Excerpts from the transcript of President Reagan's interview with out-of-town editors at the White House on Oct. 16:
Question: Mr. President, I'd like to take you back to strategic weapons in Europe again. A couple of things you said. I guess I think that some of the people in Europe who are opposed to some of our policies are afraid that they may wind up as kind of proxy victims in a war between us and the Soviet Union which--a fear that may be a little more, seem a little more plausible because of all the conversation about integrated battlefields and limited use of nuclear weapons. And I wonder--we must think about this--do you believe that there could be a limited exchange of nuclear weapons between us and the Soviet Union, or that it would simply escalate inevitably?
The president: I don't honestly know. I think, again, until someplace--all over the world this is being, research going on, to try and find the defensive weapon. There never has been a weapon that someone hasn't come up with a defense.
But it could--and the only defense is, well, you shoot yours and we'll shoot ours. And if you still had that kind of a stalemate, I could see where you could have the exchange of tactical weapons against troops in the field without it bringing either one of the major powers to pushing the button.
The intermediate range--and this is to call your attention to where SALT strategic arms limitation talks was so much at fault--is that we have our allies there who don't have an ocean between them, so it doesn't take intercontinental ballistic missiles, it just takes ballistic missiles of the Soviet SS20 type.
Well, the SS20s will have, with what they're adding, 750 warheads, one of them capable of pretty much leveling a city, and they can sit right there and that's got all of Europe, and, including England, on target. And the only comparable thing that's come along is now our proposal, and this is what's at argument there, is to provide, put on European soil the Pershings and the cruise missiles so that, again, you've got this same kind of a stalemate, although, even so, ours do not have the range to really reach the depths of Russia. Russia's too far expanded and the rest of Europe's too concentrated. So they can destroy where we can't.
And the SS20s were not even considered a strategic weapon, because they didn't cross an ocean. And in that SALT treaty there was no restriction on that, just as there was no restriction where they called our old B52s strategic bombers, they didn't call their Backfighters bombers and we agreed to that, in that treaty.
But these are the weapons, these, now what I call strategic, these theater weapons, that are in the theater of war, potential war, but would be used strategically, that we want the weapons, and that's what we're going to start talking about on November 20th. Such a bomb would be the actual tactical weapon, the thing that's fired out of one of the--guns, a shell that would be fired. And there we would, at the time, would be on the other side of the fence because the conventional supremacy of the Soviet Union is so great at this point that I wouldn't be surprised if they would throw this at us in negotiations, that if they should say, well, let's do away with the tactical weapons, too, then what's to stop them?
They outnumber us in every conventional weapon, thousands of tanks, more than the NATO defense has. At the moment the only stalmate to them is the tactical nuclear weapon that would be aimed at those tanks, if they ever started to roll forward.
Question: But you think there could be a battlefield exchange without having buttons pressed all the way up the line?
The president: Well, I would --if they realized that we--again, if--if we led them back to that stalemate only because that our retaliatory power, our seconds, or our strike at them after their first strike would be so destructive that they couldn't afford it, that would hold them off.
I do have to point out that everything that has been said and everything in their manuals indicates that unlike us the Soviet Union believes that a nuclear war is possible, and they believe it's winnable. It means that they believe you could achieve enough superiority that your opponent wouldn't have retaliatory strike capacity.
Now, there is a danger to all of us in the West as long as they think that. And this, again, is one of the things that we just want to disabuse them of. I feel very strongly about the negotiations for disarmament, for reductions.
But I also feel that one of the things that's been lacking in the last several years in our negotiations was they sat on their side of the table and had nothing to lose. And we had nothing to threaten them with.
Now, I think we can sit down and maybe have some more realistic negotiations because of what we can threaten them with.