Securing national interests

The first responsibility of the President is the security of the Republic. Recognizing the danger of our times, and the costs of modern defense, the people and their Congress make available to the President vast resources to meet that responsibility. Each administration, how- ever, is greatly dependent on the decisions of its predecessor.

For in the field of national security, each Presidency is a link in a chain. Each administration inherits the force in being. The long-range investments made by earlier administrations define the ability to change that force in the near term.

I am deeply conscious that my decisions with respect to defense policy will profoundly affect the ability of my successors to ensure the nation's safety. I recognize that I cannot know, and can only imper- fectly conceive, the crises which my successors may have to face. I, therefore, intend to forge a strong link in the chain.

We have used the National Security Council system to strengthen the process of defense planning. We have examined our defense problems within the total context of the domestic and international political and economic environments. These studies have given us the basis for a new assessment of our national priorities.

Our priorities must reflect our pressing domestic problems. They do. In fiscal year 1972, our overall defense expenditures, including those resources committed to Vietnam, will require a smaller share of our gross national product and the Federal Budget than in any year since 1950.

It needs to be understood with total clarity, however, that defense programs are not infinitely adjustable. Nor is each adjustment downward of equal significance. It is an error -and it is potentially the ultimate error- not to recognize those facts as imperative guides to national priorities. For there is an absolute point below which our security forces must never be allowed to go. That is the level of sufficiency. Above or at that level, our defense forces protect national security adequately. Below that level is one vast undifferentiated area of no security at all. For it serves no purpose in conflicts between nations to have been almost strong enough.

Our current level of security expenditures is adequate to provide the forces necessary to protect our vital interests. It must be kept that way.