In a live radio broadcast to the nation, President Nixon lays out his plans to maintain a strong national defense despite the overall shrinkage of the size of America’s military. The President spoke at 10:30 a.m. from the Library of the White House. Time for the broadcast was purchased by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.
Even with American involvement in Vietnam winding down, the collective weariness and disillusionment from a protracted war led to a growing movement that rejected traditional assumptions of international involvement. The cherished belief of alliances in the 1950s, built from the aftermath of the war years and the early period of the Cold War, had suffered due to the apparent aimlessness of Cold War satellite conflicts.
A new wave of isolationist sentiment emerged as a major political platform during the 1972 presidential elections. Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern ran his 1972 campaign under the banner of this isolationist thought, promising a significant reduction in American military manpower and conventional arms capabilities should he be elected President of the United States.
On October 29th, 1972, President Nixon responded directly to his opponent’s proposals, emphasizing the foreign policy principle that “strength and resolution command respect.” For the United States to drastically cut military spending in addition to the reductions already made during President Nixon’s first term would mean to jeopardize strength at the negotiating table.
I want to talk to you this afternoon about national defense. Defense policy is the most important single issue in this election. It represents a choice which must be made not on the basis of name-calling or appeals to emotion, but on the basis of thoughtful analysis of the alternatives. That is the purpose of my talk this afternoon.
When a President thinks of his responsibilities to the American people, he must think first of all about the need to keep this country strong, about the need to maintain a national defense second to none in the world.
A President also has an obligation to spend no more of the Nation’s limited resources on defense than is absolutely required, because he knows there are other urgent human needs to be met.
Today, no nation on earth is more powerful than the United States. Not only are our nuclear deterrent forces fully sufficient for their role in keeping the peace, our conventional forces also are modern, strong, prepared, and credible to any adversary.
During the past 4 years, however, because of the progress we have made in bringing the Vietnam war to an honorable conclusion and in reducing tensions among the great powers, we have also been able to reduce substantially the size of our military establishment.
We have reduced our total military, manpower by nearly one-third from the 1968 level. We have closed large numbers of unheeded military bases and installations. Under the Nixon Doctrine, we have successfully persuaded our allies to take up a greater share of the free world defense burden than they have in the past.
Before we took office, less than a third of every dollar the Federal Government spent was devoted to human resources, while close to half of every budget dollar was spent for defense. Today those proportions are reversed, with the military down to a third and human resources getting nearly a half.
Most important, all of this has been achieved without jeopardizing our security and without betraying our allies.
But now in this campaign our opponents have proposed massive new cuts in military spending–cuts which would drastically slash away not just the fat but the very muscle of our defense.
These are the specific proposals they have made: America’s strategic bomber force would be cut by 60 percent, our tactical air wings by 30 percent, development of the new B-1 bomber would be canceled.
The number of Navy warships would be cut almost in half. Our aircraft carrier fleet would be cut from 16 to 6. They would cut the Marine Corps by almost one-third. The 7th Fleet in the Far East and the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean would be sharply reduced and weakened.
Missile modernization programs like the Minuteman III and the Poseidon would be halted.
The result would be to leave America with the second strongest army, the second strongest navy, the second strongest air force in the world.
Now some might ask, what is wrong with being second? Isn’t it jingoistic and nationalistic for the United States always to have to be number one?
The answer to that question is that the day the United States becomes the second strongest nation in the world, peace and freedom will be in deadly jeopardy everywhere in the world.
We do not seek power for its own sake. What we seek is the assurance that our survival and that of other free nations will never be threatened by some other nation whose intentions are less peaceful than ours, and whose military forces are more powerful than those of the United States.
History has taught us again and again that war is caused not by the strength of one nation alone, but by the weakness of one nation in relation to another.
Last spring in Moscow I signed an agreement for the limitation of offensive and defensive nuclear weapons on the part of the United States and the Soviet Union. We would never have reached that agreement if the United States had unilaterally given up the ABM as some had recommended, or if we had begun stripping away our offensive missile forces.
If we were to take such action now, we would destroy any chance for further arms limitations in the second round of strategic nuclear arms limitation talks which are to begin with the Soviet Union next month. If we unilaterally reduced the forces now supporting our NATO allies in Western Europe, as has also been proposed by our opponents, we would throw away the prospect of mutual and balanced reductions of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe.
Strength and resolution command respect. They are an incentive for negotiation leading to peace. But weakness and naive sentimentality breed contempt. They are an open invitation to pressure tactics and aggression leading to war.
That is why I say let us never send the President of the United States to the conference table as the head of the second strongest nation in the world.
It may be argued that as long as we have our nuclear weapons we have nothing to worry about. Because the United States relied heavily on a deterrent policy of massive nuclear retaliation during the 1950’s, this theory says, we can safely gut our conventional forces today and go back to the policy of massive nuclear retaliation in the 1970’s.
The flaw in that argument is that during the Eisenhower years the United States held a 15 to 1 or even a 20 to 1 ratio of nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union. Massive retaliation was credible then, in the 1950’s, and it was credible during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when our nuclear advantage was about 8 to 1. No enemy would dare to test such overwhelming odds.
However, when I came into office in January 1969, I found that this massive nuclear superiority no longer existed. For 6 years the Soviet Union had moved forward with a massive buildup of their nuclear forces, while the United States was standing still. As a result, today the United States and the Soviet Union are equal in nuclear capability.
It has, therefore, become totally unrealistic to believe that we could any longer deter aggression against a small nation, particularly one whose survival did not directly affect our own survival, if our only option were a nuclear retaliation which would lead to nuclear suicide for the United States.
The mutual destruction would be too great, and both sides would know it. No potential aggressor would respect America’s security commitments to our friends and allies under those conditions.
The Middle East is an example. In the fall of 1970, when Syrian tanks poured into Jordan, what might have become a grave world crisis was quietly defused by the movement of the United States 6th Fleet into the eastern Mediterranean. The possibility of a war which could have threatened the existence of Israel and dragged in the great powers was averted.
American naval superiority kept the peace in that situation, where nuclear threats would have been powerless to do so. That is why, for the sake of Israel and other small nations we are committed to defend, as well as for our own sake, we must never give up our superiority on the sea and in the air in the name of false economy.
The time has come to stand up and answer those of our own countrymen who complain that American power is an evil force in the world, those who say that our foreign policy is selfish and bad.
We can be proud of the fact that in four wars in this century the United States has fought only to defend freedom, never to destroy it; only to keep the peace, never to break it.
The men and women who have fought in those wars deserve the highest respect this Nation can pay them, as do those who serve in our peace forces today and those who will serve in years to come as we end the draft next summer and move to a volunteer armed force. They are the real heroes of our time.
Rather than talking about amnesty for a few hundred who chose to desert America, let us honor the millions who chose to serve America in Vietnam. As this long and difficult war draws to an end, it is time to draw the line on this issue once and for all. There will be no amnesty for draft dodgers and deserters after the war.
Millions of Americans chose to serve their country in Vietnam. Many gave their lives for their choice. The few hundred who refused to serve, or who deserted their country, must pay a penalty for their choice.
A few days before I left for Peking last February, I had as a guest at the White House the brilliant French thinker and statesman Andre Malraux. Let me share with you a comment which he made to me that night.
“The United States,” he said, “is the only nation ever to become the most powerful in the world without seeking to.”
Think for a moment of how true this statement is and what it means. This country did not push its way to the position of world leadership which we have occupied for a generation. That position came to us unsought, but we have borne it nobly and well, guided not by ambition or greed or ideology, but only by the high ideals of human liberty and lasting peace.
Uniquely among the great powers of the world in our own time or in any previous time, the United States is trusted with power by all the peoples of the earth. No nation which refrains from aggression against its neighbors has anything to fear from America, and all nations know that is true.
For the United States to abdicate its leadership role in the world, or to attempt to meet its responsibilities through good intentions alone, without the backing of a strong defense, would be one of the greatest tragedies of history.
Let us never go down that road. That is the road which led an unprepared America into two world wars earlier in this century.
Let us remain instead on the high road of peace through strength, the road mapped out by five successive Presidents in our time, Democrats and Republicans alike–by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson.
As long as I am your President, I shall keep America on that road. I shall keep this country strong militarily, strong economically, and strong in the moral values and the trust in God which is our ultimate defense.
Only in this way can we make certain that the 1970’s will not be the twilight of America’s greatness, but the dawn of a new age; not a time of tension and turmoil, but the beginning of a full generation of peace for us and for all mankind.
Thank you, and good afternoon.