205. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)1


  • Meeting with Outside Experts on East-West Relations

Secretary Shultz today convened a group of former Administration officials to discuss alternative U.S. strategies toward East-West relations. The outsiders included former Secretaries of Defense Don Rumsfeld and Harold Brown, former Secretary of Commerce Pete Peterson, Norman Podhoretz (an extremely articulate, self-confessed ideologue hard-liner), Bill Hyland and Brent Scowcroft. Hal Sonnenfeldt was the moderator. Those from inside the Administration included Secretary Shultz, Ken Damm, Allen Wallis, Harry Rowen, Cap Weinberger, Walt Stoessel, Rick Burt, Jon Howe, Paul Wolfowitz and myself.

At the outset I passed a note to Hal Sonnenfeldt which I thought ought to frame the basic discussion. Basically it posed the question, [Page 674] “What should our goals be—to concentrate on changing the internal structure and objectives of the Soviet system or, to concern ourselves pragmatically with the external manifestations of the Soviet policy which threaten Western interests. In short, should we be motivated by ideological concerns and try to change the Soviet Union, or should we accept it as a fact of life subject to only evolutionary change and concern ourselves with its containment?”

The discussion brought forth an extremely rich commentary from both schools with the preponderant tilt being toward the latter course—that is, to concerning ourselves with the external manifestations of Soviet policy and try to limit them, bearing in mind that this strategy gives you collateral pressure for internal Soviet change anyway. In this regard, Harry Rowen (CIA) noted that a pragmatic policy of limiting Soviet expansion will bring the Soviet Union to a strategic decision within ten years when the burden of defense expenditures deprives all other accounts to an unacceptable degree.

The discussion then shifted to how best to translate those goals and that strategy into real world policies. Don Rumsfeld and Pete Peterson made extremely persuasive presentations on the point that our policies must be sustainable for the long haul, and that we must avoid the polar extremes of the past ten years in which we ask the American people to support either a soft-headed detente or an unyielding hard-line confrontation (with the broad swings in defense expenditures which accompany these poles). In short, our policy must be simple and oriented toward the long term in order to be understood and thus sustainable.

It was not possible to translate this conceptual framework into specific policy prescriptions in the areas of trade, arms control and defense spending although some individual views were expressed and one or two points of consensus emerged. Specifically, all agreed on the need for sustaining a steady strengthening of our military strength and on the need for a restrictive trade policy (although most participants acknowledged that there were some political goals such as Allied cohesion which could justify exceptions to this restrictive approach). As a separate but related matter it was generally felt that we should concentrate our arms control efforts on INF (as opposed to START) since it is in that area that we will reap greatest political gain with our Allies.

The discussion went on for about six hours. Perhaps its greatest benefit will derive from the enrichment it provided to insiders who will be participating in the recently launched NSSD on U.S.-Soviet relations.2 The Terms of Reference for the study frame the issue the [Page 675] same way I did for this morning’s session; that is, should we concentrate on trying to change the Soviet system (Dick Pipes’ approach) or focus instead on dealing with its external manifestations as they affect U.S. interests (State’s approach). I expect that Secretary Shultz may task additional analysis within the Department to follow up today’s meeting as he did following his Middle East meeting with outsiders. Alternatively, he may simply channel that effort into the NSSD framework (which would best serve our interests).

  1. Source: Reagan Library, McFarlane Files, Chron August, 1982 [08/14/1982–08/23/1982]. Secret. Sent for information.
  2. See Document 204.