Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on the Deployment of Pershing/Cruise Missiles, 1983

Among the more controversial actions of Ronald Reagan's presidency was the installation of intermediate-range Pershing II and cruise missiles in Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  NATO made the initial decision to upgrade these missiles in December 1979, as a means of countering the 1977 Soviet deployments of SS-20 intermediate-range missiles in European Russia.  In the early 1980s, Soviet-American arms control discussions on such weapons brought proposals that the European powers refrain from installing these missiles, in exchange for the removal of their Soviet counterparts, but these proved unavailing.  The apparent readiness of Reagan and several of his top advisers to contemplate nuclear warfare as a serious possibility alarmed many in both the United States and Europe, and in the early 1980s significant popular anti-nuclear protests and demonstrations occurred in all the potential host countries.  Reagan firmly supported installation of the new missiles unless the Soviet Union made concessions on its own weapons, a stance he explained to the American people shortly before their deployment was scheduled to begin.  NATO's announcement in November 1983 that installation of the new cruise and Pershing missiles was about to begin triggered further but unavailing demonstrations.  The Soviet delegation promptly walked out of ongoing Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) talks and did not return until March 1985.  Ultimately, the conclusion of the INF Treaty in 1987 brought the removal of both the SS-20s and their NATO counterparts.

My fellow Americans:

Before getting into today's subject, I would just like to say a heartfelt word of thanks to all of you for the thousands of wires and calls that have come in, supportive of the actions of these last few days and, particularly, supportive and grateful to those young men in uniform who are performing so magnificently.

Now today, I'd like to talk about a very important decision that was made Thursday by the Defense Ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, as it's commonly called. This decision has great importance for us and for the NATO Alliance as a whole, because it addresses the future size and composition of our shorter range nuclear forces in Europe.

As you know, we're negotiating with the Soviets in Geneva on the longer range missiles. The current imbalance on those systems is over 350 to 0 in their favor. But with regard to the shorter range missiles, the tactical missiles, I think you'll be very pleased with today's news. But first, a little background.

The nuclear forces in Europe are fundamental to our overall strategy of deterrence and to protecting our allies and ourselves. The weapons strengthen NATO and protect the peace because they show that the alliance is committed to sharing the risks and the benefits of mutual defense. Just by being there, these weapons deter others from aggression and, thereby, serve the cause of peace. Unfortunately, we must keep them there until we can convince the Soviets and others that the best thing would be a world in which there is no further need for nuclear weapons at all.

The alliance's goal, as General Rogers, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, has so often said, is to maintain no more military forces than are absolutely necessary for deterrence and defense.

In December of 1979 NATO reached a decision to reduce immediately the number of shorter range nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. In 1980 we carried out that decision by removing 1,000 of these weapons. The same decision also committed the alliance to a further review of the remaining systems of this category, and that brings us to our decision of Thursday.

Drawing on the recommendation put forward by a special, high-level study group, the NATO Defense Ministers decided that in addition to the 1,000 nuclear weapons which we withdrew in 1980, the overall size of the NATO nuclear stockpile could be reduced by an additional 1,400 weapons.

When these 2,400 weapons have been withdrawn, the United States will have reduced its nuclear weapons in Europe by over one-third from 1979 levels, and NATO will have the lowest number of nuclear weapons in 20 years. What this means is that the alliance will have removed at least five nuclear weapons for every new missile warhead we will deploy if the negotiations in Geneva don't lead to an agreement.

This step, taken by the alliance as a whole, stands in stark contrast to the actions of the Soviet Union. The Soviet leaders have so far refused to negotiate in good faith at the Geneva talks. Since our 1979 decision to reduce nuclear forces, the Soviet Union has added over 600 SS-20 warheads to their arsenal. Coupled with this, they offer threats and the acceleration of previous plans, which they now call countermeasures, if NATO carries through with its deployment plan intended to restore the balance.

The comparison of Soviet actions with NATO's reductions and restraint clearly illustrates once again that the so-called arms race has only one participant—the Soviet Union.

On Thursday NATO took a dramatic and far-reaching decision, a decision that puts us a giant step along the path toward increased stability in Europe and around the world. As we reduce our nuclear warheads in Europe and, of equal importance, take the necessary actions to maintain the effectiveness of the resulting force, we will continue in the future what we've accomplished so well in the past—to deter Soviet aggression. We seek peace and we seek security, and the NATO decision serves both.

Now, let me bring you up to date on the negotiations in Geneva. Progress toward an equitable, verifiable agreement on the reduction of intermediate-range nuclear missiles has been slow to come. Most recently, I proposed three initiatives which go a long way toward meeting important concerns expressed by the Soviet Union. By our actions on the talks we have ensured that all of the elements of a mutually advantageous agreement are on the table. The Soviet Union has now advanced some additional proposals of its own. We'll study these proposals, and we'll address them in the talks in Geneva.

Unfortunately, the Soviet proposals permit them to retain SS-20 missiles while not allowing NATO to deploy its own. The proposals are also coupled with an explicit threat to break off the Geneva talks. I hope that the Soviet Union is truly interested in achieving an agreement. The test will be whether the Soviets, having advanced their latest proposals, decide finally to negotiate seriously in Geneva.

For our part, we continue to seek an equitable and verifiable agreement as quickly as possible. We will stay at the negotiating table for as long as necessary to achieve such an agreement.

Thank you for listening, and God bless you.


Further Reading
Reagan, Ronald. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1982. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1983, bk. 2, pp. 742-748.
 

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