135. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • US-Soviet Relations in 1983

The recent NSPG discussion of US-Soviet relations2 underscored the fact that increased Soviet activism since Andropov’s rise to power confronts us with a situation requiring strength, imagination and energy. This memo sets forth a strategy for countering this new Soviet [Page 525] activism by using an intensified dialogue with Moscow to test whether an improvement in the US-Soviet relationship is possible. Even if no improvement ultimately takes place, the dialogue itself would strengthen our ability to manage the relationship and keep the diplomatic initiative in our hands.

As we proceed, we must keep in mind that our challenge is not to launch a bold, new initiative, but to build on the good beginning we have made in the patient, steady, yet creative management of a long-term adversarial relationship with the Soviet Union. I look forward to an early opportunity to discuss this topic with you in greater detail.

Enduring Features of US-Soviet Competition: The US-Soviet competition has deep roots in the fundamentally different nature of the two societies and in Moscow’s readiness to use its growing military power in ways that threaten our security. Thus there is no realistic scenario for a breakthrough to amicable relations with the Soviet Union.

To be sure, the Soviet system is beset by serious weaknesses. But it would be a mistake to assume that the Soviet capacity for competition with us will diminish at any time during your Presidency. While recognizing the adversarial nature of our relationship with Moscow, we must not rule out the possibility that firm U.S. policies could help induce the kind of changes in Soviet behavior that would make an improvement in relations possible.

We have made considerable progress toward a more effective Soviet policy through our long-term rearmament program, actions to revitalize our Alliances, a new ideological offensive on behalf of our fundamental values, and arms control proposals that have made clear our seriousness in the search for peace.

The Challenge of US-Soviet Relations in 1983: There is already evidence of greater foreign policy energy and sophistication under Andropov, and the Soviets will clearly be on the offensive in 1983. In Europe, we can expect that the Soviets will make the fullest possible use of Western hopes raised by the succession to redouble their appeals to Western publics on issues such as INF. In Asia, Moscow will use renewed talks with the Chinese to press its diplomatic offensive, while hinting at new flexibility on Afghanistan. I believe that we can best preempt this increased Soviet maneuvering with increased diplomatic and public activism of our own, including through an intensified dialogue with Moscow. If this dialogue does not result in improved US-Soviet relations, the onus will rest clearly on Moscow; if it leads to actual improvement, all the better.

Preconditions for Effective Dialogue: To proceed with an intensified dialogue while protecting our security interests, we need to fulfill the following preconditions: (1) continued rebuilding of American [Page 526] economic and military strength; (2) continued revitalization of our Alliances; (3) stabilization of relations with China; (4) continued regional peacekeeping efforts (Middle East and CBI); and (5) continued competition in ideas.

The Purposes of Intensified US-Soviet Dialogue: Such a dialogue could serve our interests by: (1) probing for new Soviet flexibility (get Andropov to put his money where his mouth is); (2) controlling events (reaffirming our determination to play a central role on all issues while preventing opening of gaps between us and our Allies); (3) maintaining Allied and domestic support for our policy in the face of a redoubled Soviet “peace offensive”.

Substance of the Dialogue: As we intensify dialogue, it is neither necessary nor advisable to abandon the policy framework we have established. We must continue to insist that US-Soviet dialogue address the full range of our concerns about Soviet behavior: the military buildup, international expansionism, and human rights violations. We must be prepared for evolution of our substantive positions in the give and take of negotiations, but we must not lower our basic requirements for improved US-Soviet relations.

A. Arms Control: We must not abandon the high standards we have set for potential agreements—real reductions, equality in the important measures of military capability, verifiability, and enhanced stability. We must at the same time win the battle for public opinion by making clear that it is the USSR, not the U.S., that is impeding progress toward agreements.

Our most formidable arms control challenge will be in INF: at stake is whether or not we can sustain the integrity and vitality of the Western Alliance. In START, we should hold firm on the conceptual framework of our approach, including substantial reductions and warheads as the principal unit of account. We must negotiate seriously, taking as the point of departure the apparent Soviet willingness to accept the principle of reductions.

B. Regional Issues: The fact that we have engaged Moscow on regional issues—Afghanistan and southern Africa—positions us to sustain diplomatic pressure and exploit whatever opportunities may emerge in the context of the Soviet political process this year. Given the many signals we have heard on Afghanistan, we should test Soviet intentions by another round of our bilateral talks, and possibly by tabling a bold framework for a comprehensive settlement.

We must also deal effectively with the Soviet “Asian offensive” by adding substance to the US–PRC dialogue and holding firm on our [Page 527] requirements for a Kampuchean settlement. This will be one of the objectives of my China trip.3

On other issues, we may wish to renew bilateral discussions with Moscow on Namibia/Angola to press for Cuban troop withdrawal. In some cases, we may need to reinforce warnings about possible unacceptable Soviet behavior in the Third World, such as delivery of MiGs to Nicaragua. In the Middle East, we want to continue to avoid dialogue that could help Moscow regain a role in the peace process.

C. Human Rights and Western Values: We must continue to seek improvement in Soviet behavior: relief of prisoners of conscience, resolution of divided-family cases and the Pentecostalist situation,4 and a significant increase in Jewish emigration. Our focus should be on private diplomacy leading to results, not counterproductive public embarrassment of Moscow. We must also press our democracy offensive and ensure that human rights remains a major component of our policy toward Poland and in the CSCE context.

D. Economic Relations: Any steps we take must not contribute to Soviet military power, subsidize the Soviet economy, or undercut our efforts to develop a new framework for East-West economic relations. We must also manage domestic pressures for increased trade so that the timing of any steps we take is geared to our overall US-Soviet strategy. A possible mechanism for managing these pressures would be to restore government-to-government economic contacts through a session of the Joint Commercial Commission (JCC).

E. Bilateral Relations: Small steps have a modest but real role to play in the relationship, and we should seek opportunities to use them. We should be careful to ensure that benefit is mutual and reciprocal and that our actions advance our objective of broadening access to Soviet society. We could implement Charlie Wick’s suggestion to negotiate a new umbrella cultural agreement; this would prevent Soviet cultural groups from making their own arrangements with U.S. sponsors, while denying us reciprocal access to the USSR.

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The Process of Dialogue: We should begin to put in place the building blocks for a productive summit, but without committing ourselves prematurely. Four levels of dialogue should be considered:

Summitry: The dialogue process should be constructed to lead to a summit if relations warrant, but without initially defining a summit as the only possible outcome. Should we later decide on a US-Soviet summit, you should probably meet with the Chinese first.
Ministerial-Level Contacts: We could consider another meeting between Gromyko and me, possibly in Moscow if a meeting with Andropov could be guaranteed. Another option would be a neutral site. We might also consider a possible Weinberger-Ustinov meeting.
Dialogue through Ambassadors: We should make maximum use of both Dobrynin and Art Hartman, and possibly try to regularize their access to Gromyko and me. We might also recall Art for consultations this spring and send him back with a message from you to Andropov.
Dialogue between “Departments and Desks”: We could accept Dobrynin’s proposal of intensified dialogue between specialists on US-Soviet relations from the State Department and the Soviet MFA.

Conclusion: In sum, 1983 will be a year of new challenges and opportunities in our relations with the Soviet Union. We have in place a sound policy, which gives us the foundation for an intensified dialogue with Moscow along the lines I have described. Such a dialogue would protect our security interests while giving the Soviets incentives to address our concerns—as long as we do not waver on the essentials of the policy approach we have established over the past two years. The Soviets may ultimately prove unwilling to satisfy our criteria for an improvement in the relationship. If so, we will nonetheless have done our part, and the responsibility for continued tensions will rest squarely with Moscow.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, European and Soviet Affairs Directorate, NSC Records, Subject File, Shultz, George P. Secretary of State (1 of 5). Secret; Sensitive. It is also printed in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985 Document 1. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, Burt wrote to Shultz on January 18: “Per our conversation earlier today, I have recast the US-Soviet paper as a memo from you to the President.” (Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, 1982–83 US-Soviets Background Info) In his memoir, Shultz recalled the memorandum’s reception: “Shortly after my paper reached the White House, Bud McFarlane let me know that the NSC staff over there was ‘fly specking’ it. ‘There are so many ideologues around here that they are picking it to pieces,’ he said.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 162)
  2. An NSPG meeting took place in the White House Situation Room on January 10. For additional information about the meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January 1983, Document 259.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 131.
  4. Reference is to seven Russian Pentecostalists, who had sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in June 1978 and were seeking permission from Soviet authorities for themselves and their families to emigrate from the Soviet Union. One Pentecostalist—Lidia Vashchenko—had been allowed to leave the Embassy to seek medical care following a hunger strike and had returned to her hometown in January 1982. Ultimately, the remaining Pentecostalists would depart the Embassy on April 12, 1983. Documentation on the Pentecostalists is in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985, Documents 10, 12, 26, 34, and 36.