95. Memorandum From William Stearman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)1


  • Observations on a US-Soviet Summit

Brezhnev wants a real summit in Europe (instead of a handshake in New York) in order to promote the current Soviet peace campaign and slow down US and NATO defense improvements. For this and additional reasons described below, I do not believe that a summit this year would serve U.S. interests; however, if the President wants to [Page 345] avoid taking a negative position on a summit, he might follow President Eisenhower’s example and put a price tag on it. (C)

Beginning in 1953, Churchill pushed for a summit with the new post-Stalin Soviet leaders.2 Eisenhower indicated that he would agree to a summit if the Soviets would: sign a German Peace Treaty or an Austrian State Treaty or contribute to real arms control progress. The Soviets agreed to the Austrian Treaty, which was signed in May 1955,3 and a summit was held in Geneva that July.4 The resulting “Spirit of Geneva” detente atmosphere was slowly eroding NATO’s strength and cohesion when this detente was ended by the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.5 (It should be noted that the foreign ministers conference, which followed up on the Geneva summit, produced no real results, but this fact was overshadowed by the prevailing post-summit euphoria.) (C)

The record of US-Soviet summit meetings would indicate that they should be avoided altogether. In terms of U.S. interests, these summits have ranged from being unnecessary to disastrous—with the sole exception of Camp David 19596 which postponed Soviet action on Berlin until U–2 coverage revealed there was no “missile gap,” which fact strengthened our negotiating position. In addition to providing the Soviets an ideal propaganda platform and promoting their “super power” image, summits present other intrinsic problems. (U)

At best, summits permit only a superficial exchange of views on complex and potentially dangerous issues. There is little actual time for discussion, and this is halved by the interpreters. US-Soviet summits engage two men with vastly different backgrounds, mentalities and objectives. (I am only being half facetious when I say that any American President should have had extensive dealings with Mafiosi in order to really be prepared for encounters with Soviet leaders.) Thus, summits can hardly result in any real meeting of minds and can easily lead to serious and even dangerous misunderstandings and miscalculations. For example, I have long been convinced that the 1961 Kennedy-Khrushchev [Page 346] Vienna summit (in which I was involved)7 was responsible for both the Berlin Wall and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. (C)

Since U.S. recognition of the USSR in 1933, all previous U.S. Presidents have met with Soviet leaders (bilaterally beginning with Camp David). It is, therefore, unrealistic to expect President Reagan to avoid summitry altogether. He is bound to come under increasing pressure to have a summit. He can, however, follow Eisenhower’s example and demand of the Soviets some price of admission, some earnest of their good intentions, such as: acceptance of our “zero option” proposal8 withdrawal from Afghanistan or ending martial law in Poland. (C)

Richard Pipes concurs in views expressed above.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, European and Soviet Affairs Directorate, NSC Records, Subject File, Shultz, George P. Secretary of State; NLR–170–13–34–13–7. Confidential. Sent for information. A copy of the first page of this memorandum elsewhere in the same file bears a stamped notation that reads: “Noted.”
  2. In an undated memorandum to the President, Clark noted the pressure Eisenhower faced, writing: “In his memoirs, Eisenhower tells why he resisted these pressures. He reviews the disappointing experiences of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt with summit meetings and says: ‘I was . . . not willing to meet with Communist leaders unless there was some likelihood that the confrontation would produce results acceptable to the peoples of the West’.” (Ibid.)
  3. See footnote 12, Document 8.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. V, Austrian State Treaty; Summit and Foreign Ministers Meetings, 1955, Documents 180250.
  5. October 23–November 10, 1956.
  6. Khrushchev visited the United States September 15–27, 1959. On September 26 and 27, Khrushchev met with Eisenhower and other U.S. officials at Camp David. Documentation is in Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. X, Part 1, Eastern Europe Region Soviet Union; Cyprus, Documents 108, 129135.
  7. June 3–4, 1961. The memoranda of conversation between Kennedy and Khrushchev in Vienna are printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. V, Soviet Union, Documents 8789.
  8. See Document 69 and footnote 8 thereto.