The Sovjet Union

The great central issue of our time -the question ofwhether the world as a whole is to live at peace-has not been resolved. This central issue turns in large part on the relations among the great nuclear Dowers. Their strength imposes on them special responsibilities of restraint and wisdom. The issue of war and peace cannot be solved unless we in the United States and the Soviet Union demonstrate both the will and the capacity to put our relationshp on a basis consistent with the aspirations of mankind.

Address to the United Nations
General Assembly,
October 23, 1970

In my Inaugural Address, and again at the United Nations last October, I urged the Soviet leaders to join with us in building a new and constructive relationship.

I emphasized four factors that provide a basis for such a development:

Neither of us wants a nuclear exchange.

We both should welcome the opportunity to reduce the burden of armaments.

We are both major industrial powers, and yet have very little trade or commercial contact with one another. Both would clearly benefit of our relationship permitted an increase in trade.

Both are deeply involved, at home and abroad, with the need for creative economic and social change. Both our interests -and the broader world interest- would be served if our competition could be channeled more into our performances in that field.

Thus, our two nations have substantial mutual incentives to find ways of working together. We are realistic enough to recognize, however, that we also have very real differences that can continue to divide us:

We view the world and approach international affairs differently. Ideology continues to shape many aspects of Soviet policy. It dictates an attitude of constant pressure toward the external world. The Soviet government too frequently claims that the rationale for its internal and external policies is based on universalist doctrines. In certain fundamental aspects the Soviet outlook on world affairs is incompatible with a stable international system.

The internal order of the U.S.S.R., as such, is not an object of our policy, although we do not hide our rejection of many of its features. Our relations with the U.S.S.R., as with other countries, are determined by its international behavior. Consequently, the fruitfulness of the relationship depends significantly upon the degree to which its international behavior does not reflect militant doctrinal considerations. As the two most powerful nations in the world, we conduct global policies that bring our interests into contention across a broad range of issues. Historically, international adversaries have demonstrated a compulsion to seek every gain, however marginal, at the expense of their competitors. In this classical conception, the accumulation of gains over a period of time could alter the balance of power. This may have been realistic in the past; at least it was the essence of international affairs.

But it is folly for the great nuclear powers to conduct their policies in this manner. For if they succeed, it can only result in confrontation and potential catastrophe.

The nature of nuclear power requires that both the Soviet Union and we be willing to practice self-restraint in the pursuit of national interests. We have acted on this principle in our conduct of the SALT negotiations, in our diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East and in our proposals to improve the situation in Berlin. We are prepared to apply it to all legitimate Soviet interests.

Such a policy of restraint, however, requires reciprocity concretely expressed in actions.

By virtue of its size and geography, the U.S.S.R. has traditionally had important security interests in Europe and East Asia. Her undoubted status as a global power obviously creates interests in other areas where Russia has not traditionally been a factor. But the natural expansion of Soviet influence in the world must not distort itself into ambitions for exclusive or predominant positions. For such a course ignores the interests of others, including ourselves. It must and will be resisted. It can, therefore, lead only to confrontation.

We often approach negotiations with differing premises. We do not suggest that the starting point or indeed the culmination of our negotiations with the U.S.S.R. be the acceptance of our views and positions. Nor do we expect to resolve issues by cajoling the Soviet leaders into solutions damaging to their national interests. We cannot be expected, however, to accept the Soviet definition of every issue, to agree automatically to the Soviet order of priorities or to accept every aggrandizement of Soviet positions abroad as a "new reality" no longer open to challenge. The principle of mutual accommodation, if it is to have any meaning, must be that both of us seek compromises, mutual concessions, and new solutions to old problems.

The relationship between the two great nuclear powers in this decade must rise above tactical considerations. We must be prepared to face issues seriously, concretely and in a spirit of mutual respect. Durable solutions will be those which both sides have an interest in maintaining.

We are engaged in a strategic and military competition. We both possess the capability to develop our military power and project it massively into distant areas. The last two decades witnessed the transformation of the Soviet Union from a Eurasian power to an intercontinental one. The U.S.S.R. now possesses military capabilities far beyond those at the command of previous Soviet leaders.

In earlier periods our strategic superiority gave us a margin of safety. Now, however, the enormous increase in Soviet capabilities has added a new and critical dimension to our relationship. The growth of Soviet power in the last several years could tempt Soviet leaders into bolder challenges. It could lead them to underestimate the risks of certain policies. We, of course, continue to weigh carefully Soviet statements of intentions. But the existing military balance does not permit us to judge the significance of Soviet actions only by what they say or even what we believe are their intentions. We must measure their actions, at least in part, against their capabilities.

It is of the utmost importance that the new strategic balance of the 1970s and our interest in strategic stability not be misunderstood. Confrontation may arise from a mistaken perception of the posture of an adversary. Such a mistake can lead to a failure to appreciate the risks and consequences of probing for advantages or testing the limits of toleration. We believe that this was involved to some degree in the events which led up to the Middle East crisis last year.

It may also have been a factor in Soviet naval actions in the Caribbean in the fall of 1970. There the Soviet Union took new steps which could have afforded it the ability to again operate offensive weapons systems from this hemisphere. That would have been contrary to the understanding between us. Only after a period of discussion did we reaffirm our understanding and amplify it to make clear that the agreement included activities related to sea-based systems.

In our relations with the U.S.S.R. there should be no misconceptions of the role we will play in international affairs. This country is not withdrawing into isolation. With the Soviet Union, we want a relationship in which the interests of both are respected. When interests conflict, we prefer negotiation and restraint as the methods to adjust differences. But, when challenged, the United States will defend its interests and those of its allies. And, together with our allies, we will maintain the power to do so effectively.