96. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to the Counselor to the President (Meese), the White House Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President (Baker), and the Deputy White House Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President (Deaver)1


  • Policy Offensive on Arms Control and the Anti-Nuclear Movement

The movement to educate Americans on the effect of nuclear weapons is gaining momentum, and this week enters a crucial phase.2 Ground Zero activities are pictured as educational by its national [Page 347] organizers, who claim to want to arouse the citizenry rather than propose specific solutions, such as a nuclear freeze. But under the Ground Zero umbrella are a variety of policy proposals that would be detrimental to the United States. The next phase for the movement could be toward promotion of policy solutions, as its leaders try to keep up momentum. In any event, Ground Zero educational activities leave the movement open for exploitation by others of all stripes.

Our effort should be directed toward convincing Americans whose anxieties are heightened by this movement that our policy solutions best meet their desire that the United States do something to lessen the prospect of a nuclear holocaust. The time for us to do something is now, and I agree with Dave Gergen that the communications effort must be pulled together by the NSC and White House.

We have begun. I will personally chair an interagency meeting, probably this week, with a specific agenda to deal with the issues.3 I have no illusions about solving our problem by asking the bureaucracy to produce fact sheets on a lot of esoteric issues. That’s just the kind of activity that could give everyone a feeling of accomplishment, while actually not moving the ball an inch. My purpose is to sensitize all departments to our concern about the direction of public and international opinion on arms control, and to emphasize our desire to take the lead in the policy solution phase of the movement’s activities. I want to involve all departments in a coordinated strategy, bringing their talents to bear on specific aspects of the problem.

In no way do I wish to foster a “we/they” syndrome, wherein we become antagonists with Roger Molander of Ground Zero, or Billy Graham,4 or 40 Catholic Bishops,5 or the Mayor of Pella, Iowa.6 The [Page 348] broad public is being awakened to the problem specialists in and out of government have dealt with for years: they are scared to death at the prospect of nuclear war.7 We should welcome the public’s concern about this issue, as it parallels our own. But we must convince the public that our policies are best for dealing with their newfound concerns: that unilateral disarmament by the United States would only endanger us more; that progress can be made only when the Soviets (where is their anti-nuclear movement, we should ask) respond to our fears about the growth of their conventional and nuclear armaments. We should go beyond a static restatement of our policy to generate real enthusiasm for new initiatives as we unfold them, especially our proposals for START. Clearly, as Dave Gergen says, we should emphasize the President’s role as a peacemaker, but we must not let the Russians off the hook. We must also focus on concrete policy and new initiatives; otherwise, our “peace offensive” will be met with cynicism, both at home and abroad.

A strategy for the next six months could include these activities:

a) Immediate efforts to enhance communication of the President’s philosophy on arms control. The radio talk Saturday was a beautiful step in the right direction—perfectly timed to present the President’s views at the beginning of Ground Zero week, rather than in reaction to it.8 We should hammer his theme in the immediate future, as in Gene Rostow’s speech at the National Press Club (Monday, April 19),9 in network television opportunities involving Administration spokesmen and friends, and in Senate testimony on the Jackson/Warner Amendment later this month.10 This will mean passing the word to our own people and briefing outside organizations and individuals on a priority basis, one of the things I will stress at our initial interagency meeting.11 The themes [Page 349] must be kept basic. Any cabinet member or political official may expect to receive questions in public on this issue; while we do not want every appointee to become our spokesman, each senior official should know how to handle the issue when it comes up.12 More important, we urgently need a small, but readily available, stable of articulate people who can address the issue and guide the public to support our policy solutions. We should identify these people, and promptly formalize a system for providing our spokesmen on request—or better yet, on our own initiative—for public speeches, television appearances, editorial board conferences, media interviews, and group meetings.

b) Communications with the activists. The fact that the activists have our attention should be kept secret. We want to demonstrate that we, too, are activists—seeking resolution to the same concerns. As we organize to deal with the problem more coherently, we should make it known without fanfare that we are doing so, rather than have the media leap on the inevitable leak to portray us as secretive and defensive. Also, I see no reason to rule out high-level meetings soon with people like the Physicians for Social Responsibility group, Molander, Billy Graham, or Senator Jackson—meetings designed to show the public that we are paying attention to the national message of concern, and that we have the best program to deal with those concerns.13 These meetings could hint at new initiatives and solicit views and recommendations. Even if the meetings do not reassure or convert the participants, they should at least help reassure the concerned public as to our good faith and reasonableness. (I am not suggesting meetings with those who are intent on political exploitation of the issue and would gain more from the exposure than would we. Questions of who to meet with, where, when, who should represent us, etc., need careful examination, but with dispatch.)

c) Address the arms control issue in the President’s foreign policy speech in May and again on television prior to the European trip. The President should restate his policy as a major, but not central, part of his overall foreign policy speech, foreshadowing a new initiative in connection with START. Then, in line with Dave Gergen’s suggestion, he should go on prime time to present his arms control proposals and propose a date for START.14 This appearance should come as soon as feasible after [Page 350] the foreign policy speech, and should be designed to capture the initiative by its boldness, to give the President genuine national (and perhaps bipartisan) foreign policy support as he goes to Europe. The television talk and our associated efforts could be the key to gaining public support from June to November. The talk should be accompanied by an all-out communications and policy coordination effort.15 The logic in doing this before Europe and before his UN speech seems overwhelming to me; but so is the task of agreeing on policy proposals, coordinating with allies overseas and here, and undertaking the communications effort in the relatively short time left.16 Needless to say, the reaction of the Soviets, other countries, and our public to the President’s presentation will be factors in deciding how to proceed during the European trip and at the UN. The point is that we must go on the offensive and stay on the offensive, rather than waiting and reacting—a situation likely to give the Soviets and anti-government forces in this country the upper hand.

Getting the job done:

This strategy calls for a special organizational approach. Ideally, one individual—a Special Advisor reporting directly to the President and working closely with the National Security Advisor—should manage this issue as a sole responsibility. He or she should establish a senior-level steering committee of principal members of the White House staff and Deputies in other key departments. This Special Advisor should keep policy issues moving, orchestrate our actions, take over and push the communications effort I have initiated, act as principal articulator of policy in public appearances, and develop and lead a team of spokesmen. There are drawbacks to this approach: we’d need an individual with the abilities and stature of a Henry Kissinger to make it work best; staffing and obtaining cooperation from all departments could be problems. However, the management advantages are obvious: there would be full time top-level attention to the problem; Presidential involvement and control would be insured. Public affairs benefits would also accrue—we would have a competent and authoritative spokesman and team leader; we’d be giving evidence of the serious attention the Administration is placing on the issue. Another obvious advantage: the Special Advisor assignment would not last forever. It would stop, at latest, with START.

The alternative to a Special Advisor is for the President to designate someone with functional responsibility—the Vice President, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, or Director of ACDA—to take [Page 351] the lead and devote the major part of his time and effort to the project. That route presents many opportunities for failure.

In conclusion, what I have outlined is a proposed grand strategy to deal with what may be the most important national security opportunity and challenge of this Administration. With some hard work, it can be done. Success in the next six months is well within our grasp. There is no need for panic, only for planning and action. We should be fully in agreement on this strategy before proceeding. Could we talk about it briefly at everyone’s earliest convenience.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, David Gergen Files, Subject File, Nuclear [Freeze] (1 of 8). No classification marking. A stamped notation in the top left-hand corner of the memorandum reads: “URGENT.” A copy was sent to Gergen.
  2. Clark’s reference is to Ground Zero Week, April 18–25. Molander, a former NSC staff member during the Ford and Carter administrations and current Executive Director of a non-partisan nuclear war education project known as “Ground Zero,” and others worked to organize the event, which consisted of a variety of seminars and other activities taking place in cities and on university campuses throughout the United States. (Robert G. Kaiser, “Movement Against Nuclear Arms Is Mushrooming,” Washington Post, April 11, 1982, pp. A1, A4, and Judith Miller, “New Look at Stopping Nuclear War,” New York Times, April 17, 1982, p. 8)
  3. In an April 26 memorandum to Haig, Weinberger, Rostow, and Wick, Clark indicated that an interagency meeting would take place on April 28. Attached to Clark’s memorandum are a meeting agenda and an undated paper entitled “Fact Sheets and Q’s and A’s.” (Reagan Library, David Gergen Files, Subject File, Nuclear [Freeze] (1 of 8)
  4. Graham had announced that he would address an international disarmament conference in Moscow in May; see Kenneth A. Briggs, “Growing Role for Churches in Disarmament Drive,” New York Times, April 10, 1982, p. 3.
  5. Presumable reference to Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization whose members included approximately 40–50 bishops.
  6. In an April 16 article, Wall Street Journal reporter John J. Fialka described the planning for Ground Zero week in Pella, noting that “after a year of organizing effort” Ground Zero was “about to hit the streets in an attempt to reach the nonactivists. More specifically, on Sunday [April 18] it will hit the town square here when a small group of people, including Mayor C.B. ‘Babe’ Caldwell, will erect a large sign near Tulip Tower, an imposing red, white and blue structure that is normally used for Tulip Time, Pella’s springtime festival of flowers and Dutch folk activity. The sign will say: ‘If This Were Ground Zero, a One Megaton Nuclear Explosion Would Totally Destroy Virtually Everything Within Two Miles of This Spot—Instantly.’” (John H. Fialka, “Ground Zero: Town of Pella, Iowa, Talks of Little Other Than Nuclear Attack: Group Favoring Arms Freeze Stresses Atomic Horrors, But Some Ears Are Deaf: Refugees From Des Moines?” Wall Street Journal, April 16, 1982, pp. 1, 22)
  7. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the left-hand margin next to this sentence.
  8. The President delivered his weekly radio address from Camp David on April 17 at 12:06 p.m. In it, he stated: “Today, I know there are a great many people who are pointing to the unimaginable horror of nuclear war. I welcome that concern. Those who’ve governed America throughout the nuclear age and we who govern it today have had to recognize that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. So, to those who protest against nuclear war, I can only say, ‘I’m with you.’ Like my predecessors, it is now my responsibility to do my utmost to prevent such a war. No one feels more than I the need for peace.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1982, Book I, p. 487)
  9. According to the New York Times, Rostow’s speech “was quietly cancelled” due to low reservation numbers: “The cancellation prompted agency aides to call reporters Friday [April 16] with quotes from the speech Mr. Rostow would have given, which was critical of proposals for a nuclear arms freeze.” (Francis X. Clines and Warren Weaver Jr., “Washington Talk: Briefing,” New York Times, April 20, 1982, p. A22)
  10. Senate Joint Res. 177, which Jackson and Warner introduced on March 30, called for a long-term, rather than immediate, nuclear freeze. For the text, see Nuclear Arms Reduction Proposals: Hearings Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Ninety-Seventh Congress, Second Session on S.J. Res 163, 171, 177, 191; S. Res. 242, 323, 343, 370, 391; S. Ex. Res. 5, 6; and S. Con. Res. 81, April 29, 30, May 11, 12, and 13, 1982 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1982), pp. 8–10.
  11. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the left-hand margin next to this sentence.
  12. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the left-hand margin next to this sentence.
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  14. An unknown hand placed a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this and the previous two sentences and placed a checkmark to the left of the line. It is unclear if Clark’s reference to the “foreign policy speech” is to the President’s May 9 Eureka College commencement address, printed as Document 99.
  15. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the left-hand margin next to this sentence and the first clause of the following sentence.
  16. Reagan was scheduled to address the UN Special Session on Disarmament on June 17; his address is printed as Document 106.