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


  • Grain Embargo (U)

I have no way of verifying newspaper reports that we are about to lift the grain embargo imposed on the Soviet Union.2 If true, this would be bad news in every respect, except perhaps for the agrarian interests directly affected. (S)

The grain embargo has had some economic impact in that it has forced the USSR to purchase grain at inflated prices, to go through elaborate and costly circumventing operations, and to slaughter excess cattle. The Soviet Union wants to buy grain here because we alone can assure it of adequate quantities and the shipping suited to handling by Soviet ports. (S)

The economic dimension, however, is not the most important one. What really matters are the political-psychological aspects. (C)

1. The embargo had been imposed as penalty for the invasion of Afghanistan. The Russians have not only failed to withdraw from Afghanistan, but they have refused even to discuss the matter. How seriously will the world take our threats in the future if the Russians get away with this? (S)

2. How can we pressure our Allies to maintain embargoes now or later if we lift the grain embargo? We will merely confirm their suspicion that we are not serious or reliable, that if they hold out long enough we will fall in line. The lifting of the grain embargo certainly will improve the chances of the gas-pipe deal, now in trouble. (S)

3. As for the Russians, this will be the first indication to them that their hunch had been right: the Republicans are a party of businessmen who may be more anti-Communist than the Democrats but who, in the end, will always be swayed by commercial considerations. The great ideological capital gained by the Reagan Administration in Moscow will be largely dissipated as a result of this decision. (S)

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The grain embargo is not a domestic issue: it is part of global strategy and should be treated as such. (S)

I feel I had to get this off my chest. (U)

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Deal Files, Subject: [USSR] Soviet Union (Mar 24–Apr 20, 1981). Secret. Sent for information.
  2. See, for instance, Lou Cannon, “Reagan Prepared to Lift Embargo On Grain to Soviets,” Washington Post, April 18, 1981, p. A1.