157. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lord) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

The USSR and Asia

I am attaching a paper on the Soviet role in Asia prepared by a member of my staff as a contribution to our post-Indochina reassessment.2 It approaches the problem not only from the aspect of US-Chinese-Soviet interaction in Asia but also in terms of the Soviet potential vis-à-vis the individual components of Asia. Although much of the analysis will not be new to you there are several elements in it that you may find interesting.

—In contrast to some other recent studies on this subject, the Soviet potential in post-Vietnam Asia is judged to be relatively modest and less than that potentially posed by China. Although there is new scope for Soviet activities, limitations on Soviet capabilities, combined with the continuing US and Chinese roles and the Asians’ own desire to steer an independent course, probably mean that for the foreseeable future the Soviet role in Northeast and Southeast Asia will not be a major problem for us.

—The Soviets do, however, have two strongpoints: India and the DRV. They probably see the situation in South Asia as a model to be extended into Southeast Asia. Although there are many pitfalls in their relations with Hanoi, their association with the most dynamic regime in Southeast Asia is a definite plus for them.

—Soviet activities will remain in a fairly traditional framework of state-to-state relations supplemented by regional approaches such as the Asian Security proposal. The Soviets have neither the assets nor the incentives to attempt the overthrow or radical reorientation of existing governments. This means that the regional states have considerable scope for setting the terms on which the Soviets will be involved.

—Based on the assumption that the US role in Asia will be one of ensuring that neither the Soviets nor the Chinese gain dominance, the paper urges that we avoid a grand strategy of alignment with either side. There is no short-term need to support one against the other, but [Page 615] this requirement could arise later. In South Asia we might have to throw our weight in against the Soviets; in Southeast and Northeast Asia, however, it is more likely that the Chinese will be the threat to be guarded against.

—Although our relationship with the USSR is our prime political concern, it need not be the determining factor in our approach to Asia. There are many other factors involved (including China) that are at least as important in devising an Asian policy that will maximize our position in Asia and, hence, globally. In particular, we should avoid polarization of the type that we have encountered in the Middle East and South Asia.

—Obviously the key to a policy of this sort is a strong and continuing US role in Asia so that we are seen as a credible alternative by both the Chinese and the Soviets and by the Asian nations themselves.

—Finally, we must accept the fact that even while we remain the strongest outside power involved in Asia the Soviet role will grow. We can no longer unilaterally set the terms on which others will participate in Asian affairs. We will have to make a careful assessment of what specific kinds of Soviet activity are unacceptable and exert our influence to counter these; and acquiesce in levels of Soviet involvement that either may be unwelcome but not dangerous to our interest, or perhaps even helpful if they contribute to regional stability (e.g., support of neutral regimes in Southeast Asia).

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 77D112, Policy Planning Staff (S/P), Box 355, Director’s Files (Winston Lord), 1969–77, July 1–15, 1975. Confidential. Drafted by Thornton.
  2. Drafted by Thornton on July 8, the 16-page paper, also entitled “The USSR and Asia,” is attached but not printed. Kissinger wrote in the margin of the covering memorandum: “Excellent paper. HK.”