276. Memorandum From Marshall Brement of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Organizing the State Department to Deal With US-Soviet Relations (C)

In the belief that it is very important to do something tangible to demonstrate (a) that the Administration now speaks consistently on its policy toward the Soviet Union, (b) that it realizes that how you deal [Page 801] with the Soviets can sometimes be as important as what you do about their behavior, and (c) that Secretary Muskie2 does not intend to perpetuate the grave errors in style that Vance was guilty of in his handling of Dobrynin, this memo proposes:

—that an Under Secretary of State, preferably Matt Nimetz, be designated to handle not only arms control and security matters, but Soviet relations as well;

—that a new bureau of Soviet and East European affairs be formed in the State Department, preferably headed by someone who has a clear association with you, such as Sam Huntington or Madeleine Albright; and

—that new rules of conduct on how to handle the Soviets be agreed upon and that Vance’s deplorable practice of having long one-on-one subsequently largely unreported conversations with Dobrynin be stopped. (C)

The Nature of the Problem. Critics of the Administration (including Reagan, Bush and Kennedy) have repeatedly charged, and continue to charge, that one of its great weaknesses has been an inability to deal consistently with the Soviets and have cited the well-publicized Vance-Brzezinski differences on strategy and tactics as evidence of the gulf which divides the NSC and the State Department on the subject. Turning this perception around would be of obvious help to the President and to our entire diplomatic effort around the world. Were we able to convince others that we now view Soviet policy consistently and realistically and that we have achieved a widely shared consensus within the government on the Soviet threat which faces us, it would not only help domestically, but it would markedly undercut Soviet efforts to drive a wedge between us and the allies. (C)

Given the problems that face us in Afghanistan and Iran as well as with the West Europeans, it is important to demonstrate that Senator Muskie regards US-Soviet relations as central to our foreign policy and that he is moving vigorously to come to grips with the problem. It would also demonstrate both domestically and to the allies that the President is continuing to give the creative resolution of US-Soviet difficulties the priority it deserves. (C)

The three recommendations enumerated below are based on the assumption that Marshall Shulman, in line with his personal desires, will be going back to Columbia no later than this summer. The University wants him to do so and now that Vance has departed there is no logical justification for the senior man on Soviet affairs at the State Department to be a lame duck, particularly at a time when US-Soviet bilateral relations have ground down to almost zero. Once Marshall has left [Page 802] the scene, the new Secretary could make the changes suggested without reflecting unfavorably on Marshall or implying that Senator Muskie has no confidence in him, since his desire to return to the Academy is well known. (C)

(a) Designate an Under Secretary for Strategic and Soviet Affairs. Reporting to him would be both the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and either the offices of Soviet and of East European Affairs or a newly-created Bureau of Soviet and East European Affairs (see below). This would ensure that one official at the top level of the State Department would be responsible for the entire range of questions dealing with the Soviet Union, just as Korniyenko deals with all aspects of American affairs within the Soviet Foreign Office. Such a move at one stroke would overcome most of the irrational aspects of organization that have plagued us in our relations with the Soviets in the past, parallel the bureaucratic structure which the Soviets use to deal with us and thereby rationalize the process of US-Soviet diplomatic interchange, and considerably ameliorate some of the burdens on the Secretary, who on too many occasions has been acting as Soviet desk officer, since there has been nobody underneath him in the hierarchy who dealt both with bilateral affairs and arms control matters. (This meant, incidentally, that the Soviet side of the Department made no input into a whole range of questions which formed the most important US-Soviet business from Moscow’s point of view.) The rationality of having a single Under Secretary of State for both Soviet, strategic, and arms control matters should be obvious, since the latter fields are really only separate aspects of US-Soviet relations. (C)

My candidate for the job is Matt Nimetz. He is already in place as the Under Secretary handling security policy. He is smart, tough, and realistic about Soviet affairs—by far the best man in this regard on the seventh floor of the State Department. At least as important, Nimetz is a well-known Vance protege, a former partner in his law firm. Both for its symbolic continuity and for its substance the appointment would be an outstanding one. (C)

(b) Create a Bureau for Soviet and East European Affairs. The United States spends more than a third of its national budget dealing with the Soviet Union. Yet it is the only major Western nation without an official of Assistant Secretary or comparable rank dealing with Soviet and East European affairs in its Foreign Ministry. Instead, we subsume Soviet affairs under the broader aegis of European affairs and ask one Assistant Secretary of State to be in charge of everything from London to Vladivostok. The fact of the matter is that George Vest and all of his predecessors spend more than 90 percent of their time dealing with our knotty relations with the allies. This is inescapable. It is impossible for someone handling Western European affairs to devote adequate time [Page 803] and creative energy to dealing with the Soviet Union. Soviet affairs are thus neglected at the bureau level. SOV now has just a shade of its former influence and competence. It is largely ignored on high policy matters. The creation of a new bureau devoted exclusively to Soviet and East European affairs would demonstrate that:

—Secretary Muskie is taking a creative and dynamic approach toward US-Soviet relations;

—he is giving them the emphasis they deserve during these troubled times;

—he intends to implement organizational changes which demonstrate that he is convinced he will be Secretary of State for the next five years; and

—he recognizes that NATO and Soviet affairs should not be in the same bureau of the State Department because the problems we face in dealing with these areas are in many cases antithetical and therefore should not be settled within the bureau, but rather be dealt with at the high policy level. (C)

Finally, the person in charge of such a bureau (or for that matter Shulman’s replacement if a new bureau is not organized) should obviously be somebody who has been closely associated with you in the past. This would help the President because—together with the Nimetz appointment—it would be a striking symbol of the new unity between the Department and the NSC on Soviet affairs. With Nimetz (a Vance protege) in command and one of your own colleagues or former colleagues as the new Assistant Secretary for East European affairs, we would have in place what would be perceived as a new, balanced team. This would be an important symbol that there are no longer fundamental differences in viewpoint within the Administration on how we should be dealing with the Soviets during the Era of Afghanistan. Possible candidates which occur to me might be Sam Huntington or Madeleine Albright, but you, of course, are in the best position to suggest somebody, if you believe the idea has merit. (C)

(c) Adopt Sound Basic Principles on How to Deal with the Soviets. Senator Muskie has an opportunity to behave toward the Soviets in a way that makes sense diplomatically, that will strike the right tone publicly, and that will gladden the heart of the State Department and of all professional observers of US-Soviet relations. To do so he should adopt the following basic principles of behavior. (C)

(1) Maintain a multiplicity of channels, i.e., do not use Dobrynin as the single means of communication for dealing with the Soviet government on high policy matters. It is Gromyko and Brezhnev who should be the recipients of our message, not Dobrynin, who cannot always be counted on to convey our message in the way we want it conveyed.

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(2) Adhere to Strict Reciprocity in all our Bilateral Dealings. This is a cardinal rule for handling the Soviets, who are past masters at nickeling and diming you to death if you let them get away with it.

(3) Do Business at a Normal Level, i.e., to the extent possible, avoid negotiations of routine matters at the level of Secretary of State.

(4) Utilize the Embassy in Moscow as Much as Possible, i.e., double track all messages of importance both to ensure that Dobrynin is being an accurate reporter and to enhance the prestige of our Ambassador in Moscow.

(5) Never see Dobrynin Without a Third Person Present. This has been a real dereliction on Vance’s part, for which he and the Administration might pay heavily in the eyes of future historians.

(6) Never Have a Conversation with Dobrynin or Other Key Soviet Officials Without a Detailed Written Record Being Made. This is fundamental diplomatic behavior. Vance’s many violations of this principle were shocking to specialists in Soviet affairs.

(7) Keep Our Ambassador in Moscow Fully Informed on All Aspects of the Relationship. There is no point in having an Ambassador and not making real use of him.

Implementation of the above guidelines would not only ensure more effective and professional handling of our relations with the USSR, but it would also elevate the new Secretary of State enormously in the eyes of his State Department colleagues. (C)


That you float the above ideas with the President and with Senator Muskie at Camp David.3

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 60, Chron: 12/10–11/80. Confidential. Sent for action. Printed from a copy that does not bear Brement’s initials.
  2. Vance resigned, effective April 28. He was replaced by Edmund Muskie, who entered duty as Secretary of State on May 8.
  3. Carter was at Camp David May 2–5.