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


  • The Truth and The Strength of America’s Deterrent

The Soviets make all their strategic decisions—whether to advance or retreat—on the basis of their assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents. The key element in this assessment is the adversary’s strength of moral-political conviction—i.e., his will to use force if necessary to defend his vital interests. In practice, as the Soviets see it, this means the willingness of their opponent to speak plainly about the nature and goals of communism.

The Soviet system depends for its survival on the systematic suppression of the truth. This is done by imposing the ideological Party line to justify totalitarian rule and serve the internal security system by setting the standard against which deviationism is measured. Loyalty to the regime is thus determined by the capacity to affirm the falsehoods of the ideology. All must say that the USSR is a “workers’ state” when it is not. Everyone must be a good courtier and tell the naked emperor that he is wearing nice clothes. The Soviets extend this principle to the world. Thus, the key feature of “Finlandization” is for the target country to censor itself—if not to lie outright, then at least to remain silent. In fact, the Soviets measure their dominance or influence over another country by that country’s willingness to accommodate the USSR by censoring itself.

As the Soviets see it, to tell the truth about the USSR is to risk igniting their internal security threat—the threat of mass popular resistance to the ideology, as in Poland. Thus, their highest priority is to jam our broadcasts and to intimidate and induce NATO governments to “tone down their rhetoric” and censor themselves. Gromyko’s main mission in his talks with Haig was to get us to do just that.

When stating that the Soviets will “lie,” “cheat,” and “commit any crime” to further their goals, you lifted a partial veil of self-censorship we had imposed on ourselves for some 15 years. In doing so, however, you showed the Soviets that we have the moral strength and political [Page 851] support to say that the emperor has no clothes and to withstand the protests of the Soviets and the “courtiers” in the media and elsewhere. Thus, by simply telling the truth, you incalculably strengthened the credibility of our military deterrent. All our weapons mean little unless the President shows he has the will to use them with the conviction that America has something worth defending. Normally, it has taken an act of considerable force to demonstrate this will. President Ford used the Mayaguez incident; President Nixon used bombing attacks in Vietnam to impress this on the Soviets. Yet, you did it in a non-military way—by having the courage to tell the truth about the Soviets. So long as our leaders deliver this message, the Soviets will know that we are not spiritually weak, that we are not Finlandized and that we have not permitted wishful thinking to obscure a clear understanding of Soviet intentions. They will be less inclined to make major strategic advances based on calculations of American weakness.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Clark Files, US-Soviet Relations Papers Working File: Contains Originals (2). No classification marking. Prepared by John Lenczowski, described in a typed note on the memorandum as “a prospective replacement for Dr. Richard Pipes.” Printed from an uninitialed copy. Reagan wrote: “Thanks, RR” in the upper right-hand corner of the memorandum.