April 2, 2008

Re-visited: Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative

Reagan’s speech instilled a sense of nationalistic pride and healthy patriotism that, apart form a temporary surge following the September 2001 attacks, has been faltering since. His words engendered hope and belief in a way that crossed party lines; he made Americans feel, American.

This past week saw the silver anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech pass without as much as a whisper. I found this mildly surprising in light of the $120 billion already spent and given that the White House has a current request, for a further $12 billion for 2009. The development of a ballistic missile shield remains a contentious and expensive task even after 25 years.

I will refrain from lending to the pro and against arguments for continued research and testing in relation to the SDI program and related technologies; they are well documented, suffice to add, that paired with offensive capabilities, defensive actions such as SDI and homeland security measures, all play a role in strengthening the U.S. and providing valuable deterrence dynamics.

The former President was no fool, and knew fully well both the immense undertaking that the program represented, and the likely time frame for implementation, said Reagan:

“I know this is a formidable, technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of this century. Yet, current technology has attained a level of sophistication where it’s reasonable for us to begin this effort. It will take years, probably decades of effort on many fronts. There will be failures and setbacks, just as there will be successes and breakthroughs … I clearly recognize that defensive systems have limitations and raise certain problems and ambiguities...

Reagan’s speech instilled a sense of nationalistic pride and healthy patriotism that, apart form a temporary surge following the September 2001 attacks, has been faltering since. His words engendered hope and belief in a way that crossed party lines; he made Americans feel, American. He was much more than a shrink Government reduce taxes President, he gave its citizens a sense of mission and creed, his words re-affirmed historical American ideals and restored confidence in the legitimacy of America and its institutions. Keep these uppermost in mind as we re-visit the famous speech.



Address to the Nation on National Security by President Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983

My fellow Americans,

The calls for cutting back the defense budget come in nice, simple arithmetic. They’re the same kind of talk that led the democracies to neglect their defenses in the 1930’s and invited the tragedy of World War II. We must not let that grim chapter of history repeat itself through apathy or neglect.

This is why I’m speaking to you tonight - to urge you to tell your Senators and Congressmen that you know we must continue to restore our military strength. If we stop in midstream, we will send a signal of decline, of lessened will, to friends and adversaries alike.

Free people must voluntarily, through open debate and democratic means, meet the challenge that totalitarians pose by compulsion. It’s up to us, in our time, to choose and choose wisely between the hard but necessary task of preserving peace and freedom and the temptation to ignore our duty and blindly hope for the best while the enemies of freedom grow stronger day by day.

The solution is well within our grasp. But to reach it, there is simply no alternative but to continue this year, in this budget, to provide the resources we need to preserve the peace and guarantee our freedom.

Now, thus far tonight I’ve shared with you my thoughts on the problems of national security we must face together. My predecessors in the Oval Office have appeared before you on other occasions to describe the threat posed by Soviet power and have proposed steps to address that threat. But since the advent of nuclear weapons, those steps have been increasingly directed toward deterrence of aggression through the promise of retaliation.

This approach to stability through offensive threat has worked. We and our allies have succeeded in preventing nuclear war for more than three decades. in recent months, however, my advisers, including in particular the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have underscored the necessity to break out of a future that relies solely on offensive retaliation for our security.

Over the course of these discussions, I’ve become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence. Feeling this way, I believe we must thoroughly examine every opportunity for reducing tensions and for introducing greater stability into the strategic calculus on both sides.

One of the most important contributions we can make is, of course, to lower the level of all arms, and particularly nuclear arms. We’re engaged right now in several negotiations with the Soviet Union to bring about a mutual reduction of weapons. I will report to you a week from tomorrow my thoughts on that score. But let me just say, I’m totally committed to this course.

If the Soviet Union will join with us in our effort to achieve major arms reduction, we will have succeeded in stabilizing the nuclear balance. Nevertheless, it will still be necessary to rely on the specter of retaliation, on mutual threat. And that’s a sad commentary on the human condition. Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than to avenge them? Are we not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I think we are. Indeed, we must.

After careful consultation with my advisers, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I believe there is a way. Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base and that have given us the quality of life we enjoy today.

What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?

I know this is a formidable, technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of this century.

Yet, current technology has attained a level of sophistication where it’s reasonable for us to begin this effort. It will take years, probably decades of effort on many fronts. There will be failures and setbacks, just as there will be successes and breakthroughs. And as we proceed, we must remain constant in preserving the nuclear deterrent and maintaining a solid capability for flexible response. But isn’t it worth every investment necessary to free the world from the threat of nuclear war? We know it is.

In the meantime, we will continue to pursue real reductions in nuclear arms, negotiating from a position of strength that can be ensured only by modernizing our strategic forces. At the same time, we must take steps to reduce the risk of a conventional military conflict escalating to nuclear war by improving our nonnuclear capabilities.

America does possess - now - the technologies to attain very significant improvements in the effectiveness of our conventional, nonnuclear forces. Proceeding boldly with these new technologies, we can significantly reduce any incentive that the Soviet Union may have to threaten attack against the United States or its allies.

As we pursue our goal of defensive technologies, we recognize that our allies rely upon our strategic offensive power to deter attacks against them. Their vital interests and ours are inextricably linked. Their safety and ours are one. And no change in technology can or will alter that reality. We must and shall continue to honor our commitments.

I clearly recognize that defensive systems have limitations and raise certain problems and ambiguities. If paired with offensive systems, they can be viewed as fostering an aggressive policy, and no one wants that. But with these considerations firmly in mind, I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

Tonight, consistent with our obligations of the ABM treaty and recognizing the need for closer consultation with our allies, I’m taking an important first step. I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles. This could pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves. We seek neither military superiority nor political advantage. Our only purpose - one all people share - is to search for ways to reduce the danger of nuclear war.

My fellow Americans, tonight we’re launching an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history. There will be risks, and results take time.

But I believe we can do it. As we cross this threshold, I ask for your prayers and your support.
Thank you, good night, and God bless you.


While nationalism in America is complex and hard to define, at a straightforward level, the purported “Star Wars” speech achieved a great deal. Together with Reagan’s general appeal and democratic personality, it heralded an era of good feeling and restored America’s faith in itself.

Click here
for an interactive demonstration of how the shield works.
Click here for a map of nations with ballistic missiles.
Click here for a map of nations with nuclear weapons.

I welcome your comments...

17 comments:

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

To my embarrassment, I missed that anniversary.

Thanks for posting that speech. I intend to link to this post.

People like Reagan don't come along very often. There hasn't been one in American politics since. Obama has charisma: but not the common sense, I fear, that Reagan displayed.

And, it's hard for someone to rise to the national level here, with so many of the self-identified best and brightest dedicated to shouting down anyone who doesn't agree with their liberal vision.

Oh, well: To date, there's always been a tomorrow.

Verlin Martin said...

That man delivered some of the greatest speeches ever.

The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth said...

Thank you my friend for posting about President Reagan. His brilliance and his strength will never be matched. God threw away the mold when he created Reagan.

His SDI, "fiasco, " as they called it in the eighties, was not only proven right as it helped to bring down the Soviets. But it is now proving to be a viable defense initiative and a proven working technology.

The greatness of a great man continues to effect our lives today!

WomanHonorThyself said...

Hey Otto!..nice!.. We sure could use a leader who can restore America’s faith in itself. Indeed!

Conservative Chic said...

Wow, Otto....great post. Reagan was truly one of a kind and it doesn't look like there is anyone that could even come close to measuring up today. Thanks for providing the links, as they were very informative. It is truly scary to see the facts in black and white!!

American Interests.blog said...

Brian: Thanks for linking to my post. Unmatched vision, common sense, and exceptional leadership qualities … I could go on…

Verlin: Kudos!

American Interests.blog said...

The Liberal Lie the Consevative Truth: The technologies developed through SDI research are proving valuable today. Without doubt, in with the very best Presidents America has had … http://www.itsasurvey.com/artman2/publish/political/Reagan_Best_Bus_Worst_President_in_Poll.shtml

Angel: To restore faith and unify...I'll vote for that!

American Interests.blog said...

Jen - Conservative Chic: How are you going there? Good to see you here ... Glad you agree...

Goat said...

We saw it come to fruition when we knocked that satelite down a while back, vector trig at its best. I for one believe we have a laser vector system in place and have had for years. Great post always good to read some Reagan. You know Peggy Noonan wrote many of his best speeches, he just delivered them.

American Interests.blog said...

Goat: Thanks for mentioning Peggy Noonan, former special assistant to Ronald Reagan. Can I recommend her recent article, "Getting Mrs. Clinton".
Visit her site at:
http://www.peggynoonan.com/main.php

Z said...

Noonan's let me down some lately, but Reagan sure never did. Thanks for the wonderful post, Otto. I wish more Americans felt like you do about our country, mate!

MK said...

You folks must cringe when you see that video of Obama pledging to cut back on the defense budget, put the money into social programs. The scary thing is that too many people feel the same way, summed up, 'arms are for hugging'.

What too many of us don't quite get is that with out arms and security you cannot have anything else. He who cannot protect and defend his freedom will have it taken away one day.

American Interests.blog said...

z: I too wish more Americans felt the same about their own, it would help...Thanks for coming by...

mk: Words of the wise my friend, many thanks...

Tapline said...

Otto, Outstanding Post as usual.....Reagan in his time was not thought that highly of. Remember the Contra affair, They laughed at his Star wars...etc...etc.... The Congress was tying his hands at every turn. They did it through cutting funding as they tried with Bush.....but with Bush he maintained. We have better communications now than before....I was with him almost 100% of the time.....He built a Military and Peanut and Clinton tore it up. However, we do have a mockup of Laser firepower being triggered by an aircraft to down missles. It is being developed at Edwards AFB by, I believe Boeing. I daw some of the generals today talking about our broken military, yesterday on C-span. They were around back then, but I didn't hear about them......Today they are out of the woodwork.... I ramble....stay well.....

American Interests.blog said...

Thanks Tap!

Aurora said...

Otto, thanks for the reminder. We are in a bit of a lull politically at the moment. I don't think any Conservatives are excited about the options before us. But this too will pass. Who knows when another Reagan or better will show?

American Interests.blog said...

Aurora: I remain confident that indeed, this "shall pass".... Thanks for coming by...