308. Information Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Solomon) to Secretary of State Shultz 1


  • Testing Gorbachev’s Reform Program: A Major U.S. Proposal to Gain the Initiative in US-Soviet Relations

Summary. You should consider a major diplomatic initiative designed to capture the political high-ground in US-Soviet relations. Your proposal would lay out the basis for a fundamental restructuring of the difficult US-Soviet competition. It would, first, test whether Gorbachev’s reforms can provide the basis for a new relationship, and, second, position the US as the innovator in responding to the potential of the Soviet reform program.

The question remains whether Gorbachev’s relaxation of the Stalinist system will be carried far enough to change Soviet reliance on militarism, secrecy and control in ways which will make the Russians easier to live with. By putting on the table a comprehensive agenda for threat reduction, greater openness in Soviet society, and the establishment of a more normal economic relationship, we will be better able to test Soviet willingness to move in directions favorable to our interests. At a minimum, we will be setting the standards against which Soviet performance is to be measured. End Summary.

You asked for our thoughts on what is happening in the Soviet Union and how we should respond to Gorbachev’s reform program. As you know, there are deep disagreements in this country about the nature and significance of developments in the Soviet Union. It is too soon to be certain that Gorbachev has, in fact, openned the possibility of a new basis for our relations. However, there are real advantages in taking an initiative to test him, given the positive reception which perestroika and glasnost are receiving in other countries. The impression abroad is that there are significant changes occurring both within Soviet society and in Soviet foreign policy. This perception, and Soviet exploitation of it, has allowed Gorbachev to present himself as the innovator, the creative force in current international diplomacy—a paradox, [Page 1414] since the impetus for Gorbachev’s reforms is a recognition of his country’s intellectual, economic and technological stagnation. We can and should take steps to regain the initiative.

Gorbachev’s reforms potentially strike at some of the most fundamental aspects of the Stalinist system inherited by his generation of leaders. Stalinism had its roots in Russian authoritarianism, fear of risk-taking and fixation on foreign threats. Under the Tsars, these traits produced reaction, economic stagnation and technological backwardness. Stalin’s innovation was a belief that he could achieve progress, avoid risk and secure the country by asserting absolute control—control by the Party over the population, control of the country’s borders, its economy, the content and flow of information—essentially, control over all forms of organized social activity. But Stalinist control is now recognized as having put the country into a developmental straight-jacket that is isolating the Soviet Union from progress occurring on a broad front abroad.

Gorbachev’s impulse for openness and reform arises from the realization that a closed, tightly controlled society cannot compete in a world in which economic development, and the power generated by it, is occurring as a result of rapid technological advances stimulated by an information explosion which knows no national boundaries. The present Soviet leadership is experimenting with relaxing some controls, accepting what in Soviet society appears to be greater risk of social instability in the hope of stimulating progress.

Our crystal ball does not see the outcome of this process. The forces of reaction in Soviet society are strong, and, despite Gorbachev’s rhetorical insistence on the need for major change, it is not clear whether he intends to relax Party controls enough to attain lasting and significant reform. But this situation does present opportunities we should seize.

The bottom line for us is how these developments potentially affect the Soviet Union as a country that persists in threatening our interests. A technologically more advanced and economically more dynamic Soviet Union could well be (indeed, is quite likely to be) a more formidable opponent. But if it achieves its reforms at the “price” of opening its society to outside influences, ending its obsession with secrecy, and limiting the controls on what its people know about the world, it could also be a qualitatively different kind of nation. Our concern about the Soviet threat arises from its enormous standing military forces, its demonstrated readiness to use them to impose its will on its neighbors, its militaristic and zero-sum approach to Third World conflicts, and its pervasive secrecy—an aspect of the Stalinist system of control which leads us to fear its capabilities and make worst case assumptions about its intentions.

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Premises of a US Initiative

We have every reason to be confident about our own position in the US-Soviet competition and about the essential dynamism of our society. And, as you have urged, we should be bold enough to view the Soviet reform effort as a potentially ameliorating factor on the international scene. We should be on the offensive, using our strengths and diplomatic skills to:

counter the impression of Soviet dynamism;
force Soviet behavior to change in deeds, not just words (and, if it does not, demonstrate the emptiness of Gorbachev’s “new thinking”);
seek a more open Soviet society, one which would carry with it greater access to information about Soviet intentions;
press a far-sighted agenda for bilateral US-Soviet relations which, if the Soviets accept it, could ultimately transform their society and their international conduct by forcing them to find alternatives to militarism, secrecy and control as their primary instruments of rule and international influence.

Content of the Initiative

The elements of such a diplomatic initiative, which you might discuss privately with Shevardnadze and then incorporate into a major speech, could include the following kinds of proposals—each of which would encourage change in directions favorable to our interests:

a major joint project in space, perhaps a joint Mars exploration, to galvanize opinion and develop attitudes and expectations of cooperation;
repeal of Jackson/Vanik2 if the Soviets publicly establish and then practice emigration procedures which the American public can understand and accept;
reductions of 90 percent by each country in the number of closed cities and in the number of square miles of closed territory;
assurance of Soviet access to U.S. television, if necessary by USG purchase of air time, in exchange for uncensored U.S. access to Soviet television;
setting aside a channel for direct satellite television broadcasts by the Soviet Union to the United States and vice-versa, perhaps using as vehicles existing institutions such as VOA and Radio Moscow;
undertaking consultations with our GATT partners to establish agreement on the standards of economic performance and currency convertibility which would have to be met for Soviet involvement in the international economic system;
relaxation of COCOM restrictions if significant Soviet actions—completing INF and START agreements, substantial conventional reductions and redeployments in Eastern Europe, an end to the Afghanistan invasion—reduce the USR’s offensive military threat to us and to our allies.

Many of these proposals may be more than the Soviets are prepared to accept at this time and to be packaged as a formal position they will require much work within our own government. But our objective should be to lay out a bold framework that would define the basis for a major improvement in US-Soviet relations, and then initiate a process of improvement that would encompass the major areas of Soviet behavior of concern to us: their militarism, human rights abuses, secretiveness, international adventurism, etc. All of the steps we would propose should challenge the Soviets to actions which demonstrate that they are willing to translate glasnost and perestroika into commonly accepted standards of non-threatening international behavior.

We have presented these ideas in very preliminary, bare bones form for your consideration so you can mull them over prior to your meeting with Shevardnadze.3 If you find that the concept has merit, we can further flesh it out in the light of where you find our relationship going in the next few months, perhaps developing it in a major speech.

  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 SEPTEMBER 1987. Confidential. Drafted by R. Smith (S/P) and cleared by McCall.
  2. During the spring of 1973, the House Ways and Means Committee initiated hearings and markups on the Nixon administration’s trade legislation. The House version of the legislation (H.R. 10710) contained an amendment introduced by Chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade (D–Ohio) Charles Vanik, which prohibited the granting of MFN status to Communist nations unless the President certified to Congress that the recipient nation had not imposed restrictive emigration policies. Jackson introduced similar legislation in the Senate. On October 18, 1974, the Ford administration and the Senate reached a compromise. Jackson offered an amendment to the bill that allowed the President to waive the ban on MFN and export credits for 18 months if the President could report to Congress that the Soviet Union had made progress in relaxing emigration curbs. Both houses of Congress approved the Trade Act of 1974 (H.R. 10710; P.L. 93–618; 88 Stat. 178) on December 20, 1974. Ford signed the bill into law on January 3, 1975. (Congress and the Nation, vol. IV, 1973–1976, pp. 129, 131, and 133)
  3. For Shultz’s September 15–17 meetings with Shevardnadze, see Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VI, Soviet Union, October 1986–January 1989, Documents 6672 and 7476.