249. Study Prepared by an Ad Hoc Interagency Group on U.S.-Soviet Relations1

Response to NSSD 11–82:

U.S. Relations With The USSR


The record of US-Soviet relations since October, 1917, has been one of tension and hostility, interrupted by short-lived periods of cooperation. The Soviet challenge to U.S. interests has many roots, including: (1) an imperial tradition; (2) threat perceptions rooted in Russian history; and (3) the nature of the Communist regime, its internal insecurity, its superpower ambitions, and its ideologically-mandated animosity toward the United States as the “main bastion of capitalism.”

U.S. tensions with the Soviet Union have resulted in substantial measure from the unrelenting growth of Soviet military power and Moscow’s readiness to use force in ways which threaten U.S. Allies and pose a threat to the security of the United States. The U.S. has built up its military power vis-a-vis the Soviets, and has pursued a [Page 821] policy of containment on the periphery of the Soviet Union. Such responses are essential, and the United States must sustain the resources and the will to compete effectively with the Soviet Union. This will remain the primary focus of U.S. policy toward the USSR.

Because Soviet aggressiveness has sources in the Soviet internal system, an effective national strategy requires that U.S. policies toward that country also take into account their impact on its internal development. For example, it is inconsistent to raise the defense budget to meet the Soviet threat and at the same time allow Western economic relations with Moscow to contribute directly to the growth of Soviet military power. There is also concern among Americans about the human rights situation in the Soviet Union and the lack of individual freedom in Soviet society. This too requires that the U.S. take into account the nature of the Soviet system in formulation of policy toward the USSR.

U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union proceeds on the assumption that the maintenance of power by the Soviet regime rests ultimately on force and that Soviet external aggressiveness stems in part from the nature of the Soviet political system. Therefore, the U.S. must, within the limits of its capabilities, design political, economic, and other measures which advance the long-term objective of promoting: (1) the decentralization and demilitarization of the Soviet economy; (2) the weakening of the power and privileged position of the ruling Communist elite (nomenklatura); (3) gradual democratization of the USSR.

The U.S. almost certainly lacks the capability to bring about major beneficial changes in the Soviet internal order over the near to middle term. Indeed, there is a real possibility that increased external pressure on the Soviet Union could, at least in the short run, give the ruling Communist elite greater incentive for internal repression and external aggressiveness. However, it is also possible that carefully designed and implemented U.S. policies could have an important, if marginal, beneficial impact on Soviet internal developments. This impact could grow over time if there is a sustained effort to see that U.S. policies toward the Soviet Union systematically take into account the potential impact on Soviet internal developments.

Thus, the first two tracks of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union are:

—To compete effectively on a sustained basis with the Soviet Union in the international arena, particularly in the overall military balance and in geographical regions of priority concern to the United States.

—To undertake a coordinated, long-term effort to reduce the threat that the Soviet system poses to our interests.

There is an important third track. The U.S. must engage the Soviet Union in dialogue and negotiations to attempt to reach agreements based on strict reciprocity and mutual interest. This is particularly [Page 822] important when the Soviet Union is in the midst of a process of political succession.

All three tracks of U.S. policy must be implemented simultaneously and sustained over the long term. It will be important that the West, with firm U.S. leadership, create and sustain negative and positive incentives powerful enough to influence Soviet behavior. Moscow must know that irresponsible and aggressive behavior will incur costs that would outweigh any gains. At the same time, the U.S. must make clear to the Soviets that real restraint in their behavior would pave the way for a an East-West relationship that might bring important benefits for the Soviet Union. It is particularly important that this message be conveyed clearly during the succession period, since this may be a particularly opportune time for external forces to affect the policies of Brezhnev’s successors.

The study which follows is not specifically an analysis of the Soviet political transition, although its implications for U.S. policy are addressed. This study is instead designed to outline a US-Soviet policy for the near to medium term. The first part of the study examines in detail the determinants of Soviet behavior, the strengths and weaknesses of the Soviet system, prospects for future developments in Soviet foreign policy and within the Soviet Union itself, and the degree of vulnerability of the system to external leverage. The second part sets forth in detail a U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union, with emphasis on the role of the military balance, U.S. relationships with Allies and developing countries, interaction with Soviet allies in Eastern Europe and the Third World, and bilateral relations with the Soviet Union itself. Within the latter, the study places particular emphasis on how economic relations and expanded political action programs can be structured and utilized to advance U.S. interests.

[Omitted here is the body of the study.]

  1. Source: National Security Council, Box SR 080 [NSDD 60–76], NSDD 75, US Relations w/USSR. Secret. Prepared in response to NSSD 11–82 (see Document 204). Sent from Bremer to Clark under cover of a December 6 memorandum: “Attached are the draft NSDD and supporting study on U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union mandated by NSSD 11–82. These papers have been approved for submission to the NSC by all participating agencies. Dissenting views on the part of the Department of Agriculture are reflected in footnotes.”