189. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1


  • Brezhnev Adviser on US Affairs Defends Détente Against Critics at Home and Abroad

On September 4, Director Arbatov of the USSR’s Institute of the USA and one of Brezhnev’s closest advisers on American affairs pub [Page 751] lished in Izvestia, a major counterattack against criticism by Americans of détente.2 At the same time, the article betrays a certain defensiveness probably attributable to criticism in the USSR as well. Appearance of the article under such an authoritative byline and its placement on the front page of the Soviet Government newspaper indicate growing concern among proponents of détente in the Soviet leadership that the policy faces serious problems in coming months.

Arbatov’s principal points are as follows:

—A frontier has been reached where it must be decided whether to continue to pursue détente or not;

—Support for détente remains strong in the United States and the strength of opponents to the policy there should not be overestimated;

—Détente has brought the USSR “striking” achievements;

—The notion, however, that only the USSR benefits from détente is wrong. U.S. failures in Asia and its difficulties along NATO’s southern flank are not the USSR’s fault but are due to cold war policies;

—The USSR did not pledge to guarantee the social status quo in the world and to halt the process of national liberation as part of détente; however, the USSR does not regard détente as an instrument for “nudging forward” this process;

—The West cannot use détente to achieve internal changes in the USSR it was unable to achieve by armed force or cold war pressures;

—As borne out in CSCE, if anyone has tried to use détente to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs it has been the West;

—What right do US politicians and journalists have to criticize the USSR or to interpret concepts of freedom and democracy in view of political scandals, abuses of power, corruption, violation of civil rights and political murder by police in the U.S.? The West must “put [its] own house in order first.”

The article is addressed to both Soviet and American audiences. To the Soviet reader, it advises that support for détente in the U.S. remains strong, and that détente has been a source of great achievements for the USSR, does not give the U.S. an opportunity to interfere with Soviet internal affairs, and does not require the Soviet Union to abandon its friends or the revolutionary struggle. To American political leaders, it advises that the USSR is growing impatient with politically motivated criticism of détente and implies related Soviet concern that détente is becoming a major political issue in the U.S. presidential election campaign with unpredictable consequences. At the same time, the article is [Page 752] likely a forerunner of more direct criticism of the U.S. role in recent developments—in the Middle East and Portugal, for example—adversely affecting Soviet interests and of the tone of recent Administration statements concerning USUSSR relations.

(That Administration statements have struck a sensitive chord is borne out by a broadcast by the Deputy Director General of TASS in which he complained that “even senior officials in the U.S. Administration sometimes strike the wrong note with clearly misdirected warnings to the Soviet Union not to fish in muddy waters and not to use reduction in tension as a cover for attempts to obtain one-sided advantages.” It has been very rare since 1972 for the Soviet media to so directly complain about Presidential remarks.)

The Arbatov article is a predictable but noteworthy response to criticism here and events abroad during the past two months, beginning particularly with adverse treatment of CSCE. The article would seem to be aimed at countering disquiet among the Soviet elite in reaction to such foreign criticism, events abroad and a perceived harder tone to Administration statements while also cautioning the West that one-sided criticism of détente and admonitions that the USSR should behave will not go unnoticed or unanswered.

This memorandum is for your information.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, 1974–1977, Box 18, USSR (21). Confidential. Sent for information. Brackets are in the original. A note on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” Ford also initialed it. According to an attached correspondence profile, the President noted the memorandum on September 17. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Clift forwarded a draft to Kissinger on September 10, noting that it drew on “analysis by CIA and Embassy Moscow.” (Ibid.)
  2. For the English text of Arbatov’s article, “Maneuvers of the Opponents of Détente,” see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXVII, No. 36 (October 1, 1975), pp. 1–6.