108. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Reagan 1

Dear Mr. President,

I note with satisfaction that in your letter of November 17, 19812 you have expressed yourself ready to strive in the spirit of businesslike cooperation, despite the existing differences between our countries, to find a common ground for agreement on matters of vital interest to our two countries and the rest of the world.

On our part we believed and continue to believe that it is precisely such an approach that is required of the USSR and the USA if we are to be guided by the task of eliminating the threat of nuclear war. We cannot and have no right to proceed in a different manner and to avoid responsibility which rests on our States.

The main thing, however, is to substantiate the correct general premise with specific actions by both sides. Mere statements, no matter how good they may sound, are not enough to achieve progress in the resolution of no simple problems before us. What is required is realistic positions and practical proposa ls which would take into account the legitimate interests of the other side rather than be built around the desire to somehow infringe on those interests. Otherwise the declared positive goals will remain at best good intentions if not just an attempt to score a propaganda point. Neither of the two will be helpful.

From this standpoint, I shall tell you frankly, the considerations advanced in your letter on specific issues are, to put it mildly, very far from the objective reality. Suffice it to mention the assertion to the effect that the Soviet Union is allegedly increasing its military power beyond its defense requirements. A conclusion is drawn then from this clearly distorted premise that the Soviet Union has to disarm unilaterally, while the US can continue to build on and on its military might at its own discretion. And this is what in fact is taking place in the United States.

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Here we are faced with what is called “the double book-keeping” whereby in counting the Soviet arms in question their numbers are made to look many times higher, and—conversely—when it comes to the US, such numbers are drastically understated. Moreover, hundreds of nuclear systems in the possession of Britain and France are totally excluded from the counting, whereas on the Soviet side even those systems are counted which do not belong to the category of medium-range weapons and, indeed, have nothing to do whatsoever with Europe and still less so with the US.

Why is it necessary, Mr. President, to try to compare things which in their essence cannot be compared? It is difficult to dismiss a thought that the calculation here is based on the fact that most people are poorly versed in such matters and therefore will hardly be able to grasp the subject. The past experience shows, however, that sooner or later people will be able to sort things out for themselves. After all, both you and ourselves know very well that even if either side wished to somehow take advantage of the other in such matters, to do so would be impossible. The guarantee in this respect is provided by the national technical means of verification of the USSR and the USA. Recognition of the effectiveness of such a principle lies at the basis of the SALT–I and SALT–2 agreements. Respect for this principle consistently guides the Soviet Union in its practical activities.

As a “straightforward and fair” solution of the problem of medium-range nuclear arms you suggest that all Soviet medium-range missiles—both the new “SS–20’s” and the old “SS–4’s” and “SS–5’s” be eliminated. I wouldn’t argue with respect to the “straightforward” nature of this proposal, but to call it “fair” and generally a serious one was, of course, impossible not for us alone but for all those who retained the sense of reality.

As recently as yesterday the US officials acknowledged, and some of them do so today, that there continues to exist an approximate parity in nuclear arms in Europe. But even those among US officials, who are trying despite the facts to question it, keep only saying that the parity has been allegedly upset by the introduction of the “SS–20” missiles. It follows from this that when a considerably larger number of the “SS–4” and “SS–5” missiles was in place compared to their present number, no question of “disbalance” occurred to anybody. Why then, may we ask, are we offered to scrap all our medium-range missiles while the entire NATO’s nuclear arsenal remains intact? Is there any logic here, Mr. President?

Let me say it straight away that this is not the kind of basis on which questions related to the national security of states can be resolved. In matters of this nature it is necessary to be strictly guided by reciprocity, the principle of equality and equal security. Our delegation in Geneva [Page 368] has the instructions to proceed exactly on this premise. If the US side also adheres to that principle, then one can expect success in the negotiations. There is no other way to achieve success.

Should the West demonstrate its readiness to reach agreement on a truly complete renunciation by both sides of all types of the existing medium-range nuclear arms deployed in Europe or around it, we on our part will be forthcoming.

We could also agree to free Europe altogether from nuclear arms—both medium-range and tactical. That would be a genuine “zero-option” fair for all sides.

Indeed it really appears to us strange to call on the Soviet Union to make a contribution, as you write, to peace in Europe by reducing its conventional forces there. This call should not be addressed to us. You must be aware of the fact that in recent years we unilaterally withdrew from Central Europe 20,000 troops and 1,000 tanks, while the US, on the contrary, added tens of thousands of men to its troops in Europe. That’s the actual state of affairs in real life.

The question is which side is lacking in constructiveness and practical steps?

When you, Mr. President, indicate that the US is prepared to open negotiations on strategic arms reductions as soon as possible in the new year, we would like to understand this to mean that such negotiations will actually resume in the near future. We are for it.

It follows from your letter that the US side stands not just for limitation, but for the reduction of strategic arms. In this connection, I would like to remind you that the SALT–2 treaty provides for such reductions, and very substantial reductions at that. We have been and continue to be committed to this approach. It is important, however, that in this respect, too, all the factors determining the strategic situation should be taken into account, and that the principle of equality and equal security should be strictly observed.

With regard to the Madrid meeting of states-participants of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and, above all, the question of convening a European conference on confidence-building measures and disarmament: if the Western countries on their part—and it is now their turn to act—show readiness to travel their length of the distance in response to our far-reaching constructive steps, then one can expect to conclude this meeting with tangible positive results and to ensure a stable development of the process initiated by the Helsinki Final Act.

I am not going to engage now in polemics on the question of Afghanistan, although I cannot in any way agree with what has been said by you on this matter. As to your indication that you are prepared [Page 369] to continue the exchange of views on a political settlement around Afghanistan, on our part we did not have and do not have now any objections to that. Our position on concrete aspects of the political settlement is known to you. However, we have not yet received your views on the substance of the problem which you intended to convey through your Ambassador in Moscow.

A few words about Cuba. It has to be stated that the United States continues to deliberately aggravate the situation around that country and to increase tensions in the entire Carribean area. This is a dangerous, slippery road. At the same time, we are convinced that any step by the US towards normalization of relations with Cuba would find an appropriate response on the part of that country.

In conclusion, I would like to reemphasize that although differences between our countries will, of course, remain also in the future, our position is not to exacerbate those differences or multiply them and, even more so, not to attempt to overpower each other—which is an unpromising perspective—instead, we favor efforts to expand areas of accord.

I think that at least there gradually emerges a set of really important questions on whose solution our two countries should primarily concentrate their joint efforts being conscious of our mutual responsibility. We are prepared for such work.


L. Brezhnev 3
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Head of State File, USSR: General Secretary Brezhnev (8190038, 8190057). Secret. A typewritten note at the top of the letter reads: “Unofficial translation.” Bremer forwarded the letter to Nance under cover of a December 2 memorandum, in which he wrote: “Ambassador Dobrynin delivered to Ambassador Stoessel the attached letter from President Brezhnev to President Reagan this morning. (The attachment is the Soviets’ translation which we are checking against the original Russian.)” (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 103.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.