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Reagan-Carter Presidential Debate: October 21, 1984

Reagan-Carter Presidential Debate: October 21, 1984

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(0:42) REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, in this general area, sir, of arms control, President Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said, ''A nuclear freeze is a hoax,'' yet the basis of your arms proposals as I understand them is a mutual and verifiable freeze on existing weapons systems. In your view, which specific weapons systems could be subject to a mutual and verifiable freeze and which could not? MONDALE: Every system that is verifiable should be placed on the table for negotiations for an agreement. I would not agree to any negotiations or any agreement that involved conduct on the part of the Soviet Union that we couldn't verify everyday. I would not agree to any agreement in which the United States' security interest was not fully recognized and supported. That's why we say mutual and verifiable freezes. Now, why do I support the freeze? Because this ever-rising arms race madness makes both nations less secure, it's more difficult to defend this nation, it is putting a hair trigger on nuclear war. This Administration, by going into the Star Wars system, is going to add a dangerous new escalation. We have to be tough on the Soviet Union, but I think the American people and the people of the Soviet Union want it to stop.

(2:17) MODERATOR: Time is up, Mr. Mondale. President Reagan your rebuttal. REAGAN: Yes, my rebuttal once again is that this invention that has just been created here of how I would go about rolling over to the Soviet Union - No, Mr. Mondale, my idea would be with that defensive weapon, that we would sit down with them and then say, now, are you willing to join us? Here's what we can - give them a demonstration, and then say, here's what we can do. Now, if you're willing to join us in getting rid of all the nuclear weapons in the world, then, we'll give you this one so that we would both know that no one can cheat - that we've both got something that if anyone tries to cheat - but when you keep star-warring it - I never suggested where the weapons should be or what kind. I'm not a scientist. I said, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed with me, that it was time for us to turn our research ability to seeing if we could not find this kind of a defensive weapon. And suddenly somebody says, oh, it's got to be up there - star wars - and so forth. I don't know what it would be, but if we can come up with one, I think the world will be better off.

(3:26) MODERATOR: Mr. Mondale, your rebuttal? MONDALE: Well, that's what a President's supposed to know - where those weapons are going to be. If they're space weapons, I assume they'll be in space. If they're antisatellite weapons, I assume they're going to be armed against any satellite. Now, this is the most dangerous technology that we possess. The Soviets try to spy on us - steal this stuff - and to give them technology of this kind, I disagree with. You haven't just accepted research, Mr. President, you've set up a strategic defense initiative and agency. You're beginning to test. You're talking about deploying. You're asking for a budget of some $30 billion for this purpose. This is an arms escalation, and we will be better off - far better off - if we stop right now, because we have more to lose in space than they do. If someday somebody comes along with an answer, that's something else, but that there would be an answer in our lifetime is unimaginable. Why do we start things that we know the Soviets will match and make us all less secure? That's what a President is for. MODERATOR: Mr. Kondracke, your question to Mr. Mondale?

(4:38) REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, you say that with respect to the Soviet Union, you want to negotiate a mutual nuclear freeze. Yet you would unilaterally give up the MX missile and the B-1 bomber before the talks have even begun, and you have announced in advance that reaching an agreement with the Soviets is the most important thing in the world to you. Now aren't you giving away half the store before you even sit down to talk? MONDALE: As a matter of fact we have a vast range of technology and weaponry right now that provides all the bargaining chips that we need, and I support the air launch cruise missile, ground launch cruise missile, Pershing missile, the Trident submarine, the D-5 submarine, the stealth technology, the Midgetman - we have a whole range of technology. Why I disagree with the MX is that it's a sitting duck. It'll draw an attack. It puts a hair trigger, and it is a dangerous destabilizing weapon. And the B-1 is similarly to be opposed because for 15 years the Soviet Union has been preparing to meet the B1, the Secretary of Defense himself said it would a suicide mission, if it were built. Instead, I want to build the Midgetman which is mobile and thus less vulnerable, contributing to stability, and a weapon that will give us security and contribute to an incentive for arms control. That's why I'm for Stealth technology to build the Stealth bomber, which I supported for years, that can penetrate the Soviet air defense system without any hope that they can perceive where it is because their radar system is frustrated. In other words, a President has to make choices. This makes us stronger. The final point is that we can use this money that we save on these weapons to spend on things that we really need. Our conventional strength in Europe is under strength. We need to strengthen that in order to assure our Western allies of our presence there, a strong defense, but also to diminish and reduce the likelihood of a commencement of a war and the use of nuclear weapons. It's by this way by making wise choices that we're stronger, we enhance the chances of arms control. Every President until this one has been able to do it, and this nation, the world is more dangerous as a result.

(7:07) REPORTER: I want to follow up on Mr. Kalb's question. It seems to me that on the question of verifiability that you do have some problems with the extent of the freeze. It seems to me, for example, that testing would be very difficult to verify because the Soviets encode their telemetry. Research would be impossible to verify, numbers of warheads would be impossible to verify by satellite except with on-site inspection, and production of any weapon would be impossible to verify. Now in view of that, what is going to be frozen? MONDALE: I will not agree to any arms control agreement, including a freeze, that's not verifiable. Let's take your warhead principle. The warhead principle, they've been counting rules for years. Whenever a weapon is tested, we counted the number of warheads on it, and whenever that warhead is used we count that number of warheads, whether they have that number or less on it or not. These are standard rules. I will not agree to any production restrictions or agreement unless we have the ability to verify those agreements. I don't trust the Russians. I believe that every agreement we reach must be verifiable, and I will not agree to anything that we cannot tell every day. In other words, we've got to be tough, but in order to stop this arms madness we've got to push ahead with tough negotiations that are verifiable so that we know the Soviets are agreeing and living up to their agreements.

(8:33) REPORTER: Mr. President, I want to ask you about negotiating with friends. You severely criticized President Carter for helping to undermine two friendly dictators who got into trouble with their own people, the Shah of Iran and President Somoza of Nicaragua. Now there are other such leaders heading for trouble, including President Pinochet of Chile and President Marcos of the Philippines. What should you do and what can you do to prevent the Philippines from becoming another Nicaragua? REAGAN : Morton, I did criticize the President because of our undercutting of what was a stalwart ally, the Shah of Iran. And I am not at all convinced that he was that far out of line with his people or that they wanted that to happen. The Shah had done our bidding and carried our load in the Middle East for quite some time and I did think that it was a blot on our record that we let him down. Had things gotten better, the Shah, whatever he might have done, was building low-cost housing, had taken land away from the mullahs and was distributing it to the peasants so they could be landowners, things of that kind. But we turned it over to a maniacal fanatic who has slaughtered thousands and thousands of people calling it executions. The matter of Somoza, no, I never defended Somoza. And as a matter of fact, the previous Administration stood by and so did I - not that I could have done anything in my position at that time. But for this revolution to take place and the promise of the revolution was democracy, human rights, free labor unions, free press. And then just as Castro had done in Cuba, the Sandinistas ousted the other parties to the revolution. Many of them are now the Contras. They exiled some, they jailed some, they murdered some. And they installed a Marxist-Leninist totalitarian Government. 'What Is the Alternative?'And what I have to say about this is, many times - and this has to do with the Philippines also - I know there are things there in the Philippines that do not look good to us from the standpoint right now of democratic rights. But what is the alternative? It is a large Communist movement to take over the Phlippines. They have been our friend for - since their inception as a nation. And I think that we've had enough of a record of letting, under the guise of revolution, someone that we thought was a little more right than we would be, letting that person go and then winding up with totalitarianism pure and simple as the alternative and I think that we're better off, for example, with the Philippines of trying to retain our friendship and help them right the wrongs we see rather than throwing them to the wolves and then facing a Communist power in the Pacific.

(11:36) REPORTER: Mr. President, since the United States has two strategic bases in the Philippines, would the overthrow of President Marcos constitute a threat to vital American interests, and, if so, what would you do about it? REAGAN : Well, as I say we have to look at what an overthrow there would mean and what the government would be that would follow. And there is every evidence, every indication that that government would be hostile to the United States and that would be a severe blow to the - to our abilities there in the Pacific. REPORTER: And what would you do about it?

(12:10) MODERATOR : Sorry, sorry, you've asked the follow-up question. Mr. Mondale, your rebuttal. MONDALE: Perhaps in no area do we disagree more than this Administration's policies on human rights. I went to the Philippines as Vice President, pressed for human rights, called for the release of Aquino and made progress that had been stalled on both the Subic and the Clark airfield bases. What explains this Administration cozying up to the Argentine dictators after they took over? Fortunately a democracy took over but this nation was embarrassed by this current Administration's adoption of their policies. What happens in South Africa, where, for example, the Nobel Prize winner two days ago said this Administration is seen as working with the oppressive Government of that region, of South Africa. That hurts this nation. We need to stand for human rights. We need to make it clear we're for human liberty. National security and human rights must go together, but this Administration time and time again has lost its way in this field.

(13:18) MODERATOR: President Reagan, your rebuttal. REAGAN: Well, the invasion of Afghanistan didn't take place on our watch. I have described what has happened in Iran and we weren't here then either. I don't think that our record of human rights can be assailed. I think that we have observed ourselves and have done our best to see that human rights are extended throughout the world. Mr. Mondale has recently announced a plan of his to get the democracies together and to work with the whole world to turn to democracy. And I was glad to hear him say that because that's what we've been doing ever since I announced to the British Parliament that I thought we should do this. And human rights are not advanced when at the same time you then stand back and say, ''Whoops, we didn't know the gun was loaded,'' and you have another totalitarian power on your hands. MODERATOR: In this, in this segment, because of the pressure of time, there will be no rebuttals and there will be no follow-up questions. Mr. Trewhitt, your question to President Reagan.

(14:24) REPORTER: One question to each candidate? MODERATOR: One question to each candidate. REPORTER: Mr. President, could I take you back to something you said earlier? And if I'm misquoting you please correct me. But I understood you to say that if the development of space military technology was successful, you might give the Soviets a demonstration and say, ''Here it is,'' which sounds to me as if you might be trying to gain the sort of advantage that would enable you to dictate terms, and which I would then suggest to you might mean scrapping a generation of nuclear strategy called mutual deterrence, in which we in effect hold each other hostage. Is that your intention? REAGAN: Well, I can't say that I have roundtabled that and sat down with the Chiefs of Staff, but I have said that it seems to me that this could be a logical step in what is my ultimate goal, my ultimate dream. And that the elimination of nuclear weapons in the world. And it seems to me that this could be an adjunct, or certainly a great assisting agent, in getting that done. I am not going to roll over, as Mr. Mondale suggests, and give them something that could turn around and be used against us. But I think it's a very interesting proposal to see if we can find first of all something that renders those weapons obsolete, incapable of their mission. But Mr. Mondale seems to approve MAD - MAD is Mutual Assured Destruction, meaning if you use nuclear weapons on us, the only thing we have to keep you from doing it is that we'll kill as many people of yours as you will kill of ours. I think that to do everything we can to find, as I say, something that would destroy weapons and not humans is a great step forward in human rights.

(16:10) REPORTER: Mr. Mondale, could I ask you to address the question of nuclear strategy. Formal doctrine is very arcane, but I'm going to ask you to deal with it anyway. Do you believe in MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction, mutual deterrence, as it has been practiced for the last generation? MONDALE: I believe in a sensible arms control approach that brings down these weapons to manageable levels. I would like to see their elimination. And in the meantime, we have to be strong enough to make certain that the Soviet Union never attempts this. Now here we have to decide between generalized objectives and reality. The President says he wants to eliminate or reduce the number of nuclear weapons, but in fact these last four years have seen more weapons built, a wider and more vigorous arms race than in human history. He says he wants a system that will make nuclear arms wars safe, so nobody's going to get hurt. Well, maybe someday somebody can dream of that. But why start an arms race now? Why destabilize our relationship? Why threaten our space satellites, upon which we depend? Why pursue a strategy that would delegate to computers the question of starting a war. A President, to defend this country and to get arms control, must master what's going on. I accept his objective and his dreams, we all do. But the hard reality is that we must know what we're doing and pursue those objectives that are possible in our time. He's opposed every effort of every President to do so; in the four years of his Administration he's failed to do so. And if you want a tough President who uses that strength to get arms control, and draws the line in the heavens, vote for Walter Mondale.

(18:06) MODERATOR: Please, I must again ask the audience not to applaud, not to cheer, not demonstrate its feelings in any way. We've arrived at the point in the debate now where we call for closing statements. You have the full four minutes, each of you. Mr. Mondale, will you go first. MONDALE: I want to thank the League of Women Voters, the good citizens of Kansas City and President Reagan for agreeing to debate this evening. This evening we talked about national strength. I believe we need to be strong, and I will keep us strong. But I think strength must also require wisdom and smarts in its exercise - that's key to the strength of our nation. A President must know the essential facts, essential to command. But a President must also have a vision of where this nation should go. Tonight, as Americans you have a choice. And you're entitled to know where we would take this country if you decide to elect us. As President, I would press for long-term vigorous economic growth. That's why I want to get these debts down and these interest rates down, restore America's exports, help rural America which is suffering so much, and bring the jobs back here for our children. I want this next generation to be the best educated in American history; to invest in the human mind and science again, so we're out front. I want this nation to protect its air, its water, its land and its public health. America is not temporary. We're forever. And as Americans, our generation should protect this wonderful land for our children. I want a nation of fairness, where no one is denied the fullness of life or discriminated against, and we deal compassionately with those in our midst who are in trouble. And above all, I want a nation that's strong. Since we debated two weeks ago, the United States and the Soviet Union have built 100 more warheads, enought to kill millions of Americans and millions of Soviet citizens. This doesn't strengthen us, this weakens the chances of civilization to survive. I remember the night before I became Vice President. I was given the briefing and told that any time, night or day, I might be called upon to make the most fateful decision on earth - weather to fire these atomic weapons that could destroy the human species. That lesson tells us two things. One, pick a President that you know will know, if that tragic moment ever comes, what he must know. Because there'll be no time for staffing committees or advisers; a President must know right then. But above all, pick a President who will fight to avoid the day when that God-awful decision ever needs to be made. And that's why this election is so terribly important. America and Americans decide not just what's happening in this country; we are the strongest and most powerful free society on earth. When you make that judgment, you are deciding not only the future of our nation; in a very profound respect, you're providing the future - deciding the future of the world. We need to move on. It's time for America to find new leadership. Please join me in this cause to move confidently and with a sense of assurance and command to build the blessed future of our nation.

(22:21) MODERATOR: President Reagan, your summation, please. REAGAN: Yes, my thanks to the League of Women Voters, to the panelists, to the moderator, and to the people of Kansas City for their warm hospitality and greeting. I think the American people tonight have much to be grateful for: an economic recovery that has become expansion, freedom, and most of all, we are at peace. I am grateful for the chance to reaffirm my commitment to reduce nuclear weapons and one day to eliminate them entirely. The question before comes down to this: do you want to see America retrun to the policies of weakness of the last four year, or do we want to go forward marching together as a nation of strength and that's going to continue to be strong? We shouldn't be dwelling on the past or even the present. The meaning of this election is the future, and whether we're going to grow and provide the jobs and the opportunities for all Americans and that they need. Several years ago I was given an assignment to write a letter. It was to go into a time capsule and would be read in 100 years when that time capsule was opened. I remember driving down the California coast on day. My mind was full of what I was going to put in that letter about the problems and the issues that confront us in our time and what we did about them, but I couldn't completely neglect the beauty around me - the Pacific out there on one side of the highway shining in the sunlight, the mountains of the coast range rising on the other side, and I found myself wondering what it would be like for someone, wondering if someone 100 years from now would be driving down that highway and if they would see the same thing. And with that thought I realized what a job I had with that letter. I would be writing a letter to people who know everything there is to know about us. We know nothing about them. They would know all about our problems. They would know how we solved them and whether our solution was beneficial to them down through the years or whether it hurt them. They would also know that we lived in a world with terrible weapons, nuclear weapons of terrible destructive power aimed at each other, capable of crossing the ocean in a matter of minutes and destroying civilization as we know it. And then I thought to myself: what are they going to say about us? What are those people 100 years from now whether we used those weapons or not. Well, what they will say about us 100 years from now depends on how we keep our rendezvous with destiny. Will we do the things that we know must be done and and know that one day down in history 100 years, or perhaps for those people back in the 1980's, for preserving our freedom, for saving for us this blessed planet called earth with all its grandeur and its beauty. You know, I am grateful for all of you giving the opportunity to serve you for these four years and I seek re-election because I want more than anything else to try to complete the new beginning that we charted four years ago. George Bush, who I think is one of the finest Vice Presidents this country has ever had, George Bush and I have crisscrossed the country and we've had in these last few months a wonderful experience. We have met young America. We have met your sons and daughters. MODERATOR: Mr. President, I'm obliged to cut you off there under the rules of the debate. I'm sorry. REAGAN: All right, I was just going to . MODERATOR: Perhaps I should point out that the rules under which I did that were agreed upon by the two campaigns. REAGAN: I know, yes. MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. Mondale. Our thanks also to the panel, finally to our audience. We thank you and the League of Women Voters asks me to say to you: don't forget to vote on Nov. 6.