271. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Hillenbrand) to Acting Secretary of State Irwin 1

Current Soviet Policy

Beginning with Brezhnev’s proposals presented at the Soviet Party Congress, the Soviets have maintained what has been called a “peace offensive.” (A chronology of pertinent Soviet actions and statements is at Tab A,2 excerpts from Brezhnev’s speech at Tab B.3) We have been studying this new face of Soviet policy—its motivations, goals, and implications for us. Undoubtedly there is a large element of propaganda and image-seeking in the “peace offensive” and part of it is clearly directed against our interests. We believe, nevertheless, that a willingness to negotiate seriously about certain questions is an important part of Soviet policy today, since the Soviet leaders in our judgment are impelled by a variety of domestic and foreign constraints to move in the direction of negotiations.

Soviet Motivation

Historically, the Soviet Union has varied between periods of truculence and refusal to negotiate and periods when negotiation was preferred. The ascendancy of a strong leader in Moscow seems to be necessary for a forceful policy in either direction. A collective leadership of more-or-less equals tends to the more cautious middle ground. Although there is still a collective leadership in Moscow today, Brezhnev has emerged from the 24th Congress clearly silhouetted above the rest of the Politburo, and he has been the voice of the new policy posture.

Nevertheless, the debate about the policy of seeking negotiations with the West is evidently continuing. Gromyko has twice referred to opponents of this line—in 1968, when he announced Soviet acceptance of the SALT negotiations and at the Party Congress in April of this year when he discussed the Brezhnev “peace offensive”—and Brezhnev defended his own policies in very similar terms in his speech of June 11 (excerpt at Tab C).4 These and other signs of internal debate suggest [Page 801] that the current line about negotiations is not without its strong opponents within the leadership and was not adopted lightly.

Why was it adopted?

  • —Although the USSR has grown in military strength, the Soviet leaders are aware of their insecurity and their continued inability to solve their internal and external problems through the mere application of power.
  • —The best example is the economy. Growth rate indexes are not what they must be if the Soviet economy is to compete satisfactorily over the long term with the West and Japan, and the new five-year plan gives no sign that the Party or industrial bureaucracies can solve their problems by reform or adjustments. Productivity remains low; certain sectors like the military are sacrosanct, agriculture cannot be squeezed any more, and foreign military and aid commitments will continue. Help must therefore be sought in the West in the form of credits and technology, or the problems will get worse. (In this context, the significance of Soviet interest in help for the Kama River truck plan, or their thirst for computer technology, becomes plain.) Behind all this lie the growing expectations of the Soviet people for higher living standards. Some Soviet leaders must have perceived the relevance of last winter’s Polish disturbances which had their origins in consumer dissatisfaction.
  • —Within a rigid system, such stresses are more serious than stresses within the open Western societies. The Soviet leaders face a series of problems ranging from alienated Jews and dissident intellectuals to the less immediate but broader concerns of non-Russian nationalities wanting more independence and apathetic youth who reject major tenets of the Leninist faith.
  • —Abroad, for all their nuclear power and expanding naval presence, the Soviets must cope with concentric circles of serious problems. In Eastern Europe, despite twenty-six years of Soviet hegemony, Moscow still must rule by force and nationalist currents continue to run deep and strong. The attraction of the West for Eastern Europe continues unabated—ideologically, politically, economically. Whichever way the Soviets turn—towards tightening their control (Czechoslovakia) or allowing some economic and political diversity (Hungary and Romania)—their dilemma stays with them and their hold on the area will remain precarious.
  • —On the other flank, the Soviets are concerned about China as the Chinese increase their power and re-emerge into the world at large. Competition and enmity between Peking and Moscow remain pressing elements in Soviet policy-making. United States policy towards China has reinforced this pressure.
  • —In Western Europe, British entry into the Common Market and the post-de Gaulle movement towards West European cohesion give [Page 802] the Soviets concern economically and politically. In the East, Japan poses a similar problem. And from Moscow, the U.S. is seen as a most formidable opponent whose capacity to compete in every area does not seem to diminish substantially.
  • —The men in the Kremlin face a challenging agenda of problems—manageable, no doubt, but still imposing severe constraints upon their goals and their policies. The necessity for lessening expenditures, competition, and risk are evident to many Soviet policy-makers.

Another important dimension is the effect of U.S. policies upon Soviet policy-making. From 1964 to recent months, the Soviet leadership was busy consolidating its position at home and in the world and there was little evidence of interest in negotiations with us. During the first two years of the present Administration, the Soviet leaders apparently hoped the United States had been so weakened by Vietnam that it would give something for nothing. U.S. policies had an important effect on Soviet policy during this period. While stating our willingness to negotiate, we showed that Soviet refusal to negotiate was not likely to improve their position and could entail unacceptable risks. We took up reasonable positions in SALT and Berlin, but also proceeded with the Safeguard and MIRV programs, and stood firm in the Cienfuegos and Jordan crises. Meanwhile, moves to improve our relations with Peking made a deep impression. And, by indicating that the USSR could obtain concrete political and commercial benefits if relations improved, we provided a positive incentive for negotiation. As the Party Congress approached, the U.S. posture made the path of negotiation and at least partial accommodation appear more rewarding than any affordable alternative.

Soviet Goals

We count the following as major goals:

  • —First, the Soviets hope to keep their adversaries from converging at their expense. Above all, they hope to hold off any Sino-American rapprochement. They hope to divide the Western Allies and slow the movement towards West European consolidation.
  • —Second, they hope for economic advantages. Political détente should offer them access to Western and Japanese credits and technology on an amplified scale and on easier terms. Even more important, arriving at certain arms-control agreements could lighten a military burden which the Soviets find onerous, as Brezhnev implied in his June 11 speech.
  • —Third, the Soviets hope to consolidate their own present position. By negotiations and agreements such as Brezhnev proposes, they hope to buttress the status quo in Central and Eastern Europe, to increase their influence in Western Europe, and to attain, in image and [Page 803] in fact, a recognized status of parity with the United States as one of the two global superpowers.
  • —Fourth, the Soviets wish to encourage the American mood of withdrawal in the wake of Vietnam.
  • —Fifth, the Soviet leaders hope to increase their prestige as peace-seekers whether their proposals succeed or not. They also wish to be able to tell their own people that they would prefer to put butter before guns, but cannot do so until the West responds in kind.

To the extent of their needs—and the need may be considerable—the Soviets are in earnest in adopting an overall posture of favoring negotiation rather than confrontation.

U.S. Policy

We suggest the following conclusions for U.S. policy:

  • —To look at the substance of each Soviet proposal or counterproposal on its own merits, rather than attempting a coordinated approach.
  • —On the level of public discourse, to avoid being negative about the present Soviet posture and to be forthcoming about our willingness to discuss any negotiable issues.
  • —In high-level diplomatic contacts with the Soviets, to adopt a generally forthcoming attitude towards the Soviet posture, but without taking up individual proposals in specific terms.
  • —To keep foremost in mind the necessity to consult adequately and well in advance with our Allies about each individual measure and to avoid the appearance of “superpower dealings” behind their backs.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 1 USSR. Confidential. Drafted by Perry on July 1. Irwin initialed the memorandum and its attachments, indicating that he saw them.
  2. Tabs A–C are attached but not printed.
  3. See Document 166.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 256.