177. Memorandum From Donald Fortier of the National Security Council Staff to Robert Kimmitt of the National Security Council Staff1


  • State of the Union Address2

Below are some quick thoughts on the State of the Union outline:

The current outline advances a number of important and useful themes. The themes of democracy—which I would recast as: “Strengthening and Defending Democracies”—is crucial, since it provides a proper (and relatively invulnerable) context for explaining, and justifying, much of what we are about, e.g., El Salvador. We cannot achieve everything in a moment; and we do not pretend that we alone can make the world safe for democracy. But we do realize that democracy cannot flourish when people feel unsafe.
What the outline lacks is the identification of a few key organizing themes or thoughts that will run through the entire presentation. In arriving at these organizing themes, we have to anticipate the two principal lines of attack our critics will follow: i.e., one, that our policy is excessively militaristic and, hence, dangerous; and, two, that we have achieved few, if any, dramatic foreign policy achievements.
To deal with the latter criticism, we need to stress the theme of: “Restoring the Conditions necessary for the Conduct of a Successful Foreign Policy.” For example: “I hope that when historians look back on this period they will say: ‘This was a time when American power was reconstituted; when years of disinvestment in military strength were reversed; when drift and indecision ended; when bipartisanship was [Page 741] restored; and when Americans rediscovered a sense of purposefulness and international commitment.’”
People understand that businesses and athletic teams go through periods of rebuilding; so too do nations. Success is not invented out of thin air or arrived at on the basis of magical diplomatic incantations. Rather, success depends on nurturing conditions of strength, on reversing regional power imbalances, and on credibility. All of these conditions were in short supply when this Administration came into office. All have been dramatically enhanced as a result of the President’s stewardship. This is our fundamental success and it is the one success that can, in the years ahead, make all other successes possible.
The rebuilding section also has to stress—more fully than ever before—the need for foreign assistance resources. We are mature enough to realize that we cannot ask others to defend our security interests for us, or to be our surrogates. But there is much that others—with our support—are better able to do than we ourselves, in part because of their geographical position, in part because of their familiarity with regional factions and traditions, and so on.
The help of our friends is crucial to minimizing our own involvement (a theme that should strike a responsive chord). But here again there are no easy answers. If we want others to play a larger role, then we must—as Churchill said—at least give them the tools to do the job. Since the period of the Marshall Plan3 and the formation of NATO, however, America’s investment in foreign assistance resources has dramatically declined. We draw optimism from the fact that so many capable states are willing to work with us in the interest of peace. Unlike the Soviets, our partnerships are voluntary, not coerced. But if we are to harness this important potential collective strength, we must ourselves prime the pump.
Having said all of this, there are still concrete accomplishments we should illustrate—and new ones we may, by January, be able to cite. Hopefully, we will have withdrawn our forces from, and stabilized Grenada; hopefully too, in the wake of Grenada, other countries—possibly, Suriname, Ethiopia, and Mozambique—will have further distanced themselves from Cuba. This is something worth noting. Beyond this, the INF picture should have stabilized and we should have also negotiated a precedent setting nonproliferation agreement with the Chinese. We need to be alert to such specific accomplishments and we need to construct a framework for the speech that allows us to discuss these accomplishments in a contextual rather than a random fashion.
The speech should have a positive vision and a sense of optimism. We can speak with some sense of self-satisfaction about the successful restoration of strength; and we can speak with justifiable high-mindedness about our work in nurturing and defending democracy. Beyond our efforts at dealing with the traditional problems of diplomacy, we also need to remind people of the systemic new challenge, which this administration is forced to confront. That challenge, of course, is international—terrorism that operates at times with the support of our traditional adversaries, and at times independent of their control; terrorism that profits from cover and ambiguity; terrorism that has become more extreme in the violence it supports and in the political agenda it embraces; and, terrorism that has gained in strength owing to more sophisticated and self-reinforcing cooperation which terrorist groups provide to one another.
The purpose is not to scare people, or to conjure up unmanagably negative visions. Where problems are raised, we have an obligation to also describe a strategy for solution. But we do need to make others recognize that this Administration has had the sophistication to recognize, and the courage to confront, a fundamentally new foreign policy challenge. If we create this context, we can help to make a number of the actions we have taken—against Libyan terrorists and others—more persuasive; and within this context we can better refute the charge that our strength is being directed against those so weak as to be unworthy of our concern.
Regarding U.S.-Soviet relations, we need to make the public realize that part of what is being interpreted as a “new low” in U.S.-Soviet relations is in fact a sign of success. The Soviets are behaving in the way they are precisely because of the successful reassertion of American power. We also need to help people understand that the Soviets whip up such hysteria—not because a crisis is necessarily imminent—but to put the onus for compromise and movement constantly on our shoulders. We should make it clear that the competition will continue but that it will not lead to nuclear war.
The Soviet section should sound firm but responsible. We do not seek to threaten the survival of the Soviet regime, even though we violently object to the philosophical principles upon which that regime is based. (We should take credit for our restraint in the aftermath of KAL.) We do intend, however, to force the Soviets to bear the cost of the priorities they have chosen—hence no subsidies, etc. To prove that we are capable of pursuing overriding interests even as we compete, we could begin to give greater visibility to our private and continuing talks with the Soviets on nonproliferation.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Subject File, State of the Union (1984). Confidential. Copies were sent to McFarlane and Poindexter.
  2. The President delivered his State of the Union address on January 25, 1984. For the text of the address, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1984, Book I, pp. 87–94.
  3. Secretary Marshall outlined an economic recovery program for post-war Europe in a June 5, 1947, address delivered at Harvard University. For the text, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. III, The British Commonwealth; Europe, pp. 237–239.