155. Memorandum From Richard Pipes of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)1


  • Alexander Haig’s Memorandum “U.S.-Soviet Relations over the Near Term”.

I enclose my comments on Haig’s memorandum “U.S.-Soviet Relations over the Near Term”.2 I apologize for the amateurish format: I had to type it myself.3


Paper Prepared by Richard Pipes of the National Security Council Staff4

Preliminary comments on Secretary Haig’s Memorandum “U.S.-Soviet Relations Over the Near Term” (April 2, 1982).

The basic theme of this memorandum is that the growing foreign and domestic pressures for US-Soviet strategic arms negotiations before the Soviet Union has shown restraint in its activities around the globe place at risk our policy of linking these two actions. The Secretary states that there are two options before us in meeting this challenge. We can either deal with our geopolitical disagreements with the Soviet Union case by case, in the hope that somehow this will produce enough positive results to compensate for5 START. Or we can force the pace of events that would preserve our policy by giving us (of course, without any guarantee of success) enough so that we can enter START talks without losing face. He himself favors the latter approach, urging commencement of negotiations (at the “expert” level) over Afghanistan [Page 522] and some tough actions in the Caribbean to precede announcement and initiation of START negotiations in June of this year.

Without going into details of the Secretary’s proposals (most of which impress me as sound and realistic) let me raise a fundamental question about the premise which underpins it: that there must be linkage between Soviet restraint globally and progress on arms control. I believe that this approach is basically faulty and if pursued further will land us in the kind of trouble this memorandum addresses itself to, only more so. Only by decoupling arms control from Soviet global actions can we avoid alternative consequences, both of them unfavorable: either being forced to capitulate on our demand for Soviet restraint, or else engaging in adventures to prove that we are not capitulating but the success of which, by the Secretary’s own admission, cannot be guaranteed.

The point is that the nuclear competition and the emotionalism to which it gives rise is unlike any regional, geopolitical issue: it is sui generis. People in the free world are so afraid of the arms race and the risk of nuclear war that they are not prepared to stand up to the Russians on any regional issue—be it Afghanistan, Poland, or Central America—if such resistance seems to enhance the danger of nuclear war. Given this fact, our policy places us at a great disadvantage because the Soviets can always neutralize a public outcry over their actions with a campaign that to resist them risks ultimate destruction of mankind.

It so happens that the public, both here and in Europe, believes (unrealistically, in my opinion) that the mere act of negotiating arms limitations or reductions between the “superpowers” attenuates the arms race and reduces the risk of nuclear war. Given this perception it will not do to say: we are not prepared to negotiate with Moscow on matters of such paramount importance until it satisfies us on matters of secondary importance in selected regions of the globe. This is a losing position. What we ought to do is to say: “Of course, deceleration of the arms race is so supreme an objective that we are prepared to negotiate it at any time, any place even though our adversary behaves in an utterly uncivilized manner.” This will go far toward defusing the public pressures and allow us to cope with the Russians on geopolitical matters at a time and place of our own choosing rather than in order to “prove” that we can enter START negotiations without having sacrificed our principles. To induce Moscow to behave globally, we should use economic, political, and scientific levers which can be very effective but do not become objects of massive public opinion campaigns.

I may also add that the Secretary’s memorandum does not seem to take account sufficiently, in my opinion, of the looming Soviet eco[Page 523]nomic and political (succession) crises which are likely to make the Soviet leadership more open to active initiatives on our part.

Richard Pipes 6
  1. Source: Reagan Library, European and Soviet Affairs Directorate, NSC: Records, 1983–89, Haig, Secretary of State (4). No classification marking.
  2. See Document 154.
  3. On April 8, Poindexter wrote at the bottom of the memorandum: “Dick, Judge read this and feels it is very close to President’s thinking. Request you develop this and prepare a memo to Haig from Judge (For the President). John.” See Document 159.
  4. Secret; Sensitive.
  5. A handwritten note in the left margin next to “compensate for” reads: “justify commencing?”
  6. Printed from a copy bearing this typed signature.