184. Intelligence Report Prepared in the Defense Intelligence Agency1


For the Soviets, détente is intended to facilitate their attainment of ultimate, overall dominance over the West. This Estimate examines Soviet progress toward achieving their strategic and tactical goals under détente, and makes judgments on implications and prospects for the future.


A. Détente generally connotes a relaxation of tensions and a process whereby this climate is reinforced. But whereas in the US détente tends to be seen as an end in itself, in the USSR it is seen as a strategy for achieving broader Soviet strategic objectives as well as tactical aims without fueling the sorts of concern that might galvanize the West into serious counteraction. According to the Soviets, détente—or peaceful coexistence—has become possible because the West has been forced to recognize the changing correlation of forces2 and is therefore accommodating to rising Soviet power.

B. Soviet long-term strategic objectives, which the détente strategy seeks to promote, can be generalized under the heading of “dominance” and include: the breakup of Western alliances; the eviction of the American military presence from Europe and the achievement of Soviet dominance there; and the establishment of Soviet political, military, technological, and economic superiority worldwide. Soviet détente policy has facilitated Soviet strategic nuclear expansion and the canceling out of US superiority, without provoking extensive Western counterefforts.

C. A major tenet of Soviet détente policy is to avoid strategic nuclear war. Although this was more imperative when the US enjoyed strategic nuclear superiority, the Soviets have elevated it to a guiding principle for superpower relations. At the same time they seek to neutralize those areas of power competition where superior US technology puts the USSR at a disadvantage.

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D. Moscow’s tactical goals of the détente strategy include changing regional balances of power in Soviet favor. The USSR further seeks through détente to isolate China, pending possible opportunities for Soviet exploitation when the current Chinese leaders leave the scene. Détente also serves the Soviet need to avoid a simultaneous confrontation on both the eastern and western fronts.

E. In the Soviets’ view, détente has moved them closer to their strategic and tactical goals. They believe they have going for them:

—a continuing shift in the worldwide correlation of forces in their favor;

—a strategic posture vis-à-vis the US that diminishes the likelihood of general nuclear war and, at the same time, holds the possibility of a politically meaningful strategic edge;

—a steady development of Soviet conventional military capabilities concurrent with a trend in the West to reduce general-purpose force strengths;

—a political environment in which they can win substantial concessions from the West in the various East-West negotiations on arms control and security;

—the recognition of the USSR’s World War II gains in Europe;

—a growing disarray and disunity in the West on strategic policy and security matters;

—a somewhat freer hand in dealing with the “Chinese problem”; and

—a freer access to Western trade and technology.

F. The Soviet interpretation of détente requires that the West continue to accept certain conditions: the West cannot interfere in Communist states and other areas where the Soviet political position outweighs that of the US. In Soviet terminology, there can be no export of counterrevolution. More generally, the West is expected to act with prudence in any crisis that could lead to superpower confrontation. The Soviets, however, are prepared to exploit crises in pursuit of their objectives to the limits of US reaction, if necessary by threatening military intervention.

G. While there are differences over specific aspects of détente, there is a broad consensus on the effectiveness of the strategy within the Soviet leadership. This consensus notwithstanding, and despite the favorable consequences of the policy to date, Soviet détente strategy can change. If anticipated gains at Western expense by other means appear sufficiently attractive in Soviet calculations, Moscow will compromise on détente or discard the policy and adopt the indicated alternative course. Furthermore, Soviet détente policy could change with Brezhnev’s passing from power and the emergence of new leadership.

H. So far, détente has served Soviet purposes well. For this reason the Soviets will not lightly jettison their détente strategy. Therefore, as long as the USSR is committed to détente, the US can step up its de[Page 742]mands in negotiations with the Soviets and need not hesitate to demand a clearly comparable price for every concession the US or the West is prepared to make.3

[Omitted here is the body of the report.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, 1974–1977, Box 18, USSR (2). No classification marking. Prepared by Wynfred Joshua.
  2. A Soviet term denoting world balance of power in all its aspects—political, military, economic, etc. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. On October 9, David Binder reported in The New York Times (p. 15) that the Department of Defense had circulated this intelligence report “asserting that the Soviet Union is using the policy of détente to gain dominance over the West in all fields.” In addition to providing excerpts, Binder identified both the author and title of the report, which was “believed by State Department officials to represent the views of Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger.” According to a “high-ranking State Department official,” the report contradicted Kissinger’s position on Soviet-American relations. “I am very surprised,” the official added, “they would put out what is a political estimate.”