Ballistic Missile DefenseWhen I announced the Safeguard ABM program, I promised that "each phase of the deployment will be reviewed to insure that we are doing as much as necessary but no more than that required by the threat existing at that time." The Defense Program Review Committee has just completed a thorough review of Safeguard against the background of SALT, our strategic policy, changes in the Soviet capability and the Chinese development of strategic forces.
While it appears that the Soviets have slowed the increase of their missile systems, the evidence is far from unambiguous. Nor is it clear that even at present levels of Soviet forces, future qualitative improvements would not endanger our ICBM forces.
The potential for qualitative improvements and numerical increases in Soviet forces poses a serious threat to our land-based strategic forces in the absence of agreed arms limitations on both defensive and offensive forces.
Attacks might also be directed against our national command authorities and gravely endanger our capability to respond appropriately to the nature, scale and source of the attack.
We still face the disturbing possibility of accidents.
Finally, before this decade is over the Chinese will have the capability to threaten some of our major population centers.
These developments persuade me of the wisdom of our initial decisions to take the necessary preliminary steps for Safeguard ABM deployments. I am convinced that we must plan to continue our Safeguard program for the present.
At the same time we have actively discussed, with the Soviet Union, limitations on defensive as well as offensive strategic weapons. Some limits on ABM systems are essential to any SALT agreement. We have taken this into account in our planning.
Last year Congress approved varying levels of work on the four Safeguard sites designed primarily to protect our Minuteman missiles.
I will continue a Safeguard program designed to provide maximum flexibility in the conduct of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. We are doing nothing which precludes any possible agreement at SALT. Our specific plans for the coming year will be announced by the Secretary of Defense.
At the same time we have no explicit statement from the U.S.S.R. as to the reasons for the leveling-off of the ICBM deployments, nor any guarantee that the apparent slowdown will continue. Moreover, the Soviet Union has been pursuing qualitative improvements which could threaten our reta1iatory forces. With all the will in the world, we may be unable to secure limitations in the SALT discussions. In view of that possibility, I deem it essential that we continue with the minimum program of work on ABM.
Our strategic forces constitute the foundation of our nation's security. We maintain these forces, in sufficient size and character, to achieve our objective of deterrence. While we intend to maintain whatever forces are necessary to insure our deterrent, we also intend to pursue every reasonable avenue of negotiation that might end the strategic arms race --a race that contributes nothing to the real security of either side.