13. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • USG-Soviet Relations—Where Do We Want To Be and How Do We Get There?

I have now had the discussions with Dobrynin which you authorized me to undertake.2 Dobrynin has come into these talks with a series of proposals for introducing new movement into the bilateral relationship. They are along familiar Soviet lines, with the focus on arms control and reviving bilateral agreements or processes that died largely as a result of Soviet misbehavior. In the background has been a series of statements by you and by Andropov on US-Soviet relations, with both of you saying you are willing to move forward, but that it is up to the other to take the first step. Meanwhile the Soviet “peace offensive” to derail INF deployments in Europe has continued.

From my talks with Dobrynin there have emerged a few tentative signs of Soviet willingness to move forward on specific issues—the Pentecostalists and technical-level exchanges on consular matters. But the Soviets have not yet been seriously tested, and my feeling is that the time has come to use my channel through Dobrynin for that purpose. Before I proceed, however, we should take a look at our broader, longer-term strategy for dealing with them. The purpose of this memorandum is to discuss both that strategy and the immediate steps we might take to implement it.

Minimum and Maximum U.S. Objectives

Our minimum objective for US-Soviet relations over the next few years is to make clear that we are determined to resist Soviet efforts to use their growing military power in ways which threaten our security. The Soviets must recognize that, while we are serious in our arms control proposals, we also have the will and capacity to correct the [Page 44] imbalances which their military buildup has created. There must be no doubt in Moscow or elsewhere that we will not permit a resumption of the Soviet geopolitical expansionism in the Third World which we saw in the 1970s. Finally, the Soviets must understand that we are not prepared to insulate the bilateral relationship from these issues or our concerns about Soviet human rights behavior. In sum, it must be clear that we see the US-Soviet relationship as fundamentally adversarial and that we are fully prepared to compete effectively and vigorously.

There may also be a chance to go beyond this minimum objective and make some progress toward a more stable and constructive US-Soviet relationship over the next two years or so. This can occur only if the Soviet leadership concludes that it has no choice but to deal with this Administration on the basis of the comprehensive agenda we have established over the last two years. Some of the factors that will shape this critical decision of the Soviet leadership are beyond our effective control. These include the outcome of the succession process, the overall performance of the Soviet economy, and the ability of the new leadership to deal with the long-term malaise of Soviet society.

There are, however, a number of areas in which our actions, and particularly the degree of progress we make in achieving priority objectives beyond the US-Soviet bilateral relationship, will be critical to the decisions of the Soviet leadership. Thus, sustaining the momentum of the efforts we have begun in the following areas represents an essential pre-condition for inducing the Soviets to deal seriously with the agenda we have established:

(1) Rebuilding American economic and military strength: With economic recovery now under way, we must redouble our efforts to rebuild American military strength. In particular, we need to solve the MX basing problem and obtain congressional approval for our strategic forces modernization program.

(2) Maintaining the vitality of our alliances: In this category, our two priority objectives should be a successful outcome in INF and the development of a new framework for East-West economic relations.

(3) Stabilizing our relations with China: Building on the basis established during my trip to Beijing,3 a summit later this year would solidify our own relations with Beijing, despite continuing differences on Taiwan, and inhibit improvement in the Sino-Soviet relationship.

(4) Continuing regional peacekeeping efforts: We have no illusions about the prospects for rapid success in the Middle East or a regional settlement in southern Africa. However, U.S. diplomatic activism in key third world areas reduces Soviet maneuver room and can help control destabilizing activities by the Soviets and their allies. To the extent that we are able to make real progress in resolution of regional [Page 45] problems, the Soviets are progressively frozen out of areas of key importance to us.

(5) Continuing vigorous competition in ideas: We want to have obtained congressional funding for the democracy initiative and a supplemental for the radios, establish our new party political foundations(s) and generally put our offensive in support of Western values into high gear.

If we are able to achieve real progress in these areas, we will have demonstrated to the Soviet leadership that it cannot expect a radical departure in U.S. policy of the kind that has occurred too often in the past decade. Thus, 1983 will represent a critical test of whether a U.S. Administration can not only put in place the kind of US-Soviet policy we have established—but see it through.

While the Soviet response to a successful demonstration of our resolve is not entirely predictable, I believe that the Soviet leadership might conclude that it had no alternative but to come to terms with us. In that event, opportunities for a lasting and significant improvement in US-Soviet relations would be better than they have been for decades. If the Soviets remained intransigent, we would have nonetheless taken the essential steps needed to ensure our security.

The US-Soviet Agenda—What Can We Realistically Aim to Achieve?

If the above analysis is correct we can realistically expect to confront the following opportunities and risks in specific areas of the US-Soviet agenda:

A. Arms Control

Here we have taken the approach that it is meaningful agreements that count, and you have established high standards: real reductions; equality in the important measures of military capability; verifiability; and enhanced stability of the East-West military balance. These criteria form the basis of our proposals in INF and START, and must continue to do so as we consider our negotiating positions over the coming year or so. We should be patient; we should be deliberate; and we should be alert to openings from the Soviet side. Given the strength of the Soviet “peace offensive,” our positions should also enable us to assume the strongest possible public posture. It must always be evident that it is the Soviet Union, not the United States, that is impeding progress toward agreements.

In INF, we should: (1) adhere to the arms control criteria we have established; (2) demonstrate to the Soviets and western publics that we are seriously searching for an agreement; and (3) undertake the necessary preparations for initial INF deployments at the end of the year.

In START, we should hold firm to the new conceptual framework that underlies our proposal, with its emphasis on substantial reductions [Page 46] and warheads as the principal unit of account. We should continue to negotiate seriously, taking as our point of departure the fact that the Soviets appear to have accepted the principle of reductions.

Prospects for agreements in START and INF before the end of 1984 are highly problematical; nevertheless, we should continue to press the Soviets for early progress on the basis of our proposals. We should also urge new Soviet movement in other arms control areas—in MBFR, in CSCE, in CBMs and in our proposals for verification improvements to the TTBT and the PNET. In MBFR we are now studying ways to break the deadlock over data. In CSCE, the Soviets could conceivably be willing to meet our requirement for concrete movement in human rights as part of an overall agreement that would include a CDE.

We should keep the pressure on Moscow for serious responses to our proposals in these areas, to keep the onus for lack of progress on the Soviet Union. We will be negotiating in good faith. But if it is not possible to achieve agreements, it will be important to have maintained the high standards of your approach to arms control and to have won the battle for public opinion by making clear that it is the USSR, not the U.S., that was to blame.

B. Regional Issues

Our minimum objective over the next few years is to ensure that there is no new successful aggression by the Soviet Union or its allies in the Third World. This will require that we follow through on the security commitments we have made to Third World friends and allies and that we remain ready to use American military strength to keep the peace. It may also require that we reinforce warnings to the Soviet Union concerning the consequences of unacceptable behavior in the Third World, such as delivery of MIGs to Nicaragua.

The fact that we have engaged Moscow on key regional issues—particularly Afghanistan and Southern Africa—positions us to sustain diplomatic pressure and exploit whatever opportunities may emerge in the context of the Soviet political process in the intermediate term. In this connection, we should consider ways of using our bilateral dialogue to move the Soviet Union towards constructive involvement in negotiations that might lead to acceptable settlements of these issues. A litmus test of Soviet seriousness in response to our concerns would be whether they are moving seriously toward real pullback from one of the inroads gained in the 1970s.

C. Human Rights and Western Values

We should continue to seek improvement in Soviet behavior: release of prisoners of conscience including Anatoliy Shcharanskiy; resolution of divided-family cases and the Pentecostalist situation; and a significant increase in Jewish emigration. Our objective should be to [Page 47] have achieved significant progress on one or more of these fronts by the end of 1984. Where it would enhance the chances of success, our focus should be on private diplomacy leading to results, not counterproductive public embarrassment of Moscow. We also want to increase our ideological impact inside the Soviet Union through expanded exchange programs and access of Americans to Soviet society.

In this area we must recognize that there is a natural tension between open discussion of and attacks on Soviet misdeeds and quiet discussion that will produce results on specifics. The Soviets never tire of suggesting that things are better accomplished in the shadows when it comes to human rights. On the other hand, they also know that we neither can nor want simply to turn off our public expressions of indignation and support for freedom. As we proceed, there will thus be a constant interplay between the public approach for which our values call and quiet diplomacy focussed on results. This interplay means that human rights issues must be handled in a somewhat special way.

In connection with human rights, the dilemmas of our Poland policy are likely to become more acute. On the one hand, we cannot relax our insistence that real improvement in our relations with Poland can take place only if there is improvement in the human rights situation in that country. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly evident that prospects for a revival of the Solidarity period are dim for the forseeable future. There is no certain prescription for resolving this dilemma, given the limitations of our influence over events in Poland. Nevertheless, our Poland policy must continue to be based on determination to support the Polish people in their desire to exercise fundamental human rights—with the kind of rewards for specific human rights progress which you set forth in your December speech.4

D. Economic Relations

Our primary objective over the next year should be to develop and begin to implement a new framework for East-West economic relations; this would ensure that Western economic strength does not contribute to Soviet military power or subsidize the Soviet economy. It would also manage domestic pressures for increased trade so that the timing [Page 48] of any steps we take in the area of bilateral economic relations is geared to our overall strategy for US-Soviet relations.

US-Soviet Bilateral Dialogue

Bilateral dialogue with the Soviets has an important place in this overall strategy. Our exchanges with the Soviets are a constant testing process, in which we probe for possible new Soviet flexibility on the issues, while insisting that real progress must involve concrete Soviet actions to address our concerns. These exchanges put us in control of that process—in a position to bring it to a halt at every step if the Soviets are unwilling to proceed with real give-and-take. In particular, they allow us to ensure that our dialogue with Moscow does not generate momentum toward a summit that would be difficult to rein in, should we find it in our interest do so. Further, these exchanges permit us to make sure that anything we are prepared to do is reciprocated. Finally, they give us a greater capacity to control international events, by reaffirming to the Soviets and others that we intend to play a role commensurate with our renewed strength and self-confidence. An active US-Soviet dialogue will be critical to our efforts to maintain allied and domestic support for our policy in the face of a redoubled Soviet “peace offensive.” And if the Soviet leadership does conclude that it must seriously address our concerns, there should be an active bilateral dialogue underway to enable us to exploit fully this opportunity to advance U.S. interests.

We now need to decide whether to intensify this dialogue, and if so how. If we proceed in this direction, we will inevitably arouse concerns that we are returning to business-as-usual, and generate charges that our Soviet policy is more bark than bite. I believe that these problems are manageable, because we will not relax our insistence on balance and Soviet performance as we proceed. Continuing to work from the US rather than the Soviet agenda, and to require deeds rather than just words, is the way to manage the problem, but we should recognize it will remain with us.

If that makes sense to you, I have some ideas about next steps. My thought would be to see Dobrynin again and present him with a four-part work program of specifics covering each of the areas on the US agenda: arms control, regional issues, human rights and bilateral topics. This would serve to drive home to him that old bilateral agreements and arms control are not and cannot be the only central issues in US-Soviet relations if we are to achieve serious progress. Furthermore, the specifics would challenge the Soviets to concrete responses, as part of the testing process we envisage:

—Arms Control: I could offer to discuss START/INF issues with Gromyko at a meeting soon after the current round of Geneva negotia[Page 49]tions ends, making clear that I would of course address our overall agenda and not just arms control; I would say we want to work more intensively on MBFR, without further elaboration; I would point to TTBT verification improvements and nuclear CBM’s where we have introduced specific proposals; and I would be downbeat on prospects for reviving the defunct arms control negotiations for which the Soviets are pushing.

—Regional Issues: I could note we are still looking at Southern Africa for positive Soviet action; reiterate our basic positions on Afghanistan (total Soviet withdrawal, Afghan independence and self-determination, return of refugees); and offer to send Ambassador Art Hartman to see Gromyko’s Deputy again for another routine exchange of information and views of the Middle East. Such discussions provide a useful and low-cost means of keeping the Soviets at bay on this issue in our bilateral relationship.

—Human Rights: After reiterating your strong interest in human rights and your preference for “quiet diplomacy,” I would welcome the message on the Embassy Pentecostalists, but indicate that we still face the practical problem of how to convince the families to take up the offer; refer to indications that movement on Shcharanskiy now seems possible; and suggest serious and confidential talks about what might be possible on human rights in connection with CSCE at Madrid, where the Soviets could conceivably be willing to meet our requirement for concrete movement in human rights as part of an overall agreement that would include a CDE.

—Bilateral Issues: Here several alternatives are possible. I could say we propose beginning with a single step both sides can agree is useful and which you approved in NSDD–755—negotiation of a new cultural exchanges agreement—and have the rest of the bilateral issues we talked about earlier under review. I could also suggest that we would be prepared to renew discussions on opening a US Consulate in Kiev and a Soviet Consulate in New York. This could give us an invaluable listening post and do little for the Soviets (because of their UN Mission). The disadvantage of both the cultural agreement and the Kiev/New York consulates is that we would be undoing Afghanistan sanctions. The advantage is that in both cases we would be improving our access to Soviet society. I will, of course, adjust what I say to Dobrynin on these bilateral issues to your view of how significant a signal we wish to send Moscow.


The next few years will be a period of new challenges and opportunities in our relations with the Soviets. We have in place a sound policy, which gives us the foundation for further progress toward a more stable, if competitive, US-Soviet relationship. Bilateral exchanges are an important part of it, but only a part. The approach outlined above would protect our security interests while establishing realistic bench[Page 50]marks by which to measure progress. But it can succeed only if we do not waver on the essentials of the policy approach you have established these past two years. The Soviets may ultimately prove unwilling to see an improvement in the relationship on those terms. If so, we will nonetheless have done our part in good faith, and the responsibility for a continuation of the present tensions will rest squarely with them.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (03/03/83–03/07/83). Secret; Sensitive. A draft of this memorandum, dated March 2, was prepared by Napper on March 1; cleared by Simons and Palmer. (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Special Handling Restrictions Memos, 1979–1983, Lot 96D262, ES Sensitive File, March 1–15, 1983) On March 4, telegram Secto 2003 from Shultz in California reported that the memorandum was “hand-carried to the White House office in San Francisco.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, N830002–0359)
  2. Reference is presumably to meetings with Dobrynin on February 12 and February 15. See Documents 9, 10, and 11.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 1.
  4. On December 10, 1982, Reagan signed two proclamations for Poland on human rights and for a Day of Prayer. In his remarks, he offered: “If the Polish government introduces meaningful liberalizing measures, we will take equally significant and concrete actions of our own. However, it will require the end of martial law, the release of political prisoners, and the beginning of dialog with truly representative forces of the Polish nation, such as the church and the freely formed trade unions, to make it possible for us to lift all the sanctions.” For the full text of his remarks, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1982, Book II, pp. 1589–1591.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January 1983, Document 260.