JFK on Nuclear Weapons
Monday, November 17, 2003
in Carnegie Analysis
In honor of
the memory of President John F. Kennedy, we present below some
of his most important comments on the dangers inherent in the
possession of nuclear arms and his proposals for stopping the
spread of the the most deadly weapons ever invented.
"There are indications because of new inventions,
that 10, 15, or 20 nations will have a nuclear capacity, including
Red China, by the end of the Presidential office in 1964. This
is extremely serious. . . I think the fate not only of our own
civilization, but I think the fate of world and the future of
the human race, is involved in preventing a nuclear war."
Third Nixon-Kennedy Presidential Debate, October 13, 1960
"The deadly arms race, and the huge resources
it absorbs, have too long overshadowed all else we must do. We
must prevent the arms race from spreading to new nations, to new
nuclear powers and to the reaches of outer space." State
of the Union Address, January 30, 1961
"In the thermonuclear age, any misjudgment
on either side about the intentions of the other could rain more
devastation in several hours than has been wrought in all the
wars of humanity." Report to the American People
on the Berlin Crisis, July 25, 1961
"Today, every inhabitant of this planet must
contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable.
Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles,
hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at
any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons
of war must be abolished before they abolish us.
Men no longer debate whether armaments are a symptom
or a cause of tension. The mere existence of modern weapons--ten
million times more powerful than any that the world has ever seen,
and only minutes away from any target on earth--is a source of
horror, and discord and distrust. Men no longer maintain that
disarmament must await the settlement of all disputes--for disarmament
must be a part of any permanent settlement. And men may no longer
pretend that the quest for disarmament is a sign of weakness--for
in a spiraling arms race, a nation's security may well be shrinking
even as its arms increase.
For fifteen years this organization has sought
the reduction and destruction of arms. Now that goal is no longer
a dream--it is a practical matter of life or death. The risks
inherent in disarmament pale in comparison to the risks inherent
in an unlimited arms race.
In short, general and complete disarmament must
no longer be a slogan, used to resist the first steps. It is no
longer to be a goal without means of achieving it, without means
of verifying its progress, without means of keeping the peace.
It is now a realistic plan, and a test--a test of those only willing
to talk and a test of those willing to act.
Such a plan would not bring a world free from conflict
and greed-- but it would bring a world free from the terrors of
mass destruction. It would not usher in the era of the super state--but
it would usher in an era in which no state could annihilate or
be annihilated by another.
But to halt the spread of these terrible weapons,
to halt the contamination of the air, to halt the spiraling nuclear
arms race, we remain ready to seek new avenues of agreement, our
new Disarmament Program thus includes the following proposals:
- First, signing the test-ban
treaty by all nations. This can be done now. Test ban negotiations
need not and should not await general disarmament.
- Second, stopping the production
of fissionable materials for use in weapons, and preventing
their transfer to any nation now lacking in nuclear weapons.
- Third, prohibiting the transfer of control over
nuclear weapons to states that do not own them.
- Fourth, keeping nuclear weapons from seeding
new battlegrounds in outer space.
- Fifth, gradually destroying existing nuclear
weapons and converting their materials to peaceful uses; and
- Finally, halting the unlimited testing and production
of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, and gradually destroying
them as well."
Address Before the General Assembly of the United Nations,
New York City, September 25, 1961
"World order will be secured only when the
whole world has laid down these weapons which seem to offer us
present security but threaten the future survival of the human
race. That armistice day seems very far away. The vast resources
on this planet are being devoted more and more to the means of
destroying, instead of enriching human life but the world was
not meant to be a prison in which man awaits his execution."State
of the Union Address, January 11, 1962
"Neither the United States of America nor
the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception
and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small.
We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons
represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute
maximum peril. Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic
missiles are so swift, that any substantially increased possibility
of their use or any sudden change in their deployment may well
be regarded as a definite threat to peace." Report
to the American People on the Soviet Arms Buildup in Cuba, October
"I speak of peace because of the new face
of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can
maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and
refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no
sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten
times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces
in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the
deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried
by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the
globe and to generations yet unborn.
The one major area of these negotiations where
the end is in sight, yet where a fresh start is badly needed,
is in a treaty to outlaw nuclear tests. The conclusion of such
a treaty, so near and yet so far, would check the spiraling arms
race in one of its most dangerous areas. It would place the nuclear
powers in a position to deal more effectively with one of the
greatest hazards which man faces in 1963, the further spread of
nuclear arms. It would increase our security--it would decrease
the prospects of war. Surely this goal is sufficiently important
to require our steady pursuit, yielding neither to the temptation
to give up the whole effort nor the temptation to give up our
insistence on vital and responsible safeguards." Commencement
Address at American University, June 10, 1963
"Eighteen years ago the advent of nuclear
weapons changed the course of the world as well as the war. Since
that time, all mankind has been struggling to escape from the
darkening prospect of mass destruction on earth. In an age when
both sides have come to possess enough nuclear power to destroy
the human race several times over, the world of communism and
the world of free choice have been caught up in a vicious circle
of conflicting ideology and interest. Each increase of tension
has produced an increase of arms; each increase of arms has produced
an increase of tension.
Yesterday a shaft of light cut into the darkness.
Negotiations were concluded in Moscow on a treaty to ban all nuclear
tests in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water. For
the first time, an agreement has been reached on bringing the
forces of nuclear destruction under international control-a goal
first sought in 1946 when Bernard Baruch presented a comprehensive
control plan to the United Nations.
A war today or tomorrow, if it led to nuclear war,
would not be like any war in history. A full-scale nuclear exchange,
lasting less than 60 minutes, with the weapons now in existence,
could wipe out more than 300 million Americans, Europeans, and
Russians, as well as untold numbers elsewhere. And the survivors,
as Chairman Khrushchev warned the Communist Chinese, "the
survivors would envy the dead." For they would inherit a
world so devastated by explosions and poison and fire that today
we cannot even conceive of its horrors. So let us try to turn
the world away from war. Let us make the most of this opportunity,
and every opportunity, to reduce tension, to slow down the perilous
nuclear arms race, and to check the world's slide toward final
I ask you to stop and think for a moment what it
would mean to have nuclear weapons in so many hands, in the hands
of countries large and small, stable and unstable, responsible
and irresponsible, scattered throughout the world. There would
be no rest for anyone then, no stability, no real security, and
no chance of effective disarmament. There would only be the increased
chance of accidental war, and an increased necessity for the great
powers to involve themselves in what otherwise would be local
If only one thermonuclear bomb were to be dropped
on any American, Russian, or any other city, whether it was launched
by accident or design, by a madman or by an enemy, by a large
nation or by a small, from any corner of the world, that one bomb
could release more destructive power on the inhabitants of that
one helpless city than all the bombs dropped in the Second World
War." Address to the American People on the Nuclear
Test Ban Treaty, July 26, 1963
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Strategy for Peace”
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