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NATO Ministers Meeting - Statement by the Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
December 12, 1979

Secretary Vance departed Washington, D.C., December 9, 1979, to meet with officials in London (December 10), Paris (December 10-11), Rome (December 11), and Bonn (December 11-12). He then headed the U.S. delegation at a special meeting of Foreign and Defense Ministers of NATO members (December 11-12) and at the regular semiannual session of the North Atlantic Council (December 13-U) in Brussels before returning to Washington on December 14.

Following are the Secretary's statement in the special meeting.


The Foreign and Defense Ministers of NATO have just concluded a successful meeting of extraordinary importance. We have decided to proceed with a plan to " deploy 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe. At the same time, we have decided to pursue vigorously with the Soviets a meaningful and equitable arms control agreement on long-range theater nuclear forces.

The far-reaching decisions we have made here attest to the determination and common purpose of NATO's member states. The 2 years of intensive consultations which led up to these decisions give evidence of the mutual trust that prevails in the alliance.

Before Secretary Brown discusses the details of the steps taken here to strengthen NATO's defense posture, I would like to sketch for you the political context of these decisions.

The Atlantic alliance is committed to a reduction of tensions between East and West. But our pursuit of détente, including balanced arms control agreements, must rest on a firm foundation of military security. Relaxation of tensions is possible only when each side has confidence in its own strength. Serious negotiations can only proceed when neither side doubts the will and capacities of the other. Steps to consolidate and strengthen NATO's collective defense thus are central not only to a secure deterrence of military threats; they also provide a basis for broader efforts to find a relaxation of tensions.

In a political as well as military sense, defense modernization and the pursuit of détente are twin paths along the road of security. In recent years, the Soviet Union has improved significantly its nuclear forces in Europe. The Soviet deployment of modern MIRVed SS-20s, and the Backfire bomber, threatens to provide the Soviets with nuclear preponderance in the European theater. In response, the alliance has developed parallel programs of modernization and arms control.

In deciding to deploy new long-range nuclear forces in Europe and to support the United States in its pursuit of a serious arms control agreement involving theater nuclear forces, the alliance is giving new meaning and force to its policy of deterrence, defense, and détente. Our deployment decision gives evidence of the continued vitality and cohesiveness of the alliance. This decision has strengthened our spirit as well as our forces, and it has conveyed the clear message that we define détente as a search for mutual and balanced, rather than unilateral, advantage.

In this context, we are prepared to enter into serious negotiations on long-range theater nuclear forces, within the framework of SALT III. Any agreement reached must-like SALT II-be balanced and adequately verifiable. We will not entertain any notion of a freeze, which would confirm a Soviet preponderance in long-range nuclear forces in this theater. But we are prepared to negotiate an equitable agreement on U.S. and Soviet deployments of these systems at reduced levels. This would mean a reduction of the Soviet threat and a reduction in NATO's deployment program.

The modernization decision that we have made here also makes it possible for us to withdraw 1,000 nuclear warheads from Europe. In addition to this reduction, for each of these weapons we deploy, we will withdraw one existing weapon from Europe. Thus, far from increasing NATO's reliance on nuclear weapons, our decisions will result in a significant reduction in the size of NATO's overall nuclear stockpile in Europe.

Our willingness to enter into negotiations on theater nuclear forces in the SALT framework is but one of a comprehensive set of arms control initiatives which the alliance is now developing. Mutual and balanced force reductions and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe are other negotiations which the alliance members are pursuing with equal vigor.

The political effects of the decisions taken here today are considerable. Faced with a real challenge to the security of Western Europe, the alliance has reacted decisively, prudently, and in a way that invites the pursuit of arms control initiatives. I believe that our governments can be proud of this memorable achievement, and that the free peoples of the alliance will show overwhelming support for the decisions made here today.

Source: Department of State Bulletin, February 1980. P. 15-16.

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Updated: September 2002