Defense Issues in 1980 Campaign
Contrasting Positions of Major Candidates
Voters will have the privilege this November of choosing among three presidential candidates who have readily distinguishable positions on national defense. To be sure, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and John Anderson agree that U.S. military expenditure should be increased, a view that increasing numbers of Americans have come to support. But the candidates differ on the details of how U.S. forces should be strengthened and, more broadly, on the role that military power should play in overall security policy.
Carter has stressed the limitations as well as the uses of military power, and he has said that U.S. policy must be identified with “widespread human aspirations.” Both “principle and strength,” Carter explained in his statement to the Democratic Party platform committee, “are required to maintain a constructive and secure relationship between America and the rest of the world.” Accordingly, human rights, relations with Third World countries, peace in the Middle East and arms control negotiations receive as much attention in Carter's program as the military preparedness of the United States and its allies.
Reagan, in clear contrast, places the emphasis squarely on military preparedness, which he claims has fallen to “its lowest ebb in a generation” under the Democrats. In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, Reagan rejected what he called the Democratic view that “the United States has had its day in the sun; that our nation has passed its zenith.” The Republican platform endorses “a national strategy of peace through strength,” to be based on achievement of “overall military and technological superiority over the Soviet Union.”