Press "Enter" to skip to content

President Clinton’s Address To The Nixon Centre

This is the text of President Bill Clinton’s Address to the Nixon Centre for Peace and Freedom Policy Conference.

Speech by President Clinton to Nixon Centre.

Just a month before he passed away, President Nixon wrote to me about his last trip to Russia. As with all our correspondence and conversations, I was struck by the rigor of his analysis and the wisdom of his suggestions. But more than its specifics, I was moved by the letter’s larger message — a message that ran through Richard Nixon’s public life and his prolific writings. President Nixon believed deeply that United States cannot be strong at home unless we lead abroad. Tonight, I want to talk about the vital tradition of American leadership and our responsibilities — which President Nixon recognized so well — to reducethe threat of nuclear weapons.

Today, if we are to be strong at home and lead abroad, we must overcome a dangerous and growing temptation in our land to focus solely on the problems we face here in America. There is a struggle going on between those of us who want to carry on the tradition of American leadership and those who would advocate a new American isolationism — a struggle which cuts across party and ideological lines. If we are to continue to improve the security and prosperity of all our people, then the tradition of American leadership must prevail. We live in a moment of hope. The implosion of communism and the explosion of the global economy have brought new freedoms to countries on every continent. Free markets are on the rise. Democracy is ascendant. Today, more than ever before, people across the globe have the opportunity to reach their God-given potential. And because they do, Americans have new opportunities as well.

At the same time, the post-Cold War world has revealed a web of problems that defy quick or painless solutions — aggression by rogue states…transnational threats like overpopulation and environmental degradation…terrible ethnic conflict…economic dislocation. But at the heart of these complex challenges lies an age-old battle for power over human lives — a struggle between the forces of freedom and tyranny, tolerance and repression, hope and fear. The same idea that was under attack by fascism and then by communism remains under attack today — the idea of the open society and free people. American leadership is necessary for the tide of history to keep running our way, and for our children to have the future they deserve.

Yet some would choose escapism over engagement. The new isolationists oppose our efforts to expand trade through GATT, NAFTA, APEC and the Summit of the Americas. They reject our conviction that democracy must be nurtured with investment and support — a conviction we are acting on from the former Soviet Union to South Africa. And at their most hypocritical, some of these new isolationists trumpet the rhetoric of American strength — but then argue against the resources we need to bring stability to the Persian Gulf, restore democracy to Haiti, control the spread of drugs and organized crime or meet our elemental obligations to United Nations peacekeeping. The new isolationists — both on the left and the right — would radically revise the fundamentals of our foreign policy that have earned bipartisan support since World War II. They would eliminate any meaningful role for the United Nations, which has achieved real progress around the world, from the Middle East to Africa. They would deny resources to peacekeepers and even to our troops and squander them on Star Wars. And they would refuse aid to fledgling democracies and to all those fighting poverty and environmental problems that can destroy our hopes for a more democratic, prosperous and safe world.

The new isolationists are wrong. They would have us face the future alone. Their approach would weaken America. We must not let the ripple of isolationism they have generated build into a tidal wave. If we withdraw from the world today, we will have to contend with the consequences of our neglect tomorrow.

This is a moment of decision. The extraordinary trend toward democracy and free markets is not inevitable, nor will it proceed easily. At the very time when more countries than ever before are working to establish or shore up fragile democracies — and look to us for support — the new isolationists must not be allowed to pull America out of the game after just a few hours of debate.

We know, as Richard Nixon recognized, that there must be limits to America’s involvement in the world’s problems — limits imposed by a clear-headed evaluation of our interests. We cannot be the world’s policeman. But the choices we make must be rooted in the conviction that America cannot walk away from its interests or its responsibilities. That’s why, from our first day in office, my administration has chosen to reach out, not retreat. From our efforts to open markets for America…to support democracy around the world…to reduce the threat posed by devastating weapons and terrorists…to maintain the most effective fighting force in the world…we have seized the opportunities and met the obligations of leadership.

None of this could have happened without a coalition of realists — people in both houses of Congress, from both sides of the aisle and from coast to coast in our cities, towns and communities who know that the wealth and well-being of our people at home depend on our leadership abroad.

Even the early leaders of the Republic — who sought to avoid involvement in great power politics — recognized not only the potential benefits but also the necessity of engaging with the world. Before Lincoln was President, farmers sold their crops overseas…we dispatched missions all the way to Japan to open new markets…and our Navy had sailed every ocean.

By the dawn of this century, our growing political and economic power imposed a special duty on America to lead. But after World War I, along with the other great powers, we abandoned our responsibilities — and the forces of hatred and tyranny filled the vacuum.

After World War II, our wisest leaders vowed not to repeat that mistake. With the dawn of the nuclear age and the Cold War, and with the economies of Europe and Japan in shambles, President Truman persuaded an uncertain nation — yearning to shift its energies from the front lines to the home front — to lead the world again. A remarkable generation of Americans created and sustained the alliances and institutions — the Marshall Plan, NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — that brought half a century of security and prosperity to America, Europe and Japan and other countries around the world. Those efforts and America’s special resolve and military strength held tyranny in check until the power of democracy, the failure of communism and the heroic determination of people to be free consigned the Cold War to history.

That success would not have been possible without strong bipartisan support. Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s call to “unite our official voice at the water’s edge” joined Republicans to Truman’s doctrine. His impact was all the more powerful for his own past as an isolationist. But as Vandenberg liked to say, Pearl Harbor ended isolationism for any realist.

Today, it is Vandenberg’s spirit that should drive our foreign policy — and our politics. The practical determination of Senators Nunn and Lugar to help Russia reduce its nuclear arsenal safely and securely…the support from Speaker Gingrich, Leader Gephardt, Chairman Livingston and Representative Obey for aid to Russia and the newly independent states…the work of Senators Hatfield, Leahy and McConnell, Chairman Gilman and Representative Hamilton for the Middle East peace process… the efforts of Senator Warner to restructure our intelligence…all these provide strong evidence of the benefits of leadership and bipartisanship.

If we continue to lead abroad and work together at home, we can take advantage of these turbulent times. If we retreat, we risk squandering the opportunities and abandoning the obligations entrusted to us. I understand that the choice to go forward is not easy for democracies at this time. Many of the decisions America’s leaders have to make are not popular. But imagine the alternatives:

Imagine the tariffs and barriers that would cripple the world trading system if internationalists coming together across party lines had not passed GATT and NAFTA. Imagine what the Persian Gulf region would look like today if we had not stopped Iraqi aggression. Imagine the ongoing reign of terror, and the flood of refugees at our borders, if we had not helped give democracy a second chance in Haiti. And imagine the chaos that might have ensued if we had not moved to help stabilize Mexico’s economy.

But above all, imagine the dangers our children and grandchildren will face if we do not continue to do everything in our power to reduce the threat of nuclear arms…to curb the terrible chemical and biological weapons spread around the world…to counter the terrorists and criminals who would put these weapons into the service of evil. As Arthur Vandenberg asked at the dawn of the nuclear age, after a German V-1 attack had left London in flames and its people in fear, “How can there be…isolation when men can devise weapons like that?”

President Nixon understood the wisdom of those words. His life spanned an era of stunning increases in humankind’s destructive capacity — from the biplane to ballistic missiles, from mustard gas to mushroom clouds. He knew that the Atomic Age could never be won — but could be lost. On any list of his foreign policy accomplishments, the giant steps he took toward reducing the nuclear threat must stand among his greatest achievements.

As President, I have acted on that same imperative. Over the past two years, the United States has made real progress in lifting the threat of nuclear weapons. Now, in 1995, we face a year of decision — a year in which the United States will pursue the most ambitious agenda to dismantle and fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction since the atom was split.

We know that ours is an enormously complex and difficult task. There is no single policy, no silver bullet that will prevent or reverse the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But we have no more important task. Arms control makes us both safer and stronger. It is the one of the most effective insurance policies we can write for the future.

My Administration has focused on two distinct but closely connected areas: decreasing and dismantling existing weapons, and preventing nations or groups from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. We have made progress on both fronts:

  • As a result of an agreement President Yeltsin and I reached, for the first time in a generation, Russian missiles are not pointed at our cities or our citizens. We have greatly reduced the lingering fear of an accidental nuclear launch.
  • We put into force the START I Treaty with Russia that will eliminate from both our countries delivery systems that carry more than 9,000 nuclear warheads — each with the capacity to incinerate a city the size of Atlanta. START I — negotiated by two Republican administrations and put into force by a Democratic administration — is the first treaty that requires nuclear powers actually to reduce their strategic arsenals. Both our countries are dismantling weapons as fast as we can. And, thanks to a far-reaching verification system — including on-sight inspections which began in Russia and the United States today — each of us knows what the other is doing.
  • And through the farsighted program devised by Senators Nunn and Lugar, we are helping Russia and the other newly independent states eliminate nuclear forces and transport, safeguard and destroy nuclear weapons and materials.

Ironically, some of the changes that have allowed us to reduce the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons have made our non-proliferation efforts harder. The breakup of the Soviet Union left nuclear materials dispersed throughout the newly independent states. The potential for theft of nuclear materials has increased. We face the prospect of organized criminals entering the nuclear smuggling business. Add to this volatile mix the fact that a lump of plutonium the size of a soda can is enough to build a bomb, and the urgency of the effort to stop the spread of nuclear materials should be clear.

That’s why, from our first day in office, my Administration has launched an aggressive, coordinated campaign against international terrorism and nuclear smuggling. We are cooperating closely with our allies, working with the Russia and the other newly independent states, improving security at nuclear facilities and strengthening multilateral export controls. One striking example of our success is ‘Operation Sapphire’, the airlift of nearly 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium — enough to make dozens of bombs — from Kazakhstan to the United States for disposal. We’ve also secured agreements with Russia to reduce the uranium and plutonium available for nuclear weapons, and we are seeking a global treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Our patient, determined diplomacy convinced Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and give up the nuclear weapons left on their territory when theSoviet Union dissolved. One of my administration’s top priorities was to assure that these new countries would become non-nuclear nations and now, we are achieving that goal.

And because of our efforts, four potential suppliers of ballistic missiles — Russia, Ukraine, China and South Africa — have agreed to control the transfer of these missiles and related technology.

Pulling back from the nuclear precipice has allowed us to cut U.S. defense expenditures for strategic weapons by almost two-thirds — a savings of as much as $20 billion every year. We’re shifting these savings to vital needs such as boosting the readiness of our conventional forces, paying down the deficit, and putting more police on the streets. By spending millions to keep or take weapons out of the hands of our potential adversaries, we are saving billions in arms costs and putting it to better use.

Now, in this year of decision, our agenda is even more ambitious. If our people are to know real, lasting security, we must redouble our arms control, non- proliferation and anti-terrorism efforts. We must do everything we can to avoid living with the 21st Century version of fall-out shelters and “duck and cover” exercises…to prevent another World Trade Center tragedy.

In four days we mark the 25th Anniversary of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nothing is more important to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons than extending the Treaty indefinitely and unconditionally — and that is why I have asked Vice President Gore to lead our delegation to the NPT Conference this April. The NPT is the principal reason why scores of nations do not now possess nuclear weapons…why the doomsayers were wrong. 172 nations have made NPT the most widely subscribed arms limitation treaty in history for one overriding reason: it is in their self-interest. Non- nuclear weapon states that sign on to the Treaty pledge never to acquire them. Nuclear weapon states vow not to help others obtain nuclear weapons, to facilitate the peaceful uses of atomic energy and to pursue nuclear arms control and disarmament — commitments I strongly reaffirm along with our determination to attain universal membership in the Treaty.

Failure to extend NPT indefinitely could open the door to a world of nuclear trouble. Pariah nations with rigid ideologies and expansionist ambitions would have an easier time acquiring terrible weapons. And countries that have chosen to forego the nuclear option might rethink their decision.

To further demonstrate our commitment to the goals of the Treaty, today I have ordered that 200 tons of fissile material — enough for thousands of nuclear weapons — be permanently withdrawn from the U.S. nuclear stockpile. It will never again be used to build a nuclear weapon.

Ratifying START II is a second key goal. Once in effect, that Treaty will eliminate from Russian and American arsenals delivery systems that carry more than 5,000 weapons. Together with the major reductions under START I, we will reduce by two-thirds the number of strategic warheads deployed at the height of the Cold War. At my urging, the Senate has already begun hearings on START II. I commend the Senate for its quick action and urge approval of the Treaty as soon as possible. President Yeltsin and I have already instructed our experts to begin considering the possibility, after START II is ratified, of additional reductions of and limitations on remaining nuclear forces. We have a chance to further lift the nuclear cloud and we dare not miss it.

To stop the development of new generations of nuclear weapons, we must also quickly complete negotiations on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Last month, I extended the nuclear testing moratorium that I put into effect when I took office. And we revised our negotiating position to speed conclusion of the Treaty while reaffirming our determination to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear stockpile.

We will also continue to work with our allies to fully implement the agreement we reached with North Korea first to freeze, then to dismantle its nuclear program — all under international monitoring. The critics of the agreement are wrong: the deal stops North Korea’s nuclear program and commits Pyongyang to roll it back in the years to come. I have not heard anyone propose an alternative that isn’t either unworkable or foolhardy, or that our allies in the Republic of Korea and Japan — the nations most directly affected — would support. If North Korea fulfills its commitments, the Korean peninsula, and the entire world, will be less threatened and more secure.

The NPT, START II, the CTB and the North Korean agreement top our agenda for the year ahead. But there are other critical tasks we face if we want to make every American more secure. These include winning Senate ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention…negotiating legally binding measures to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention…clarifying the ABM Treaty so as to secure its viability while permitting highly effective defenses against theater missile attacks…continuing to support regional arms control efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere…and pushing for ratification of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, which, among other things, would help us reduce the suffering caused by antipersonnel mines.

This is a very full and challenging agenda. There are many obstacles ahead. But we can do no less than to make every effort to complete it.

Tonight, let us remember what President Nixon told a joint session of Congress when he returned from his historic trip to Moscow in 1972. “We have begun to check the wasteful and dangerous spiral of nuclear arms,” he said. “Let us seize the moment so that our children and the world’s children can live free of the fears and free of the hatreds that have been the lot of mankind through the centuries.”

Now, it is within our power to realize that dream. We cannot let history record that our generation of Americans refused to rise to this challenge…that it withdrew from the world and abandoned its responsibilities…that it lacked the energy, vision and will to carry on the struggle between hope and fear.

Instead, let us find inspiration in the great tradition of Harry Truman and Arthur Vandenberg. A tradition that builds bridges of cooperation, not walls of isolation. A tradition that opens our arms to change instead of throwing up our hands in despair. A tradition that casts aside partisanship and brings Democrats and Republicans together for the good of the people. A tradition of leadership that made the most of this land, won the great battles against tyranny and secured our freedom and prosperity.

Above all, let us not forget that our efforts begin and end with the American people. Every time we reduce the threat that has hung over our heads since the dawn of the nuclear age, we help ensure that — from the far stretches of the Aleutians to the tip of the Florida Keys — our people are more secure. That is our most serious task and our most solemn obligation. The challenge of this moment is matched only by its possibility. Let us do our duty.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
AustralianPolitics.com
Malcolm Farnsworth
© 1995-2024