94. Paper Prepared by Steven Sestanovich of the Policy Planning Staff1
REPORT CARD DISCUSSION
I. Assessments of Reagan Administration foreign policy performance must reflect weak U.S hand: stagnant economy, reviving Vietnam syndrome and priority of domestic issues, disorderly alliance relations, momentum of local/regional events, etc. Conclusion: Significant imbalance between U.S interests and power to defend them.[Page 342]
II. Difficulties evident in five major tasks of our foreign policy.
Management of strategic relationships
Examples: Euro-allies, China
Consolidating new relationships in unstable areas
Examples: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia
Resolving most dangerous regional conflicts
Examples: Namibia, El Salvador
Exploiting exposed Soviet positions
Examples: Poland, Afghanistan
Managing public attitudes
Example: arms control
III. Operational principles. To deal with above problems, U.S. policy must balance conflicting imperatives: short vs. long term, limiting damage vs. incurring costs and risks.
For example, four simple principles:
- Stay out of trouble in the short term: shore up major weak positions, avoid creating new problems.
- Begin long-term efforts to strengthen and extend U.S. positions and capabilities.
- Seize opportunities as they open up, respond to emergencies.
- Attach high priority to secure fall-back positions.
NB: A and D emphasize damage-limitation; B and C incur costs.
IV. Of above principles, A and C appear to dominate present foreign policy. Even though the one principle limits damage and the other accepts costs so as to make gains, this is a potentially disastrous combination, for they do not make up for each other’s inadequacies.
- A is a sustainable policy only if supported by B. Unless the long-term position of the US is improving by itself, policies are needed that accept the cost of achieving improvement. Without this, C may only expose weakness.
- C is a safe policy only if supported by D. Falling back on A, without attention to secure fall-back positions, may only make A less successful.
V. How have these guidelines (of sections III and IV) been applied to tasks of section II?[Page 343]
1. Managing strategic relationships
- Euro-allies: High-priority damage-limitation very successful, but less success at turning corner to B. As a result, Euro-cooperation on C remains tense, uncertain.
- China: No success with A; new problems have arisen, making B more remote and D more important. Fall-back positions, however, have been understood by us chiefly as involving avoidance of blame, not as strengthening U.S. ability to sustain more distant relationship.
2. New relationships in unstable areas
- Saudi Arabia: Despite initial hopes, expectation that relationship could move from A to B not realized, despite costs to U.S. of AWACS affair: a legitimate decision not to press2 harder, but to date no fall-back position/replacement for S.A. a centerpiece of U.S. regional security policy.
- Pakistan: Weak position successfully bolstered, with careful balance of A and B, and readiness to accept costs (both in muscling GOP and countering domestic attitudes). Long-term relationship/commitment undefined, vulnerable to nuclear issue. No exploration of Indian possibilities.
3. Regional conflicts
- El Salvador: C without D—opportunity seized, without fall-back positions, perhaps from over-confidence. Damage done to management of public attitudes by showing Viet syndrome strong.
- Namibia: To date, successful pursuit of B at expense of A: acceptance of short-term costs (identification with South Africa) for improved longer-term position. Close attention to fall-back position, but only so as to avoid blame for failure. (Stronger fall-back, enabling us to affect events, may not be possible.)
4. Exploiting exposed Soviet positions
- Poland: Martial law seen as major opportunity, but soon became apparent can’t follow principle C if alliance management policy is governed by A. Thus, early retreat to long-term B: try to reform East-West economic relations at the margin; sensible, but failure to see very far down the road at outset of crisis. Damage done by steps that couldn’t be sustained.
- Afghanistan: An opportunity to be seized, but not fully exploited, perhaps from fear of creating new problems. If so, a major sacrifice of B for A. Low level assistance does not reflect high stakes: major Soviet defeat could turn back broader Soviet offensive. Longer-term perspective (B) would mean increased aid, but this requires in turn attention to fall-back (D).
5. Public attitudes
- Arms control: Plausible case for A alone, while allowing military spending to strengthen B and exploiting public relations potential (C). But nuclear debate shows fall-back position may be weak. Priority to propaganda use may be at expense of real agreement, at least during this Administration.
VI. Summary and Conclusion
- Performance shortfalls seem to involve pattern of overemphasis on A and C.
- Implications for S/P: attention needed for how to turn the corner from A to B, how to improve fall-back positions.
- 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 PW 4/21–30/82. No classification marking. Drafted by Sestanovich. A notation in an unknown hand, presumably Kaplan’s, in the top right-hand corner of the memorandum reads: “to: P. Wolfowitz, fm: Steve Sestanovich, 4/21/82, w/copies to JR [James Rowe], NT [Nathan Tarcov].”↩
- An unknown hand inserted “to” between “not” and “press.”↩