1980 Presidential Candidate Debate: Governor Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter – 10/28/80
Above is the video of the complete debate. Below is the fifth part of the transcript that deals with the issue of arms control among other things. This segment begins at 45 minute mark.
October 28, 1980
The Carter-Reagan Presidential Debate
MR. SMITH: Thank you gentlemen. That is the first half of the debate. Now, the rules for the second half are quite simple. They’re only complicated when I explain them. In the second half, the panelists with me will have no follow-up questions. Instead, after the panelists have asked a question, and the candidates have answered, each of the candidates will have two opportunities to follow up,. to question, to rebut, or just to comment on his opponent’s statement. Governor Reagan will respond, in this section, to the first question from Marvin Stone.
MR. STONE: Governor Reagan – arms control: The President said it was the single most important issue. Both of you have expressed the desire to end the nuclear arms race with Russia, but by methods that are vastly different. You suggest that we scrap the SALT II treaty already negotiated, and intensify the build-up of American power to induce the Soviets to sign a new treaty – one more favorable to us. President Carter, on the other hand, says he will again try to convince a reluctant Congress to ratify the present treaty on the grounds it’s the best we can hope to get. Now, both of you cannot be right. Will you tell us why you think you are?
MR. REAGAN: Yes. I think I’m right because I believe that we must have a consistent foreign policy, a strong America, and a strong economy. And then, as we build up our national security, to restore our margin of safety, we at the same time try to restrain the Soviet build-up, which has been going forward at a rapid pace, and for quite some time. The SALT II treaty was the result of negotiations that Mr. Carter’s team entered into after he had asked the Soviet Union for a discussion of actual reduction of nuclear strategic weapons. And his emissary, I think, came home in 12 hours having heard a very definite nyet. But taking that one no from the Soviet Union, we then went back into negotiations on their terms, because Mr. Carter had canceled the B-I bomber, delayed the MX, delayed the Trident submarine, delayed the cruise missile, shut down the Missile Man – the three – the Minuteman missile production line, and whatever other things that might have been done. The Soviet Union sat at the table knowing that we had gone forward with unilateral concessions without any reciprocation from them whatsoever. Now, I have not blocked the SALT II treaty, as Mr. Carter and Mr. Mondale suggest I have. It has been blocked by a Senate in which there is a Democratic majority. Indeed, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 10 to 0, with seven abstentions, against the SALT II treaty, and declared that it was not in the national security interests of the United States. Besides which, it is illegal, because the law of the land, passed by Congress, says that we cannot accept a treaty in which we are not equal. And we are not equal in this treaty for one reason alone – our B-2 bombers are considered to be strategic weapons; their Backfire bombers are not.
MR. SMITH: Governor, I have to interrupt you at that point. The time is up for that. But the same question now to President Carter.
MR. STONE: Yes. President Carter, both of you have expressed the desire to end the nuclear arms race with Russia, but through vastly different methods. The Governor suggests we scrap the SALT II treaty which you negotiated in Vienna or signed in Vienna, intensify the build-up of American power to induce the Soviets to sign a new treaty, one more favorable to us. You, on the other hand, say you will again try to convince a reluctant Congress to ratify the present treaty on the grounds it is the best we can hope to get from the Russians. You cannot both be right. Will you tell us why you think you are?
MR. CARTER: Yes, I’d be glad to. Inflation. unemployment, the cities are all very important issues, but they pale into insignificance in the life and duties of a President when compared with the control of nuclear weapons. Every President who has served in the Oval Office since Harry Truman has been dedicated to the proposition of controlling nuclear weapons. To negotiate with the Soviet Union a balanced, controlled, observable, and then reducing levels of atomic weaponry, there is a disturbing pattern in the attitude of Governor Reagan. He has never supported any of those arms control agreements – the limited test ban, SALT I, nor the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, nor the Vladivostok Treaty negotiated with the Soviet Union by President Ford – and now he wants to throw into the wastebasket a treaty to control nuclear weapons on a balanced and equal basis between ourselves and the Soviet Union, negotiated over a seven-year period, by myself and my two Republican predecessors. The Senate has not voted yet on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. There have been preliminary skirmishing in the committees of the Senate, but the Treaty has never come to the floor of the Senate for either a debate or a vote. It’s understandable that a Senator in the preliminary debates can make an irresponsible statement, or, maybe, an ill-advised statement. You’ve got 99 other senators to correct that mistake, if it is a mistake. But when a man who hopes to be President says, take this treaty, discard it, do not vote, do not debate, do not explore the issues, do not finally capitalize on this long negotiation – that is a very dangerous and disturbing thing.
MR. SMITH: Governor Reagan, you have an opportunity to rebut that. REAGAV: Yes, I’d like to respond very much. First of all, the Soviet Union if I have been critical of some of the previous agreements, it’s because we’ve been out-negotiated for quite a long time. And they have managed, in spite of all of our attempts at arms limitation, to go forward with the biggest military build-up in the history of man. Now, to suggest that because two Republican presidents tried to pass the SALT treaty – that puts them on its side – I would like to say that President Ford, who was within 90% of a treaty that we could be in agreement with when he left office, is emphatically against this SALT treaty. I would like to point out also that senators like Henry Jackson and Hollings of South Carolina – they are taking the lead in the fight against this particular treaty. I am not talking of scrapping. I am talking of taking the treaty back, and going back into negotiations. And I would say to the Soviet Union, we will sit and negotiate with you as long as it takes, to have not only legitimate arms limitation, but to have a reduction of these nuclear weapons to the point that neither one of us represents a threat to the other. That is hardly throwing away a treaty and being opposed to arms limitation.
MR. SMITH: President Carter?
MR. CARTER: Yes. Governor Reagan is making some very misleading and disturbing statements. He not only advocates the scrapping of this treaty – and I don’t know that these men that he quotes are against the treaty in its final form – but he also advocates the possibility, he said it’s been a missing element, of playing a trump card against the Soviet Union of a nuclear arms race, and is insisting upon nuclear superiority by our own nation, as a predication for negotiation in the future with the Soviet Union. If President Brezhnev said, we will scrap this treaty, negotiated under three American Presidents over a seven-year period of time, we insist upon nuclear superiority as a basis for future negotiations, and we believe that the launching of a nuclear arms race is a good basis for future negotiations, it’s obvious that I, as President, and all Americans, would reject such a proposition. This would mean the resumption of a very dangerous nuclear arms race. It would be very disturbing to American people. It would change the basic tone and commitment that our nation has experienced ever since the Second World War, with al Presidents, Democratic and Republican. And it would also be very disturbing to our allies, all of whom support this nuclear arms treaty. In addition to that, the adversarial relationship between ourselves and the Soviet Union would undoubtedly deteriorate very rapidly. This attitude is extremely dangerous and belligerent in its tone, although it’s said with a quiet voice.
MR. SMITH: Governor Reagan?
MR. REAGAN: I know the President’s supposed to be replying to me, but sometimes, I have a hard time in connecting what he’s saying, with what I have said or what my positions are. I sometimes think he’s like the witch doctor that gets mad when a good doctor comes along with a cure that’ll work. My point I have made already, Mr. President, with regard to negotiating: it does not call for nuclear superiority on the part of the United States. It calls for a mutual reduction of these weapons, as I say, that neither of us can represent a threat to the other. And to suggest that the SALT II treaty that your negotiators negotiated was just a continuation, and based on all of the preceding efforts by two previous Presidents, is just not true. It was a new negotiation because, as I say, President Ford was within about 10% of having a solution that could be acceptable. And I think our allies would be very happy to go along with a fair and verifiable SALT agreement.
MR. SMITH: President Carter, you have the last word on this question.
MR. CARTER: I think, to close out this discussion, it would be better to put into perspective what we’re talking about. I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry – and the control of nuclear arms. This is a formidable force. Some of these weapons have 10 megatons of explosion. If you put 50 tons of TNT in each one of railroad cars, you would have a carload of TNT – a trainload of TNT stretching across this nation. That’s one major war explosion in a warhead. We have thousands, equivalent of megaton, or million tons, of TNT warheads. The control of these weapons is the single major responsibility of a President, and to cast out this commitment of all Presidents, because of some slight technicalities that can be corrected, is a very dangerous approach.