128. Editorial Note

On December 16, 1982, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Robert McFarlane took part in a United States Information Agency (USIA) background briefing for reporters. McFarlane discussed the Ronald Reagan administration’s foreign policy accomplishments for 1982 and prospects for 1983. McFarlane began his remarks by indicating that he would “be glad to say a few things” and then respond to questions: “Nearing the two-year mark in the Reagan administration’s stewardship in foreign affairs, the President believes that there have been substantial gains in his efforts to foster a more stable climate for peaceful change internationally, as measured in most political and economic terms.

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“I think probably organizationally for me, if not for you, that it might be useful if I just touched on the six basic goals and where those have been advanced in the past year.

“You will recall that the President’s objectives included, first, reversing the decline in the strength of the United States in establishing a firm foundation of restored military strength. Secondly, to establish a stable basis for U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, based on reciprocity and restraint.

“Thirdly, to foster an improved relationship in the context of North-South relations with developing countries.

“Fourthly, to take a vigorous role in peacemaking internationally because the moral responsibility to do it as well as self interest in key areas.

“Next, to establish an improved relationship of solidarity with our leading allies, the principal industrialized democracies and, next, to undertake a very vigorous program of arms control talks.

“Well, what has happened in these areas in the past year?

“First of all, his efforts to sustain the restoration of U.S. military strength has carried on apace. The second year’s budget is being debated even as we sit here. However, the certain outcome with respect to 90 percent of the President’s proposals is all but assured. These programs, as you know, are across-the-board efforts to modernize the U.S. strategic force posture as well as conventional or general purpose forces, and to maintain a vigorous research and development effort to be able to compensate, frankly, in some measure, for the Soviet advantage in numbers, whether one talks in tanks or aircraft or whatever.

“And this has gone well. It has required a more determined effort at persuasion in the Congress but the consensus among the American people is still there to sustain the expenditures for restored military strength. I’ve been a little puzzled at polls, and I won’t digress, but recently they’ve been portraying that sentiment in America at large as declining, and the figure of 17 percent has been quoted here and there and without looking at the poll which portrayed that the American people think that we ought to spend at least what we are doing or more, by almost 70 percent.

“What we are spending is built upon a very high increase that was set last year. So to sustain that or even improve it still commands a very substantial majority here.

“With respect to what is being done in U.S.-Soviet relations, the President has made clear that the United States is willing to negotiate toward the resolution of problems across the board and this past year [Page 496] has seen the—call it—‘completion of’ the most comprehensive arms control proposals that have been put forward by any modern President, in my recollection.

“At the same time the President has maintained a position of firmness with respect to Soviet repression from Afghanistan to Poland and a position of firmness toward Soviet efforts to expand its influence in other developing countries, notably in this hemisphere, through Cuba, into Central America, and in the past year there has been some evolution in that in a positive sense. That is, that U.S. assistance to these countries has been, on the one hand, sufficient to enable them to hold their own. I wouldn’t go beyond that. But I think, frankly, the expression of U.S. interest and commitment has fostered a different sense of what the future might hold for these countries. We see that manifested not in the tide of battle so much as in events in these countries, political events, elections being held.

“I’ll get to that in a moment. But the four countries of the Central American Democratic Council, the San Jose Conference, the statement of principles, and the formation of a sense of cohesion and some optimism for a democratic future has truly taken on a measure of momentum in the past year, as reflected in these elections in the four countries in Central America.

“With respect to U.S. relations with our allies in Europe, it has been a stormy year and, yet, I think a healthy year as we sit here today, in December, when you look across the spectrum of disagreements that have been taken on and dealt with in the past 12 months.

“We’ve had a measure of allied support, rather strong support, for sustaining continued commitment to defense buildup, a restoration of the balance, as put out in the NATO communiques in both the ministerial meetings in May and in December of this year.

“The President’s travel to Europe and his visit to several capitals afforded an opportunity in his public addresses there, in Bonn as well as in London, to announce and, I think, engender a measure of support for furthering democratic institutions throughout the world, and this was followed up by the Conference on Free Elections and Democratization in Communist Countries here last month. It’s also been followed up by our increased investment in broadcasting resources which will enable us to better present and project the message of democracy into communist countries.

“We’ve had our share of disagreements and particularly in the area of international economic relations.

“The President’s purpose in this area was, as you know, to ask our allies to consider East-West economic relations from the perspective of national security, their national security and ours, and how we ought to harmonize, where possible, our policies in East-West trade, credits, [Page 497] technology transfer, so forth, in order to assure that our own security interests are being enhanced and that we are not contributing to the very threat we are asking our own populations to defend against.

“The dialogue, begun really last year, was intensified and at Versailles led to a certain measure of agreement with respect to improving restraint on credits flowing to the East and soon thereafter, clearly, to a measure of disagreement with the enactment by the President of sanctions for the transfer of oil and gas technology and equipment to the Soviet Union.

“And here, a fundamental disagreement led to a very intense round of negotiations which reached a climax at Las Epiniere at the NATO meeting in Canada in September at which point I think the seriousness with which the President viewed this issue was captured by our allied friends and that led to further talks, ultimately to the summary of conclusions, for the conduct of international economic relations with the East.

“This summary of conclusions is but a statement of principles which—and a work program—which must be translated not into study effort which I think, from my own perspective, having worked in NATO relations for about 20 years, is rather remarkable. I think all of you who cover NATO are surely conscious of the fact that whether we talk about military strategy or political matters, that forging any kind of Allied consensus in either area has been extremely difficult; it’s taken a long, long time. And usually at the end we end up with outcomes, such as in NATO strategy, where we have fundamental disagreements as to what that strategy really requires.

“This has led us, out of frustration, simply not to undertake these studies or these efforts in the past. In the past decade, if you look at really serious effort that’s been devoted to harmonizing our policies, whether economically or militarily, they’ve really been very rhetorical.

“Now, what we have is the prospect of better harmony, but I wouldn’t portray it as more than that right now. Today I think we have, and I think this was borne out in Secretary Shultz’s comments of two nights ago in Paris, a consensus that we must deal seriously with our security interests as they are affected by economic ties to the East. And in the course of the next six months we expect the study effort to be seriously undertaken and at the end to have established ground rules which will be a much better basis on which to protect our own security interests.

“In the area of arms control, and I’ll get to that in a moment, the Allied consultative process has been a very rich one, a very healthy one, and I think apart from agreement which it has reflected with respect to the substance of our positions in START, INF, MFBR, CD, and so forth, that there is through the process a sense of greater Allied cohesion and [Page 498] confidence that we are leading and sharing with them a serious effort at reducing the level, particularly of nuclear weapons.

“In the area of North-South relations, the centerpiece of the administration’s policy is the Caribbean Basin Initiative, basically this microcosm of a global effort to try to rely more heavily on the private sector to foster growth in developing countries, the transfer of expertise, entrepreneurship, technology, so forth. But it is more than rhetorical. This program encompasses, as you know, trade, aid, and investment, one-way free trade. Aid, yes, a very substantial infusion of start-up capital for countries in greatest need, emergency support funds, $350 million. This has been authorized.

“Finally, the investment incentives in the way of tax measure, has been marked up and we have considerable basis for optimism that it will be enacted this year.

“This is a model. This is something the President is extremely committed to. And we enter the new year with a sense of real accomplishment with what we will have on the books in the way of law.

“With respect to peacekeeping, I think the key elements in the past year have been that in the Middle East, in Southern Africa, South Atlantic for that matter, the United States has taken very seriously and invested very heavily, in political terms, in an effort to bring peace to the Middle East and in Southern Africa. In the Middle East the President is basically posing the question to Israel, ‘Is your security better assured by holding onto territory and the apparent prospect of wars every seven or eight years or by reaching an accommodation politically for a stable peace with your neighbors?’ And to the PLO he is posing the question, ‘Does armed struggle enable you to establish your identity or ought you better—would you not be better off to reach an accommodation peacefully?’ The record of the past 12 years, in three serious defeats of the PLO with enormous loss, the President believes, prompts the question in their minds of whether the time has not come to try to accommodate.

“The President’s clear commitment to seeing this process through is unshakable and we anticipate early progress toward the evacuation of all foreign forces in Lebanon and from that to tackle very vigorously the promotion of the September 1st initiative for broadened negotiations in the peace process and an intense effort this coming year.

“But he has set in motion a process to which he is firmly committed.

“In Southern Africa we see the basis for some optimism between ourselves and the contact group. There is an emerging consensus on the basis for independence in Namibia and stability throughout the area.

“The President’s final objective, but of equal importance to any, is his commitment to arms control. Frankly I think for me and this is, [Page 499] I suppose, gratuitous, but in a year of daily briefings with him it is this recurring theme which is most prominent, even a preoccupation with getting deep reductions in nuclear arsenals of both sides.

“In his Eureka speech in May the President capped a trilogy, if you will, of arms control positions and called for a reduction of warheads by one-third on deployed missiles with a sub-limit on ICBM warheads and a reduction by half of deployed ballistic missiles.

“This proposal has been on the table in Geneva and seriously negotiated by both sides. The INF proposal, initiated in the zero-option speech November 18th of last year, has led to intense talks on both sides, a Soviet position, analysis of it and discussion of it, and we enter the new year with some sense of confidence, surely of commitment from our side, that we can make progress next year in INF.

“These, then, are the principal goals the President set two years ago and where we think we are right now.

“The President today, and there is an interview in progress now, has stressed that basically in the first year his objective was to lay the foundation—the first two years, really—domestically and in foreign affairs, domestically through legislation to restore the economic health of the country, and overseas to establish the foundation of military strength on which to engender renewed confidence by our allies as well as by third countries, and as a foundation from which to enter a very serious effort to solve problems between ourselves and our leading adversary, the Soviet Union, most notably on arms control, and secondly to devote a major investment of time and energy and political capital to the resolution of the disputes in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“In short, the foundation is there and he looks forward to the next two years as requiring the implementation of his principal goals, notably arms control, the Middle East, peacekeeping generally.

“I could carry on but I’m afraid I’ve got little time so it’s probably more worthwhile if I take your questions now.” (Transcript; Reagan Library, European and Soviet Affairs Directorate, NSC Subject File, State of the Union Speech (1 of 4))