16. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark) to President Reagan1


  • Secretary Shultz’s New Memorandum on U.S.-Soviet Relations

The memorandum to you from George Shultz at Tab A2 is an almost identical repetition of his January 19 memo to you.3 It is so similar that the outlines of both memoranda are the same, many sentences are repeated verbatim, and the recommendations are almost the same only with minor modifications. The only difference is that the words “intensified dialogue” are given less prominence in the text, which has been lengthened.

Like the old version, the new one calls for a strategy of intensified dialogue on bilateral issues and in specific areas: arms control, regional issues (Afghanistan, Southern Africa), human rights, and economic relations. George’s reason for persisting with this recommendation is that he has detected in his recent meetings with Dobrynin “a few tentative signs of Soviet willingness to move forward on specific issues—the Pentecostalists and technical level exchanges on consular matters.” Thus, he feels that dialogue, initially through his channel with Dobrynin, could serve to see that the Soviets are “seriously tested” and “challenged.”

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While State’s final recommendations downplay the importance of summitry, all the logic that was used to justify a summit in the previous memo remains. The new recommendations include: discussing new subjects such as MBFR; quiet diplomacy to encourage progress in the Shcharansky case; confidential talks to trade improvement in human rights for a CDE; and negotiations to open a U.S. Consulate in Kiev and a Soviet Consulate in New York.

There are several problems with this memorandum. Principally it fails to reflect a full understanding of the nature of the Soviet threat and the way the Soviets operate. What is systematically ignored here is the fact that the Soviets are engaging in low-intensity, political conflict with the West—an attack whose thrusts we have failed to deter. What is also ignored is that our existing policy of deterrence, which posits that the enemy should lose more by an attack than he could hope to gain, applies solely to the military sphere and not to the proxy-military and non-military forms of attack.

As a result the memo reflects a misunderstanding of what it takes to get the Soviets to come to terms with us. State believes that all it is likely to take is a “successful demonstration of our resolve” as manifested by renewed economic and military strength, revitalized alliances, a new relationship with China, regional peacekeeping efforts and an ideological offensive. There is some truth to this—but only partly so. With the exception of possible political losses inflicted on the Soviets by our young and fragile ideological offensive, none of this will cause the Soviets to lose more than they gain by attacking the Free World in their low-intensity fashion. Thus, the references to warning the Soviets about the “consequences of unacceptable behavior” ring hollow—no meaningful consequences are proposed.

State’s memo also contains several questionable assumptions. One is that the U.S. is as responsible as the USSR for U.S.-Soviet tensions. This is implicit in the memo’s last sentence which suggests that we should do our part to demonstrate our peaceful intentions—as if we have not done so for years. Another questionable assumption is that we can easily sustain public support for our defense buildup and demonstrate our resolve by engaging in precisely the dialogue which the Soviets want us to do—the kind that generates false public expectations of progress in U.S.-Soviet relations, which in turn induce public pressures on us to make concessions. Yet another questionable assumption is that there has been any kind of indication of Soviet willingness to make concessions on any of the issues that separate us. The reference to flexibility on the Pentecostalists, for one, has no basis in fact.

Altogether, this memo is another State Department attempt to explain how increased dialogue can help pressure the Soviets into more acceptable behavior. The many reasons given as to how dialogue can [Page 59] pressure the Soviets to do anything are weak, and unconvincing, as they reflect a wishful-thinking perception about the nature of the Soviet system and its willingness to compromise. If we follow its recommendation for intensified dialogue, especially at a time of possible defense cuts, and unilateral disarmament and freeze movements, we will be sending all the wrong signals to the Soviets. We will be “improving” U.S.-Soviet relations on Soviet terms, and not on our terms and thus portraying an image of political weakness that is the exact opposite of the image of revived spiritual strength that your election symbolized.

In spite of your earlier decision and rejection of the same recommendation to intensify dialogue, State asserts that: “We now need to decide whether to intensify this dialogue.” This persistence merits an appropriate response: I believe that you and I should meet with George, so that he can discuss his recommendations and address the problems we have with them.4 However, before the meeting takes place I would like to present you with an alternative set of recommendations which we could simultaneously address.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, William Clark Files, US-Soviet Relations Papers Working File: Contains Originals (3). Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Prepared by Lenczowski.
  2. Printed as Document 13. Under a March 8 memorandum sent for action to Clark, Lenczowski forwarded a copy of the March 3 memorandum from Shultz to the President writing: “In response to this latest version, I am tempted to attach the cover memo you sent the President with the old version and recommend that you send the Secretary a Xerox of the previous response you made to him on behalf of the President. However, since he has made some refinements in his old version, the President deserves a refined critique.” Lenczowski also indicated that Dobriansky concurred with the March 3 assessment; Dobriansky initialed her concurrence on Lenczowski’s memorandum.
  3. See Document 1.
  4. See Documents 17 and 26.