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


  • Lessons for Reykjavik from Past US-Soviet Summitry

Following are some key conclusions about past US-Soviet summit encounters that may be helpful to your thinking and planning for Reykjavik. They are derived from an FSI seminar on the subject held in late September.

The wartime summits (Tehran,2 Yalta3 and Potsdam4) were largely military planning meetings. Summits between 1945 and 1968 generally focused on leaders getting to know one another or establishing procedures for future action. Post-1969 summits tended to formalize the ratification of specific agreements. Unlike most recent summits, the Reykjavik meeting will have elements of the wartime “planning” summits.
The Glassboro summit (1967) is in some ways analogous to Reykjavik in that it was conducted on very short notice.5 Quick preparation for the summit made it less cumbersome. Johnson and Kosygin spent most of the summit in one-on-one discussion, while chief advisors waited on the sidelines.
Murphy’s Law applies to summits in spades. The risks of missteps are substantial; hence public expectations should be reduced as much as possible. A logistics check-list can help planners avoid minor pitfalls.
It has been historically difficult for Chiefs of State to stick to an agenda. This may be particularly true of an “informal” meeting convened on short notice. Topics should be presented in order of priority.
Presidents have tried in the past to downplay the importance of such a meeting, but to no avail. When Chiefs of State meet, it becomes a summit meeting no matter what they call it.
Past experience suggests that during summit meetings, US Presidents should not do any of the following: 1) treat the Soviets as less than equals, 2) try to form a common bond with the other leader by suggesting that they have similar domestic problems, 3) shift responsibility for troublesome US actions to their subordinates (as in the U–26 or Daniloff affairs7) in a way that would enable the Soviet leader to play elements of the USG against one another, or 4) depart significantly from agreed US policy positions.
Bold new proposals presented at a summit by a US President can give him a strong public relations advantage.
Summit participants are often not prepared for a breakthrough in particular areas. More contingency planning needs to be done to take maximum advantage of a potential success. Walt Rostow concludes that follow-through on the summit is “at least as important” as the summit agreements themselves.
The perception of linkage between issues is hard to avoid at summits because decisions are made in a brief timeframe by the same people. The perception of linkage, however, can cause problems because it appears that some interests are being traded away for others. This could be a particular problem on the INF issue, if not because of the interaction between European and US security interests on the matter, then because of the way European and Asian security are linked by the deployments.
The Soviets tend to be under less time pressure than American participants at summits. US haste in the past has led to loose language which has been detrimental to attainment of US interests.
Summits provide US analysts with an important opportunity to judge the relative power of the Soviet leader by observing if he makes key decisions himself or if he is forced to consult with several others before deciding.
The US interpreter should be thoroughly briefed on all the issues to be discussed at the summit. The US should never rely on the Soviet interpreter, as has happened in the past.
Historically, the European Allies have tended to distrust US-Soviet summits because two individuals appear to be deciding their future. This could be especially true of Reykjavik because the focus will [Page 1218] be on INF. Close consultations before, during, and after the meeting are crucial.
It is a mistake to neglect the host government, because the world press will highlight its views. Special emphasis should be given to Iceland’s membership in NATO, and its overall support for US foreign policy objectives vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Our efforts at seeking Senate ratification of a treaty resolving the Rainbow Navigation issue should clear up the one major problem we have had with Iceland. It may also be useful to remember that Nixon and Pompidou met in a mini-summit in Iceland in 1973.8
Andrew Goodpaster concludes that summits are useful for making world leaders aware of issues that can lead to war and peace, but that they should not replace the normal diplomatic processes. Used with care, he says, they can make important but limited advances toward peace.
  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 OCTOBER 1986. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. November 27–December 2, 1943. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, Diplomatic Papers, The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, Documents 353–424.
  3. February 4–11, 1945. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, Diplomatic Papers, Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, Documents 322–512.
  4. July 17–August 2, 1945. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, Diplomatic Papers, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, vols. I and II.
  5. June 23 and 25, 1967. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Soviet Union, Documents 217238.
  6. On May 1, 1960, a U.S. U–2 unarmed reconnaissance plane was shot down 1,200 miles inside the Soviet Union. Khrushchev exploited the incident at the May 1960 four-power summit meeting in Moscow, causing the summit to collapse. See Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. X, Part 1, Eastern Europe Region; Soviet Union; Cyprus, Documents 147156, and Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. IX, Berlin Crisis, 1959–1960, Germany; Austria, Documents 164192.
  7. See footnote 4, Document 275.
  8. May 31–June 1, 1973. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976, Documents 4143, and Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–15, Part 2, Documents on Western Europe, 1973–1976, Documents 20 and 21.