18. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz and the Director of the United States Information Agency (Wick) to President Reagan1


  • Promoting Political Change in the USSR

NSDD–75 set as a basic task of U.S. policy the promotion of political change within the USSR. It noted that, along with radio broadcasting, our most important means for ideological penetration and promotion of democratization in the USSR are exchanges activities and the exhibits program. The NSDD stated that we should reverse a pattern of dismantling those programs, instead expanding those which can serve our objective of promoting change in the Soviet Union. It called for an official framework for handling exchanges and obtaining reciprocity to prevent the Soviets from gaining unilateral advantage from their activities in the U.S. and their control of our access to the Soviet people.

This paper recommends an approach to negotiating an official framework which would achieve a significantly higher level of reciprocity and ideological penetration of the Soviet Union by the United States.

Problem and Opportunity

Vladimir Bukovsky has written that he became a dissident when he visited the US National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959—the one at which Khrushchev and Nixon debated in a model US kitchen. But, we have had no US exhibits in the Soviet Union since 1979. We have allowed other ideologically effective aspects of the exchanges agreements to lapse as well. Thus, in the past three years we have dismantled much of what we had created.

One of the main advantages of those agreements was that they opened great fields of operation to us, such as exhibits, where we had a clear advantage over the Soviets. They also provided the means to obtain reciprocity. We now face a growing Soviet effort to work around us with private U.S. institutions and individuals.

Armand Hammer in partnership with Jerry Weintraub recently established an organization to bring Soviet cultural and other attrac[Page 65]tions to the U.S., with no known guarantee of reciprocity. We are also aware the Soviets are working with some other impresarios or individuals on possible performing arts tours, including a visit by the Moscow Circus this fall. The ready access that Soviet propagandists have to U.S. media without reciprocity is well known. The Soviets arranged a series of Soviet film weeks at the prestigious Smithsonian Institution last fall.

Under current circumstances we have no ready means of enforcing reciprocity in such endeavors. The present visa law does not permit us to refuse visas for that purpose. The result is that, according to the FBI, there is an increasing percentage of KGB agents in the groups the Soviets are unilaterally sending to the U.S. We can better control this problem with a better handle on visa issuance. We are seeking changes to visa procedures that would permit us greater latitude in refusing visas for policy reasons. That could facilitate control over visits by obvious propagandists, but it would still be a clumsy weapon, poorly suited to dealing with highly visible cultural visits. We should, nevertheless, use our anticipated new ability to refuse visas as leverage to get a more satisfactory overall official exchanges framework permitting us to compete more effectively in the ideological conflict in which we are engaged.

Our previous exchanges agreements with the Soviet Union basically repeated the form and content of the first, concluded in 1958, and were never altogether satisfactory. In approaching a new official agreement we would review the old agreements and our current interests to determine what our negotiating targets should be without regard for what we may perceive as Soviet negotiating requirements. (We would, of course, prepare an estimate of Soviet positions as part of the preparations for negotiations.)

In developing our negotiating targets, our aim will be to improve our penetration of Soviet society. During the negotiations on a new overall framework for exchanges, we would concentrate on the following specific areas in which the U.S. has the clear advantage or in which, through enforcement of strict reciprocity, we need to offset a current advantage held by the Soviets:

USIA Thematic Exhibits—Our exhibits, when in the USSR, provide the U.S. Government its best opportunity to acquaint millions of people in all walks of life throughout the Soviet Union with the many aspects of American life: our democratic system, our foreign and domestic policies and our hopes and aspirations for peace and prosperity for all peoples of the world. As a communication medium, in contrast to radio broadcasting, our exhibits bring the Soviet people into a two-way face-to-face dialogue with our American Russian-speaking guides who staff the exhibits. The Agency’s exhibits had such overwhelming ideological [Page 66] impact that the exchange of thematic exhibits under the previous official exchanges agreements became anathema to the Soviet authorities. Thus, it is clear that if the U.S. Government once again is to take advantage of this most effective ideological weapon against the Soviet Union, it will be able to do so only by adopting the same negotiating position we used during previous negotiations—no USIA thematic exhibits, no official exchanges agreement.

Radio and TV—Currently, Soviet propagandists have easy access to U.S. media without reciprocity. We will insist on greatly improved access to Soviet nation-wide electronic media to reach the largest possible audience with our message. For example, we have in mind setting an annual minimum for US and Soviet appearances on political discussion programs on each other’s television.

Publications—The U.S. has always enjoyed a clear advantage in the popularity and appeal of our Russian-language America Illustrated magazine in the Soviet Union compared with its Soviet counterpart in the U.S., Soviet Life. In fact, the note you sent Charlie with the “special introductory offer” for Soviet Life (mailer attached at tab A)2 illustrates how they have to push their product. Our magazine goes like hot cakes in the Soviet Union. Under a new agreement we would seek to negotiate a higher level of distribution of our magazine inside the USSR.

Educational and Academic Exchanges—With these exchanges we reach elite audiences, build long-term contacts inside institutions producing future Soviet leaders and help build and maintain the base of US expertise on the Soviet Union.

Performing Arts—Performing groups presenting the finest of American theater, dance and music in modern, classical and popular genre can provide large numbers of Soviet citizens with a view of the exciting possibilities of free cultural development, a process denied by their system.

American and Soviet Films—The Soviets have been able to put on film weeks in a number of major American cities, but we have received no reciprocity for this. Under a new exchanges agreement we would insist on reciprocal film weeks in the Soviet Union.

Access to Soviet Elites—Soviet officials, propagandists and academics have almost unlimited access to our institutions, for which we will insist on reciprocity under the framework of a new agreement.

Should you decide to seek to negotiate a new framework for exchanges along the above lines, we will find the Soviets receptive in certain respects, although there will be a long fight on specifics. Soviet [Page 67] authorities believe that they derive political benefits from agreements with us. Ironically, they also know that official agreements serve a very practical purpose—in their rigidly planned bureaucratic society official agreements make it easier to obtain the necessary budgets to finance the concrete expenditures encountered by the Soviet ministries and organizations engaged in exchanges-type activities in the U.S. and the USSR.

A decision to move toward a new bilateral exchanges agreement with the Soviet Union will encounter some opposition as well as considerable support domestically. We will want to make the point to our public and the Congress that a new agreement enforcing reciprocity is to our great advantage (there is a strong constituency on the Hill for the exchanges.) In general, we believe that our Allies will welcome such a decision as further evidence of our willingness to deal seriously with the Soviet leadership. We will, of course, want to consult with the Allies before announcing any decision, to ensure that they fully understand our reasons and that they understand it is not a move to initiate a rapprochement with the USSR.

If you agree with our view of the importance of building a new framework for conducting exchanges and enforcing reciprocity, USIA will develop, in cooperation with the Department of State and other interested agencies, a draft agreement and negotiating strategy. When that process is completed, we would then propose to you appropriate timing for an approach to the Soviets on opening negotiations.


That you authorize us to develop a draft exchanges agreement and negotiating strategy.3

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (04/04/83). Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by B.B. Morton on March 4 and cleared by Simons and Palmer according to a March 10 covering memorandum. (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Special Handling Restrictions Memos, 1979–1983, Lot 96D262, Super Sensitive March 1–15 1983)
  2. Not attached.
  3. The President did not indicate his approval or disapproval of the recommendation.