Department of State
Foreign Policy Briefing
March 27, 1962
Afternoon Session: 4:17 - 4:45 p.m.
The President of the United States
The problems of developing an anti-missile missile are almost overwhelming. Dr. Teller has said to me, "I would say it's impossible, if it hadn't been on other occasions, when I said things were impossible, I was wrong."
But the advantage of putting into our missiles decoys, three of four into a missile, and then having to make a distinction between what's a decoy and what's a missile and doing that at a time when the missile may be moving a thousand miles a hour, with very brief notice, is an extremely complex, sensitive and sophisticated task for which we have found no answer, and we don't believe the Soviet Union has found an answer.
I have no doubt that we can develop a missile that can shoot down- a Nike-Zeus that will shoot down a missile taking off at Vandenberg and landing at Eniwetok. I'm sure they can do that. But I don't know - but we cannot shoot down with our present system or with one which we now foresee, with 20 missiles, each with four or five decoys in them, all arriving almost simultaneously, we do not have a radar or device that can make that sophisticated a judgment in time with accuracy, and we don't believe the Soviet Union can either.
Q: Mr. President, you're quoted in today's Saturday Evening Post as saying we might, under certain circumstances, take the initiative in a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. This is new in public utterances, as I understand, on this particular subject. What caused you to change your public utterance?
A: No, that isn't - taken in the context in the article, what we have stated was that if we are going to be - I think the phrase was "our vital interest." But to make it more precise, if Western Europe was going to be overwhelmed by conventional forces, we said in the beginning the United States would use whatever means were necessary to defend Western Europe. And it has been the strategy of the United States since 1945.
We are attempting, and the main purpose of the article was to suggest that we are attempting to build our non-nuclear forces to make it less likely that we would have to use nuclear forces.
Up to about a year-and-a-half ago, we only had, as you know, a handful of divisions in Western Europe, against potentially an overwhelming mass of the Soviet Union.
The only way - the only thing that has kept the Soviet Union from running over Europe years and years ago was the fact that they realized that the United States would do whatever was necessary to prevent the overwhelming of Europe by nuclear or non-nuclear means.
So that this question which I noticed, and which is not responsive to our view, was merely an attempt to say that if there was an overwhelming attack by any means which was going to liquidate Europe, the United States would take every means to defend it.
That has been our position for fifteen years. It's not attempting to be suggesting, even though the article doesn't make that quite clear - this is not new policy. We are not talking about a pre-emptive act. We are not talking about using nuclear weapons as an act of aggression by ourselves.
Q: Mr. President, it seems that a great deal of our activity is spent at the moment trying to build a dam around the communist world and its advances and its attempts to advance.
Are we so overwhelmed and so occupied in this task that we have failed to develop a long-range program, looking past that day when we may be able to contain it as it is now?
In other words, are we thinking in terms of eventually doing whatever is necessary to rid the world of communism?
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