Public Papers of Ronald Reagan, 1985

Author: Ronald W. Reagan  | Date: March 25, 1985

Remarks to Members of Congress During a White House Briefing on the MX Missile and the Soviet-United States Nuclear and Space Arms Negotiations
March 25, 1985

The President. Thank you very much. Let me just take a moment and say first why I want you to know why I feel that support for the Peacekeeper is so very important, not only for our national security but for the solidity of our NATO alliance and for our successful arms reductions talks in Geneva as well. Afterward, Ambassador Max Kampelman, who’s flown in from Geneva, will discuss arms control with you and take your questions. Max has been meeting with Mr. Karpov, his Soviet counterpart, for almost 2 weeks now—too short a time, of course, to expect any dramatic breakthrough.

But I think we’ve already gotten a flavor of what those talks are going to be like. We have some tough negotiating ahead, but we expected that. The Soviets aren’t going to compromise out of the goodness of their hearts, but only if they calculate that an agreement is in their immediate self-interest. We’d be doing the American people a disservice if we imagined otherwise.

We do, of course, have much common ground on which to negotiate. But if history is any guide, we can be sure that the Soviets are not going to simply give up their tremendous advantage in the MX-type missiles without some incentive, and without the MX that incentive is lacking.

For years, when the Soviets were planning an ABM system and we weren’t, you’ll remember we were trying to get negotiations on that. Only when you in the Congress appropriated funds for our own ABM system, the Soviets suddenly decided they wanted to talk seriously; and soon we had an ABM treaty. After staying away for more than a year now, they have returned to the bargaining table.

But let’s not delude ourselves. The Soviets returned to the table only because they’ve recognized the failure of their efforts to divide us from our allies and weaken our determination to rebuild our national defense. Now, if we don’t want to see our hopes evaporate, we must continue to demonstrate the resolve to carry the negotiations to a successful conclusion on a sound basis.

I join three previous Presidents, Republican and Democratic, who have urged that we deploy the Peacekeeper. Each is convinced that the missile is absolutely essential to our national security and our hopes for peace. The bipartisan Scowcroft commission, a study group made up of our country’s finest strategic thinkers, endorsed the Peacekeeper. Secretary Weinberger and all our Chiefs of Staff, as you know, are unanimous in their support of this weapons system.

Just last month, former Defense Secretary Harold Brown said, "We have to proceed with the modernization program of offensive forces, including the MX." But while we’ve been debating, the Soviets have been deploying—over 600 MX-class missiles in the last decade. As our land-based deterrence slips slowly but surely toward obsolescence, the Soviets are upgrading, modernizing their systems every day. And they’re busy developing two new mobile ICBM systems in addition to the 600 MX-class missiles. Our own mobile system, the Midgetman, is still on the drawing board and at least 7 years from deployment.

The Soviets have seen our restraint only as an opportunity to gain the advantage. The modernization of our land-based deterrent must no longer be delayed in the vain hope that they will simply follow suit. For us to back down now on Peacekeeper deployment will deliver a telling blow to our allies’ confidence in us. They stood firm in the deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe. We asked them to walk through fire and brave a storm of Soviet propaganda and not-so-veiled threats, and they did.

And I believe that not only the Soviets but our European allies view the currentdebate in the Peacekeeper as a key test of our resolve. If we fail, we’ll be signaling to the world that on this key issue we are irresolute and divided. And the Soviet Union will see that, in dealing with the United States, propaganda and stonewalling are much more profitable than good-faith negotiations. And our allies may wonder how much confidence they can place in an alliance whose largest member cannot even show the determination and fortitude of its smallest.

Tomorrow’s vote in the House could very well spell the difference between success or defeat in our arms reduction efforts. It’s important that together we send a message-loud and clear—that a united and resolute America backs our negotiators in their efforts to reverse the arms race and bring us closer to a stable, secure, and lasting peace, without fear for us and our children.

And now, I’ve talked too long. I’m going to ask Max Kampelman, Ambassador Kampelman, to come up here and speak to you. And I have to tell you, he has, as you know, just flown in, and he’s due at a meeting back in Geneva tomorrow morning. And I think that’s service almost above and beyond.

Ambassador Kampelman. Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. Vice President, Mr. Secretary of State, Mr. McFarlane,1 Members of Congress, it is true that I do have a meeting tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. Our negotiating in Geneva is now moving into the stage where our three negotiating groups have agreed to meet separately, one with another, so that we could get down to the serious business of negotiating. We’ve been making statements at each other and by each other, but now I hope we’ll have an opportunity to begin talking to each other. And I didn’t want to be in a position of missing that first of those sessions tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock.

1 Robert C. McFarlane, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

The whole issue of arms control is, of course, intimately related, for a democratic society, with the issue of public opinion. We don’t live in governments where policies are made just by dictate and by fiat. We live in a government where policy is made as a result of healthy democratic discussion and debate. The task is to try to see to it that following that healthy debate and discussion, that we end up with resolve; that we end up with dedication, with determination, and with a broad unity of purpose which reflects American values and American security interests.

Many of you here are people I’ve known for a long period of time, and you know that I’m a Democrat. But I operate out of the assumption that we have only one President at a time, and that when he is President, he is my President, as he is your President, and he’s the President of the American people. And when he speaks and when he gives instructions to his negotiators to speak on behalf of the United States, I think it is essential that we do what we can to communicate to the world, and particularly to the other negotiating partner, that he speaks for a united country.

I am not speaking about a unanimous country; we’re much too large to think in terms of unanimity. But I do believe that the American governmental system is facing a challenge today, which is to try to provide a kind of consensus—obviously, short of unanimity—behind these issues of American values and behind these issues of American national interests. And this is why I am very happy to serve as our President’s representative in Geneva and pleased to return here in order to highlight one important aspect of the negotiation that is of particular interest to those of us who are negotiating now at this stage of the negotiation.

Our task is a difficult one of communicating with each other. We don’t trust each other. We don’t fully understand one another. One of the important first tasks that our delegation undertook was to suggest a procedure whereby we don’t talk to the press about the substance of these negotiations. And I will not talk today about the substance of those negotiations in the few moments that I stand here.

But one of the reasons for that, as I explained to our Soviet colleagues, is I want to be talking to them about issues, about seeking understanding, and not necessarily engagingin a propaganda mechanism and in a propaganda device. And I hoped that they would respond.

Similarly, we have to communicate to them that we’re serious about our objectives. I’ve learned, in many years of observing the Soviet Union and participating myself in negotiations with them, that they respect strength and determination, but that they also respect a trading position. Acts of good will, which we might do, for example, in negotiating with the Canadians, making a gesture of good will and then expecting something in return to reciprocate and foster that spirit, in my view, is not effective. It is looked upon, rather, as an absence of will, rather than an act of good will. And to negotiate successfully, we must have will and determination.

I, therefore, have long operated on the assumption, and I think the United States and the free world must operate on the assumption, that if the Soviets want something from us and if we feel it’s in our national interest to weigh what they want, we must insist on getting something in return for it. The extent to which they receive something from us, without the necessity for them to give anything in return-we are seriously interfering with the negotiating process, because as they enjoy the apple that falls from the tree that they did not have to pay for, they quite understandably wonder what other fruit will fall from that tree that they do not have to pay for.

And the extent to which they don’t know the answer to that question, they will wait for the answer to that question. And they are prepared to wait. And I am convinced—or I would not have returned from Geneva here—I am convinced that were the MX decision made in a manner which made it unnecessary for them to be concerned about it anymore, that this would inevitably delay the negotiations as they would, I think quite correctly and understandably, ask themselves: What else might we obtain through this understandable debate and discussion that we will not have to pay for?

I want to make something clear as a result of spending some time today on the Hill. People who differ with me on this MX issue include some very dear friends of mine, people whom I’ve worked with for a long period of time. I think they are wrong. But at no stretch of the imagination can we permit this debate to get to the point of saying that those who are wrong are necessarily unpatriotic or less interested in the success of the negotiations. I want to make that clear.

But as much as I feel that, I feel equally the obligation to say to my friends: You are wrong. And that I do without any hesitation here as I speak to you this afternoon.

I think America’s resolve at the negotiating table and elsewhere outside of the table, in the multifaceted approach we have in dealing with the Soviet Union, must be one of strength, and that must include important military strength; a willingness to talk and to negotiate, but to have strength behind that talking and that negotiating; a willingness to resolve issues.

And I want to say one thing as a pledge to you here today: If there is an agreement to come out of Geneva—and I can’t answer that question in all honesty; I can’t answer it because I can only speak for our resolve, I cannot speak for anybody else’s resolve—but if there is an agreement to come out of Geneva, your negotiators will find the means of coming out with that agreement and recommending it to the President of the United States.

I conclude by urging the President and the Secretary of State and the Vice President and others who represent the executive branch of our government to urge the urgency, the importance of bipartisan consultations and deliberations at all stages of policy development. And I also want to associate that by making a plea to my Democratic friends in this audience that you must respond to such an initiative constructively, because the best interests of the United States depend on it, our values depend on it, and the strength and integrity of the United States of America depend on it.

And I know that all of you will give this very important decision the careful attention and prayers that it deserves. And I can ask no more from any Member of Congress. But I would also have been derelict in my responsibility if I did not return here to tell you my judgment as to the effect of yourdecision on the vital, indispensable negotiations that are now taking place.
Thank you very much.

The President. Now, if you’ll all be just patient for just a few moments, I will have to ask our friends of the press—I hope they have another engagement— [laughter] —to move on in order to have some time there for discussion between us, but to preserve also the position of our negotiators, that we don’t go public with anything having to do with the negotiations. So, that is the reason why we have to ask you to depart.

NOTE: The President spoke at 5:08 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.


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Chicago: Ronald W. Reagan, "Remarks to Members of Congress During a White House Briefing on the MX Missile and the Soviet-United States Nuclear and Space Arms Negotiations," Public Papers of Ronald Reagan, 1985 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan, 1985 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1508-1509 349–351. Original Sources, accessed February 25, 2024,

MLA: Reagan, Ronald W. "Remarks to Members of Congress During a White House Briefing on the MX Missile and the Soviet-United States Nuclear and Space Arms Negotiations." Public Papers of Ronald Reagan, 1985, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan, 1985 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1508-1509, pp. 349–351. Original Sources. 25 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Reagan, RW, 'Remarks to Members of Congress During a White House Briefing on the MX Missile and the Soviet-United States Nuclear and Space Arms Negotiations' in Public Papers of Ronald Reagan, 1985. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan, 1985 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1508-1509, pp.349–351. Original Sources, retrieved 25 February 2024, from