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

Dear Bill:

When we spoke last week you encouraged me to share with you my thoughts on U.S. foreign policy. I am taking advantage of this invitation to convey to you my sense of alarm over the possibility that the U.S. may, in effect, suspend its current sanctions against the Soviet Union. Nothing that has occurred since President Reagan assumed office fourteen months ago seems to me so fraught with dangers to national security and to the political fortunes of the President.

Let me briefly recall how these sanctions had come into force. When on December 13th the Jaruzelski junta declared war on its own people we at once pinpointed the Soviet Union as the main culprit and set in motion a series of economic sanctions as punishment. We explicitly warned at the time that unless the situation in Poland improved significantly, further sanctions would follow. In reality, neither happened: the situation in Poland has not improved, nor have we introduced additional sanctions. For a while we contemplated extending our sanctions extraterritorially to U.S. subsidiaries and licencees abroad but this was not done because it was decided such a measure would cause too much friction in the alliance. Instead, we were to explore the possibilities of inter-allied cooperation on restricting credit flows to the USSR. The purpose of the Buckley Mission was to ascertain how far the Allies would be willing to go in cooperating with us on credit controls in order to avoid the extension of U.S. sanctions extraterritorially. Its results were meager but at least major friction in the alliance was avoided.

Now, I understand, the Department of State proposes that we significantly dilute the sanctions by exempting items contracted for before December 30, 1981 in return for allied cooperation on credit controls (that had been originally proposed as a quid pro quo for the abandonment of extraterritoriality on our part). This would enable General Electric to sell the rotors that seem essential if the Siberian Pipeline is to be completed on schedule.

I am convinced that such a move would be catastrophic. We can live with the Siberian Pipeline, but we will find it hard to live down [Page 554] the loss of credibility. Twice in three years we have introduced sanctions against the Soviet Union: first for the invasion of Afghanistan, then for martial law in Poland. The Afghan sanctions, which were centered on the grain embargo, were rescinded by President Reagan—a move which, whatever its economic rationale, encouraged cynicism in Europe about our motives and made it that much more difficult to secure European cooperation in December 1981. If we now dilute to the point of emasculation the sanctions imposed in December 1981, without the Soviet Union or Poland having met our stated preconditions for such action, we will destroy once and for all any credibility of the policy of economic sanctions. In fact, we will have given up using economic leverage to influence Soviet behavior. Please consider what this will mean for our relations with friend and foe alike:

—Our Allies will dismiss any future pressures we may want to exert on them to react to Soviet aggression outside of Western Europe and confine themselves to verbal condemnation: we will only confirm the argumentation of those among them who argue we are an impulsive people who need to be humored but must not be followed.

—Conservative Republicans and Democrats alike will be dismayed; American liberals will be gratified but they are so strongly opposed to the President’s domestic programs that they will still refuse him their support.

—The Soviet government will conclude that President Reagan has no staying power and that his anti-Communism is (as some of them have argued all along) mainly rhetorical: such a perception will surely have immense bearing on Soviet calculations in planning future aggression (e.g. against Iran or Pakistan) as well as on Soviet negotiating strategies in INF and START talks.

Of course, it is said that we would be only exchanging one set of sanctions for another. But a realistic appraisal of Europe’s trade relations with the USSR must lead one to the conclusion that there is virtually no chance of effective credit controls being enacted. The Allies regard trade with the Soviet Bloc as essential to their economies. The Germans, in addition, view trade—and the credits which make it possible—as critical to the maintenance of working relations with East Germany. I am persuaded that any credit accords we will obtain in exchange for lifting the sanctions will be essentially cosmetic in nature.

We have basically two and only two levers to use toward the Soviet Union: the economic and the military. If we drop the economic lever (as, in effect, we will be doing if we follow State’s advice) we will have no choice but to rely on the military one. In other words, as we abandon economic pressures in the face of Soviet aggression we will, of necessity, have to resort to military moves which will increase the likelihood of confrontation and conflict. Unless we are prepared to accept Soviet [Page 555] global hegemony—which I am sure none of us do—giving up economic sanctions will force us unto dangerous paths. This would be particularly regrettable now that the Soviet Union faces an unprecedented economic crisis and is more than ever vulnerable to various economic pressures.

For all these reasons, I urge you strongly to oppose State’s proposal.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Pipes2
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Situation Room, White House, Richard Pipes. Private and Confidential.
  2. Pipes signed the letter “Dick” above his typed signature.