Originally Published 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 22, 1962
“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 annihilation.
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 conflicts.
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