155. Memorandum From Donald Fortier of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • Soviet Speech

In preparing for my trip to Turkey I have not had as much time as I would have liked to devote to the Soviet speech. I am concerned [Page 528] about the present draft, however, and wanted to pass on my basic thoughts to you.2

All of us agree that the time has come to demonstrate to a broader Western audience that we are not guided by a blind and uncomprehending form of anti-Sovietism. We have to send a message of reassurance, in part to resolidify support for the inevitable competition that we will continue to face and in part to rebut the Soviet argument that the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

The speech does convey a sense of reassurance, but it does so in a rather simple way. The speech will not impress either domestic or foreign audiences with its thoughtfulness, and it fails to send a very concrete message to the Soviets—a fact that will only help to contribute to the impression that we are aiming at an electoral audience rather than trying to achieve more durable substantive gains.

The emptiness of the message to the Soviets is particularly apparent, I think, in the presentation of “our goals” in the first half of the speech. Instead of anything concrete, these include vague appeals to let the Third World focus on economic development, or to abolish nuclear weapons, or to stop stealing Western industrial secrets. I doubt these are appeals with much meaning for the Soviets, who speak a more sober language of power, security, and interest.

Just to take two obvious examples, the point about the Third World that Moscow would best understand (but which is not made in the current draft) is a statement that we are concerned about the risk of confrontations that are in neither side’s interest. Similarly, the Soviets will not know what to make of the off-handed way compliance is treated in the section of the speech on establishing a better working relationship. They know this problem is coming and want to see how the President deals with it. In light of where we’re likely to be by the time of the speech, we run a major risk of being misunderstood if we don’t say more to indicate the gravity of our concern on this issue.

The speech, in my view, also needs to be more direct and candid about some of the difficulties that we face in trying to solve problems between us. If the President discusses these difficulties, his main message—the expression of a forthcoming desire to work on disagreements or conflicts—may in fact be taken even more seriously.

Having said this, I don’t think that improving the speech requires starting over. One small change that might begin to move it in the right direction is to build on the important claim made at the beginning that we see some important potential “opportunities for peace” at this time. The President should then ask the question—what do we and the [Page 529] Soviets have to do to seize these opportunities?—and give concrete, thoughtful answers. In this way, the “goals” of the present draft would become “tasks,” or “challenges,” or problems to be solved.

By focusing on key immediate tasks rather than long-term goals the President would sound more programmatic and purposeful than he is likely to now. He needs to sound as though his policy is designed to reach more than just distant and possibly unattainable goals. (Each of these “tasks” or “challenges,” I might add, could usefully include some historical comparisons, indicating how the nature of the task is different or harder than in the past but also why the opportunity for progress now exists—after three years of trying to get our message across to Moscow.)

This change from “goals” to “tasks” would, with some significant re-drafting, send a different message in the entire first half of the speech. The talk about our desire to reduce the use of force would, for example, be made much less airy, focusing more on what each side has to do (and not do) to limit the risk of superpower conflict. This can sound tough but it has a constructive side. For example:

“We believe that the situation in the Middle East has been made more dangerous for all concerned by the introduction of thousands of additional Soviet military personnel into Syria in the past year. Our efforts in that region are aimed at limiting these dangers. This is just one of many situations around the world in which the Soviet Union could bring its influence to bear to reduce risks for both sides. The confidence created by such progress would be valuable in trying to deal with other aspects of our competition.”

Similarly, using the three tasks of U.S.-Soviet relations in the present draft, the President could say that the second task—reducing armaments—requires some serious thinking about how to increase strategic stability. Rather than simply try to top the Soviets in a vague commitment to a non-nuclear world, we can challenge them with our commitment to specific negotiating measures. For example:

“Our thinking in the area of arms control has led us to embrace the build-down approach to reducing strategic weapons. [One sentence explaining build-down.] We wish the Soviet Union would do the same, and call on its leaders to do so. This is a time when we need more, not less discussion of this approach, for it is a formula that could make it possible for both sides to rethink many of their strategic programs.”

The Soviets would be greatly intrigued to hear a hint that we might not have to build everything we plan, and would begin to ask what systems this could mean. In short, we would have their interest.

As for the final task—developing a constructive working relationship—the President could again make hard points and soft—hard on issues like the need for compliance with past agreements, soft-sounding [Page 530] on the obvious fact that we are willing to work even for small improvements in the relationship.

I have gone over this first half of the speech at some length because once it is recast, the remainder can be devoted to elaborating our approach. I have fewer difficulties with the rest of the text as it now stands, but it too could be strengthened by more concreteness. (And by less rhetoric that could open us to ridicule. For example, the President can’t say that “ignorance” is a common enemy of the U.S. and the USSR. The country with the world’s largest censorship apparatus is not an enemy of ignorance!)

Finally, the concluding quote from JFK’s American University speech is a useful reminder of how different our job is from Kennedy’s. He was lucky enough to be able to produce an agreement on a comparatively simple question—the test ban—in six weeks. Because we have much less chance of such breakthroughs, we have to give a more convincing proof that we are doing everything prudent to achieve them and that if we fail it will not be our fault. It just won’t be enough to say “we all breathe the same air.”3

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR, President’s Soviet Speech (01/16/84) (2). Confidential. Sent for information. Sestanovich wrote next to Fortier’s name and initials: “(dictated and signed in his absence) S.S.” Brackets are in the original.
  2. See Document 154.
  3. In a January 11 memorandum to McFarlane, Matlock informed him: “I am working on some more fundamental revisions in accord with Don Fortier’s suggestions and should have these ready late today. Meanwhile, I recommend that you convey these suggested changes to the speechwriters.” (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (01/05/84) (2))