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


  • Analysis of Brezhnev Proposal for a Summit

Richard Pipes and William Stearman of the NSC Staff have provided a short analysis of the Brezhnev proposal for a summit, and conclude that it is not advisable.

While I concur, I thought you would benefit from the interesting historical framework which these two experts use to evaluate the matter.

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Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff 2


Brezhnev wants a summit meeting in order to resurrect detente and to slow down US and NATO defense improvements. If the President wants a summit, he might follow President Eisenhower’s example and put a price tag on it.

Early in Eisenhower’s Administration, he was faced with the issue of meeting with the post-Stalin leaders of the USSR. Churchill, for one, was pushing for a Four Power summit at this time. On April 16, 1953, Eisenhower made public a list of specific actions the USSR would have to take before the US would agree to a summit. These included arms control measures, a German Peace Treaty, and an Austrian State Treaty, any one of which would pay the price of admission. After eight years of stalling, the Soviets agreed to the Austrian Treaty, which was signed in May 1955 and resulted in the Geneva Summit that summer.

Actually, the record of US-Soviet summit meetings would indicate that they should be avoided altogether. With one exception, Camp David in 1959, these summits have ranged from being unnecessary to nearly disastrous. For example, I have long believed that the 1961 Vienna summit (in which I was involved) was largely responsible for both the Berlin Wall and the Cuban missile crisis. Camp David turned out to be useful in stalling off Soviet action on Berlin until U–2 coverage revealed there was no “missile gap” which encouraged us to take a tougher stand on Berlin.

The Soviet leaders have looked upon summits as an essential element of their “detente” campaigns. The “Spirit of Geneva,” the “Spirit of Camp David,” the “Spirit of Glassboro” were touted as evidence of a “relaxation of tensions” (i.e. detente) and were designed, among other things, to lull the West into a false sense of security. A principal goal of Soviet detente moves has been to encourage NATO to decrease arms expenditures. They have usually followed periods of Soviet-induced tension which have resulted in increased Western defense efforts: 1949, after the airlift defeat of the Berlin Blockage and after the first SAC deployment to Europe; 1955 (actually beginning in 1953), after our huge Korean War buildup; 1963, after the failed Cuban missile caper [Page 57] and in recognition of the enormous US strategic advantage; 1971–72 to control US MIRV and ABM advantages and to gain increased access to Western technology and financing (among other things). Brezhnev’s opening speech at the 26th CPSU Congress3 makes it quite clear that the Soviets want badly to resurrect detente in order to delay or fend off the announced US military buildup and concomitant strengthening of Western European defenses through TNF modernization, etc. Brezhnev’s avowed eagerness to parley with us is the clear result of a tougher US stance vis-a-vis the USSR and an increased US defense budget.

Apart from providing the Soviet leadership with a convenient propaganda platform, summits present other intrinsic problems. They are perforce short and rendered even shorter by the necessity of translation; therefore the serious and complicated subjects, which are usually on the agenda, can be only superficially discussed. This, in turn, can lead (and has led) to misunderstandings and miscalculations.

Despite the pitfalls of summit meetings with the Soviets, it is probably unrealistic to expect the President to avoid them altogether. Since we established relations with the USSR, every US President has met with his Soviet counterpart (bilaterally beginning with Camp David). Presidents can scarcely resist the urge to size up their main opponent. In addition, I would imagine that our European allies, who live under the shadow of Soviet power, would not want us to reject Brezhnev’s summit proposal out of hand.

If Eisenhower’s example is followed, a number of summit price tags could be announced, for example:

—Withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan (if we wanted to avoid a summit altogether);

—Withdrawal of Soviet and Cuban forces from Angola and Ethiopia;

—No Soviet assistance, direct or indirect, to revolutionaries in this Hemisphere;

—No direct Soviet military intervention in Poland;

—Conclusion of a satisfactory SALT III Treaty.

It goes without saying that any approach to the Soviets on a summit should be carefully worked out on an interagency basis here and then with our allies. For the time being, our public position on Brezhnev’s proposal should remain strictly noncommital.

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I concur in general with Bill Stearman’s assessment of Brezhnev’s initiatives and his options. The Soviet leaders have shown every sign of exasperation with the Reagan Administration’s casual attitude toward negotiations with them: in part, because such behavior deflates their global image as a “superpower” which the USA is required to take into account in all its foreign policy initiatives, and in part because it deprives Moscow of an opportunity to size up the new U.S. Government.

However, because the “negotiating process” is popular among left-of-center groups in Western Europe, it would not be prudent to dismiss Brezhnev’s summit suggestion out of hand. “Interesting,” “worthy of consideration” should be the U.S. reactions. In practice, the proposal should be shelved. There is no need for a summit, at any rate now or in the foreseeable future. Should the President nevertheless find a purely negative stance politically ill-advised, he may want to pose very high preconditions: sufficiently high ones to preclude a cosmetic concession on the part of Moscow which would look like a genuine peaceful gesture and make us look bad if we did not wind it up with a summit.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Country File: USSR (01/28/1983–02/02/1983). No classification marking. Copied to Bush, Meese, and Baker. A stamped notation indicates that Reagan saw the memorandum. At the top of the memorandum Reagan wrote: “OK, RR.” An unknown hand wrote “(3/9/81)” beneath Reagan’s comment.
  2. Confidential.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 22.