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Well I when I was elected and before I was inaugurated I realize that on inauguration day I would be the president and I would be responsible for the management of all our military forces including our nuclear arsenals. So I try to become thoroughly familiar with my duties and with the factors involved at the time that I was meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other experts before Inauguration Day. We discuss the relative strength of the Soviet and Chinese and French and British and American nuclear arsenals. How the president's duties related to a possible attack what the experience had been recently concerning nuclear arms control. And of course I already knew the history of previous negotiations by President Kennedy and Johnson and Ford and Nixon who came before me. So by the time I was inaugurated I was so it was 30 for me with these factors as possible. I had made major campaign commitments that I
would. Revive. The nuclear arms control process both in the go shooting with the Soviet Union and also implementing a strong nonproliferation restraint on our own nation and perhaps on others through legislative means at. Your. Yes it seems to me inconceivable that we would go to a zero nuclear arsenal on either side as a commitment because of the problem with verification. And I discussed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and also with experts like Paul notes the next to the ultimate goal of penultimate goal. We discussed quite thoroughly the advantages of
the relatively small number of nuclear. Launchers maybe 100 or 200. With a single warhead hit on each of the launchers located in practice in vulnerable locations on the south side of steep mountain ranges in deep silos. Or in areas of the ocean that was safe havens where the other nation the Soviets would agree not to try to penetrate. This would have left us with a very stable. Nuclear arsenal on both sides which would have foregone the prospect of a preemptive first strike but left the retaliatory capabilities intact and that was a goal that I had in my mind throughout my presidency. They were intrigued with the idea and volunteered some comments not unfavorable about this is an ultimate goal and.
Within two months of the time I was inaugurated. We presented to the Soviet Union two alternatives one a dramatic reduction in the arsenal and on both sides as one alternative and the other alternative was a progressive reduction which came naturally from the Vladivostok agreement that had been worked out tentatively by President Ford and and General Secretary. Yes it's a matter of fact I was familiar with Scoop Jackson's condemnation of the SALT 1 treaty claiming it was grossly unbalanced against our nation's interest and scoop had been a very close associate of mine. I nominated him when he ran for president and he delivered his delegates to me when I was so funny nominated in 1976 and I respected his
judgment. And so I not only had a long conversation but I asked him to put down his views in what turned out to be a fairly extensive memorandum 20 or 30 pages of how to confidential which I kept to my personal site and on occasion when I was preparing a negotiating position I would refer to objects and recommendations and I derive a great benefit from them. Yes I think he was particularly concerned that in salt one we had agreed to permit the Soviets to have unilaterally an arsenal of extremely heavy missiles and we worked on that particular problem with the Soviet Union. As you know following a lot of us stuck. They were never able to resolve the question of launch cruise missiles or cruise missiles in general and some of the Soviet systems like the black car bomber and these were the questions that I
inherited as a president. In. All the negotiations I was never able to complete it to satisfy the demands of Scoop Jackson and others. But we never put forward a proposal in Europe at the negotiating table in my own personal negotiations with foreign minister Gromyko present rationale for Ambassador brain and other Soviets without full support from. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the sector defense secretary of state and the national security adviser. So we had a harmonious proposal. Each time we went to the negotiating table. Yes. You know there was no giving up the main reason that the Soviets rejected both proposals in March which were put to them as alternatives. Was
the altar cation about human rights. I was insisting that the Soviets honor their commitment on human rights and giving them a long list of people who were known as refuseniks. That should be permitted to emigrate from the Soviet Union. And our present regime if I think in a Soviet leaders interpreted this as a direct political attack on our nation and when the Soviets rejected sector advances proposals on nuclear arms control in March and in Moscow. The main points that Gromyko made in an unprecedented press conference was about human rights. So I think they had to go through a phase of understanding that are human rights concerns were legitimate everyone singing out the Soviet Union for condemnation on a world wide scale. And following that they were very I think cooperative both on all human rights issues and also on nuclear arms control negotiations. Yeah.
Yes we would much have preferred the dramatic reductions 50 percent. Basically across the board. To be consummated in insult to. But that became impossible so then we had to negotiate on a step by step reduction. And as you know this involved about a 10 percent reduction in all the Soviet nuclear launchers and it also involved a prohibition against more than one new weapon system on both sides. Limitations on the back fire bomb bomb definitions of what is a new missile those kinds of things so I think ultimately in June or 1979 we came out with a salt 2 treaty that was the maximum that we could get at the negotiating table at that time. In Vienna prata signing the salt 2 agreement discussed quite definitively the fact as it might go into
what we called Sol 3 that is much more dramatic reductions. We also opposed to the Soviets and the Vienna with the full support of the Joint Chiefs. A 5 percent annual reduction in the salt to limit which over a period of five years that is a life of salt too would have resulted in much more dramatic reductions. Yes there was an altercation that I didn't particularly deplore because it involved conflicting and contrary opinions. With with me being the final arbiter concerning linkage of confrontations or competition with the Soviets on a worldwide basis on the one hand
and a commitment to nuclear arms control on the other. My decision was that although there was indeed some political linkage that we should proceed with negotiations to add salt to in spite of those relatively inevitable competitions with the Soviet Union in Angola and other places. More than dance. But they both had to comply with my final decision which was to minimize the fact of linkage and go ahead as rapidly as a Soviets would agree on nuclear arms control. Yes. Well we were monitoring very carefully the Soviet president and he
and. And the wall between Somalia and Ethiopia. This was of not of concern to us. And when I was negotiating with Gromyko salt two issues in the Cabinet Room at the White House we also brought up the question. Of Soviet military presence in Ethiopia. Gromyko falsely assured me that there was no Soviet military presence in Ethiopia of course through our own capabilities we knew that he was not telling the truth. He knew that I knew that he was not telling the truth and we kept maximum political pressure on the Soviets to minimize their role in Ethiopia and to try to work out a peaceful resolution of the war in the Horn of Africa. But all during that time we never slacked off. On our own efforts to conclude the salt
2 treaty. While the ultimate decision was obviously mine and what we did to handle this matter with restraint and without a military confrontation with the Soviet Union was the decision that I made. Yes. We assessed the likelihood that the Soviets would see this as a deliberate challenge to them. In other words two of the so-called super powers aligning ourselves against the third. That was not a fact because neither I nor done shopping. I never considered it to be advantageous to have this sort of
division in international political affairs. And we made this clear to the Soviet Union. I notified Brezhnev as soon as I notified the American people that we had agreed to normalize diplomatic relations with China. I emphasized that this would contribute to peace and stability in the western Pacific. It was not a challenge to any other nation that is a Soviet Union. And when I was in Vienna with Russia now. The Soviets brought this subject up on more than one occasion. Both at the negotiating table with a number of people present. And when I had a private meeting with version of himself and just an interpreter present and I again assured them accurately that this was not designed to challenge the Soviet Union or to align ourselves with China against the Soviet people. So. Yes we hope to have a summit meeting with
Russian if no later than early in 1079 because we had almost concluded the major agreements on salt too. And I had to decide at the time we were approaching agreement with Done shopping on normalization. Whether to delay that decision to honor a possible summit meeting. My decision was to go ahead with the normalization announcement and with Done shopping visit when this announcement was made. The Soviets decided not to meet with me early in 1909 and we later scheduled this meeting for June of 179. So I think it worked out very well so that our nation benefited not only from normal relations with with China but also with with a carefully drafted and concluded result to a treaty. I don't recall specifically.
I was never tempted seriously to put off the normalization agreement negotiated with the Chinese for more than a year quite avidly and never knew when the when the Chinese would agree to our terms. And basically quite early in December or maybe later in November. Being decided because of internal Chinese factors to go ahead and accept basically the proposals that we had put forward for a long time in Beijing and as soon as he made this decision we decided to move expeditiously. I announced the decision and and December 15th one thousand seventy eight and invited him to come to the United States to consummate the agreement personally. He sent word back that he would like to come as soon as possible he came I think it would end of January. That was an episode that I decided was
was so propitious at that time and I think Secretary Vance was more inclined to relegate the China normalization to a lower priority than I did and to assume that the time. Before negotiating the salt to trade or to be preeminent. But I made the decision you know I think it was the right decision. Well I can recall the date but it was prior to the conclusion of the SALT treaty and we were very careful in the negotiations to make allowance
for the MX missile in the salty treaty. I looked upon this the next missile. In multiple silos as being a great stabilizing factor it meant that if so which would have to expend almost two dozen missile warheads in order to be sure to destroy one missile. And this would tend to prevent a preemptive strike. And give us the same kind of retaliatory capabilities that we have. Without nuclear submarines. So it was decided upon thought long before June 179 it was well understood by the Soviets if this was a proviso that we made and the basic question was that the factors that went into the design of the next missile how large to make it what sort of flexible launching site would be advantageous where they ought to be on rail cars. All
in multiple silos that sort of thing took so much time. Yes I think that would have been better for us if we could have had a drastic reduction of zero nuclear weapons and so forth. But of course we had to have agreement with the Soviet Union on what to do and they preferred a very careful step by step reduction with specific limits both on a number of launches a number of warheads the number of airplanes a number of cruise missiles and also the number of new weapons and one new weapon system was optimum that we could derive at the negotiating table. So. It's a combination of the two I think almost every decision we made in the salt negotiation was at a combination of strategic and political factors. And they're not separable because of this strategic matter as
judged or not exclusively but predominately by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And if I made a peremptory decision we will do this at the negotiating table over the firm opposition of the Joint Chiefs. It became obvious to me that in their subsequent testimony to the Congress that it would be unlikely for the Delphic Congress to approve. So in every case in a negotiation I first concluded. I would say a unanimous acceptance of the basic negotiating position to include in the joint chiefs of staff. Then. We negotiated with the Soviet Union and we kept key members of the Congress informed as well. And so I don't think you could separate strategic from political reasons I wanted to trade not only to be concluded but to stay effective over the five year period and perhaps we'll let you know. I like it.
Not positive I think when Scoop Jackson insinuated that it was another sign that we had to make sure. That assault to treaty would stand the scrutiny of objective experts who are strongly inclined toward nuclear arms agreements and some of those who think inherently that nuclear arms agreements acceptable to the Soviets are inherently not good for our country. And so I face the potential opposition of Scoop Jackson with a concern but with equanimity. The election was a very strong factor in the relative equality of the Soviet and American nuclear arsenal and as I said earlier I always consider the missile
in and flexible basing mode to be a stabilising and not destabilising as it would be in fixed silos. Yeah. Well I never have equated myself with with any sort of appeasement. My. I don't remember saying that. I don't I can't deny that. Well that's that's not something that I would say. The fact is that the basic terms of the Solti treaty although denounced by people primarily for political reasons in 1909. The treaty stayed intact in its basic terms for at least seven years and I
think served its purpose well. And even though it was not ratified the concepts within that treaty have to provide a good basis for a future agreement. They said the law of God will not forgive us if we fail. Yes which was something of a surprise to me coming from an atheist. And so at the next meeting at the negotiating table I repeated what he said. Gromyko mockingly threw up his hands and looked up at the heavens and said Yes God is looking down on us now to see how we do. Are somewhat disconcerted but he didn't read trying to statement. I thought it was an interesting statement. I don't know the origin of sincerity of it but I felt the same way that the God and human race are looking to me and I have to conclude an agreement that would reduce at least the threat of a
nuclear holocaust. No. There was never any doubt in my mind it was permitted undersell to do it. Well there's no doubt that the Soviets have accepted their plans for in the next subsequent to the signing of the treaty they never rejected the treaty and went ahead with its plans and they have gone forward with their one new system as well and they have as you know missiles in a mobile mode. So there's no doubt in my mind now nor was there then that the M-x as we proposed it was permitted under salt. Privately I sort of like it was very strongly supportive of the salty
treaty and I needed all the Republican support I could get. But some tobacco was concerned about the political consequences of being too supportive of my programs and he said to me one day in the Oval Office Mr. President I vote right one more time. I'll never get re-elected in Tennessee. But I didn't give up of course on having such a baker's vote. Once a salt 2 treaty ratification came to the Senate as a body. I thought it was a serious and unpredictable strategic mistake on the part of the Soviet
Union to invade Afghanistan. Since. Almost 25 years they had not done any such thing. They had you sorry Gates. The Vietnamese and Cambodia the Cubans in Angola. And Ethiopia and so forth and for them to make the invasion themselves was extremely damaging to the Soviet position in international political circles. In addition it made it almost impossible and certainly impossible at that time to ratify the salty treaty. And I think that subsequent events have shown that even the Soviet leaders themselves go bitch off at this time recognizing that this was a serious mistake on the part of a Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan. I look upon it as a parallel to our experience in Vietnam. No it was not in the first place.
There is no death. There's no doubt that had the Soviets. Consummated the control over Afghanistan and then moved so easily into Pakistan or Iran that this would have been a direct threat to the security of our country and to other nations in Europe Japan who rely on all supplies from the Persian Gulf region and we would have responded accordingly. I made it clear in that statement that we would not confine our response just to that region but it would be a worldwide response and it was a very carefully considered statement that I thought was necessary. And which we intend to carry out. Right. It wasn't deliberate do to copy what John Foster Dulles has said.
But I think that had we threatened to actually send troops into that Persian Gulf region halfway around the world on the doorsteps of the Soviet Union it would have been a foolish commitment to make. So I wanted to understand it we would not confine our own response military or otherwise just to the region that they were invading. But it would be a worldwide response. Well there was no change in my goal and my concept or my philosophy. You know what we obtained in salt two was a maximum control of nuclear arsenals and the maximum reduction in
nuclear arsenal that the Soviets would accept. And my own hopes for subsequent negotiations would have included much more dramatic reductions in overall arsenal and also the inclusion of going to mediate range of missiles that were deployed in Europe and otherwise. So my gold did not change how we sought to treaty terms were shaped not by trying to accommodate American dissenting voices but to accommodate the Soviet reluctance to move toward much more dramatic reductions. Yes this is probably the last question for you. Oh yes. Oh yeah.
But you can't have nonproliferation or human rights as the only factor to be considered in dealing with with a foreign nation particular one that's offended to us as it is and was Pakistan. We had assurances from Pakistan then that they were not contemplating the evolution of a nuclear weapon or nuclear explosives. That assurance combined with a concern that I had for Pakistan's safety with the Soviets just across the border in Afghanistan. Well those two factors combined together induce me to offer Pakistan what was considered by President Zero to be inadequate. But I think substantial assistance. And so the two factors were not incompatible they were related but I still would have been deeply concerned had I been convinced that Pakistan was planning to build a nuclear explosive a nuclear weapons.
Well there again we not only participants and nonproliferation and I thought that our country had to set a leadership standard and do everything possible to reduce our own nuclear arsenals Why would a man in other nations do the same and to keep India with some control some monitoring over their nuclear reprocessing system was important to me and I felt a very close decision a reluctant decision that I was supplying them limited nuclear fuel under control conditions was better than they were acquiring available nuclear fuel from other sources without international control.
War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
Raw Footage
Interview with Jimmy Carter, 1987
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Episode Description
Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States, from 1977 to 1981. In the interview Carter conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear Age, he relates his experience as president-elect, when the task at hand was to absorb military force structure and preparedness. As Carter recalls, the Soviets temporarily shelved the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) II talks after he pressed them on human-rights violations. From the get-go, he wanted an arms-control agreement that he negotiated, as opposed to one shaped by a prior administration. Rather than build from the 1974 Vladivostok agreement, Carter immediately sought dramatic reductions in nuclear weapons, but he was compelled to acquiesce to the step-by-step process that the Soviet Union would accept. The Salt II Treaty that he and Leonid Brezhnev signed in June 1979 was, Carter believed, the best they could do at the time. Not expecting the pitfalls that lay ahead, both men anticipated a SALT III agreement that would produce more-dramatic results. He recalls the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and its impact on the ratification of the SALT II agreement. In his interview, Carter also discusses his support for limited linkage, such as pressuring the Soviets to minimize their role in Ethiopia while still continuing arms talks. In 1978, there was general agreement about normalizing relations with China, to be followed by Deng Xiaoping's visit to the United States. The timing of the visit - it occurred just a month prior to a Soviet summit meeting - proved controversial, but it remains a decision that Carter defends. He also upholds his decision to approve funding for the MX missile as a stabilizing factor. Finally, Carter points out that the terms of SALT II, although never ratified, remained intact for at least seven years, and that its concepts provided a stable framework for subsequent negotiations.
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Global Affairs
Military Forces and Armaments
Afghanistan; International Relations; Nuclear nonproliferation; United States. Joint Chiefs of Staff; Jackson, Henry M. (Henry Martin), 1912-1983; Dulles, John Foster, 1888-1959; Gorbachev, Mikhail; Chamberlain, Neville, 1869-1940; Gromyko, Andrei Andreevich, 1909-1989; Nitze, Paul H.; Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963; Intercontinental ballistic missiles; MX (Weapons system); Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II; Soviet Union; Nuclear arms control; Brezhnev, Leonid Il'ich, 1906-1982; Deng, Xiaoping, 1904-1997; Horn of Africa; Ethiopia; nuclear weapons; China; United States
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Publisher: WGBH Educational Foundation
Writer: Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
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Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Interview with Jimmy Carter, 1987,” 1987-01-27, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 25, 2023,
MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Interview with Jimmy Carter, 1987.” 1987-01-27. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 25, 2023. <>.
APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; Interview with Jimmy Carter, 1987. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from