[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[March 1, 1995]
[Pages 283-289]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom Policy Conference
March 1, 1995

    To Tricia and John Taylor and all the people from the Nixon Center; 
our distinguished guests from Germany and from Russia; of course, to 
Henry Kissinger--I was thinking when he said we both spoke with accents, 
judging from the results of the last election, his native country

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is still claiming him more than mine is claiming me. [Laughter] But I'm 
a big one for reconciliation--[laughter]--and there's plenty of time to 
achieve it.
    I am honored to be here tonight. Just a month before he passed away, 
President Nixon wrote me the last letter I received from him about his 
last trip to Russia. I told some people at the time that it was the best 
piece of foreign policy writing I had received, which angered my staff 
but happened to be the truth. [Laughter] And as with all of our 
correspondence and conversations, I was struck by the rigor of his 
analysis, the energy of his convictions, and the wisdom of the practical 
suggestions that he made to me.
    But more than the specifics of the letter, which basically argued 
for the imperative of the United States continuing to support political 
and economic reform in Russia, I was moved by the letter's larger 
message, a message that ran throughout Richard Nixon's entire public 
life and all of his prolific writings. President Nixon believed deeply 
that the United States simply could not be strong at home unless we were 
strong and prepared to lead abroad.
    And that made a big impression on me. When I was running for 
President in 1992, even though there was this little sticker up on the 
wall of my campaign headquarters that said, ``It's the economy, 
stupid,'' I always said in every speech that we had to have two 
objectives. We had to restore the American dream for all of our people, 
but we also had to make sure that we move into the next century still 
the strongest nation in the world and the world's greatest force for 
peace and freedom and democracy.
    Tonight I want to talk about the vital tradition of American 
leadership and our responsibilities, those which Henry Kissinger 
mentioned and those which President Nixon recognized so well. Our 
mission especially I want to discuss: to reduce the threat of nuclear 
    Today, if we are going to be strong at home and lead abroad, we have 
to overcome what we all recognize, I think, is a dangerous and growing 
temptation here in our own land to focus solely on the problems we face 
here in America. I want to focus on the problems we face here in 
America--I've tried to do it for the last 2 years; I look forward to 
working with this new Republican-led Congress in the next 2--but not 
solely. There is a struggle now going on between those of us who want to 
carry on the tradition of American leadership and those who would 
advocate a new form of American isolationism, a struggle which cuts 
curiously across both party and ideological lines. If we're going to 
continue to improve the security and prosperity of all our people, then 
the tradition of American leadership must prevail.
    We live in a moment of hope. We all know that. The implosion of 
communism and the explosion of the global economy have brought new 
freedoms to countries on every continent. Free markets are on the rise. 
Democracy is ascendant. The slogan says, ``after victory.'' Today more 
than ever before, people across the globe do have the opportunity to 
reach their God-given potential. And because they do, Americans have new 
opportunities to reach theirs as well.
    At the same time, the post-cold-war world has revealed a whole web 
of problems that defy quick or painless solutions: aggression of rogue 
states, transnational threats like overpopulation and environmental 
degradation, terrible ethnic conflicts, and economic dislocation. But at 
the heart of all these complex challenges, I believe, lies an age-old 
battle for power over human lives, the battle between the forces of 
freedom and tyranny, tolerance and repression, hope and fear. The same 
idea that was under attack by fascism and then by communism remains 
under attack today in different ways all across the world, the idea of 
the open society of free people.
    American leadership is necessary for the tide of history to keep 
running our way and for our children to have the future they deserve. 
Yet, there are some who would choose escapism over engagement. The new 
isolationists oppose our efforts to expand free trade through GATT or 
NAFTA, through APEC and the Summit of the Americas. They reject our 
conviction that democracy must be nurtured with investment and support, 
a conviction that we are acting on from the former Soviet Union to South 
Africa. And some of them, being hypocritical, say that we must trumpet 
the rhetoric of American strength, and then at the same time, they argue 
against the resources we need to bring stability to the Persian Gulf or 
to restore democracy to Haiti or to control the spread of drugs and 
organized crime around the world or even to meet our most elemental 
obligations to the United Nations and its peacekeeping work.
    The new isolationists both on the left and the right would radically 
revise the fundamentals

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of our foreign policy that have earned bipartisan support since the end 
of World War II. They would eliminate any meaningful role for the United 
Nations, which has achieved, for all of its problems, real progress 
around the world, from the Middle East to Africa. They would deny 
resources to our peacekeepers and even to our troops and, instead, 
squander them on Star Wars. And they would refuse aid to the fledgling 
democracies and to all those fighting poverty and environmental problems 
that can literally destroy hopes for a more democratic, more prosperous, 
more safe world.
    The new isolationists are wrong. They would have us face the future 
alone. Their approach would weaken this country. And we must not let the 
ripple of isolationism that has been generated build into a tidal wave. 
If we withdraw from the world today, mark my words, we'll have to 
contend with the consequences of our neglect tomorrow and tomorrow and 
    This is a moment of decision for all of us without regard to our 
party, our background, or our accent. This is a moment of decision. The 
extraordinary trend toward democracy and free markets is not inevitable. 
And as we have seen recently, it will not proceed easily in an even, 
uninterrupted course. This is hard work. And at the very time when more 
and more countries than ever before are working to establish or shore up 
their own freedom in their fragile democracies, they look to us for 
support. At this time, the new isolationists must not be allowed to pull 
America out of the game after just a few hours of debate because there 
is a modest price attached to our leadership.
    We know now, as President Nixon recognized, that there must also be 
limits to America's involvement in the world's problems, limits imposed 
by clear-headed evaluation of our fundamental interests. We cannot be 
the world's policemen. We cannot become involved in every problem we 
really care about. But the choices we make must be rooted in the 
conviction that America cannot walk away from its interests or its 
    That's why, from our first day in office, this administration has 
chosen to reach out, not retreat. From our efforts to open markets for 
America, to support democracy around the world, to reduce the threat 
posed by devastating weapons and terrorists, to maintaining the most 
effective fighting force in the world, we have worked to seize the 
opportunities and meet the obligations of this moment.
    None of this could have happened without a coalition of realists, 
people in both Houses of Congress and, importantly, people from both 
parties; people from coast to coast in our towns and cities and 
communities who know that the wealth and well-being of the United States 
depends upon our leadership abroad. Even the early leaders of our 
Republic, who went to great pains to avoid involvement in great power 
conflicts, recognized not only the potential benefits but the absolute 
necessity of engaging with the world.
    Before Abraham Lincoln was elected President, our farmers were 
selling their crops overseas, we had dispatched the trade mission all 
the way to Japan trying to open new markets--some problems don't go 
away--[laughter]--and our Navy had already sailed every ocean. By the 
dawn of this century, our growing political and economic power already 
imposed a special duty on America to lead, a duty that was crystallized 
in our involvement in World War I. But after that war, we and the other 
great powers abandoned our responsibilities, and the forces of tyranny 
and hatred filled the vacuum, as is well-known.
    After the Second World War, our wise leaders did not repeat that 
mistake. With the dawn of the nuclear age and the cold war, and with the 
economies of Europe and Japan in shambles, President Truman persuaded an 
uncertain and weary nation, yearning to shift its energies from the 
frontlines to the homefront, to lead the world again.
    A remarkable generation of Americans created and sustained alliances 
and institutions, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the United Nations, the World 
Bank, the IMF, the things that brought half a century of security and 
prosperity to America, to Europe, to Japan, and to other countries all 
around the world. Those efforts and the special resolve and military 
strength of our own Nation held tyranny in check until the power of 
democracy, the failures of communism, and the heroic determination of 
people to be free consigned the cold war to history. Those successes 
would not have been possible without a strong, bipartisan commitment to 
America's leadership.
    Senator Arthur Vandenberg's call to unite our official voice at the 
water's edge joined Republicans to Truman's doctrine. His impact was all

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the more powerful for his own past as an isolationist. But as Vandenberg 
himself said, Pearl Harbor ended isolationism for any realist.
    Today, it is Vandenberg's spirit that should drive our foreign 
policy and our politics. The practical determination of Senators Nunn 
and Lugar to help Russia reduce its nuclear arsenal safely and securely, 
the support from Speaker Gingrich and Leader Gephardt, from Chairman 
Livingston and Representative Obey for aid to Russia and the Newly 
Independent States, the work of Senators Hatfield, Leahy, and McConnell, 
and Chairman Gilman, and Representative Hamilton for peace in the Middle 
East; the efforts of Senator Warner to restructure our intelligence: all 
these provide strong evidence of the continuing benefits and vitality of 
leadership with bipartisanship.
    If we continue to lead abroad and work together at home, we can take 
advantage of these turbulent times. But if we retreat, we risk 
squandering all these opportunities and abandoning our obligations which 
others have entrusted to us and paid a very dear price to bring to us in 
this moment in history.
    I know that the choice to go forward in a lot of these areas is not 
easy in democracies at this time. Many of the decisions that America's 
leaders have to make are not popular when they're made. But imagine the 
alternative. Imagine, for example, the tariffs and barriers that would 
still cripple the world trading system for years into the future if 
internationalists coming together across party lines had not passed GATT 
and NAFTA. Imagine what the Persian Gulf region would look like today if 
the United States had not stepped up with its allies to stop Iraqi 
aggression. Imagine the ongoing reign of terror and the flood of 
refugees at our borders had we not helped to give democracy a second 
chance in Haiti. Imagine the chaos that might have ensued if we had not 
moved to help stabilize Mexico's economy. In each case, there was 
substantial and sometimes overwhelming majority opinion against what 
needed to be done at the moment. But because we did it, the world has a 
better chance at peace and freedom.
    But above all now, I ask you to imagine the dangers that our 
children and grandchildren, even after the cold war is over, still can 
face if we do not do everything we can to reduce the threat of nuclear 
arms, to curb the terrible chemical and biological weapons spreading 
around the world, to counter the terrorists and criminals who would put 
these weapons into the service of evil. As Arthur Vandenberg asked at 
the dawn of the nuclear age, after a German V-1 attack had left London 
in flames and its people in fear, ``How can there be isolation when men 
can devise weapons like that?''
    President Nixon understood the wisdom of those words. His life 
spanned an era of stunning increases in humankind's destructive 
capacity, from the biplane to ballistic missiles, from mustard gas to 
mushroom clouds. He knew that the atomic age could never be won but 
could be lost. On any list of his foreign policy accomplishments, the 
giant steps he took toward reducing the nuclear threat must stand among 
his greatest achievements.
    As President, I have acted on that same imperative. Over the past 2 
years, the United States has made real progress in lifting the threat of 
nuclear weapons. Now, in 1995, we face a year of particular decision in 
this era, a year in which the United States will pursue the most 
ambitious agenda to dismantle and fight the spread of weapons of mass 
destruction since the atom was split.
    We know that ours is an enormously complex and difficult challenge. 
There is no single policy, no silver bullet, that will prevent or 
reverse the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But we have no more 
important task. Arms control makes us not only safer, it makes us 
stronger. It is a source of strength. It is one of the most effective 
insurance policies we can write for the future of our children.
    Our administration has focused on two distinct but closely connected 
areas, decreasing and dismantling existing weapons and preventing 
nations or groups from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and the 
means to deliver them. We've made progress on both fronts.
    As the result of an agreement President Yeltsin and I reached, for 
the first time in a generation Russian missiles are not pointed at our 
cities or our citizens. We've greatly reduced the lingering fear of an 
accidental nuclear launch. We put into force the START I treaty with 
Russia that will eliminate from both our countries delivery systems that 
carry more than 9,000 nuclear warheads, each with the capacity to 
incinerate a city the size of Atlanta.
    START I, negotiated by two Republican administrations and put into 
force by this Democratic administration, is the first treaty that 
requires the nuclear powers actually to reduce

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their strategic arsenal. Both our countries are dismantling the weapons 
as fast as we can. And thanks to a far-reaching verification system, 
including on-site inspections which began in Russia and the United 
States today, each of us knows exactly what the other is doing.
    And again, through the far-sighted program devised by Senators Nunn 
and Lugar, we are helping Russia and the other Newly Independent States 
to eliminate nuclear forces and transport, safeguard, and destroy 
nuclear weapons and material.
    Ironically, some of the changes that have allowed us to reduce the 
world's stockpile of nuclear weapons have made our nonproliferation 
efforts harder. The breakup of the Soviet Union left nuclear materials 
dispersed throughout the Newly Independent States. The potential for 
theft of nuclear materials, therefore, increased. We face the prospect 
of organized criminals entering the nuclear smuggling business. Add to 
this volatile mix the fact that a lump of plutonium the size of a soda 
can is enough to build a bomb, and the urgency of the effort to stop the 
spread of nuclear materials should be clear to all of us.
    That's why from our first day in office we have launched an 
aggressive, coordinated campaign against international terrorism and 
nuclear smuggling. We are cooperating closely with our allies, working 
with Russia and the other Newly Independent States, improving security 
at nuclear facilities, and strengthening multilateral export controls.
    One striking example of our success is Operation Sapphire, the 
airlift of nearly 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, enough to 
make dozens of bombs, from Kazakhstan to the United States for disposal. 
We've also secured agreements with Russia to reduce the uranium and 
plutonium available for nuclear weapons, and we're seeking a global 
treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
    Our patient, determined diplomacy also succeeded in convincing 
Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty 
and give up the nuclear weapons left on their territory when the Soviet 
Union dissolved. One of our administration's top priorities was to 
assure that these new countries would become non-nuclear nations, and 
now we are also achieving that goal. Because of these efforts, four 
potential suppliers of ballistic missiles, Russia, Ukraine, China, and 
South Africa, have all agreed to control the transfer of these missiles 
and related technology.
    Pulling back from the nuclear precipice has allowed us to cut United 
States defense expenditures for strategic weapons by almost two-thirds, 
a savings of about $20 billion a year, savings which can be shifted to 
vital needs such as boosting the readiness of our Armed Forces, reducing 
the deficit, putting more police on our own streets. By spending 
millions to keep or take weapons out of the hands of our potential 
adversaries, we are saving billions in arms costs and putting it to 
better use.
    Now, in this year of decision, our ambition for the future must be 
even more ambitious. If our people are to know real lasting security, we 
have to redouble our arms control, nonproliferation, and antiterrorism 
efforts. We have to do everything we can to avoid living with the 21st 
century version of fallout shelters and duck-and-cover exercises, to 
prevent another World Trade Center tragedy.
    In just 4 days we mark the 25th anniversary of the Non-Proliferation 
Treaty. Nothing is more important to prevent the spread of nuclear 
weapons than extending the treaty indefinitely and unconditionally. And 
that's why I've asked the Vice President to lead our delegation to the 
NPT conference this April and to work as hard as we can to make sure we 
succeed in getting that indefinite extension.
    The NPT is the principal reason why scores of nations do not now 
possess nuclear weapons, why the doomsayers were wrong. One hundred and 
seventy-two nations have made NPT the most widely subscribed arms 
limitation treaty in history for one overriding reason: It's in their 
self-interest to do so. Non-nuclear-weapon states that sign on to the 
treaty pledge never to acquire them. Nuclear-weapon states vow not to 
help others obtain nuclear weapons, to facilitate the peaceful uses of 
atomic energy, and to pursue nuclear arms control and disarmament, 
commitments I strongly reaffirm, along with our determination to attain 
universal membership in the treaty.
    Failure to extend NPT infinitely could open the door to a world of 
nuclear trouble. Pariah nations with rigid ideologies and expansionist 
ambitions would have an easier time acquiring terrible weapons, and 
countries that have chosen to forgo the nuclear option would then 

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their position. They would certainly be tempted to reconsider that 
    To further demonstrate our commitment to the goals of the treaty, 
today I have ordered that 200 tons of fissile material, enough for 
thousands of nuclear weapons, be permanently withdrawn from the United 
States nuclear stockpile--200 tons of fissile material that will never 
again be used to build a nuclear weapon.
    A second key goal of ours is ratifying START II. Once in effect, 
that treaty will eliminate delivery systems from Russian and American 
arsenals that carry more than 5,000 weapons. The major reductions under 
START I, together with START II, will enable us to reduce by two-thirds 
the number of strategic warheads deployed at the height of the cold war. 
At my urging, the Senate has already begun hearings on START II, and I 
am encouraged by the interest of the Senators from both parties in 
seeking quick action. I commend the Senate for the action taken so far, 
and I urge again the approval of the treaty as soon as possible.
    President Yeltsin and I have already instructed our experts to begin 
considering the possibility, after START II is ratified, of additional 
reductions and limitations on remaining nuclear forces. We have a chance 
to further lift the nuclear cloud, and we dare not miss it.
    To stop the development of new generations of nuclear weapons, we 
must also quickly complete negotiations on a comprehensive test ban 
treaty. Last month I extended a nuclear testing moratorium that I put 
into effect when I took office. And we revised our negotiating position 
to speed the conclusion of the treaty while reaffirming our 
determination to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear stockpile.
    We will also continue to work with our allies to fully implement the 
agreement we reached with North Korea, first to freeze, then to 
dismantle its nuclear program, all under international monitoring. The 
critics of this agreement, I believe, are wrong. The deal does stop 
North Korea's nuclear program, and it does commit Pyongyang to roll it 
back in the years to come. I have not heard another alternative proposal 
that isn't either unworkable or foolhardy or one that our allies in the 
Republic of Korea and Japan, the nations most directly affected, would 
fail to support. If North Korea fulfills its commitment, the Korean 
Peninsula and the entire world will clearly be less threatened and more 
    The NPT, START II, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the North 
Korean Agreement, they top our agenda for the year ahead. There are 
other critical tasks we also face if we want to make every American more 
secure, including winning Senate ratification of the Chemical Weapons 
Convention, negotiating legally binding measures to strengthen the 
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, clarifying the ABM Treaty so as 
to secure its viability while permitting highly effective defenses 
against theater missile attacks, continuing to support regional arms 
control efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere, and pushing for the 
ratification of the Convention on Conventional Weapons which, among 
other things, would help us to reduce the suffering caused by the tens 
of millions of antipersonnel mines which are plaguing millions of people 
all across this world.
    My friends, this is a full and challenging agenda. There are many 
obstacles ahead. We cannot achieve it if we give in to a new 
isolationism. But I believe we can do no less than make every effort to 
complete it.
    Tonight let us remember what President Nixon told the joint session 
of Congress when he returned from his historic trip to Moscow in 1972. 
He said, ``We have begun to check the wasteful and dangerous spiral of 
nuclear arms. Let us seize the moment so that our children and the 
world's children can live free of the fears and free of the hatreds that 
have been the lot of mankind through the centuries.''
    Now it is within our power to realize the dream that Richard Nixon 
described over 20 years ago. We cannot let history record that our 
generation of Americans refused to rise to this challenge, that we 
withdrew from the world and abandoned our responsibilities when we knew 
better than to do it, that we lacked the energy, the vision, and the 
will to carry this struggle forward, the age-old struggle between hope 
and fear.
    So let us find inspiration in the great tradition of Harry Truman 
and Arthur Vandenberg, a tradition that builds bridges of cooperation, 
not walls of isolation; that opens the arms of Americans to change 
instead of throwing up our hands in despair; that casts aside 
partisanship and brings together Republicans and Democrats for the good 
of the American people and the world. That is the tradition that made 
the most of this land, won the great battles of this century

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against tyranny, and secured our freedom and our prosperity.
    Above all, let's not forget that these efforts begin and end with 
the American people. Every time we reduce the threat that has hung over 
our heads since the dawn of the nuclear age, we help to ensure that from 
the far stretches of the Aleutians to the tip of the Florida Keys, the 
American people are more secure. That is our most serious task and our 
most solemn obligation. The challenge of this moment is matched only by 
its possibility. So let us do our duty.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:15 p.m. at the Mayflower Hotel. In his 
remarks, he referred to Tricia Nixon Cox, daughter of former President 
Richard Nixon; John Taylor, Director, Richard Nixon Library and 
Birthplace; and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.