Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum


Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Bluefield State College, Bluefield, West Virginia, April 27, 1960

This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library.

A few weeks ago, ten nations began negotiations on the most complex and important problem facing the world today - the problem of disarmament.

But despite the fact that these critical negotiations have already begun - despite our nation's basic desire to channel the immense sums now being spent on arms into peaceful activity - despite the absolute necessity of ending today's disastrous arms race if we are to reduce world tensions and move toward a lasting peace - despite these things, the United States has put forward a hurriedly prepared disarmament plan - compounded of old proposals and a lack of new, creative thinking.

If we are to develop new ideas - if we are to take the initiative in planning for peace - we must act quickly. For as each year passes, the need for disarmament becomes more pressing - the possibilities of disarmament become more remote.

Modern science has created weapons of fantastic destructive power. A single nuclear weapon today can release more destructive energy than all the explosives used in all the wars throughout history - the radioactive fallout from that single bomb can destroy all higher forms of life in an area of ten thousand square miles. And the powerful new gases and deadly bacteria which are now being developed for war promise suffering and devastation in many ways more horrible than even the threat of nuclear destruction.

But if modern science has made arms control essential - it has also made arms control more difficult. The development of underground missile launching sites - the growth of nuclear stockpiles - the evolution of new techniques for launching surprise attacks from beneath the earth, or under the seas or from the air - have all multiplied the difficulties of achieving arms control - of developing an effective inspection system.

Yet, despite these difficulties, I believe that today's international climate, more than ever before, holds out the possibilities for an effective start on arms control. For the Russians realize, as we ourselves realize, that the spread of nuclear weapons to other nations may upset the balance of power and increase the danger of accidental war - that a war of mutual destruction would benefit no one nation or ideology - that funds devoted to weapons of destruction cannot be used to raise the living standards of their own people or to help the economies of underdeveloped nations.

The Soviets will not, in the sixties, or as far as we can foresee, give up their ambitions for world communism. But the historian Toynbee reminds us that the cold and hot wars waged by a fanatic Islam and crusading Christendom gradually transformed themselves into centuries of perpetual truce, although both parties retained their universal goals.

Of course, I do not want to minimize the Russian threat. The Soviet Union still believes in the victory of world communism. They still want to "bury us" economically, politically, culturally and in every other sphere of interest. Nor do I believe that we can rely for disarmament on merely trusting the word of the Soviet leaders - we must have an inspection system as reliable and as thorough as modern science can devise. But I do believe that under what appears to be a more fluid and rational atmosphere since the death of Stalin, the Soviet leaders may realize that the path of Russian self-interest permits - and perhaps compels - them to agree to some steps toward comprehensive arms control.

And if that opportunity comes, we must be ready for it - and we are not ready now. The harsh facts of the matter are that today - during the Geneva negotiations - we have less than 100 full-time men, scattered through a dozen agencies, engaged in arms control research and planning. Less than 100 men to deal with the most complex problem of our time. Less than one hundred men to plan for what must be the core, the central purpose, and the ultimate object of America's foreign policy.

We have had Presidential speeches, Presidential advisers, and Presidential commissions on disarmament, but no policy. We have participated in previous conferences on disarmament, on nuclear testing and on surprise attack - but our conferees in every instance have been ill prepared and inadequately instructed. We invited our Western allies to Washington in January to make joint preparation for the Geneva Conference - but we had no positive proposals of our own to offer them.

The President has recently announced that he will try to remedy these deficiencies - that he will bring our scattered disarmament experts together in a single division of the State Department. This is a welcome step forward. But it does not increase the number of men working on disarmament - it does not assure us of dynamic leadership from the White House - and it does not, in itself, take us measurably closer to the vast effort which is essential if we are to deal effectively with the complex problems of peace.

Of course, the President is sincere when he says we want disarmament, but I am also afraid that the rest of the world is justified in wondering whether we really do.

There are, of course, many powerful voices in the government - both in and out of the Pentagon - who do not want disarmament, or, professing to want it, do not really believe in it.

Disarmament to them is still merely a fuzzy ideal for fuzzy idealists. There can be no disarmament, they say, until world tensions have ceased, or until we know for certain that the Russians will live up to their agreement, or until a foolproof inspection system can be worked out, or until the Russians give up communism and its dreams of world domination. There can be no disarmament, in short, according to these Pentagon and other policymakers, until to use Mr. Khrushchev's term - "the shrimp whistles."

But who, I ask you, are the true realists - those interested in serious efforts at arms control - or those who talk of war and weapons as though these were the good old days, in the pre-World War II, or nuclear monopoly, or pre-missile eras? The world of 1960, the utter folly of the present arms race, requires a new and different look at where we are headed. We cannot - we must not allow our failures of the past to recur in the future. The world's hopes for peace rest on the effort for effective arms control - we cannot disappoint those hopes. We must exert all our efforts, our will and our courage to take the first steps toward arms control.

But such a beginning can lead the way, once the Russians learn that international control and inspection are not necessarily to be feared; once Americans learn that accommodations are not necessarily appeasement; and once both sides learn that agreements can be made, and kept.

I do not say that we should rely simply on trust in any agreement. Certainly we need an inspection system which is as reliable and thorough as modern science and technology can devise. However, even with such a system, there will be risks. Peace programs involve risks as do arms programs, but the risks of arms are even more dangerous. Those who talk about the risks and dangers of any arms control proposal ought to weigh - in the scales of national security - the risks and dangers inherent in our present course. The only alternative to pursuit of an effective disarmament agreement is reckless pursuit of our present course - the arms race, the gap, the new weapons, the development of ever higher orders of mutual terror, all of which not only reflect tensions but obviously aggravate them.

I do not look upon arms control negotiations as a substitute for negotiating disputes. Certainly I would never permit an effort for disarmament to excuse any lag in our defense effort now. For it is an unfortunate fact that, while peace is our goal, we need greater military security to prevent war - an effective deterrent to encourage talks - and to bargain at those talks, as I have said, from a position of strength. In fact, as George Kennan has pointed out, we would facilitate the acceptability of nuclear arms control if we were to increase the strength of our convention forces, as a means of weaning ourselves away from total nuclear disarmament.

Finally, I would never say that disarmament is a goal easily achieved. It will take more than hard thinking and hard bargaining - it will require, first of all, hard work.

Plans for disarmament - specific, workable, effective plans - must be formulated with care, with precision, and above all with effective research. Of course, we need much more than research. We need constructive leadership, and clear vision, and careful planning. But research can give us the vitally important knowledge which we must have if we are to lay the groundwork for effective control of today's vast and complex weapons systems.

To provide us with this essential information, I have introduced a bill to establish an Arms Control Research Institute. This Institute - under the immediate direction of the President - will carry on and coordinate all the research, development and policy planning needed for a workable disarmament program. It will vastly increase the effort now being put into disarmament. Essential studies in new techniques of aerial reconnaissance, radar surveillance, and atmospheric sampling - techniques necessary to the development of the expensive and complex monitoring and inspection systems which alone can control modern arms - will be carried on by the Institute.

The Institute will also make plans to facilitate the conversion from a war economy to a peace economy. And it will engage in positive programs for peace - programs of international cooperation in research, in eliminating such world-wide scourges as hunger, illiteracy and poverty.

Here, in one responsible organization, would be centered our hopes for peace. It would be tangible evidence of our dedication to this ideal.

But a new agency alone is not enough. It must be supported by all the agencies of our Government - and above all by the President himself. For only the President has the authority and the prestige to overcome resistance - to weld the diverse thinking of the Pentagon, the AEC, the State Department and many others into one harmonious program - one united objective - the pursuit of world peace.

I do not say that a greater national effort - or strong leadership - or an Arms Control Institute can halt the arms race. Perhaps nothing can. But we owe it to all mankind to make the effort. "Give me a fulcrum and a place to stand," Archimedes is reported to have said, "and I will move the world." Today we stand at a decisive point in history. Let us hope that a renewed effort and renewed vision will provide the fulcrum - and perhaps we, too, can move the world.


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