157. Paper Prepared in the Policy Planning Council1



The view that efforts for resumption of détente with the USSR should have the highest priority in our policy appears to have acquired some currency in recent months. The specific calculations which might argue for such a course seem to have been only vaguely articulated, however. This paper attempts to define and evaluate them.

The conclusions reached are not very hopeful for the near term. The argument that the détente marked by the 1963 test ban was intended by the USSR to open a phase of continuing improvement in Soviet-American relations does not stand close analysis. The Soviets had more limited aims in view and soon returned to traditional priorities.

The avenue of progress through new arms control agreements remains blocked by the persistence of strong Soviet inhibitions against inspection. Political exploitation of the disarmament issue evidently still weighs more heavily with the USSR than does the achievement of effective agreements.

The disorders and conflicts looming ahead in the Third World suggest the possibility of parallel action by the US and USSR to contain the risks. Thus far the Soviets appear to believe that these developments manifest “the world revolution” and can be used to diminish US and Western influence. As in the war between Pakistan and India, parallelism promises to be fortuitous and transient.

The Chinese challenge to Soviet influence in the Communist movement and in the Third World is currently the primary preoccupation [Page 385]of the leaders in Moscow. The imperatives of this struggle, in particular the USSR’s need to avoid being outdone in revolutionary fervor, works against rather than for détente with the US.

Nevertheless, the Soviet system is in some trouble, and there are pressures within it which may in time bring moderation and larger possibilities for transforming present tensions into tolerable coexistence. Our policy should be alert to these possibilities, but recognize that they are probably still some time off. A patient effort, undistracted by illusion, to manifest to the USSR both a desire for fair accommodation and effective resistance to its expansionist aims is still our best course.

[Here follow sections entitled: Some Propositions Said to Argue for Détente Now; The Détente of 1963: Meaning and Aftermath; The Soviet Interest in Arms Control and Non-Proliferation; Soviet Policy in the Third World; China as a Factor in Soviet-American Relations; and Change in the Soviet System.]


The various rationales which argue that now is a propitious time for a new advance in Soviet-American understanding are not very persuasive. The official Soviet view is that relations “have become considerably complicated and have a clear tendency toward freezing.” This seems nearer the mark.

American policy should, of course, always be open to improved understanding with the USSR. And, in fact, it has always been extremely easy for the Soviets, even by mere gestures, to provoke new waves of hope in this country for such improvement. We do not need to burden ourselves with any feeling of guilt that it is we who have sought and sustained the cold war. The proposals we have made for settlement of major issues have not been designed to endanger the security of the USSR. What they have evidently affronted, however, is the USSR’s view of its interests as a revolutionary power bent on the extension of its own system.

What people usually mean when they speak of a new effort for understanding, though they do not necessarily say so explicitly, is that some sort of “sacrifices” should be made. Mere expressions of good will and new offers to talk are rightly recognized as insufficient to revive détente. It is always possible, of course, to advance understanding with the Soviets by conceding their demands, at least for a time. Currently they would be pleased to have us negotiate a settlement in Vietnam on Hanoi’s terms, to abandon plans for nuclear sharing in NATO, to accept the indefinite division of Germany, to stop “exporting counterrevolution” by aiding states which are the victims of Communist subversion and insurrection. But the détente we could have [Page 386]now on the basis of “sacrifices” of this kind would almost certainly be both damaging and short-lived.

The truth is that the clear insight we had when the issues of the cold war were starker and simpler is still valid: only “situations of strength” can make possible the kind of détente we seek. Such “situations” cannot be defined, however, as we have sometimes seemed to believe, merely in terms of preponderant military power and the will to use it. First and foremost, they are produced by promoting social and political cohesion of those states which are threatened by Communist encroachment.

Thus the basic elements of an effective American policy toward the USSR remain what they were when the cold war began:

  • —Harbor no illusions and make no myths about the USSR’s intentions, but pay close attention to what its leaders constantly say and actually do about the kind of world they want.
  • —Together with our allies, maintain an adequate margin of economic and military power.
  • —Do as much as we can to assist weaker societies in the less developed parts of the world to achieve viability and genuine independence, and thereby immunity to Communist influence.
  • —Offer and offer again to settle issues on terms which take account of the legitimate aspirations and security of all states, including the USSR, but on no other terms.
  • —Press the Soviets again and again to open their society, to make coexistence real, and to acknowledge that there must be one world, but one that allows for all diversity.

There are no maneuvers of policy which can bring a quick fix in Soviet-American relations, and least of all can a policy which aims at détente for its own sake do so. The spirit of President Kennedy’s American University speech2 is a proper part of our stance toward the USSR. The words he addressed to the Soviet leaders in another tone about Berlin in 1961 and about missiles in Cuba in 1962 are equally so. The only prudent judgment at present is that our policy will continue to require both of the ingredients contained in these utterances, the spirit of accommodation and the spirit of resistance, if we are to arrive eventually at a genuine détente with the USSR.

It is not unreasonable to hope for this if we are patient and do not try to act on potential historical developments before they are ripe. As suggested above, the next decades will be critical ones in the evolution of the Soviet system. Together with the liberalization of the internal political order which may come, there may be a growing desire for wider and freer contact with the outside world. This might in turn bring an [Page 387]end to ideologically inspired hostility, and lead the Soviets to accept an international order which allows for variety and imposes limits on the power aspirations of all states and systems.

The desire to become a modern society and to share the benefits of progress in normal intercourse with other advanced societies is strong among the Soviet people. If and when it breaks through and begins to determine the conduct of the Soviet state, the constructive and cooperative relations with the USSR toward which our policy aims should be within reach. Until then, we may from time to time have phases we will call détente, and they may serve our interest, but we should not mistake the false dawn for the real.3

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 1 USUSSR. Confidential. Drafted by John Huizenga. Transmitted to all U.S. diplomatic missions on April 1 as an enclosure to airgram CA–9782, which stated that it had “been used as a discussion paper in a recent policy planning meeting with the Secretary and in other Washington meetings sponsored by the Council,” and its views had “found general concurrence”; however, it was “a discussion paper and not a guidance.” (Ibid.) The paper was initially drafted by Huizenga on December 13, 1965, and revised in light of discussions at Policy Planning Council meetings on January 7 and February 25, 1966. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/P Files: Lot 71 D 273, USSR) Komer forwarded a copy of the initial draft to Bundy on December 23, 1965, calling it in his covering memorandum “a quite well written essay by John Huizenga (my favorite demonologist) that’s worth holiday reading.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Komer Files, USSR, November 1963–March 1966)
  2. Given on June 10, 1963; for text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, pp. 459–464.
  3. On March 24 Rostow forwarded to Rusk a supplement to this paper, drafted by Huizenga at Rusk’s suggestion, that discussed “Areas of Mutual Interest in Soviet-American Relations.” Huizenga’s “mixed bag of items,” which he “intended mainly to be illustrative,” included China, Third World Conflicts, Economic Aid to Less Developed Countries, Regional Arms Races, Science and Technology, Military Contacts, and Trade and Consular Relations. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/P Files: Lot 72 D 139, USSR)