47. Memorandum From Secretary of State Haig to President Reagan1


  • The Atlantic Alliance

From the outset of your Administration, you have placed a high priority on repairing the damage done to the Atlantic Alliance in recent years. Rebuilding Alliance solidarity is a precondition for redressing the East-West military imbalance and for constraining Soviet international behavior. This is no easy task.

On top of the legacy of weak and inconsistent Alliance leadership we inherited from the Carter Administration, there are deep—though I believe mistaken—apprehensions in Europe that we are on a collision course with an increasingly desperate Soviet Union, with Europe most likely to suffer from the collision.
Moreover, American and European politics are largely out of phase, with environmentalism, anti-nuclear sentiment, and a hunger for disarmament on the rise in many Allied countries.

We now have completed an initial round of consultations with key Allies and are heading into the NATO Ministerials,2 your talks with Schmidt3 and your summit meeting in Ottawa.4 Despite the differences and doubts we have done well so far. But I am deeply concerned about a growing perception in Europe of U.S. inconsistency.

This is a good time to reflect on the reasons for the progress we have made to date and on the principles which should guide us in the future. Based on our experience of the past few months, three guidelines stand out in my mind.

First, the United States must lead.

Second, if we push too hard or are inconsistent, we risk a return to the disarray of recent years.

Third, our handling of a few key issues will be decisive in determining the future unity and purposefulness of the Alliance.

U.S Leadership to Date

In response to our leadership, the Allies have been willing to speak out strongly on issues of real importance to us.

They have continued to send a firm signal to the Soviets on Poland.
They have reaffirmed their commitment to TNF modernization, based on the December 1979 two-track decision,5 and they have agreed to state that arms control is related to Soviet conduct.
Schmidt gave the Soviets a strong warning in his state of the nation speech.6
We expect the NATO Ministerial communique to present a firm stance vis-a-vis the Soviet Union.
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None of this would have happened if the Allies had not sensed the new US determination to restore Western strength and resist Soviet expansionism. But it also would not have happened without your willingness to help our friends meet their own political needs and thus maintain support for NATO policies. For Giscard in particular this meant your willingness to move on CDE; for Schmidt and others it meant willingness to reaffirm our dual-track approach to TNF. These moves were important in themselves and in showing all the allies that we mean to work within their political boundaries even as we pursue our own more ambitious goals.

Realities of the European Situation

We must continue to base our leadership on a clear understanding of realities in Europe. Otherwise we risk losing momentum, and even returning to open disunity. We could be forced increasingly toward unilateralism in meeting the Soviet challenge, deprived of crucial Allied support.

The British remain our most reliable Ally, the French by far the most robust. However, both Mrs. Thatcher and Giscard are deeply concerned that we take into account the situation in the FRG. Mrs. Thatcher almost pleaded with me in London that we take care not to isolate Chancellor Schmidt, whom she described as “a really good friend of the U.S.7 As I reported to you, they deeply fear the consequences of misunderstanding between a resurgent U.S. and an exposed FRG.

The realities of the German situation remain: the fact that Germany is a divided country makes the benefits of detente more tangible and politically sensitive than for any other Western country. The humanitarian content (visits between the FRG and GDR of divided families) of Ostpolitik is far more important than even the sizeable economic motives. Berlin is an especially sensitive pressure point. The FRG is very much on the front-line of NATO and is the key to its success. Left-wing pressure groups are growing more strident, and Schmidt is having trouble holding his party together.

Elements of the German situation are present throughout NATO. The Dutch, Belgians, Norwegians, Danes, Italians and others have large and important domestic constituencies devoted to improved relations with the Soviet Union. Most of them face serious economic difficulties. Even the British face resurgent peace movements, radicalization of [Page 163] the political left, and serious economic problems. Leaders in all of these countries must take these facts into account not only to maintain support for U.S. and Alliance policies but also to survive and to keep their parties from collapsing.

Key Issue

TNF has become the most immediate test case of our ability to manage this complex situation. If we fail to sustain support for the deployment of modern theater nuclear weapons we will lose far more than a much needed strengthening of our nuclear arsenal in Europe. We will suffer a fundamental political reverse from which the Atlantic Alliance would not recover for many years.

Schmidt reminded me in Bonn that it was he who first called for TNF modernization.8 He wanted me to assure you in the strongest possible terms that the FRG would stand firmly behind the decision to station Pershing and cruise missiles in Germany “no matter how much the far left might yell”. But he also made vividly clear that it would be impossible for him politically to stand behind modernization if the U.S. failed to pursue negotiations on limiting TNF deployments with the Soviets. I would add that the same is true with the other key deployment countries—the U.K., Italy and Belgium. None of the leaders realistically expect an early agreement. Schmidt told me the negotiations could go on “for six years”. All need the fact of negotiations to maintain popular support for deployment.

We need steadiness on this matter, with no US deviation from NATO’s two-track decision, and no hint that the US is placing conditions on further movement on TNF arms control. If the Soviets invade Poland, the Allies will agree that the basis for arms control, including on TNF, has been destroyed. Short of that, failure to resume talks with the Soviets will risk broad Allied demands that we suspend modernization until arms control is resumed. Once suspended, we would almost certainly not be able to get modernization back on track again.

Necessity for Consistency

Part of the European reluctance to follow U.S. leadership is the lack of credibility and consistency of previous Administrations. There are a number of recent storm warnings that there is renewed concern in Europe about this American tendency. Allies are worried that they [Page 164] might find themselves once again exposed as we zigzag between confrontation and accommodation.

We cannot argue that TNF talks are out because the Soviets are still pressuring Poland, after we have lifted the partial grain embargo because the situation in Poland permitted us to do so.9
We cannot ask the Europeans to accept missiles on their soil, if we remove land-based missiles from the United States.

Our key task is to build a political base with the Allies and to close the confidence gap. There must be a new premium on consultations and consistent political signals. This does not mean hypersensitivity to Allied concerns, which could paralyze our initiatives. It does mean that we take their needs and perspectives into account as we bring the Allies to accept our view of East-West relations and the increased defense efforts it entails.

After we have regained their confidence, then we will be in a better position to push for more from the Allies. To gain that confidence requires steadiness and patience. It’s a several year task.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Political Affairs Directorate, NSC Records, Chron April 1981 (04/29/1981); NLR–920–1–32–3–0. Secret. A copy of the memorandum is in Department of State files. It bears a typed notation that reads: “Direct by Special Courier to WH 11 am 4/29. jgm.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Records, Special Handling Restriction Memos, 1979–1983: Lot 96D262, 1981 ES Sensitive April 20–30) Also scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VII, Western Europe, 1981–1984.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 43.
  3. Schmidt was scheduled to visit the United States May 20–23. Documentation on the visit is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VII, Western Europe, 1981–1984.
  4. See Document 57.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 35.
  6. Schmidt delivered his state of the nation address before the Bundestag in Bonn on April 9. According to the Washington Post, “Schmidt blamed Moscow for disturbing international peace and upsetting the balance of military power in Europe. The remarks seemed intended primarily to counter spreading pacifist sentiment in West Germany.” (Bradley Graham, “Schmidt Appeals for Continuity,” Washington Post, April 10, 1981, pp. A1, A25) In telegram 7417 from Bonn, April 10, the Embassy transmitted a summary of the Bundestag address. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D810171–0343)
  7. Haig was in London April 9–11. In telegram Secto 2119 from London, April 10, Haig summarized for the President his April 10 discussions with Thatcher and Carrington, characterizing the day as “interesting and productive.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D810175–0177) Documentation on the visit is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VII, Western Europe, 1981–1984.
  8. Haig met with Schmidt and Genscher in Bonn on April 12. In telegram Secto 2141 sent from the Secretary’s aircraft, April 11, Haig summarized the meeting for the President. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, [no N number]. Documentation on the visit is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VII, Western Europe, 1981–1984.
  9. On April 24, Reagan, in a prepared statement read by Speakes at a press briefing, announced that he was “lifting the U.S. limitation on additional agricultural sales to the Soviet Union,” which he had pledged he would do during the 1980 Presidential campaign. The President indicated that he was able to take this action because the U.S. position was now clear: “we will react strongly to acts of aggression wherever they take place. There will never be a weakening of this resolve.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, p. 382) See also Congress and the Nation, vol. VI, 1981–1984, p. 495. For Haig’s comments on the lifting of the embargo, made during the question and answer session following his April 24 ASNE address (Document 45), see Department of State Bulletin, June 1981, pp. 7–8.