156. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to President Reagan1


  • When to Negotiate with the Soviet Union

The Soviet Government engages in negotiations not in order to promote a peaceful and stable world order or to improve the lot of its people but in order to derive some concrete political, military or economic benefits for itself. Moscow always likes to negotiate with the West because it feels it enjoys immense advantages over us in two respects:

1. The Soviet Government has far greater continuity than ours and therefore a greater store of expertise in international affairs (one only has to consider that Gromyko has been involved in diplomacy continuously for some 40 years).

2. Negotiations arouse expectations in free societies which enables Moscow, by influencing Western opinion, to exert pressure on their opposite numbers for concessions. (S)

Moscow is most likely to negotiate seriously when it feels weak: either when it is behind us, or we are behind it and making good [Page 524] progress catching up. Its readiness to engage in effective bargaining is highest when there is a succession crisis in the USSR because, since there is no legal way of one administration taking over from its predecessor, the death or removal of a leader unsettles the whole system of administration and requires a breathing spell in foreign relations. (S)

We should get ready to negotiate a number of outstanding issues with Moscow as soon as Brezhnev leaves office. This calls for us preparing our positions well in advance so that we are not caught by events and are forced to improvise, responding to Soviet initiatives instead of confronting them with ours. Our positions should deal with specifics and not generalities, i.e., they should aim at concrete, mutually advantageous quid pro quos rather than at grandiose attempts to settle affairs of the world between us. As the new Soviet administration attempts to establish itself it is likely to be more agreeable to making concessions than at any time since the death of Stalin. (S)

The current economic and imperial crisis of the Soviet regime, acute though it is, does not offer good opportunities for negotiations. The Soviet regime has never made political concessions out of economic considerations: it has made political concessions only to meet its political needs. (S)

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Country File, USSR (4/13/82–4/23/82); Secret. Sent for information. Prepared by Pipes. A stamped notation at the top of the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” Reagan initialed the memorandum next to the date. Pipes sent the memorandum to Clark for his signature under cover of a March 29 memorandum, in which he noted that “It addresses itself to the question raised by the President back at the NSC meeting of March 25 and at the DIA briefing on the Soviet economy the following day: ‛When is the time to sit down and negotiate with the Soviets?’” (Ibid.)