159. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to President Reagan 1


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

Al’s memorandum (Tab A)2 addresses itself to the question of linking Soviet behavior around the globe with our readiness to enter with the USSR into START negotiations. The basic theme of his memo is that our policy of linkage is coming under increasing strain: public pressures for the opening of START are intensifying while the Soviet Union gives no indication it is willing to moderate its global behavior. This situation, according to Al, confronts us with two choices. We can either try to settle our geopolitical disagreements with the Soviet Union case by case, in the hope that this policy will somehow yield enough positive results to allow us to proceed with START without loss of face. Or else, we can force the pace of events by undertaking actions that will (hopefully) give us enough returns to enter START on our terms. Al favors the second option, urging the opening of negotiations (at the so-called “expert” level) with the Soviets over Afghanistan and some tough actions in the Caribbean to precede the anticipated initiation of START early in the summer. (S)

Much of what Al says is eminently sound but valid questions can be raised about the basic premise of his approach, namely that progress on arms control negotiations must be linked to Soviet global behavior. Two basic arguments can be raised against this approach:

—The nuclear competition between the U.S. and USSR gives rise to an emotionalism which is quite unlike that aroused by any regional issues (Afghanistan or Poland, for example). Citizens of the free world are so frightened of the arms race and the threat of nuclear war that they are unwilling to stand up to the Soviets on regional issues if such resistance seems to exacerbate the risks of nuclear competition and general war.

—Aware of this situation (which it does not confront within its own realm) the Soviet Union is able to intensify international regional [Page 528] conflicts at its pleasure and then blame the United States for failure to negotiate arms control. (S)

The linkage principle places us in a no-win situation. Under its terms, we are compelled either to capitulate on our demand for Soviet global restraint, or else to engage in adventures and/or dubious negotiations on regional issues (e.g., Afghanistan) in order to prove that we are not capitulating. (S)

The best way out of this unfavorable situation is to decouple nuclear arms negotiations from regional issues, exactly as we have done in the case of INF talks in Geneva. Public opinion in the West tends to believe—realistically or not is another matter—that the mere act of negotiating arms limitations between the so-called “superpowers” restrains the arms race and reduces the risk of nuclear war. We should, therefore, not say: “We are not prepared to negotiate with Moscow on a matter of such overriding importance until it satisfies us on disagreements of secondary importance in selected regions of the globe”. Our position should rather be: “Of course, slowing down the nuclear arms race and the risk of an holocaust is an issue of such gravity that we are prepared to sit down and talk with the Soviets about these matters despite the fact that they behave in an utterly uncivilized manner all over the globe. Our delay so far has been caused by the need to define our position. This work has now been completed and we invite the Soviet Government to meet with us and discuss seriously strategic arms reductions.” (S)

Such a position will go far toward taking steam out of public pressures here and abroad for an automatic “freeze” and “no first use” declaration. It will also enable us to cope with Russian regional challenges at times and places 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 regionally, we can have resort to the economic and political levers at our disposal: these can be very effective and yet are not subject to massive public opinion campaigns. (S)

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Country File, USSR (4/13/82–4/23/82); Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Prepared by Pipes. An unknown hand wrote in the upper right-hand corner of the memorandum: “President has seen.”
  2. Attached but not printed. See Document 154.