157. Memorandum From Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1
- CIA Study on Soviet Thinking on the Possibility of Armed Confrontation with the United States
I believe the attached study (Tab I) is right on target as regards all its major judgments.2 Specifically:
—The Soviet leadership is not overly nervous about the immediate prospect of armed confrontation with the U.S.;
—They are however very nervous about the prospects five to ten years down the road—not so much of a confrontation as such, as of a decisive shift in the balance of military power which would require them either to back down or accept the risk of confrontation. They genuinely fear our technological capacity and probably doubt that they could keep up if we went flat out. And just trying to keep up will put enormous pressures on their shaky system.
—Of all the regional disputes, they are probably most nervous about the Middle East, primarily because of the proximity of our forces there. In their eyes, they have acted prudently by not challenging directly our military actions in Lebanon. Israeli or (worse in their eyes) U.S. strikes on Syrian territory would be harder for them to tolerate—but they would probably do so. Still, they do not want to be faced with the choice.[Page 536]
One element which is not elaborated in the paper deserves attention. That is, the nature of Andropov’s internal rule, as it is shaping up. I see increasing signs that it is in fact a sort of neo-Stalinism, with the emphasis on discipline and police controls, combined with pronounced Russian nationalism. These trends stem primarily from internal factors and Andropov’s own personality, but have implications for foreign policy. In fact, we may have, in Andropov, a Soviet leader who has a policy stake in the appearance of tension, since it makes it easier to mobilize the population if the latter is convinced that there is an external threat. Therefore, while Andropov may be very careful not to provoke a real confrontation, he may see little merit in relaxed tensions for their own sake (as Brezhnev clearly did).
- Source: Reagan Library, System II Intelligence Files—INT #2, Folder #2, 8490035–8890278. Secret. Sent for information. McFarlane’s stamp appears on the memorandum, indicating he saw it. He also wrote in the margin: “Jack—I have sent this to Shultz & Casey asking their views on” and drew an arrow to the final paragraph of the memorandum.↩
- In a covering memorandum forwarding Matlock’s memorandum and the CIA intelligence report to Shultz and Casey on January 21, McFarlane commented: “I have read Bill Casey’s analysis (Tab B) of Soviet thinking about the prospect of conflict with the U.S. and believe it reflects an accurate portrayal of the strategic realities which are tending in a more stable direction. Jack Matlock has done a one-page commentary which I also concur in (Tab A). I was especially drawn to Jack’s last paragraph in which he characterizes the regime’s style and strategy. I would welcome any reactions you might have to Jack’s characterization.” Shultz replied on January 23: “Bud: Thanks for your note enclosing Jack Matlock’s comment on the ‘Soviet Thinking’ memo. Jack’s view is insightful. This interplay (Gates-Matlock) could be useful in our Saturday a.m. sessions.” (Ibid.) Tab B is the December 30 Intelligence Memorandum printed below. Tab A is Matlock’s January 11 memorandum printed here.↩
- Secret; Noforn; [handling restriction not declassified]. Prepared in the Foreign Policy Issues Branch, Policy Analysis Division, Office of Soviet Analysis. McFarlane wrote in the margin: “Jack Matlock, This is almost congruent to my analysis. What do you think? Bud 1–10–84.”↩
- The Embassy reported this in telegram 15409 from Moscow, December 10. See footnote 4, Document 143 and Documents 144 and 156.↩