273. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • Arms Reduction: Getting to the Pay-Off Stage

Your policies on strategic modernization, SDI, and alliance strength have made a big impact on the Soviets. As a result, our diplomatic strategy, from the summer of 1984 to Geneva 1985 to your meeting with Gorbachev last November, is paying off.

The Soviets no longer are standing there flat-footed calling for a “ban on space strike weapons.” They are moving swiftly and skillfully with a wide range of clear, substantive proposals. Most important, they are now talking about our agenda. They have made the decision to play in our ball park.

We said the Soviets should prove their seriousness by advancing proposals confidentially at Geneva rather than publicly—they have done that.
We said the key barrier to progress in START was Soviet insistence on including U.S. forward-based systems in strategic reductions—they have largely dropped it.
We said ALCMs and SLCMs must not be banned—they have agreed.
We said the Soviets must back up their assurances that they will accept extensive verification measures—they have provided details that incorporate our ideas.
We said the Soviet demand that SDI be halted must be dropped—they have shifted their position in a way that creates the potential for an outcome that would allow the current research program and protect future deployment options.

The Soviet offer to cut strategic weapons, properly defined, by less than 50% is far better than their old offer for 50% cuts based on a one-sided definition. More important than the size of the first step toward elimination of nuclear weapons is that the right weapons be reduced.

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And the impact of the Chernobyl accident is immense. Gorbachev’s thinking must be affected by it.2 Now is the time to capitalize on its implications for achieving a non-nuclear weapons world of the future.

So, for the first time since 1981, we have got the Soviets to play the game. We are ahead and we will win—but not if we just sit on our lead.

A good agreement is the only way to make your achievements permanent. It has to have two parts: one that locks in the Soviets, and one that locks in your successors in office. We cannot get to a non-nuclear world or one less dependent on nuclear ballistic missiles without a U.S.-Soviet treaty.

But this requires practical near-term steps aimed at making SDI a permanent fixture of the U.S. strategic posture, and not just another costly program under perpetual attack by the media and voted on by Congress every few months, under constant threat of emasculation or cancellation.

This is the moment to make our next move. The Soviets are signalling a readiness to deal. We need to put substantive proposals in play. We should instruct Max3 to make a plenary statement before the end of this round that we regard elements in their new positions as serious and constructive, and that we are preparing a response that will build on those elements.

We would put the details of our comprehensive proposal on the table during the next round—and work to lay the foundation for it through private channel talks between the rounds. We would also use this channel to engage the Soviets in discussions on the meaning of Chernobyl.

Clearly, the Soviet proposal to tie offensive arms cuts to a 15–20 year commitment not to withdraw from the ABM Treaty aims to impede SDI. But we can avoid such a problem by adjusting the timing of the commitment. After all, we’ve said that SDI research would be conducted within ABM Treaty limits and those most intimately involved in the research say that a deployment cannot intelligently be made until the early 1990’s at best. A negotiator who gets something in return for the sleeves from his vest is doing okay.

We could propose that the offensive cuts we seek and a commitment not to withdraw from the ABM Treaty be mutually contingent over the next 5–6 years. SDI research could proceed as planned. The program [Page 1198] would be institutionalized beyond your term because SDI would become the enforcer to ensure Soviet compliance with agreed offensive cuts.

The SALT II protocol, which temporarily banned deployment of long-range sea-launched or ground-launched cruise missiles, provides a precedent for such a short-term commitment. During the period of the protocol, robust SLCM and GLCM research and development programs proceeded; after the commitment expired, both systems were deployed. There is no reason why we cannot repeat this experience with SDI.

Attached is a set of elements of a comprehensive U.S. counterproposal.4 These elements are designed to form the basis of a constructive response while fully protecting—more importantly, providing long-term support for—the strategic modernization program and SDI.

The counterproposal encompasses all three subjects being addressed in Geneva, and nuclear testing as well:

In START, we would continue to press for 50% reductions in warheads and throw-weight, and make adjustments on secondary issues such as mobile ICBMs and SLCMs to show movement toward the Soviet position.
In Defense and Space, we would clarify the ABM Treaty to explicitly permit the SDI program, and on that basis agree not to withdraw during the 5–6 years the offensive reductions are underway.
In INF, we would pursue the deep reductions in INF missiles contained in the first two phases of your February proposal.
In Nuclear Testing, we would make a specific proposal based on our position, focussing first on verification procedures for the existing threshold test ban, followed by reductions in the number of tests linked to reductions in offensive missiles.

Such a comprehensive package is necessary to achieve the deep reductions we seek in offensive nuclear forces and to safeguard the future of SDI.

Mr. President, the strong U.S. stance has brought us to the historic juncture of your Presidency. The Soviets have blinked. With an appropriate counterproposal, we can put ourselves in the strongest possible position to obtain an historic arms reduction agreement. And, if the Soviets do not agree, we will have created the record necessary for Congressional, Allied, and public support of the efforts we must take to protect ourselves.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Robert Linhard Files, Compartment File, SAGE 03–Tactics. Secret. The President initialed the top right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 272.
  3. Kampelman.
  4. Attached but not printed is a June 17 paper entitled “Elements of a Comprehensive US Counterproposal.”