181. National Intelligence Analytical Memorandum1

NIAM 11–9–74


[Omitted here is the table of contents.]


This National Intelligence Analytical Memorandum addresses the Soviet conception of détente, the factors which commend a détente approach to the Soviet leaders, the dangers they see in it for themselves, and its durability as a general framework for Soviet international behavior. It discusses the relationship between détente and the USSR’s major foreign policies, but does not attempt a detailed analysis of each of these individual policies.

Principal Conclusions2

A. The USSR sees in détente the international atmosphere best suited to maximizing the power and security of the Soviet state and its influence abroad. Soviet leaders neither expect nor intend their “peace program” to end rivalry with the outside world, but rather to set prudent limits on that rivalry in the nuclear age and allow for greater Soviet policy maneuver.

B. For the Soviets, détente is at least as much a need as a choice. The major contributing factors include: the necessity to avoid nuclear war and, by extension, to manage local crises with great care; the problem of coping with Chinese hostility; a need for Western capital and technology; opportunities to have the USSR’s superpower status recognized and to consolidate its hegemony in Eastern Europe; and the chance to inhibit Western military programs without accepting corresponding limits on those of the USSR.

C. Pursuit of détente also raises problems for the Soviets at home and abroad: the problem of maintaining internal discipline in a more relaxed international atmosphere; possible erosion of Soviet control in [Page 890] Eastern Europe; and complications in relations with client states and within the international communist movement. These problems do not appear critical at the moment.

D. Brezhnev and the détente approach seem well entrenched, but both must sustain a defensible record of accomplishment. Foreign policy setbacks of a magnitude to bring the overall détente approach into question would pose a challenge to Brezhnev’s position. He would probably be able to head off such a challenge by initiating some policy shifts. But if these setbacks were to coincide with serious domestic difficulties, he might not be able to carry off such a maneuver.

E. While Soviet leadership changes are likely over the next few years, successors will face much the same set of opportunities and imperatives. After some hiatus for domestic political consolidation, they will probably be predisposed by Soviet national interests to look favorably on a détente approach.

F. The most durable elements of the Soviet détente approach are the drive for expanded economic relations and the avoidance of threat and challenge in relations with the highly developed countries. Barring a radical change in Sino-Soviet relations, which we think unlikely, the rivalry with China will also serve to keep Moscow on this track. But some easing of this conflict, perhaps after Mao’s passing, could reduce Soviet incentives to pursue détente.

G. In the Middle East, the USSR is concerned to regain lost ground and hopes to do so at the more difficult later stages of Arab-Israeli negotiations. In any crisis within the next year or so, if Moscow were forced to make a clear choice between détente and its regional interests, the chances are better than even that, within the requirement of avoiding a confrontation with the US, the USSR would be willing to risk a setback to détente.

H. Soviet relations with the US are central to the future of détente, and arms control negotiations are central to those relations. While Soviet policy does not allow for a collapse of MBFR and SALT, Moscow still appears to be searching hard for advantage in these talks, and would like to believe that this behavior does not threaten other Soviet interests bound up in détente.

I. In the meantime, the USSR continues to pursue ambitious military programs. These extend beyond its vigorous ICBM development efforts to embrace many other weapon systems as well.

J. While the Soviet balance sheet on détente is becoming more complicated, the leaders will prefer to deal with various problems in pragmatic fashion, and to keep détente as a whole from coming into question. Even if only partial gains are realized, Moscow will not choose [Page 891] deliberately to abandon détente unless forced to do so by critical repercussions at home or in Eastern Europe.

[Omitted here is the Discussion section.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Secret; Controlled Dissem. A note on the original indicates the paper was prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury, and the National Security Agency and was concurred in by the U.S. Intelligence Board, except as noted in notes in the text.
  2. The Director of Naval Intelligence and the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, Air Force, believe that this Memorandum, as a whole, does not stress sufficiently Soviet use of détente as a tool of external policy designed to expand Soviet power and influence in the world. [Footnote in the original.]