military activities, as I announced in my address to the Nation last November 18th. We have proposed to the Soviet Union a far-reaching agenda for mutual reduction of military forces and have already initiated negotiations with them in Geneva on intermediate-range nuclear forces. In those talks it is essential that we negotiate from a position of strength. There must be a real incentive for the Soviets to take these talks seriously. This requires that we rebuild our defenses.
“In the last decade, while we sought the moderation of Soviet power through a process of restraint and accommodation, the Soviets engaged in an unrelenting buildup of their military forces. The protection of our national security has required that we undertake a substantial program to enhance our military forces.
“We have not neglected to strengthen our traditional alliances in Europe and Asia, or to develop key relationships with our partners in the Middle East and other countries. Building a more peaceful world requires a sound strategy and the national resolve to back it up. When radical forces threaten our friends, when economic misfortune creates conditions of instability, when strategically vital parts of the world fall under the shadow of Soviet power, our response can make the difference between peaceful change or disorder and violence. That’s why we’ve laid such stress not only on our own defense but on our vital foreign assistance program. Your recent passage of the Foreign Assistance Act sent a signal to the world that America will not shrink from making the investments necessary for both peace and security. Our foreign policy must be rooted in realism, not naivete or self-delusion.
“A recognition of what the Soviet empire is about is the starting point. Winston Churchill, in negotiating with the Soviets, observed that they respect only strength and resolve in their dealings with other nations. That’s why we’ve moved to reconstruct our national defenses. We intend to keep the peace. We will also keep our freedom.
“We have made pledges of a new frankness in our public statements and world-wide broadcasts. In the face of a climate of falsehood and misinformation, we’ve promised the world a season of truth—the truth of our great civilized ideas: individual liberty, representative government, the rule of law under God. We’ve never needed walls or minefields or barbed wire to keep our people in. Nor do we declare martial law to keep our people from voting for the kind of government they want.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1982, Book I, pages 77–78)[Page 302]
The full text of the President’s State of the Union address is ibid., pages 72–79. In his personal diary entry for January 26, the President noted: “At noon a working lunch with the Cabinet. They now know what’s in the St. of the U. address (I’m writing this before leaving for the Capitol). I wonder if I’ll ever get used to addressing the joint sessions of Cong.? I’ve made a mil. speeches in every kind of place to every kind of audience. Somehow there’s a thing about entering that chamber—goose bumps & a quiver. But it turned out fine—I was well received & I think the speech was a 4 base hit. We’ll know more tomorrow.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, volume I, January 1981–October 1985, page 104) National Security Council staff memoranda concerning the preparation of the State of the Union address are in the Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Subject File, State of the Union (1982) and in the Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, European and Soviet Affairs Directorate, NSC Records, Subject File, Presidential Speeches/Interviews (1)–(6).