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


  • Brezhnev’s Speech of October 272

Brezhnev’s speech has unleashed a flood of paper. The controversial question is: did he say something really new which presents a fresh threat to us, or did he merely reiterate old themes? In the two attached memoranda (Tab I, November 2; and Tab II, October 293), State reaffirms its view that the October 27 speech did not represent a new departure and does not presage a major military effort. I concur with State’s evaluation on the following grounds:

Brezhnev did not promise his military audience to increase defense spending but urged them to improve their performance.

—He stressed the improvement in Soviet-Chinese relations which most likely was meant to reassure his audience that the Soviet international situation is better than it has been for some time.

—The day after Brezhnev had delivered his speech, Chernenko, his closest collaborator and apparent choice for successor, spoke in Tiflis and downplayed the U.S. military threat.

State seems correct to me in arguing that the main thrust of Brezhnev’s talk was that the Soviet armed forces must do better with what they have rather than count on more money and resources.

[Page 771]

Tab I

Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Bremer) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)4


  • Brezhnev’s Address to Military Leaders: Why All the Confusion?

U.S. media analyses of Brezhnev’s October 27 speech to Soviet military leaders have distorted the substance of Brezhnev’s remarks. Some interpretations virtually ignore the actual content of the speech. Few show awareness of the context in which the speech was delivered.

Subsequent developments in the USSR seem to support our view that Brezhnev’s speech disclosed no fundamental policy shifts and was in fact addressed primarily to Brezhnev’s immediate audience, the Soviet military establishment. For example:

Brezhnev’s speech preceded a major address to the same audience by Defense Minister Ustinov on “the state of combat and political training in the army and navy and tasks of its further perfection.” The full text of Ustinov’s remarks has not been published, perhaps because it was sharply critical of the military (Ustinov is reputed to be a hard-driving perfectionist). However, the initial portion, as carried on Soviet television, indicates that Brezhnev’s remarks were intended to set the stage for Ustinov’s critique of Soviet military preparedness.

—The day after Brezhnev’s speech, Brezhnev’s protege Chernenko addressed an award ceremony in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and was a little less harsh than his mentor in discussing the United States. In particular, Chernenko did not dwell on U.S. military preparations.

—And, in a related development, senior members of Arbatov’s USA Institute who are currently visiting Washington commented privately that Brezhnev’s remarks about the U.S. were blunt because of the audience he was addressing, not because of a basic change in Moscow’s thinking.

In light of these developments, we believe Brezhnev’s unusually stark characterization of the U.S. military threat was in the first instance crafted to underscore the urgency of improving deficiencies in combat and political training in the Soviet armed forces. It did not mark a [Page 772] fundamental change in Moscow’s current assessment of U.S. policy, though Chernenko’s follow-up speech did hint at Soviet toughness in arms control negotiations and implied that Moscow would not be intimidated by any U.S. military programs. Similarly, we continue to be skeptical that Brezhnev’s speech broke new ground with regard to Soviet military spending. His basic message here was that the Soviet military-industrial complex and the armed forces must do better with sizable resources they are currently provided, not that they are going to receive an even larger slice of the resource pie.

L. Paul Bremer, III5
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Country File: USSR (11/2/82–11/4/82). Confidential. Sent for information. Copied to Dobriansky, Myer, Sims, and Robinson. A stamped notation reads: “WPC HAS SEEN.” Reagan initialed the memorandum beneath the date.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 229.
  3. Tab II is attached but not printed.
  4. Confidential.
  5. McManaway signed for Bremer above Bremer’s typed signature.