52. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Davies) to the Under Secretary of State (Irwin)1

    • Dealing with the Soviets—Current Problems

You asked me to put down on paper some thoughts about effective ways of dealing with the USSR in the light of recent developments.

Middle East. Our handling of the Jordanian crisis was adroit and purposeful. I believe that the Soviets were impelled to put strong pressure on the Syrians by their perception of our readiness to back Israeli forces in a military move, if that had proved to be necessary. Additionally, the movements of the Sixth Fleet and other measures of readiness we undertook were seen by the Soviets as providing for contingency action by US forces. Thus, these reinforced their concern and led them to place heavy pressure on the Syrians. The outcome was a strikingly successful application of moves implying our readiness to see [Page 166] force used, and to use it ourselves, if need be. This took place within the confines of the problem, i.e., within the geographic area of the Eastern Mediterranean, under circumstances in which the Soviets were themselves reluctant to commit their own forces since, in view of US strength, they could not count on a successful outcome.
Berlin. Our prompt reaction to the Soviet attempt to close the Berlin air corridor is a second recent example of the correct application of countermeasures. It resulted in a speedy back-down by the Soviets. Once again, the counteraction took place in the same geographic area—indeed, in direct defiance of the Soviet ban. When a Soviet bluff is called in this purposeful fashion, the Soviets tend more often than not to react in accordance with Lenin’s famous dictum: “If you are not able to adapt yourself, if you are not ready to crawl in the mud on your belly, you are not a revolutionary, but a chatterbox.”
Cienfuegos and the Black Sea Patrol.2 It is against the background of these carefully calculated—and, hence, successful—counteractions that I raise a question about the idea of signalling our displeasure to the Soviets over their activities in the Caribbean, and particularly at Cienfuegos, by means of naval entries into the Black Sea.

In his memorandum of November 19,3 Mr. Sisco has enumerated probable Turkish reactions and vulnerabilities—a point to which Ambassador Beam also calls attention in Moscow 7089.4

The NEA memorandum of November 19 asserts that an increase in the number of ships involved, an extension of the duration of the exercise, and a more northerly track are the kind of signal the Soviets will understand.

I quite agree that they will understand. But the Soviets enjoy conventional military superiority in the Black Sea. They are likely to consider a noticeable stepping-up of our activities as provocative; surveillance and harassment of our units is likely to be heavy. I believe that, far from convincing them to use restraint in areas of vital interest to us, the effect is likely to be the opposite. The Soviet aspiration to be recognized as a naval power fully equivalent to the US precludes a [Page 167] knuckling-under to such pressure. The contrary reaction is likely to be the case, perhaps through the employment of more demonstrative Soviet naval activities around Cuba and in the Caribbean.

If we wish to demonstrate our strength to the Soviets, we should do this in areas of vital interest to us and where we have local military superiority, so that we are not put at a disadvantage and do not create the possibility of a Soviet miscalculation.

I think the use of the Black Sea patrol as a counteraction to Soviet naval activity around Cuba and in the Caribbean is the wrong way to make the Soviets sit up and take notice—and is likely to make then take notice in the wrong way.5

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Davies. Irwin initialed the memorandum.
  2. This section is largely based on an attached briefing memorandum from Springsteen to U. Alexis Johnson, November 20, entitled “Expanded Scope of Black Sea Operations.”
  3. Addressed to U. Alexis Johnson; attached but not printed. Robert L. Pugh of the Office of Turkish Affairs (NEA) prepared an earlier version of the memorandum, which he cleared with Davies and with other officers in the Department. A handwritten note on the draft, however, reads: “11/19/70—This memorandum rejected by JJS[isco] who felt just the opposite.” (Department of State, Turkish Desk Files: Lot 75 D 65, Def 7 Black Sea Visits)
  4. In the attached telegram, November 25, Beam stated: “I can understand utility of demonstrative counter-move to Soviet naval incursion into our Caribbean backyard, but am concerned we may be overlooking a correspondingly serious aspect, namely continuing Soviet effort to neutralize Turkey as Western ally.”
  5. In a memorandum to Kissinger on November 25, Lord also questioned the utility of sending such signals to the Soviets. “Frustrated by the November elections, the economy, and Hanoi’s intransigence in Paris,” he commented, “the search is on for dramatic recoups. Are the Soviets playing in Cienfuegos and with our generals? Never mind, pant after them for a Summit and a splashy trip to the Soviet Union.” Lord concluded: “If we feel that in a broader sense something is needed to counter Soviet unpleasantness, we should not translate this judgment (unconsciously or not) into escalation against North Vietnam but rather into a steady, sound overall approach to the Soviet Union. As a starter, we should stop eagerly pursuing a Summit until relations are greatly improved and real results can be foreseen.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 824, Name Files, Winston Lord [1970–73])