145. Memorandum From the Chief U.S. Arms Negotiator, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Negotiations (Nitze) and the Chief U.S. Arms Negotiator, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Rowny) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Combining INF and START

With the Soviets having “discontinued” INF negotiations, the question of combining INF/START into a single negotiating forum may assume greater currency. Over the past months a number of allied figures have, on a variety of occasions, argued in favor of combining START and INF. It is also possible that the Soviets will propose to combine INF and START issues in some fashion. This memo examines this question in some detail, and also discusses possible Soviet approaches to the issue. On balance, we do not believe that combining START and INF would be in the U.S. interest. However, we need to study how we would respond to Soviet proposals for some type of merger.

It is an historical accident that INF and START are two separate negotiations. Had SALT II been ratified, it is possible that INF systems would have been negotiated directly in SALT III. The 1979 dual track decision states that INF would be addressed “within the SALT framework.” However, even in the Carter Administration there was considerable nervousness about the impact of strategic-theater negotiating linkages. Specific commitments to such linkage were avoided in the SALT II Joint Statement of Principles.2

Over the past months arguments have surfaced that it would make sense to combine the START and INF negotiations. Statements in favor of such a merger have, for example, been adopted by the Danish and Dutch Parliaments. We see the genesis of such sentiment as a way of avoiding U.S. deployments. Now that deployments have begun and the Soviets have “discontinued” the INF negotiations we can expect [Page 500] further pressure for a merger from those sensitive to public pressure against deployments.

There are a number of arguments against a merger. From our point of view the most compelling argument is that, in a combined INF and START negotiation, the Soviets can be expected to exploit the blurred distinctions between INF and strategic systems. The Soviets would, for example, seek to include U.S. “FBS” and third country medium-range systems in the merged forum because these systems can strike the USSR and hence meet the Soviet definition of “strategic.”3 At the same time, the Soviets would seek to exclude their “medium-range” systems on grounds that they cannot strike the U.S.

Combining INF and START would considerably complicate both sets of negotiations and could risk the loss of what progress we have made in separate INF and START talks during the last two years. While the U.S. and the Soviets remain far apart on central issues in both negotiations, there has been some narrowing of differences on some issues, for example, treatment of aircraft and geographic scope in INF. Such gains could be lost if the two talks were merged. A combined forum, from the U.S. perspective, would have to cover a range of Soviet missile systems from the SS–18 down to the SS–23. Two separate fora are simpler to manage and permit each negotiation to progress at its own pace.

Next, merging INF and START would also increase the potential for intra-Alliance problems. Separate INF and START fora allow separate Alliance consultative mechanisms. In INF the Allies play an active role while in START the United States, for the most part, informs its Allies of unilateral U.S. policy decisions. This separation is very much in the U.S. interest. NATO consultations on INF have proved effective, and have allowed Allies to play an active role in the formulation of U.S. INF policy. The Allies have become accustomed to such a role, and it would be unrealistic not to expect them to want to continue it in combined INF/START negotiations. The more that INF issues lost their separate character in such a negotiation, the harder it would be to keep our commitment to consultations focused only on such issues. We do not believe it would be in the U.S. interest to involve Allies directly in the decision-making process on U.S. strategic arms control policy. To do so would greatly complicate that process and would lead to the Allies wanting to have a say with regard to purely strategic issues, such as modernization of U.S. strategic nuclear forces.

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Combining INF and START would also cause difficulties in reconciling different U.S. approaches to the two sets of talks, particularly with respect to units of account. For example, the U.S. has made a concerted effort in START to reduce Soviet throw-weight. There is no parallel concern in INF, and therefore we have made no corresponding effort to address the throw-weight of Soviet INF missiles. The Soviets could be expected to exploit a merged negotiation by arguing for adoption of INF’s “simpler” unit of account—warheads only. Their objective would be to move us away from the emphasis on reducing the destructive capability of ballistic missiles that we have expressed in START. Application of “build-down” to INF would also raise problems because the U.S. would have to begin such a build-down from a base of fewer LRINF missiles.

If INF and START were to be combined, we would also face potential Allied concerns that the U.S. was more interested in limiting strategic systems that threaten the U.S. directly than in limiting INF systems which threaten Western Europe. The active consultative process on INF has to date allayed such Allied fears. It is not clear we could reassure the Allies in a like manner if INF and START were merged. Certainly any efforts at INF/START trade-offs—a major interest of many merger proponents—would be carefully and critically scrutinized by our Allies.

Moreover, we have argued in INF that a Soviet effort to seek compensation for U.K. and French forces is not based on a substantive concern but is merely a pretext to rationalize unequal limits on U.S. and Soviet INF systems. This argument has proven effective in rebutting Soviet claims for compensation. We could lose the argument if INF and START were combined. On the other hand, some would argue that combining the two talks might actually make it easier to deal with the compensation issue, since the inability of even modernized British and French forces to present any credible offensive threat to the USSR would become even more self-evident when measured against the entire panoply of Soviet strategic and INF forces. Such an argument could, however, be undermined should a combined negotiation lead to substantial reductions in Soviet strategic forces while the U.K. and French proceed with plans to increase substantially the number of their own warheads.

In sum, we do not believe there is a compelling rationale for combining INF and START and that doing so could pose dangerous pitfalls for the U.S.

Nevertheless, we will need a strategy for rebutting public arguments for combining INF and START. In doing so we believe the U.S. could best draw upon the following themes, at least until final decisions are made about how to proceed on the INF/START relationship:

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—Responsibility for the interruption of INF lies with the Soviets alone and we must not appear to let them off the hook by offering an alternative negotiating forum.

—Separate fora have already been established for negotiating limits on INF and on START systems. Although it is less than we would have hoped, definite progress has been made in both these negotiations. A merger could undermine this progress.

—Problems in both negotiations cannot be solved merely by transferring them from one to another forum.

—A combined INF/START negotiation would be extremely complex.

—Separate fora have allowed each negotiation to progress at its own rate. If the talks were combined, differences over issues in either the INF or the strategic context could bring the entire dialogue to a stalemate.

—The Soviets would attempt to exploit a merged negotiation to U.S./NATO disadvantage. For example, they would try to focus it on those systems they call strategic, including so-called U.S. “forward-based systems,” by excluding their own medium-range systems, such as SS–20s.

Regardless of the U.S. position on merger, the Soviets may seek to accomplish their ends without proposing a merger. They could simply move U.S./INF systems into START.

The Soviets have already laid the necessary groundwork for including P–II and GLCM in START. The Soviets might also seek to include all U.S. “FBS” in combined START and INF talks. They may well seek compensation for British and French forces as well. Under such an approach the Soviets would, however, face some difficult decisions on what to do with their own medium-range systems. The Soviets might attempt to exclude their own medium-range systems from combined talks on grounds that their systems cannot strike the U.S. and hence are not comparable to U.S. “FBS.” But such a position would appear extremely one-sided and hence could undermine Soviet efforts to portray themselves to European audiences as sincerely interested in arms control.

Another possible Soviet approach might be to propose formal combination of the talks, but seek to maintain more or less separate strategic and medium-range negotiating positions which would, however, be linked at the top in some general fashion. For example, a combined negotiating team could be established, or an agreement in one forum could be explicitly tied to an agreement in the other. This approach would allow the Soviets the option of negotiating their own “counter-deployments” against U.S. P–II and GLCM deployments, with the [Page 503] least disruption to negotiating positions previously established in both START and INF.

Accordingly we recommend that the work currently underway on how to respond to the various possible Soviet actions re resumption of START, including the possibility that the Soviets may propose including certain INF systems in the resumed START talks, be focused on developing a fully analyzed and coordinated position prior to your possible meeting with Gromyko in Stockholm.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Special Handling Restrictions Memos, 1979–1983, Lot 96D262, Super Sensitive December 1983. Secret. Forwarded through Adelman. Copies were sent to the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs. A stamped notation reading “GPS” appears on the memorandum, indicating Shultz saw it.
  2. For the text of the SALT II Joint Statement of Principles, signed by Carter and Brezhnev in Vienna on June 18, 1979, see Public Papers: Carter, 1979, pp. 1078–1079.
  3. During the INF negotiations, the Soviet delegates argued that British and French systems should factor into reduction totals. U.S. forward-based systems (FBS), which could strike the Soviet Union, were also a contentious issue.