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


  • Soviet Coverage of the US Election Campaign

As the primaries have narrowed the field of Presidential candidates in the United States and foreign policy issues have come to the forefront of debate, Soviet comment on US political developments has increased in frequency and depth of analysis. The following paragraphs review the Soviet assessment of the Presidential candidates and the implications of the campaign for USUSSR relations.

Moscow has tended to assess the individual candidates according to their apparent positions on US-Soviet relations. The candidates believed to be opposed to détente have received the most attention in Soviet media. Thus, former Governor Reagan on the Republican side and Democratic candidates Wallace and Jackson have been roundly criticized in commentaries directed both abroad and to the domestic audience, including the central press and television. For the most part the remaining candidates have drawn little comment, either positive or negative. Representative Udall has virtually been written off already. One broadcast to North America was critical of Udall, along with Jackson, for attempting to ride an “anti-Soviet ticket” into the White House by identifying himself with a campaign supporting Soviet Jewry in New York.

Jimmy Carter, unknown in Soviet media a few weeks ago, has been acknowledged as the leading Democratic contender. The Soviet media have been slow to assess Carter’s policy positions. One early March Izvestia commentary saw his failure to “clearly define his program” as the secret of his success.2 Subsequently, a Pravda commentary offered a positive view of Carter in reporting that he had “publicly condemned those who would like the United States to return to the days of [Page 1038] the cold war and confrontation with the Soviet Union.” Carter’s statement was one of the few positive references to US-Soviet relations from the campaign rhetoric that Soviet media have offered their readers. Soviet observers have noted that Senator Humphrey is reputed to be waiting in the wings for a propitious moment to launch his own candidacy.

Until recently, you have generally been given a positive image in the Soviet media. Soviet comment was particularly favorable toward you after the cabinet changes last November, an event which Soviet observers interpreted, in part, as a setback for the anti-détente forces in the US Government.

Soviet concern over your position began with your displeasure over Soviet policy in Angola. Soviet dissatisfaction became even more apparent after you terminated use of the term “détente” and after postponement of the meetings of the three joint US-Soviet commissions.3 Denying that Moscow has given the Administration any grounds for complaint, Soviet media have charged that to improve its position in the election campaign, the Administration has begun to backslide on détente and to side at times with “opponents of détente.”

In a recent analysis in Pravda,4 USA Institute Director Arbatov, while supportive of improved relations with the US, observed that:

—“The campaign against détente launched by the right has also left its mark on the vacillations in the US Administration itself . . .;”

—“Arguments concerning ‘peace through strength’, which have been reiterated for decades now and have produced nothing but an unrestrained arms race and the increased threat of war, do not become more convincing now;”

—“Much of what is being done in the United States creates additional difficulties on the path of the solution of urgent problems of Soviet-US relations, which are already complex enough . . .”

Soviet-US relations have not been a prominent or controversial issue in Presidential elections at least since 1960—and the Brezhnev leadership likely has been taken aback by the vigor of recent attacks in the US on the USUSSR relationship and the growing sentiment in favor of greater defense spending to counter the USSR. Arbatov’s article and recent other commentaries on the election suggest growing concern in Moscow that a longer range toughening of US attitudes and policy toward the USSR may be in the offing.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, 1974–1977, Box 19, USSR (33). Confidential. Sent for information. Clift forwarded a draft to Scowcroft on April 9, explaining that it had been prepared at Hyland’s request. “In response to our request,” Clift added, “CIA and FBIS have said that they will periodically prepare such analyses throughout the remainder of the campaign.” A copy of the draft with Scowcroft’s handwritten revisions is attached. 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 April 13.
  2. S. Kondrashov, “Pre-Election Battles,” Izvestia, March 13; for a condensed English text, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXVIII, No. 11 (April 14, 1976), p. 25.
  3. See, for instance, Vitaly Korionov, “International Week,” Pravda, March 14. (Ibid.)
  4. Georgi Arbatov, “On Soviet-American Relations,” Pravda, April 2; for the text in English, see ibid., Vol. XXVIII, No. 13 (April 28, 1976), pp. 1–5.