Faulkner University

Ronald Reagan, Speech on Military Power, February 26, 1986

Document 32.2.3

As President, Ronald Reagan initiated a significant military build-up including a new Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed "Star Wars".

In this speech delivered in February of 1986, President Reagan explains how and why he has rebuilt American military power.

We know that peace is the condition under which mankind was meant to flourish. Yet, peace does not exist of its own will. It depends on us on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations. George Washington's words may seem hard and cold today, but history has proven him right again and again: "To be prepared for war," he said, "is one of the most effective means of preserving peace." Well, to those who think strength provokes conflict, Will Rogers had his own answer. He said of the world heavyweight champion of his day: "I've never seen anyone insult Jack Dempsey."

The past 5 years have shown that American strength is once again a sheltering arm for freedom in a dangerous world. Strength is the most persuasive argument we have to convince our adversaries to negotiate seriously and to cease bullying other nations....

We need to remember where America was 5 years ago. We need to recall the atmosphere of that time the anxiety that events were out of control, that the West was in decline, that our enemies were on the march. It was not just the Iranian hostage crisis or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but the fear, felt by many of our friends, that America could not, or would not, keep her commitments. Pakistan, the country most threatened by the Afghan invasion, ridiculed the first offer of American aid as "peanuts." Other nations were saying that it was dangerous deadly dangerous to be a friend of the United States.

It was not just years of declining defense spending but a crisis in recruitment and retention and the outright cancellation of programs vital to our security. The Pentagon horror stories at the time were about ships that couldn't sail, planes that couldn't fly for lack of spare parts, and army divisions unprepared to fight.

And it was not just one-sided arms agreement that made it easy for one side to cheat, but a treaty that actually permitted increases in nuclear arsenals. Even supporters of SALT II [strategic arms limitation talks] were demoralized, saying, well, the Soviets just won't agree to anything better....

We set out to narrow the growing gaps in our strategic deterrent. And we're beginning to do that. Our modernization program the MX, the Trident submarine, the B-1 and Stealth bombers represents the first significant improvement in America's strategic deterrent in 20 years.

Those who speak so often about the so-called arms race ignore a central fact: in the decade before 1981, the Soviets were the only ones racing....

Finally, we've set out to reduce the danger of nuclear war. Here, too, we're achieving what some said couldn't be done. We've put forth a plan for deep reductions in nuclear systems; we're pushing forward our highly promising Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) a security shield that may one day protect us and our allies from nuclear attack, whether launched by deliberate calculation, freak accident, or the isolated impulse of a madman. Isn't it better to use our talents and technology to build systems that destroy missiles, not people?

Our message has gotten through. The Soviets used to contend that real reductions in nuclear missiles were out of the question. Now, they say they accept the idea. Well, we shall see. Just this week, our negotiators presented a new plan for the elimination of intermediate-range nuclear missiles, and we're pressing the Soviets for cuts in other offensive forces as well. One thing is certain: if the Soviets truly want fair and verifiable agreements that reduce nuclear forces, we will have those agreements.

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