163. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon 1

    • Current Soviet Attitude Toward the United States

Recently we have noticed increased acerbity in Soviet criticism of US policies. Soviet press articles have accused the Administration of bad faith and of undergoing a crisis of confidence with the American people. In private remarks to third parties and in statements received through clandestine sources, Soviet leaders have expressed skepticism about US willingness to move forward in negotiations currently in progress. Soviet criticism of our attitude towards European matters—especially towards a Conference on European Security and its linkage with the Berlin talks—has heightened and, during the Laos operation, the standard Soviet condemnation of our Indochina policy has become harsher. More pointed doubts about our interest in strategic-arms limitation have been expressed.

In assessing the significance of this more suspicious Soviet attitude, we would note several points.

  • —In the Soviet Communist Party Congress which opens today, the Soviet leadership is generally expected to take a hard and orthodox line both internally and externally. We do not expect to see radical departures from present foreign policy lines emerging from the Congress, at which the leadership will try to portray its foreign policy as moving forward successfully.
  • —With this in mind, the Soviet leaders are probably disappointed at the lack of forward movement (on Soviet terms, of course) in several spheres in which the US is importantly involved, notably in the Berlin negotiations, the Middle East, and SALT. Berlin is particularly [Page 474] uncomfortable because it is holding up ratification of the FRG-Soviet and FRG-Polish Treaties and progress towards a European Conference.
  • —The leadership’s desire to boast of foreign policy successes encounters US firmness on several fronts—and, it may be added, Chinese firmness, for Peking has poured insults on Moscow’s attempts to portray Sino-Soviet relations as improved. Some Soviet leaders may believe, as they claim to, that the US is trying to gain undue advantage in the world power competition, whether through military action in Indochina, through arms steps such as MIRVing, or by tough negotiating postures in the Middle East or Berlin or SALT.
  • —The outlook for the Congress, therefore, is for a critical, blunt attitude towards us.

Surveying this scene, some observers conclude that the Soviet leaders have decided they cannot do business with the present Administration and are looking for ways around American roadblocks. According to this view, current Soviet acerbity is a harbinger of a tougher policy towards the US in the future, stemming partly from increased Soviet strength, partly from US resistance to Soviet policy directions.

We believe that this view exaggerates the change to be expected in Soviet behavior. While it is risky at this stage to predict changes in the leadership to be announced at the Congress, our belief is that changes will not be dramatic, and that the leadership will show us more of the same policies they have shown in the recent past. The leadership can be expected to emphasize internal programs and external policies which will project an image of stability, confidence and continuity.

What this means, we believe, is that the Soviet leaders, no matter how they line up after the Congress, may not trust us, may indeed attack us sharply—but will continue to realize that in their own interest they cannot afford to disengage from negotiations with the US. Indeed, while increased Soviet strength may make the leaders tougher customers, the heavy burdens they carry—perhaps best symbolized recently by the Polish events and their economic and political implications for all the Communist governments—give them added incentives to seek cooperation with the West.

We expect tough but realistic attitudes in the ongoing negotiations—SALT, Berlin, the Middle East—and think it would be erroneous to assume that the Soviets are turning their backs. Recent events have not changed the fundamental Soviet position—suspicion of us, determination to drive the hardest bargain possible with us, desire to keep chipping away at our positions, but nonetheless a need to do business with us. The Party Congress can hardly change the givens of this equation. We expect this Soviet attitude to continue.

William P. Rogers
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII. Confidential. Sonnenfeldt forwarded the memorandum, as well as a draft covering memorandum for the President, to Kissinger in San Clemente on March 31. “Prior to the opening of the Party Congress,” Sonnenfeldt explained, “Secretary Rogers signed off on a memorandum emphasizing the ‘increasing acerbity’ in Soviet criticism of the US and predicting a ‘hard and orthodox line’ at the Congress, and a ‘critical, blunt attitude toward the US.’ As you know from my memorandum [Document 166] I did not find this to be the main thrust of the Brezhnev report. If anything, the report inclined towards moderation and conciliation in tone, if not substance. Thus you have the problem of whether to forward this memorandum.” (Ibid.) In an April 2 note, Richard Kennedy suggested that Kissinger “might want to revise” the covering memorandum if he decided to submit it to the President. Three days later, Kissinger wrote his response in the margin: “OBE. Don’t forward.” (Ibid.)