258. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to President Reagan1

NSPG Meeting

Date: January 10, 1983

Location: Situation Room

Time: 2:00 p.m.


To obtain views of your advisors on US-Soviet relations and next steps in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) negotiations. No decisions are required.


You asked us to examine the significance of the change in leadership in the Soviet Union and to determine what opportunities or problems might exist as a result of that change. In particular, you asked that we assess what opportunities or problems may exist in arms control.

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US-Soviet Relations. Attached at Tab B is the Executive Summary of the study on US-Soviet relations. It was prepared by State on a close-hold basis with assistance from DOD and CIA (although the paper does not necessarily reflect an agreed interagency view). You have already seen this paper. In brief, some highlights are as follows. We expect, on the one hand, limited risk-taking and threats by the Soviets, and on the other hand, limited cost-cutting and peace offensives, occurring along a basically unchanged center-line of Soviet policy that falls between broad expansionism and broad retreat. For now, we should stick to the line that US-Soviet relations will improve if, but only if, the Soviets behave more responsibly. If the Soviets become both more conciliatory and more menacing—i.e., roughly what we expect—we should, rhetorically at least, “reward” the positive and “punish” the negative. We should avoid being outflanked on international problems and outmaneuvered in arms control. More specifically, we should preempt Soviet moves, illuminate Soviet tokenism, signal our interest in progress, cement our support at home and abroad, update our terms for solutions, and prevent the Soviets from thinking they can address problems without us. Next steps could include internal USG planning, consultations and actions with others, and actions with the Soviets.

INF Negotiations. Also attached are two papers which represent two different views on the INF negotiations.

The paper at Tab C2 was prepared by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. It says that it would be the wrong time to abandon our position for zero missiles on both sides. At least until after the German elections in March, abandonment of zero would worsen rather than strengthen our position. Allied governments would have to shift their position and argue that they will deploy even if negotiations succeed. European opponents of deployments now have a stake in the negotiations because they might lead to a zero outcome; abandon “zero” and their interest will diminish sharply. Also, there would be serious verification problems with a non-zero approach.

The paper at Tab D3 was prepared by State. It says that we need to deploy INF missiles in Europe to re-establish the US strategic link to NATO. Because the threat cannot be eliminated by arms control, we must deploy. Failure to deploy would be a massive political defeat for the US and the Alliance, with lasting scars here and in Europe. Allied governments cannot continue to maintain support for deployments unless we show we are making every effort for an agreement. The paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of two options: [Page 853] (1) insist on zero-zero as the only outcome; and (2) propose achieving zero-zero in two steps, the first being equal global ceilings of 300 INF missiles (roughly half of 572).


The President

The Vice President

Secretary Shultz

Secretary Weinberger

Ed Meese

DCI Casey

UN Ambassador Kirkpatrick

Jim Baker

Mike Deaver

Bill Clark

Acting JCS Chairman General Barrow

Bud McFarlane




After introductory remarks by me, George Shultz will provide a brief overview of the study on US-Soviet relations. Other participants will then comment.

Subsequently, George and Cap Weinberger will provide their respective views on the INF negotiations. This will be followed by a round-robin discussion among the meeting participants.

Based upon the flow of the meeting, you may wish to provide guidance on the matters raised. However, no specific decisions are required at this particular time.

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Tab B

Paper Prepared in the Department of State4


Executive Summary


The purpose of this study is to consider what we can expect from the Soviets over the next 6–24 months and how we should attempt to steer East-West relations in that same period. It concludes with a summary of possible Soviet initiatives, suggested US responses, and possible US initiatives. These conclusions are based on analysis of:

• the Andropov regime’s view of the world situation and of how Soviet interests can be advanced;

• the strength of Andropov’s political position and the resources and constraints that define what he can attempt and achieve; and

• our view of American interests and what we would like to see the Soviets do, stop doing, or abstain from doing insofar as their conduct affects our interests.

This study is based on the long-term framework for US policy toward the USSR established by NSDD 11–82.5


Assets and Liabilities

In assessing its inheritance, the Soviet leadership finds major gains and assets:

• superpower status and global reach;

• a quarreling, economically shaky West;

• domestic political stability; and

• an economy strong enough to support massive military outlays while keeping popular discontent within tolerable limits;

. . . as well as problems:

• discontent in Eastern Europe;

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• declining productivity, morale and economic growth (to below 2% percent per annum);

• the Afghanistan predicament; and

• Western—especially American—rearmament.

With regard to military competition, the regime finds itself with:

• rough overall balance, with Soviet leads in ground forces, long-range INF missiles, and ICBMs, as well as reduced American advantages in naval and other power projection forces and in military technology;

. . . but also:

• prospective loss of the Soviet advantage in INF, as well as American strategic modernization and restored American naval and technological supremacy.

Basic Choices

On balance, Brezhnev’s successors will be sufficiently content with these conditions, unsure of how to effect basic change, and sober about the consequences of unregulated competition or direct confrontation with us that they will not be inclined to depart from the country’s general historical course.

The leaders probably think the economy can sustain roughly the current pace of military effort (4% per annum growth) and international aggrandizement, but not much more. It would take a much graver economic crisis than expected to force the regime to consider military and international contraction, given that this would mean abandonment of Brezhnev’s main achievement: Soviet might and reach comparable to ours. At the same time, the deteriorating economic situation will make the regime cautious about taking on a larger military burden and new international liabilities. In sum, the regime will opt for neither an expansionist surge nor broad retrenchment.

Nothing in Andropov’s background or character suggests that he would be predisposed to swing widely from Brezhnev’s course. Moreover, while his position in the leadership is strong—in part because his colleagues want a strong leader—he is bound by consensus, and particularly beholden to Ustinov and Gromyko. These factors also militate against major domestic or international shifts.

Foreign Policy Directions

This by no means implies passive continuity in foreign policy. The difficulty of effecting domestic change could encourage foreign policy dynamism, albeit within the framework set under Brezhnev. The Soviet leaders may see more sophisticated, innovative, agile, and diversified diplomacy as the best and cheapest way to undercut and pressure us, [Page 856] expand their influence, relieve internal pressures, and perhaps cut the political costs of some of their more exposed positions abroad. They may be contemplating a mix of selective international “opportunity-seizing” and “loss-cutting,” but in both cases with costs, risks and deviations kept to a minimum.

The new leadership, like the old, sees in Washington an Administration that refuses to respect Soviet status and prerogatives as an equal superpower, even while—in their view—exaggerating Soviet military advantages. They see us as having raised the costs and risks of military and international competition. However, they may doubt the Administration’s ability to maintain a national consensus in support of restoring American strength, or to forge a Western consensus around Washington’s East-West outlook and policies. They doubt our willingness to respond positively to anything less than a broad Soviet retreat, which they will not contemplate.

For some in Moscow, this assessment of Washington calls for a more confrontationist approach, an expanded Soviet military effort, greater sacrifice, and less regard for Western public opinion. There may be those at the other extreme who believe the USSR must deal directly with American concerns in order to avert a level of competition and confrontation the country cannot afford. However, while resource constraints will work against the advocates of a major military and international surge, they will not dictate retreat either. Thus, the view most likely to prevail is that US-Soviet relations should be placed in a holding pattern until it becomes clear whether or not this Administration’s strategic approach is a passing phenomenon.

Thus, on the whole, with the possible exception of START, it is unlikely that the Soviets see much percentage in making major concessions in the hope of satisfying this Administration. They may probe our willingness to do business with them, but their expectations will be low. They are more likely to try even harder to put us on the defensive politically and to stimulate a public and Allied backlash against our policies. In the process, however, they might be induced to take some real if limited steps that would partially meet our concerns.

With regard to arms control (notably START and INF), the Soviets have a definite interest in somehow heading off unrestrained competition. Indeed, the leadership may be less than sanguine about having to back up threats of stepped-up Soviet military programs in the event that our effort continues. At the same time, they doubt that we are genuinely interested in agreements that take account of their concerns (e.g., cruise missiles), and their military establishment is in a position to block “disadvantageous” deals. The Soviets will therefore follow an integrated arms control strategy combining propaganda with real but limited concessions, their purpose being to cut off domestic and Allied [Page 857] support for our build-up while leaving open the possibility of our addressing their concerns and thus reaching agreements. To the degree they succeed in cutting off our support, they will care less about actually reaching agreements with us, since they could then avoid reducing their forces without fear of being forced into an expanded military effort.

In general, the Soviet leaders may feel that Soviet interests are best served by isolating and “outflanking” us as much as possible—that is, by orienting their foreign policy away from US-Soviet relations, and by trying to come to grips with some of their problems without reference to us. This would enhance their freedom to ignore our concerns, their ability to weaken our relations with others, and their ability to pursue new initiatives. In INF, the direct negotiations with us are secondary, indeed subordinated, to the task of turning Europe against deployments. Even in START, where they must deal with us, they will try to reach American public opinion over our heads.

Trying to operate around the US over the next 6–24 months would represent a necessary “tactical”—and, they probably hope, temporary—departure from the Soviets’ basic emphasis on the centrality of the US-Soviet relationship in managing world affairs.



Our program to re-establish American ascendancy involves rearmament, world economic recovery, respect for international law and order, and the promotion of democratic values. Progress in achieving these goals affects and is affected by our competition with the Soviet Union.

• The more successful we are in our overall program, the more able we will be to induce more restrained Soviet conduct or, failing that, to counter Soviet misconduct.

• The Soviets want to impede our program, mainly by dividing us from those at home or abroad whose support we need for success.

The results we have achieved so far are mixed:

• We have succeeded in making the Soviets more cautious but we have not caused them to retreat from existing positions.

• We have increased public awareness of the Soviet challenge here and abroad, but we have not laid to rest questions about our own commitment to better East-West relations—questions which the Soviets are quick to feed.

Our Goals

Over the next 6–24 months, our chief aims toward the competition should be:

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• to consolidate domestic consensus in support of sustained growth in defense spending, and thus to convince the Soviets that they are not witnessing a passing phenomenon;

• to prevent further Soviet encroachments;

• to reduce existing international problems caused by the Soviets, and to increase the costs to the Soviets of those problems on which there is no progress;

• to maintain control of the East-West agenda, the terms by which problems are dealt with, and the standards by which Soviet behavior is measured;

• to strengthen our general Western coalition and keep our coalitions on specific issues intact;

• to reduce Western contributions to Soviet power and dependence on East-West trade;

• to engage the Soviets constructively on issues where our interests overlap; and

• to show that our approach to East-West relations is bearing fruit, in the sense that both Soviet behavior and our competitive position are beginning to improve.

Because the Andropov regime will probably follow a more active and sophisticated foreign policy, oriented away from addressing problems with us and on our terms, and because it may find it easier to mollify others than to satisfy us, we need to preserve our influence over the manner in which outstanding issues are played out. This does not mean that we should alter our general stance: we should remain in a broadly reactive posture, in the sense that only genuine improvement in Soviet conduct will bring about more positive American policies toward the USSR. At the same time, in view of the Soviet policies we foresee, we may need to take initiatives to maintain our coalitions and to maintain demanding but attainable standards for Soviet conduct on outstanding problems.

Because we cannot force broad Soviet retreat, we should be selective and opportunistic ourselves if we want to cause concrete improvement in Soviet conduct in the next two years. To remain relevant regarding international problems the Soviets would like to deal with without reference to us (e.g., Poland, Afghanistan, Kampuchea), we have to be, and appear to be, realistic in setting near-term goals. Our long-term goals concerning such problems could become obsolete if we don’t define the near-term progress we want. We should be true to our promise to respond positively to real improvement in Soviet international conduct and reasonable in recognizing what is real and what is not or else we will lose our capacity to influence Moscow and to keep our partners with us. We will assist the Soviets in their effort to isolate [Page 859] us if we are seen as staking out rigid and maximal positions that we know cannot be a basis for progress, however noble those positions might be.

Just as the Soviets may now try to outflank us, we have to be ready to execute our own political flanking movements to ensure that they cannot escape from our agenda of concerns and our standards for responsible conduct and real progress. This means we should consider how to use not only US-Soviet relations to induce improved Soviet behavior but also our relations with other key actors, such as our European Allies, Japan, China, ASEAN, Pakistan, and African Front-Line States. Only if we frustrate Soviet efforts to divide us from our support, at home and abroad, can we induce them to move from shadow to substance as they attempt to reduce the costs to them of the problems they have caused.

With regard to arms control, we should above all avoid being left in a position in which Soviet programs are not limited while ours cannot be sustained due to lack of public and Allied support. To the degree the Soviets can convince our own and European publics that we do not want progress, they may succeed in blocking our rearmament while avoiding reductions and retaining their advantages. Our aim must be to avoid being outmaneuvered in this way without compromising our principles of reductions, equality and verifiability.

The Relationship of Short-term and Long-term Goals

Even if we succeed over the next two years in preserving support for our policies, in preventing new Soviet encroachments, and in reducing one or more outstanding problems, the basic facts of US-Soviet relations will persist: the Soviets will still have the means and incentive to challenge our interests in the Third World; they will be able to maintain the internal discipline needed to bear a massive military burden; and they will continue to try to undermine support for Western rearmament.

If we want to alter these facts fundamentally within the next two years, the approach outlined above is inadequate. Some would therefore argue that instead of trying to reduce existing problems, we should allow them to get worse for the sake of weakening the Soviets. By this reasoning, we should, for example, not help the Soviets find a way to put their Afghanistan encumbrance behind them. We should not facilitate Vietnamese withdrawal from Kampuchea, nor address Soviet objectives as part of the give-and-take of arms control. And we should do nothing to avert turmoil in Eastern Europe—much less in the USSR itself—that could relieve the Soviets’ burden.

Others believe that there are several basic flaws in this line of reasoning:

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• It seriously underestimates the Soviets’ ability to cope with their problems and to resort to extraordinary harshness to maintain control and avoid defeat.

• It overestimates our ability to preserve essential support among those at home and abroad who want to see outstanding problems solved, even if the Soviets might stand to gain.

• It ignores our genuine interests in easing human suffering (whether in Kampuchea or Afghanistan) and advancing reconciliation, justice, and human rights (as in Poland).

• Most fundamentally, it overlooks the fact that we are in a dynamic situation, dealing with volatile problems which could lead to dangerous instabilities we may not be able to control. Southwest Asia and nuclear arms competition are but two graphic examples. Simply put, while we may be able to damage Soviet interests through uncontrolled competition, we cannot be confident of safeguarding our own. Thus, we want to contain and reduce conflict, even as we force the Soviets to pay a high price for their misdeeds.

In sum, having advanced a set of goals for improved Soviet behavior, this Administration should not and cannot now fail to seize whatever opportunities present themselves to achieve them, even if the Soviets can benefit from a lessening of the problems they have created. Moreover, if we can show in the course of the next two years that we are causing the Soviets to behave more responsibly, we will help to establish a durable political basis for this Administration’s approach for the rest of this decade and beyond.

[Omitted here is the remainder of the Executive Summary.]

  1. Source: National Security Council, Box SR 107, NSPG 49 [US Rel w/ Sov U] Jan 1983. Top Secret. A stamped notation at the top of the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” Tab A, a set of talking points, was not attached
  2. Not attached.
  3. Not attached.
  4. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  5. See Documents 203 and 249.