153. Information Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Bosworth) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Soviet Gameplan—The Near Term

Looking back on 1983, we can point to some signal successes in the superpower competition. INF deployment is merely the most notable in a list of achievements that also includes the continued implementation of other major defense programs, the liberation of Grenada, a stronger position in Central America, and improved relations with the PRC. Looking ahead to 1984, we foresee significant opportunities for further progress, including some that could crystallize a shift in what the Soviets call the global correlation of forces. If we can capitalize on these opportunities (which were discussed in our previous memorandum on Soviet client relationships),2 the Soviets may become substantially more responsive to our counsels of self-restraint and our proposals for constructive dialogue.

In the near term, however, we will have to contend with a strong Soviet impulse to challenge and defy us. Although the Soviets doubtless recognize that their scare tactics might backfire, they seem to have concluded that a freeze in US-Soviet relations offers the best hope for undermining domestic and allied support for the Administration’s policies. This is clearly their direction at present, and they will be extremely reluctant to change course before the US elections. Although there are undoubtedly hypothetical offers that they could not refuse, we have no intention of making unilateral concessions that would vindicate Soviet tactics and jeopardize our basic strategy. At the same time, Moscow is not at all likely to evince much interest in “small [Page 521] steps” like those that figured so prominently in our earlier gameplan (e.g., cultural exchanges, consular agreements, or merely cosmetic changes in arms control positions). Efforts to stimulate a dialogue in this way will almost certainly fail.

In this situation, our only responsible choice may be to keep our powder dry and wait the Soviets out. In the interim we can count on adroit public diplomacy to ensure that Moscow bears full responsibility for our deadlocked relations. And we can rely on our continued efforts to strengthen ourselves and our allies to deter Soviet attempts to “retaliate” for our recent successes and inflict a humiliating defeat. Since the present Soviet leadership is not particularly dexterous in public diplomacy, nor prone to reckless adventurism, such a steady-as-you-go strategy has much to recommend it.

This prescription, however, does not address, much less resolve a number of dangerous problems around which Soviet-American confrontation could grow. It may also foster an impression of an inactive, even failed foreign policy, and may not dispel the public anxieties that a freeze aims to arouse. Before settling on it, therefore, we should canvass prudent but substantive overtures that might revive high-level dialogue, and interest the Soviets enough to moderate their course.

No initiative would have greater weight, both with Western publics and with a skeptical Soviet leadership, than a reshaped, and much less ambitious, START package. It would ease our alliance management tasks and might encourage a Soviet policy review as well. At the same time, no other step would look as much like weakness under pressure. Whether to move on this front is the key issue facing the President in the short term.

A second arms control initiative that could be a useful signal to the Soviets is a revised MBFR proposal. Yet despite the responsiveness of such a step both to European concerns and to Soviet claims that we “owe” them a new offer, it would be unlikely to affect Moscow’s overall assessment and might not even bring them back to the table in Vienna.

We have also identified three other candidate initiatives that may deserve consideration, especially in the absence of movement on START. These include opening a more operational discussion of Lebanon and Nicaragua, and an exchange on fundamental issues of European security. Early results are unlikely, but merely launching such initiatives may help to reduce misunderstandings that could lead to crisis. None of these steps is completely risk-free, but we believe the risks can be made manageable and must in any event be weighed against the risks of a deepening US-Soviet freeze.

1. A Lebanon initiative: As you know, the Soviets have shown some interest recently in discussing the situation in Lebanon—the only case where US and Soviet forces could be directly embroiled. Picking up [Page 522] on their all-but-official hints, we might indicate our willingness to discuss US policy and presence in Lebanon in conjunction with Soviet policy and presence in Syria. Plainly we have to avoid making our Mideast policy as a whole hostage to Moscow, or granting the Soviets an institutionalized role in the security management of the region. There may, however, be a workable match between our interest in a Lebanese reconciliation and an orderly withdrawal of US troops, on the one hand, and Soviet interest in avoiding a superpower confrontation through Syrian actions, on the other.

In such exchanges, we could explore what might be necessary to gain Soviet pressure on Syria and her Lebanese allies, support for the process of Lebanese reconciliation, and agreement to a broader role for UNIFIL. Although growing domestic pressure to withdraw our MNF contingent will weaken our bargaining position, the Soviets probably tend to overestimate our staying power and may be ready to pay at least a small price to reduce their own exposure and gain some credibility as a regional problem-solver. The limits on Moscow’s leverage with Syria may be a further obstacle, but from the Soviet point of view they are also a reason to seek an accommodation with us.

2. A Nicaragua initiative: Central America is the other region in which Moscow may perceive the prospect of a significant near-term reverse, involving not only the loss of another client regime (through overthrow or apostasy under pressure) but possible collateral US action against Cuba as well. In this situation, the Soviets may be more willing than in the past to distance themselves from their regional clients, both militarily (by curtailing weapons supplies) and politically (by pressuring Nicaragua to cut off the Salvadoran insurgents and ending their own, Soviet, support for the FMLN). Without launching a real negotiation with Moscow, we would for our part need to demonstrate that in promoting a process of internal reconciliation in Nicaragua we are not determined to bring down the regime in Managua. Admittedly, we might thereby help the Soviets to claim that they had gained US respect for Nicaraguan and Cuban security and legitimacy. This would be only a claim, however: we would do and say nothing even remotely implying a guarantee of the Sandinistas’ survival, much less sanctioning a Soviet role in perpetuating the regime.

3. European security initiative: Although the Soviets may continue to boycott all other East-West arms talks, they will participate actively in CDE and seek to broaden its agenda. While we must insist on a narrower agenda in this forum, Moscow’s interest in an across-the-board discussion of European security could offer an opportunity for constructive conversations outside the CDE framework. You may want to raise with Gromyko the idea of bilateral discussions to explore each side’s views on the military threat in Europe.

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In addressing this issue, we would focus on the military problem that underlies NATO’s sense of insecurity but that we have almost never raised directly with the Soviets—i.e., the massive Soviet offensive threat on the central front. At the same time, we would want the Soviets to see how their interest would be served as well as ours. Agreements that addressed the basic military sources of insecurity in Europe in a meaningful way would also make many other East-West issues look quite different. Many of our arms control positions, for example, would be subject to re-examination. With enough Soviet interest in meeting our concerns, we would have more flexibility in meeting theirs. Although these discussions will not lead to a real meeting of minds, they could help to clarify some of our policies and purposes for a highly insular Soviet leadership.


If convincingly briefed to the Soviets before Stockholm, these initiatives might go some distance to producing a less sterile and confrontational meeting there with Gromyko. These preliminary talks, which might be fuller than the usual pre-ministerial exchanges, are probably best conducted in existing ambassadorial channels. Except for a new START proposal they are unsuitable for inclusion in a Presidential speech, but could and should be part of a letter to Andropov following the speech.

If your meeting with Gromyko suggests any Soviet interest in initiatives apart from START, we will have to consider what channels to propose by way of follow up. The possibilities include both old and new channels. For example, discussions of the Middle East and Central America (which might be less artificial if conducted separately) could be led either by ambassadors, Assistant Secretary-level contacts a la Crocker-Ilichev, or perhaps by special emissaries.

The more novel perspective on European security might fruitfully be put forward in informal consultations led by the Department of Defense, or at least with high-level DoD participation. Alternatively, the President might designate a distinguished outsider or two (Brent Scowcroft, for example) to conduct a round of talks. We have long advocated military-to-military contacts; informal discussions might be a good start.

Beyond these more focused exchanges, S/P, EUR and NSC staff have discussed the idea of “policy planning talks” as a flexible medium for exploring the long-term perspectives of each side. Such talks would seem to meet our current interest in broadening the bilateral discussion in a realistic way that takes up the most important questions. You might want to propose to Gromyko that he consider a trip to Moscow by some members of the Policy Planning Council, perhaps joined by a high-level NSC representative to add Presidential weight.

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As argued earlier, US initiatives in START would do more than any other steps to revive a Soviet-American dialogue, and to create the impression that relations had turned a corner. For the other initiatives described above, including a new offer in MBFR, the forecast must be much more cautious. Even if the Soviets were intrigued by them, they would be unlikely to return to the INF bargaining table and might well continue to boycott other arms talks. Furthermore, because the channels we have in mind would be largely confidential, they would not do much in the short term to relieve public concern about a breakdown of East-West communication. We would in fact have to expect continuing Soviet exploitation of this concern even as we talked in private.

Nevertheless, on-going consultations and exchanges could make the Soviets more cautious about waging the sort of all-out competition that would exacerbate public anxieties about the risk of war. And over the longer term, if these exchanges began to make progress, they would have an increasingly open impact on the relationship and on concrete problems dividing us. This could further increase Soviet caution and ease public fears. And even if they do not make progress, we will be free to let the story out as we desire; a failed effort could still pay a political return, by strengthening our efforts to increase public understanding of why our relations are deadlocked and what conclusions should be drawn as a result.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/P, Memoranda/Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff, Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons PW 1/1–15/83. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Forwarded through Eagleburger. Eagleburger’s Executive Assistant, William Montgomery, initialed for Eagleburger. A stamped notation reading “GPS” appears on the memorandum, indicating Shultz saw it. McKinley’s handwritten initials are at the top of the memorandum, indicating he saw it on January 5. In a covering memorandum to Shultz, Bosworth wrote: “The attached memorandum is an effort by Jeremy Azrael and Steve Sestanovich to identify some US initiatives that may deserve consideration as you prepare for your meeting with Gromyko. We are aware that each of these initiatives raises serious bureaucratic, political, and strategic problems. However, we are also conscious of the problems that could arise from a continued stalemate in US-Soviet relations and believe that this is the almost certain outcome of our standing pat on attempting to revive our former ‘small step’ gameplan.” See footnote 4, Document 31.
  2. See Document 139.