266. Information Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Solomon) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • The Fuller Memorandum: New Fluidity on the International Scene Provides Opportunities for the U.S.2

SUMMARY: I find the Fuller memorandum’s assessment of the elements of “fluidity” on the international scene a bit too pessimistic, but he does begin to identify opportunities for the U.S. in the present situation. These include contrasting U.S. and Soviet performances in managing political change (e.g., Philippines vs. South Yemen), more effectively using our economic and technological strengths in competing with the Soviets, developing more effective military capabilities for low-intensity conflict, and better managing our alliance relationships END SUMMARY.

A Dynamic, Yet More Responsive World

While the major states seem to be having greater difficulty in anticipating or controlling the natural evolution of international events, the present situation is not more unstable, threatening or confusing than any other post-World War II period. Conversely, the principal causes of the present fluidity of events, e.g., Soviet interventions abroad, economic problems, and Third World political instability, are more evident and potentially more amenable to manipulation than at any other time in recent history. Indeed, the superpower that best adapts its foreign policy and associated resources to the challenges and opportunities of the current international scene will be the one best prepared to meet its own interests in this dynamic situation.

U.S. Competence; Soviet Ineptitude

Several recent events demonstrate that the United States can handle effectively the rapid flux of international events. While luck and developments beyond our control, of course, are major factors in shaping the outcome of complex foreign events, the recent bloodless [Page 1159] leadership transitions in both Haiti3 and the Philippines4 were abetted by intelligent U.S. policy and actions. At the same time, the USG did not seem prepared in advance to take actions which would effectively follow-up on these successes.

There seems to be an unstated assumption that when the dictator is gone, the problem is gone. Of course, the most fluid (and most manageable) period of change comes after the leadership changes. This is an important point because we must make clear to the world, and particularly to the public and Congress, that spasms of political change can be handled effectively—even by the United States Government. We can pursue our interests competently, and with an appropriate measure of activism.

In contrast, the USSR has recently demonstrated poor judgment and a wanting performance in the management of political changes within their client states—e.g., Afghanistan, Grenada and South Yemen. We should take steps to build on our own recent successes (which we will have to do, for example, in South Korea) while devaluing the Soviet’s recent performances to relevant elites and publics. We should place special emphasis on sensitizing Moscow’s Third world client states and East European allies to the economic decay, political interventions and violence that invariably arise whenever the Soviets establish a political alliance, economic association or military pact with a given country.


The Byplay of Alliance Politics

The Soviet Union obviously makes a major effort to disintegrate our alliances. This is much of the content of their public and private diplomacy directed at Western Europe, especially on arms control issues. While some commentators on international affairs now assert that our allies have become liabilities in the pursuit of U.S. interests, the Soviets clearly see them as assets to us and worthwhile targets of political manipulation. It is evident to most American observers that there is more gain than pain in our alliance relationships. The challenge we face is to manage more effectively alliance politics (the better to foil Soviet troublemaking), while at the same time pursuing more purposeful efforts to weaken ties between Moscow and its allies and client states.

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Rivalry in the Third World

Some foreign affairs specialists have suggested that we try to reach a “cease fire” with the Soviet Union in our rivalry for influence in the Third World. This objective, of course, was at the heart of the 1973 U.S.-Soviet agreement on mutual restraint in our relations in order to build confidence and s strengthen detente.5 The outcome of this effort, however, was Moscow’s adventurism—from Angola to Afghanistan—that followed Watergate, the Vietnam collapse, and the associated paralysis of Presidential initiative in foreign affairs and Congressional micromanagement of foreign policy issues.

While we should show restraint in our dealings with the Third World, we nonetheless have to take actions which will induce caution on Moscow’s part by demonstrating (as we did in Grenada and the Philippines) that we have the capabilities and the will to pursue our interests and support our friends.

We should also take advantage of opportunities to publicize Soviet manipulations in developing countries, highlight Moscow’s limited economic capacity to assist in the development process, and reinforce in the minds of Second and Third World elites the devalued influence of Marxism-Leninism for dealing with the challenges of economic and social development. We have superior resources for this competition relative to the Soviets; but we have to marshall them more effectively in concert with the efforts of our allies in Europe and Asia.

Develop Capabilities for Low-Intensity Conflict

There is a serious mismatch in U.S. defense spending and foreign policy planning between our major investment in strategic forces designed to deter war with the Soviets, and our underfunded and weakly developed capabilities for the most probable forms of conflict—insurgencies in the developing world, regional conflicts involving friends and allies, terrorism and infiltration of our borders by illegal immigrants and drug smugglers.

Resolving the mismatch problem presents a major challenge to our military in a time of fiscal austerity; but unless we address the issue we will have attenuated capabilities for coping with the most frequent—if low level—threats to U.S. security.

Economic Health and Adaptability

Our economic vitality and technological prowess are among the strongest assets we have for managing alliance relationships, [Page 1161] strengthening our appeal to the Third World, and competing with the Soviets on a global scale. While much is already being done to remedy the vulnerabilities in our economic circumstances (reducing the budget deficit, encouraging the diffusion of new technologies to heighten the competitiveness of our industries, etc.) we must do more to strengthen our position for dealing with adversaries and coping with the fluidity of the international environment.

Areas where more should be done include: stimulation of technological innovation and the commercialization of advanced technologies (through improved scientific education, tax incentives for investment in new production techniques, etc.); upgrading the quality and job mobility of the labor force (to make it more adaptable to a dynamic global economy); etc.


The ultimate challenge to those who design and manage U.S. foreign policy is to better coordinate the resources we do have in pursuit of our interests in a fluid international environment. The bureaucratic nature of the foreign policy process, the division of powers between the Executive Branch and an assertive Congress, and a public (and press) reluctant to pursue a more activist foreign policy—not to mention the constraints of alliance politics—all impede our ability to implement more purposeful and coherent measures for dealing with international challenges.

Here we encounter a fundamental dilemma for effective policy implementation. On the one hand, as Fuller points out, the issues we confront and the variety of situations affecting our interests are increasingly diverse and complex. Likewise, the policies now required to advance our interests demand ever more complex mixes of political, economic and military actions. At the same time, however, the expanding roles of Congress and the media drive us toward policy lines which are excessively simplified and can be easily articulated. We are also constrained by budgetary pressures to reduce our presence abroad and to contract our cadre of senior professionals at just the time the need for these resources is growing.

We must avoid the trap of allowing the requirements of public diplomacy to define the task of integrating the available instruments of our policy, and to assure that the human resources of our foreign relations are not depleted by rigid budgetary considerations.

The successes we have had in recent years under the leadership of the President and yourself have done much to rebuild public and allied confidence in America’s capacity for constructive engagement in the world—and to strengthen the public’s will to challenge threats to [Page 1162] U.S. interests. We have an increasingly solid foundation on which to base a less reactive, more assertive set of policies designed to shape a dynamic international environment in ways consonant with U.S. interests and values.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/P Files, Memoranda and Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff to the Secretary and Other Seventh Floor Principals: Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons 3/1–31/86. Confidential. Drafted by Steve Pieczenik (S/P) and Solomon.
  2. Attached but not printed is a February 27 memorandum from Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council Graham Fuller to Casey and McMahon, entitled “New Fluidity on the International Scene?”
  3. On February 7, Duvalier and his family departed Port-au-Prince for asylum in France. That day the new Haitian Government—the National Council of Government—was announced.
  4. See footnote 14, Document 264.
  5. Presumable reference to the Joint U.S.-Soviet Communiqué released at the conclusion of the June 16–23, 1973, summit meeting between Nixon and Brezhnev, held in Washington; Camp David, Maryland; and San Clemente, California. The text of the communiqué is printed in Department of State Bulletin, July 23, 1973, pp. 130–134.