282. Letter From President Ford to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev 1

Dear Mr. General Secretary:

I have read your letter of April 162 with great care and attention and I appreciate your sending such a message at this time. You have raised some fundamental questions about the state of our relations, and I want to set forth my position in the spirit of frankness that has always characterized our conversations and correspondence.

I fully appreciate that concerns may on occasion be aroused in other countries by what is said in an American election campaign. It is, of course, one of the great strengths of our system that free and full debate is encouraged and a broad range of issues are put before the American people. In the course of such a debate many things are said for domestic political purposes, without regard to their wider implications. Indeed, I have repeatedly spoken out against comments on American foreign policy in our campaign that are irresponsible and dangerous. But, of course, under our system I cannot control or preclude such statements by others.

I can understand how questions could arise over which is the true and functioning line of American policy. But the answer is simple and I would ask you always to have it in mind: only the President or Secretary of State speak authoritatively about our foreign policy. I believe my position is clear: I have repeatedly advocated and am committed to [Page 1043] the further improvement of Soviet-American relations on the basis of the agreements we have reached and the line we have jointly set. And I have frequently criticized those who implicitly advocate a return to the alternative of the cold war period. I will continue to do so.

It is true that I found the word “détente” to have become distorted by our press and in our public debates. It is important to understand why I have stopped using this phrase.3 I wanted our people to understand that Soviet-American relations were too important to be summed up in a simple word or two and debated by slogans. There should be no doubt in your mind, Mr. General Secretary, that I will pursue the course we have jointly set of solidifying the very significant gains in our relations, and seeking opportunities for continuing progress.

Yet, I would be less than frank if I failed to point out that there are sources of genuine concern in this country about Soviet-American relations, concerns which cannot be ascribed to the expediency of the political campaign. You are aware of the profoundly negative effects of events in Angola. The Secretary of State at my instruction explained our concerns to you when you received him in Moscow last January. The introduction of Cuban combat troops marked a radical and dangerous change in the patterns of international conduct. We have made our position clear should Cuba take further interventionist action in the internal affairs of other countries regardless of the pretext used.

A second problem relates to our defense policies: Both of us have obligations to protect the national security of our countries. Inevitably, comparisons are drawn between the United States and the USSR. I would not try to hide the fact that I believe that the United States must have a strong defense posture, and it is clear from your statements that you feel exactly the same about the Soviet Union.

At the same time, we have a special responsibility to conduct our relations in the interest of relaxing tensions. This is my policy and I believe we are in fundamental agreement that we can continue to make progress on this basis. In particular, you and I agreed at Vladivostok that it would be in our mutual interest to moderate the strategic competition between us and thereby achieve a more stable, peaceful relationship. We have recently demonstrated once again, in the conclusion of the treaty on peaceful nuclear explosions,4 that we can reach mutually satisfactory agreements even when the issues are very complex. Thus, I remain hopeful that we can reach a satisfactory conclusion in the current strategic arms limitation negotiations, and make some progress in the Vienna talks on force reduction in Europe.

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I am still in the process of considering a reply to your last letter,5 and we have been re-examining the issues with a view to finding a way to make progress in the SALT negotiations and achieve a mutually acceptable agreement. This remains, in my view, an essential goal.

I have noted that the Soviet side has been restrained in commenting on the many statements made in our election campaign. I can assure you that for my part I will do nothing to jeopardize progress in our future relations and will continue to attack those who put forward dangerous and irresponsible approaches to the serious issues of Soviet-American relations. I agree with you that we have no alternative but to continue on the course we set in our meetings at Vladivostok and Helsinki. Beyond arms control agreements, I think we should also aim at broadening our relations. I am firmly convinced that the American people support this course and that this will become clear in our elections.

Finally, Mr. General Secretary, I want to express again my appreciation for your initiative in raising some points of concern. We should maintain a more regular exchange, which frankly, has become too infrequent.

Sincerely,6

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, KissingerScowcroft West Wing Office Files, 1974–1977, Box 29, USSR, The “D” File. No classification marking. According to marginalia, the letter was handed to Vorontsov by Scowcroft at 5:55 p.m. on April 27.
  2. Document 281.
  3. See Document 268.
  4. The Treaty on Underground Nuclear Explosions for Peaceful Purposes was formally signed at Washington and Moscow on May 28.
  5. Document 272.
  6. Printed from an unsigned copy.