Address to the Nation on Reducing United States and Soviet Nuclear Weapons
September 27, 1991
Tonight I'd like to speak with you about our future and the future of the generations to come.
The world has changed at a fantastic pace, with each day writing a fresh page of history before yesterday's ink has even dried. And most recently, we've seen the peoples of the Soviet Union turn to democracy and freedom, and discard a system of government based on oppression and fear.
Like the East Europeans before them, they face the daunting challenge of building fresh political structures, based on human rights, democratic principles, and market economies. Their task is far from easy and far from over. They will need our help, and they will get it.
But these dramatic changes challenge our Nation as well. Our country has always stood for freedom and democracy. And when the newly elected leaders of Eastern Europe grappled with forming their new governments, they looked to the United States. They looked to American democratic principles in building their own free societies. Even the leaders of the U.S.S.R. Republics are reading The Federalist Papers, written by America's founders, to find new ideas and inspiration.
Today, America must lead again, as it always has, as only it can. And we will. We must also provide the inspiration for lasting peace. And we will do that, too. We can now take steps in response to these dramatic developments, steps that can help the Soviet peoples in their quest for peace and prosperity. More importantly, we can now take steps to make the world a less dangerous place than ever before in the nuclear age.
A year ago, I described a new strategy for American defenses, reflecting the world's changing security environment. That strategy shifted our focus away from the fear that preoccupied us for 40 years, the prospect of a global confrontation. Instead, it concentrated more on regional conflicts, such as the one we just faced in the Persian Gulf.
I spelled out a strategic concept, guided by the need to maintain the forces required to exercise forward presence in key areas, to respond effectively in crises, to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent, and to retain the national capacity to rebuild our forces should that be needed.
We are now moving to reshape the U.S. military to reflect that concept. The new base force will be smaller by half a million than today's military, with fewer Army divisions, Air Force wings, Navy ships, and strategic nuclear forces. This new force will be versatile, able to respond around the world to challenges, old and new.
As I just mentioned, the changes that allowed us to adjust our security strategy a year ago have greatly accelerated. The prospect of a Soviet invasion into Western Europe, launched with little or no warning, is no longer a realistic threat. The Warsaw Pact has crumbled. In the Soviet Union, the advocates of democracy triumphed over a coup that would have restored the old system of repression. The reformers are now starting to fashion their own futures, moving even faster toward democracy's horizon.
New leaders in the Kremlin and the Republics are now questioning the need for their huge nuclear arsenal. The Soviet nuclear stockpile now seems less an instrument of national security, and more of a burden. As a result, we now have an unparalleled opportunity to change the nuclear posture of both the United States and the Soviet Union.
If we and the Soviet leaders take the right steps -- some on our own, some on their own, some together -- we can dramatically shrink the arsenal of the world's nuclear weapons. We can more effectively discourage the spread of nuclear weapons. We can rely more on defensive measures in our strategic relationship. We can enhance stability and actually reduce the risk of nuclear war. Now is the time to seize this opportunity.
After careful study and consultations with my senior advisers and after considering valuable counsel from Prime Minister Major, President Mitterrand, Chancellor Kohl, and other allied leaders, I am announcing today a series of sweeping initiatives affecting every aspect of our nuclear forces on land, on ships, and on aircraft. I met again today with our Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I can tell you they wholeheartedly endorse each of these steps.
I will begin with the category in which we will make the most fundamental change in nuclear forces in over 40 years, nonstrategic or theater weapons.
Last year, I cancelled U.S. plans to modernize our ground-launched theater nuclear weapons. Later, our NATO allies joined us in announcing that the alliance would propose the mutual elimination of all nuclear artillery shells from Europe, as soon as short-range nuclear force negotiations began with the Soviets. But starting these talks now would only perpetuate these systems, while we engage in lengthy negotiations. Last month's events not only permit, but indeed demand swifter, bolder action.
I am therefore directing that the United States eliminate its entire worldwide inventory of ground-launched short-range, that is, theater nuclear weapons. We will bring home and destroy all of our nuclear artillery shells and short-range ballistic missile warheads. We will, of course, ensure that we preserve an effective air-delivered nuclear capability in Europe. That is essential to NATO's security.
In turn, I have asked the Soviets to go down this road with us, to destroy their entire inventory of ground-launched theater nuclear weapons: not only their nuclear artillery, and nuclear warheads for short-range ballistic missiles, but also the theater systems the U.S. no longer has, systems like nuclear warheads for air-defense missiles, and nuclear land mines.
Recognizing further the major changes in the international military landscape, the United States will withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons from its surface ships and attack submarines, as well as those nuclear weapons associated with our land-based naval aircraft. This means removing all nuclear Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. ships and submarines, as well as nuclear bombs aboard aircraft carriers. The bottom line is that under normal circumstances, our ships will not carry tactical nuclear weapons.
Many of these land and sea-based warheads will be dismantled and destroyed. Those remaining will be secured in central areas where they would be available if necessary in a future crisis.
Again, there is every reason for the Soviet Union to match our actions: by removing all tactical nuclear weapons from its ships and attack submarines; by withdrawing nuclear weapons for land-based naval aircraft; and by destroying many of them and consolidating what remains at central locations. I urge them to do so.
No category of nuclear weapons has received more attention than those in our strategic arsenals. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, START, which President Gorbachev and I signed last July was the culmination of almost a decade's work. It calls for substantial stabilizing reductions and effective verification. Prompt ratification by both parties is essential.
But I also believe the time is right to use START as a springboard to achieve additional stabilizing changes.
First, to further reduce tensions, I am directing that all United States strategic bombers immediately standdown from their alert posture. As a comparable gesture, I call upon the Soviet Union to confine its mobile missiles to their garrisons, where they will be safer and more secure.
Second, the United States will immediately standdown from alert all intercontinental ballistic missiles scheduled for deactivation under START. Rather than waiting for the treaty's reduction plan to run its full 7 year course, we will accelerate elimination of these systems, once START is ratified. I call upon the Soviet Union to do the same.
Third, I am terminating the development of the mobile Peacekeeper ICBM as well as the mobile portions of the small ICBM program. The small single-warhead ICBM will be our only remaining ICBM modernization program. And I call upon the Soviets to terminate any and all programs for future ICBM's with more than one warhead, and to limit ICBM modernization to one type of single warhead missile, just as we have done.
Fourth, I am cancelling the current program to build a replacement for the nuclear short-range attack missile for our strategic bombers.
Fifth, as a result of the strategic nuclear weapons adjustments that I've just outlined, the United States will streamline its command and control procedures, allowing us to more effectively manage our strategic nuclear forces.
As the system works now, the Navy commands the submarine part of our strategic deterrent, while the Air Force commands the bomber and land-based elements. But as we reduce our strategic forces, the operational command structure must be as direct as possible. And I have therefore approved the recommendation of Secretary Cheney and the Joint Chiefs to consolidate operational command of these forces into a U.S. strategic command under one commander with participation from both services.
Since the 1970's, the most vulnerable and unstable part of the U.S. and Soviet nuclear forces has been intercontinental missiles with more than one warhead. Both sides have these ICBM's in fixed silos in the ground where they are more vulnerable than missiles on submarines.
I propose that the U.S. and the Soviet Union seek early agreement to eliminate from their inventories all ICBM's with multiple warheads. After developing a timetable acceptable to both sides, we could rapidly move to modify or eliminate these systems under procedures already established in the START agreement. In short, such an action would take away the single most unstable part of our nuclear arsenals.
But there is more to do. The United States and the Soviet Union are not the only nations with ballistic missiles. Some 15 nations have them now, and in less than a decade that number could grow to 20. The recent conflict in the Persian Gulf demonstrates in no uncertain terms that the time has come for strong action on this growing threat to world peace.
Accordingly, I am calling on the Soviet leadership to join us in taking immediate concrete steps to permit the limited deployment of nonnuclear defenses to protect against limited ballistic missile strikes, whatever their source, without undermining the credibility of existing deterrent forces. And we will intensify our effort to curb nuclear and missile proliferation. These two efforts will be mutually reinforcing. To foster cooperation, the United States soon will propose additional initiatives in the area of ballistic missile early warning.
Finally, let me discuss yet another opportunity for cooperation that can make our world safer.
During last month's attempted coup in Moscow, many Americans asked me if I thought Soviet nuclear weapons were under adequate control. I do not believe that America was at increased risk of nuclear attack during those tense days. But I do believe more can be done to ensure the safe handling and dismantling of Soviet nuclear weapons. Therefore, I propose that we begin discussions with the Soviet Union to explore cooperation in three areas: First, we should explore joint technical cooperation on the safe and environmentally responsible storage, transportation, dismantling, and destruction of nuclear warheads. Second, we should discuss existing arrangements for the physical security and safety of nuclear weapons and how these might be enhanced. And third, we should discuss nuclear command and control arrangements, and how these might be improved to provide more protection against the unauthorized or accidental use of nuclear weapons.
My friend, French President Mitterrand, offered a similar idea a short while ago. After further consultations with the alliance and when the leadership in the U.S.S.R. is ready, we will begin this effort.
The initiatives that I'm announcing build on the new defense strategy that I set out a year ago, one that shifted our focus away from the prospect of global confrontation. We're consulting with our allies on the implementation of many of these steps which fit well with the new post cold war strategy and force posture that we've developed in NATO.
As we implement these initiatives we will closely watch how the new Soviet leadership responds. We expect our bold initiatives to meet with equally bold steps on the Soviet side. If this happens, further cooperation is inevitable. If it does not, then an historic opportunity will have been lost. Regardless, let no one doubt we will still retain the necessary strength to protect our security and that of our allies and to respond as necessary.
In addition, regional instabilities, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and as we saw during the conflict in the Gulf, territorial ambitions of power-hungry tyrants, still require us to maintain a strong military to protect our national interests and to honor commitments to our allies.
Therefore, we must implement a coherent plan for a significantly smaller but fully capable military, one that enhances stability but is still sufficient to convince any potential adversary that the cost of aggression would exceed any possible gain.
We can safely afford to take the steps I've announced today, steps that are designed to reduce the dangers of miscalculation in a crisis. But to do so, we must also pursue vigorously those elements of our strategic modernization program that serve the same purpose. We must fully fund the B - 2 and SDI program. We can make radical changes in the nuclear postures of both sides to make them smaller, safer, and more stable. But the United States must maintain modern nuclear forces including the strategic triad and thus ensure the credibility of our deterrent.
Some will say that these initiatives call for a budget windfall for domestic programs. But the peace dividend I seek is not measured in dollars but in greater security. In the near term, some of these steps may even cost money. Given the ambitious plan I have already proposed to reduce U.S. defense spending by 25 percent, we cannot afforded to make any unwise or unwarranted cuts in the defense budget that I have submitted to Congress. I am counting on congressional support to ensure we have the funds necessary to restructure our forces prudently and implement the decisions that I have outlined tonight.
Twenty years ago when I had the opportunity to serve this country as Ambassador to the United Nations. I once talked about the vision that was in the minds of the U.N.'s founders, how they dreamed of a new age when the great powers of the world would cooperate in peace as they had as allies in war.
Today I consulted with President Gorbachev. And while he hasn't had time to absorb the details, I believe the Soviet response will clearly be positive. I also spoke with President Yeltsin, and he had a similar reaction, positive, hopeful.
Now, the Soviet people and their leaders can shed the heavy burden of a dangerous and costly nuclear arsenal which has threatened world peace for the past five decades. They can join us in these dramatic moves toward a new world of peace and security.
Tonight, as I see the drama of democracy unfolding around the globe, perhaps we are closer to that new world then every before. The future is ours to influence, to shape, to mold. While we must not gamble that future, neither can we forfeit the historic opportunity now before us.
It has been said, ``Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for. It's a thing to be achieved.'' The United States has always stood where duty required us to stand. Now let them say that we led where destiny required us to lead, to a more peaceful, hopeful future. We cannot give a more precious gift to the children of the world.
Thank you, good night, and God bless the United States of America.
Note: The President spoke at 8:02 p.m. in the Oval Office
at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Prime Minister John
Major of the United Kingdom; President Francois Mitterrand of France;
Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany; Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney; President
Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union; and President Boris Yeltsin of
the Republic of Russia.