Caspar Weinberger speech from 1981

Remarks of CASPAR WEINBERGER, US Secretary of Defense, at the annual
meeting of the BOHEMIAN GROVE, Monte Rio, California, 1981:

I am deeply honored by being invited. This is one of my favorite spots in the world. It’s a beautiful combination because it involves all the familiarity of California and so many people I’ve known for so long. And that, plus the escape, however brief, from a summer in Washington.

For some reason unknown to me, they put the national capital on top of
a swamp; and all that entails in the summer. I have, of course, lived in California for many years because here they didn’t have nearly as many flies. My friends tell me that a state so widely known and famous far its fruits and nuts would obviously be the place to put a fly. (laughter} I do want you to know, however, that the Department of Defense is fully committed to eradicating the fly.

That’s an expression we use almost all the time in Washington, and I
asked someone down there what they really meant- by fully committing all
your assets, and he replied, “Well, it’s a very simple thing. The difference between being fully committed and just involved is expressed most effectively by referring to ham and eggs. The hen is just involved, the pig is fully committed. (laughter)

As you well know, one of President Reagan’s most fundamental beliefs is
the system of free enterprise. And the ability of individuals to create
their own wealth rather than have the Government try to accomplish it for them.

And, I think, that is one of the reasons why Adam Smith is so very popular in Washington currently. I like to think the reason Adam Smith is so popular is that he said in one of his writings that defense is so much more important than opulence. The trouble with that is that David Stockman keeps reminding me of that all the time when he looks at our budget. And Adam Smith, of course, has a great following in the Defense Department.

I did see our President this morning. We were meeting right up until eleven o’clock this morning in Washington with various crises that seem to arise. He asked if I would be back this afternoon, and I said, “No, I’d be out in the Grove.” He said, “Well, I’d like you to convey my greetings to all the members and my great unhappiness that I can’t be there.” I asked him if he had any special message, and he replied that “The only message I have to convey is that we have been discussing a number of different weapons this morning and I’ve become more and more convinced the longer we talk that the thing we really need is to revive the horse cavalry,” and he said, “I’d like you to recruit anybody who would like to join. That’s my kind of war!” (laughter) So we’ll set up a stand over here afterwards for anyone who wants to sign up.

The President has always felt that political freedoms are inseparable and one of the necessary traditions, not just for free enterprise but for the freedom of de-enterprising, to conduct one’s own business according to a reading of the marketplace, and he is fond of pointing out that the Soviets are denying both of these freedoms. Their society is one where, as the President notes, everything that isn’t compulsory is prohibited. And as you know, the compulsory restrictions that are placed on their economy are the cause of desperate shortages of the most basic goods they have.

Just the other day, to give you an example, the Polish party boss, Stanislaus
Kania, on the eve of the party congress, sent a message to Brezhnev and he asked for more grain because he needed to have a good showing to make to the congress, and he said that supplies are running, low.

Brezhnev cabled back and said, “Tighten belt.” Kania replied, “Send belt.”

Well, I’m afraid we have to now talk about something a little more serious. It’s really not much of -a joking matter – the problems of rearming America. Unfortunately, I think, in all seriousness, the fact is that our security and freedoms that we have known and taken for granted for so long face a threat which is really unlike any that have arisen in our history. The source of that threat, of course, is the Soviet Union.

It is very well known that the Soviet system is totally incompatible with freedom, and we don’t have to spend any time on that. It’s too beautiful of a spot to spend too much time on that particular aspect. But the simple fact of the matter is that their system is so totally incompatible with freedom, and they have acquired such strength in recent years that we may well be tested to keep our freedoms that are so precious to all of us. Their policy is characterized by their refusal to allow peoples of other nations to the right to run their own lives, and with the iron fist of repression on their own citizens at home. And it’s important that we do not allow the nicety of diplomatic exchange to obscure these facts.

I say that, because if we polish it up and speak about common aspirations or ultimately being the same underneath and the same people, that may be true of the people but that is not true of the system and not true of the government, and I think we’ve probably spent too much time in trying to allow necessities for a polite exchange to obscure the basic harsh facts. Their government is one they mean to keep in power by force of arms and their arms are very strong.

Our major problem today is the enormous strategic advantage that we had over the Soviets in the ‘50s and the diminished advantage we had in the 60’s is gone. That superiority enabled us to face any aggression in the world with absolute confidence, and one of the reasons we lost that advantage is that we used up a great deal of our equipment and supplies during the Vietnam War, and while we were doing that we were not modernizing and strengthening our capability. And then to make matters worse, the anti-military, almost isolationist feeling which was unhappily very prevalent following the Vietnam War, prevented us from doing the replenishing and the modernization and the strengthening which the Soviets had done and which we really have needed to do ever since.

And then compounding that and making it all the worse was their extraordinary build-up. A lot of people seem to think that there’s an arms race with the Soviets being suddenly demanded. The simple fact of the matter that on a perfectly steady, predictable, observable basis, every year since the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviets have added enormously to their strength – three, four, five percent rates of growth year after year after year. And that’s exactly what’s happening now. They now have a 4-l advantage in tanks. They’re out-producing us 2-1 in tactical aircraft; almost 4-1 in submarines. Their navy has sprung into being in a shorter time than any large navy in the world’s history. And that’s just what’s happening today.

During the whole Brezhnev era, their military has amassed a huge arsenal, and since the early ‘60s and through all the periods of detente and SALT, those eras of good feelings, they have done these things. They’ve increased their intercontinental ballistic missiles to about six-fold, and they have completely overturned our point of naval superiority. And that, of course, gives them an enormous capability in a nuclear war.

They also have an assured nuclear retaliation, meaning they have a clear ability to respond heavily AFTER a strike. They have more than tripled the size of their battlefield nuclear forces and they have reduced the credibility of NATO’s nuclear weapons as a counterweight. And they have mounted an enormous propaganda campaign in the NATO nations that has led to a great deal of dissipation in the deployment of the weapons that we have and are anxious to deploy to counterbalance the SS-20, very large, mobile, and extremely accurate Soviet nuclear missile that threatens the whole Eastern front. It more than doubles the artillery firepower of their divisions. It increases nine-fold the tactical force they can deliver huge surface ships and submarines that are larger than our largest.

All of these things have happened in a way that makes it very clear that they are not interested in the defense of their homeland. Very few of these new weapons are anything on a scale that is required for defensive purposes. They were built to give the Soviets a much greater ability to threaten other nations, to intimidate countries like Poland, and to carry out their various designs in the world.

And they do it in a very predictable, well known pattern: move into a particular area – Angola, Ethiopia, Yemen – either directly or through proxies. If they encounter no resistance, they expand; they go on to the next one. The process in the infantry was reconnaissance support, and if it succeeded you moved on to the next one, and so far without any resistance they’ve done it even to the point of absolutely making a formal invasion of Afghanistan and threatened two or three times in Poland.

So all of this means, I think, that we’ve had to rethink our basic approach to a world which has changed very rapidly, and the conclusion we’ve reached is that in a global situation as diverse as the one we face, as interconnected and as dangerous, there is simply no room for vacillation. Reality is far too varied and risky for that, and what we need is not any one big plan that will fit all contingencies. We have to have one that by constantly adapting to new events is able to control them.

And so we have tried to develop our new defense policy with care and thought that is needed to provide this adaptability. Shaping this defense policy and military strategy has to be a continuing effort. We’ve started out and now completed our defense guidance that is the basis for the defense budget that will be submitted to Congress in January for the Fiscal Year 1983.

But the defense policy has to continue to evolve as we take into account new developments. We have Senators who are demanding to see the entire 5-year defense budget year after year right now and that would be very good if we could do it; it would be fine, stabile, easy to predict for the book.

But the basic fact is that we and our allies may have to cope with bolder Soviet military initiatives carried out indirectly or through proxies in many parts of the world; possibilities of conflict in Central Europe, in the Arabian Gulf, in Africa, maybe even simultaneously. We will have to deal with more than one conflict at a time. We may have to contend with conflict in one area without opening up a critical vulnerability elsewhere.

So it is with all these things in mind, what we have tried to do is to recognize that perhaps we have to have the attributes of an island nation. Our friends and our allies are thousands of miles from our shores. The only way we can assure their needs of supply to help a friend or to acquire the strategic minerals that we will have to have for our domestic economy as well as for defensive purposes is to have a navy that will be strong enough to take care of the problems of keeping the sea lanes of communication open, no matter how expensive they are or how vital they may be. And achieving that capability is one of our chief goals.

But it can’t really be accomplished by a fixed quantity of the number of wars we need to be able to fight simultaneously. Our commitments may be quantified but the contingencies that might arise cannot possibly be, and that’s why the old slogan that we prepare for one-and-a-half or two-and- a-half wars really has no present validity. We’re going to honor our commitments to our people at home and to our allies around the world but in doing that we cannot shape the forces and doctrines as we have in the past solely on the assumption that there will be an initial conventional defense that could lead to nuclear escalation. Nuclear superiority is unthinkable now and so I have instituted strategic changes, driven by all these needs to improve our ability to fight a long war if necessary.
And we may well have to do it if we value our freedom. These changes will mean that we will have to pay far more attention to our industrial base which has been eroding the past few years, and the base that supports the defense of the country: improving our mobilization planning; and more mobility for our forces – air and sea lift – and powerful naval forces that I mentioned. So that we have a great deal to do and unfortunately we have a great deal to do all at once.

One of the frustrating things about this whole enterprise is the length of time that any of these things take. Someone said that we should not concentrate so on advanced technology. Someone said that you could do things much more quickly if you just built, using available technology.

But the simple fact is that it has always been necessary and usually indecisive.
In the First Tunic War, Rome took command of the seas away from the Carthaginians at the Battle of Manaus, and the thing that made this possible was a sort of hook which mounted at the prow of one of the ships which engaged enemy vessels while this device allowed marines to board. And 600 years later, the English, heavily inferior in numbers, routed the French at the Battle of Tracy in 1346 because their archers had the long bow, and it was murderous against the French. In modern times England was able to develop radar that was pivotal in the Battle of Britain, and we had the Norden bomb sight which gave us an enormous advantage, and the Atom Bomb ended the war in the Pacific in two days, after four years of struggle in the jungles and mud and on the beaches of the South Pacific.

So the enormous strength of this superior technology has always been our secret weapon. And it has always swept everything before it in every war we ever entered that we intended to win. And I want to say parenthetically that the tragedy of Vietnam was that we asked our forces to fight in battle in a war we never intended to win.

The Soviets, up until the past few years, have relied on sheer numbers, bigger missiles, heavier payloads, more tanks. And the general idea behind our approach has always been that with the preponderance of numbers against us, we had to counter with a superiority in design, speed, maneuverability, and firepower – and it makes good sense. Because then we would draw on our traditional genius for innovation, I can’t really imagine any responsible critic arguing that we should rest our defense on just producing the same kind or numbers of weapons that the Soviets build. There is a current school of thought that seems to be saying that what we should do is get away from all the complex,
modern, sophisticated weapons and just use possibly stripped down and inexpensive things and then we can win. But the problem is that the Soviets, for the past decade or so, have been showing every sign of taking offense technology very seriously, and for a decade their investment in research and development has exceeded ours by about $5 billion.

The result is that they have a vast amount of high quality military hardware:
tanks that go very high speed over rough terrain and destroy targets at night that they can’t see, and attack submarines that patrol large areas of the ocean up to 40 knots, a very sophisticated system for detecting and attacking other subs, and the new and highly accurate neutron ballistic missiles. They could destroy our missiles in the silos and new fighter aircraft that are very, very good indeed. And the situation is such that you simply can’t go on the theory that a stripped down, little, empty plane can compete with this technology.

The belief that the Soviets have only stripped down, low quality mutations is the same shot that I experienced and that my infantry company experienced when we first began to capture Japanese equipment, which up to that time we thought was just cheap imitations, and found that it was very, very good indeed.

As a result of the years of neglect by us and years of Soviet activity, we’re now outnumbered in equipment as well as men, and we will not be able to change the numbers very much, very soon. Our best hope is to take advantage of our technological needs which we still have: the M-1 tank, the Trident submarine, the F-15 and F-16 fighters; the MX Missile which will be constructed. These systems will permit us to take charge of the course of battle rather than forcing us into a one-on-one war of attrition, and they can give us the flexibility that we have to have to counter now the possible technological breakthroughs that the Soviets may shortly be developing in a number of fields. This is our best hope of fighting outnumbered and yet winning. And of course we plan to win.

Most important of all, I think, is the thing which none of us yet seem to appreciate, at least many of the people to whom I am talking, and that is that all of these new weapons which many think are unpleasant to talk about and unnecessary to talk about and indicate a conversion to militarism that’s really rather bad for us – the most important part of it all is that the real way to win a war is to deter it by never letting it start. We must have the kind of arsenal we need. If we don’t have it, we’re inviting attack. (applause)

The frustrating thing is that many of these things that we have to do that we start on now and will next year will take sometimes six to seven to eight years, and that’s a source of great frustration to many men as impatient as I am who sees as anyone would the information we get every day in Washington – the nature of this threat. It is essential that we do keep our superior technology and that we try to move it along as rapidly as we can.

One of the reasons this is such a dangerous epic is because of the lead time they have now built up and the time it takes to catch up. It isn’t an arms race. It is to insure that the Soviets know unmistakably that we as a nation have regained the resolve and the will and the purpose that will enable us to apply our energies and our technology and all of our resources if need be to building the kind of strength that can deter the war, which will never happen if we are strong enough. The danger, the thing that is the most destabilizing and likely to bring about war is that when a country allows itself to get so weak that it serves as an invitation to another to attack.

We hear some criticism that what we’re doing in defense spending will actually destroy the economy. I was very appalled by that because it is so clearly wrong. It also reminds me of Winston Churchill’s answer to those who asked why the British kept on fighting the Nazis when it was clearly hopeless. Churchill said; “If we stop, you’ll find out.”

Well, what would destroy the economy would be a devastating war. What
we’re trying to do is to strengthen the United States defense to such an extent that no one would dare to attack. The economy that exists supplies people’s needs. A strong defense is the only thing that can insure our freedoms.

We’re actually not proposing spending that is inflationary. Non-defense
spending is being cut at the same time and that is a new thing that is being done in Washington. The President’s had the courage to do it and it is something no other government seems willing to try. And we have encountered in our attempts to increase the defense contributions of our allies, and I am met repeatedly with the remark that we can’t possibly cut domestic spending and increase defense spending; if we did it would never be realistic. And we try to tell them that this is the same point that Governor Reagan made when he was in Sacramento, and they never paid any attention to that because he said he didn’t come to Sacramento to get re-elected. So really what we’re trying to do is to cut non-defense spending and cut not in a way that will cause injury or harm, but cut them in a way that will eliminate programs that have long since served their purpose and are in no way any longer effective. (applause)

Furthermore, the rate or the degree of defense spending measured by the percentage of the Gross National Product will be less than it was before Vietnam in those pre-inflationary days, so we don’t really worry about the fact that defense spending is going to be inflationary or harm the economy. On the other hand, I certainly don’t want to give the impression that it is a negligible cost or one that we view lightly. For an old budget man, it is a terribly painful thing to see all of these billions coming your way and then going out. But it is an essential thing.

And there is simply no way to avoid the realities of this world. It isn’t the world we would have created had we had the choice, but it is the world we have, the world we live in, a dangerous world, and it’s a world where freedom is a very rare and precious possession. We’re a real endangered species because only about a third of the people in the world have anything like the freedoms we enjoy in the United States. And as for the rest, over half live under one dictatorship or another.

The United States today still is and has been really-since the Revolutionary days-the great beacon and templar to the world. There was a lot of doubt and worry about the US in the past few years. We were viewed as an unreliable ally and a basically weak nation that could not stay on a course, that could not perhaps be trusted. But now the understanding is clear that we have a national consensus that is much stronger. It could be a fragile perception. We’re doing everything in Washington that we can to assure that that consensus is not lost by any improvident actions of ours. We are a nation conceived in liberty and cannot now
nor could we ever preserve our liberties without suffering. It’s a truism but that doesn’t make it any less true. We’ve known for a very long time, since centuries ago, that freedom is the possession alone of those who have the courage to defend it.

Today the only sacrifice really that is asked of us is to be prepared; to be strong enough to deter aggression, and to be strong enough to have a credible response to deter action against us. That’s the only test we have that we can consider of absolute major importance. It’s the task this Administration was elected to carry out and it’s the task we’re determined to do.

The purpose of American arms is to be a shield from the use of force against us or our allies. Obviously, as you all know, we never have had or never will have any desire to use armed force to maintain or extend an empire. Our only goal is peace and freedom; the two go inseparably together. Peace with freedom is the thing we have to have. And we’ll never waiver in our determination to keep this blessing we have so long enjoyed for ourselves and all our descendants.

Thank you very much.