94. Paper Prepared by Steven Sestanovich of the Policy Planning Staff1


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.

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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?

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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.
  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 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].”
  2. An unknown hand inserted “to” between “not” and “press.”