157. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to President Reagan1


  • National Security Priorities—Where Are We Going and How Are We Going to Get There

By this time, you have undoubtedly surveyed the global possibilities for making significant gains—for accomplishing something truly important—in the next year. In looking at the horizon there are some places where we are committed and must devote a lot of time and energy to simply holding your own, e.g., El Salvador. In other areas, we could take a lower profile without great risk, e.g., East Asia, but where the potential for opening a truly new direction of emphasis in U.S. foreign policy is very high. In still other areas, e.g., the Middle East, I believe we have lost a chance to achieve truly strategic gains, but could still lose a lot; consequently, we must stay engaged. Finally with regard to whether or not we stand to make any progress in US-Soviet relations, thoughtful men can make a case on both sides. An expanding school of thought states that the U.S. is in the best position in thirty years to negotiate and get results with the Russians.2 They base this not only on the clear restoration of our military strength3 which you have set in motion (and which the Soviets know will leave them in second place within ten years), but also on the terribly important political base of support you [Page 626] have garnered in Europe in the last six months. Added to this, some point to the personal interests Andropov might have in outflanking his “softer” colleagues in the Kremlin by getting a summit at which a good arms control (read constraining U.S. arms) agreement is achieved.

The detractors say that it is too soon to expect to achieve real concessions from the Soviets; that we have sustained the conservative consensus for only two years and that the Russians will wait us out for at least another year.

I tend to side more with the former school—that is, to go ahead to engage the Soviets in serious efforts to solve problems—as long as we do it in a sensible way using our leverage sparingly and not being suckered.

But before we go further to decide any of these issues, we must face the fact that if we try to make progress in all these areas—East-West relations, the Middle East, the Pacific Basin and Central America—we face the very real prospect of failing in all of them. We simply don’t have the resources in this Administration—no Administration does—to undertake four major national security campaigns simultaneously. For example, if you were to decide to make a major effort to make another step—achieving autonomy for the West Bank—in the Middle East this would require whomever you assign this task, to spend full time on it. The corollary is that the person would be unable to do anything else. Thus if George Shultz does that, he would be unable to work, say, on Central America. When Kissinger was trying to get a partial disengagement between Israel and Egypt in 1974,4 he was out of the United States for more than six months of the year. What happens to Central America while the Secretary of State is gone, much less to any hope of making progress with the Russians?

My point is that we need to: (1) Set some priorities—what do you want to achieve; and (2) Divide the labor so that we apply our resources wisely. In addition to a division of labor we need to take a long look ahead to assure that your involvement is timed properly and planned in advance. Specifically, when should you travel? Where should you go? Why should you go there? In short, we should focus on your activities in a way that does not involve a travelogue to Asia simply because you have not been there, but because it is part of a plan. Most importantly, we should reach the spring of next year having achieved something specific to make the world a better place.

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I have my own ideas on these matters. I believe, however, that rather than my sending them to you, all of your advisors would benefit from a closely held “strategic review of the bidding.” At such a session, George, Cap, Bill and I could lay out our appraisal of what is within the realm of possibility in the next year and how we might go about dividing the labor and laying out a strategy for getting there.

George has asked to see you Wednesday afternoon.5 If you agree, I believe it would be worthwhile to ask that he, together with Cap and Bill if you wish, be prepared to discuss the big picture. Without this pause to get your sense of vision, I am afraid we will end up a year from now having “minded the store” but without much to show for it.6

  1. Source: Reagan Library, William Clark Files, US-Soviet Relations Papers Working File: Contains Originals. Confidential; Eyes Only. Clark did not initial the memorandum. The President initialed the top right-hand corner of the memorandum. Another copy is in the Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Subject File, Goals and Priorities (June 1983–July 1983).
  2. An unknown hand underlined “Russians.”
  3. An unknown hand underlined “restoration of our military strength.”
  4. The first disengagement agreement between Israel and Egypt (Sinai I) was agreed to on January 18, 1974, and signed at Kilometer 101 on the Cairo-Suez Road on January 18; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Document 16. Syrian and Israeli officials signed the Syrian-Israeli disengagement agreement on May 31. A second Israeli-Egyptian agreement (Sinai II) was reached on September 1, 1975, and signed on September 4; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Document 226.
  5. June 15.
  6. In the margin below this paragraph, Clark wrote: “Mr. President, I would like your comments before our meeting—Bill.”