190. Letter From Richard Nixon to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1

Dear Bud,2

I greatly appreciated your letter of March 26th3 and find myself in substantial agreement with your observations about the direction of the Administration’s foreign policy.

On the political front, I must say that I never thought the day would come when we would see a candidate more dovish than Walter Mondale. But the new wunderkind, scary Gary, has finally topped him. Hart is an isolationist pure and simple as far as the most crucial area, the Third World, is concerned. His suggestion that Japan, because it gets 65% of its oil from the Persian Gulf, should send ground troops to the Gulf if hostilities arise is beyond belief. And he apparently is not aware of the fact that the Germans are prohibited from playing a role militarily outside of Europe.

But on a subject where I have first-hand knowledge, Hart has made an even more ludicrous proposal. He said in the debate at Columbia last night that he would as President initiate a six-month moratorium on testing with the hope that that might entice the Soviets into agreeing to a Comprehensive Test Ban.4 He fails to take into account what I described at considerable length in my Memoirs: the fact that in 1974 [Page 791] Brezhnev pressed me to agree to a Comprehensive Test Ban.5 I refused and we settled on the Threshold Test Ban. Then and now the problem was not their willingness to agree to a Test Ban but their unwillingness to agree to verification. I am rather surprised that Mondale doesn’t take him on on this particular point. But here, of course, Mondale is trying to get to the left of Hart by demonstrating that he came out for a nuclear freeze long before Hart did.

In any event, despite Hart’s win in Connecticut, I still predict that Mondale will be nominated and that the convention will come up with a Mondale/Hart ticket.6 Because of the hard words they have had between them, most of the pundits rule that out completely. We have to remember, however, as Johnson and Kennedy demonstrated in 1960, Democrats who appear to be fighting each other during a primary have a love feast at a convention. It is like hearing a couple of cats screeching on the back fence in the middle of the night. You think that they are fighting. But in a few weeks you have a dozen more kittens.

It would be presumptuous for me to suggest what initiatives the President might offer in his upcoming speech. I think he might make some mileage by giving active support to Senate approval of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and expressing his willingness to have a Comprehensive Test Ban provided adequate verification can be assured.7

Another pet idea of mine which he has already alluded to but not set forth as Administration policy is that in the field of defensive weapons in space, the United States would offer to share whatever technology we develop in that area with the Soviet Union or any other nation that agrees to participate in constructive arms control negotiations. I believe the President would be well-advised to formally make this offer to the Soviet Union. Like Eisenhower’s Open Skies proposal in 1955,8 they would probably turn it down. But the President would have completely knocked the props out of the argument that we want [Page 792] defensive missile defense as a shield so that we could use the sword of offensive missiles. By offering to share our defensive technology with the Soviets, we would completely demolish this argument.

I am not surprised that the Soviets refuse to see Scowcroft. They study our polls more religiously than even the candidates do. The Gallup Poll showing Hart leading Reagan (which was only a blip in my opinion) probably convinced them that Hart had a chance to win.9 The situation is totally different from that in 1972 when we not only had had three years of intensive private preparatory talks looking toward a summit,10 but the Berlin Agreement.11 And, even more importantly, the political reality that no one gave McGovern any chance whatever to win. Despite their ideology, one thing I have observed about the Soviets is that they never back losers.

However, I am not concerned that if the polls continue to show a close race the Soviets might try to stir up some trouble someplace in the world hoping that it would lead to the President’s defeat. We can be sure that after what happened when they heavy-handedly tried to prevent Kohl’s election Germany, they won’t try any ploy like that in the U.S. If they did try to create a crisis someplace in the world, there is no doubt in my mind that it would help the President rather than hurt him, provided he handled it in a very strong and responsible way.

This letter is already much too long but I did want to share some of these thoughts with you. Don’t bother the President with the full text but if you see a morsel or two that he might enjoy munching on, serve it to him in the morning as an hors d’oeuvre!

With warm regards,


  1. Source: Reagan Library, Robert McFarlane Files, Subject File, Soviet Union—Sensitive File—1984 (03/09/1984–06/20/1984). No classification marking. The letter is printed on Nixon’s personal letterhead. In the top right-hand corner of the letter, the President wrote: “I marked a note on p. 2. RR.”
  2. Nixon added “Dear Bud” by hand.
  3. Not found.
  4. Mondale, Hart, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson took part in a televised debate at Columbia University on March 28. (Howell Raines, “Hart and Mondale Clash Repeatedly in Sixth Debate,” New York Times, March 29, 1984, pp. A1, B8)
  5. Richard M. Nixon, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1978).
  6. On March 27, Hart “scored a decisive victory” over Mondale and Jackson “in Connecticut’s Democratic Presidential primary, completing a sweep of primaries and caucuses in the six New England states.” (Richard L. Madden, “Hart Easily Wins Connecticut Vote; His Tally is 54.9%,” New York Times, March 28, 1984, pp. A1, B6)
  7. Reagan drew an arrow to this and the subsequent sentence and wrote “Why not?” in the right-hand margin.
  8. See footnote 4, Document 95.
  9. On March 9, New York Times reporter John Herbers wrote that a new Gallup Poll, “taken by telephone among 719 registered voters from March 2 to March 6,” placed Hart ahead of Reagan: “The poll found that in a trial heat for the Presidency, 52 percent said they favored the Colorado Senator to 43 percent for Mr. Reagan. When matched against Mr. Hart’s two leading rivals in the poll, Mr. Reagan led former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, 50 percent to 45 percent, and Senator John Glenn of Ohio 52 percent to 41 percent.” (John Herbers, “Gallup’s Survey Gives Hart 9-Point Lead Over Reagan,” New York Times, p. A12)
  10. Reference is to the May 1972 Moscow summit meeting.
  11. Reference is to the 1971 Quadripartite Agreement.