2. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

973. For the Secretary From Hartman. S/S Check With Deputy Secretary Dam About Any Wider Distribution. Subject: US/Soviet Relations.

1. (Confidential—Entire text.)

2. We have now seen enough of the Andropov regime’s foreign policy to detect implications for our own policy and for our relations [Page 6] with the Soviets. This message draws some conclusions about where we should be trying to go in our overall relations with the Soviets and how we can get there.

3. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Andropov approach is not marked by significant experimentation or initiative. Internally, Andropov is making major efforts to make the economy run better, but he is using traditional and conservative methods—an emphasis on discipline and an anti-corruption drive. In foreign policy, he has departed in no way from the Brezhnev policy. He seems to be going out of his way to knock down speculation that he will be more flexible on Afghanistan or Poland; and even on issues of less importance to the Soviet Union, like Southern Africa, there appears to be no relaxation of the hard line. If anything, the best candidate for change, at least in the near term, would seem to be an acceleration of Soviet overtures to China—a development that is not in our interests. I remain nevertheless convinced that a priority item in Soviet policy under Andropov is their relationship with us. In short, we are confronting a regime which will be every bit as hard to deal with as the Brezhnev regime, which is more vigorous and probably more intelligent, but which has a certain dependency on its relations with the U.S.

4. Against such a background, it seems to me we should go back to first principles. The first principle of our relationship with the Soviet Union is our own security. Whatever the condition of other elements of our relationship our basic approach must be designed to lessen the danger of nuclear war. The two mistakes of the 1970’s were (1) to emphasize arms control without a parallel emphasis on defense and (2) to count on arms control to carry too much of the weight of the entire relationship. Fortunately, we are not prone to those mistakes today. If we are not careful, however, trends in public opinion on nuclear issues, particularly in Europe, could undermine our ability to correct these mistakes.

5. It is with this context in mind that I say we must now give a heightened emphasis to arms control, and I think this issue deserves high priority on your own global agenda. I say this because arms control is the only currently available catalyst toward starting a process of improvement in the overall relationship. I say it because arms control is an essential element of that first principle of security. And I say it because arms control is now perceived by publics to be the weakest aspect of our policy toward the Soviet Union—a weakness which the Soviets are exploiting in Western Europe with growing effect. Since the deployment timetable makes INF a more urgent matter than START, it is INF that I want to address here. In my view, our INF negotiating [Page 7] position of zero-zero is reaching the end of its usefulness.2 The time has come to change it.

6. I was in Western Europe during the period before and after the NATO double decision;3 I have been in Moscow during the Soviet efforts to tear that decision apart. The Soviet strategy is quite plain; it has not changed from Brezhnev to Andropov. The Soviets do not want an arms control solution to INF (in contrast to their policy toward START). They want to prevent our deployment without affecting theirs. They are trying to achieve this by manipulating both their negotiating position in Geneva and their overall propaganda; their aim is to sweet-talk (and threaten) Western European, and particularly German, public opinion. Their negotiating position is like an onion. It began as absurdly extreme; but as they have peeled extraneous layers off one by one, it is beginning to look attractive to the Europeans even though it remains a sham. So far the Soviets have accomplished this at very little cost; European public pressure is now focussing on U.S., not Soviet, “rigidity” even though the Soviets have not proposed the destruction of a single SS–20. I expect that, after the German election,4 we shall see some more extraneous layers peeled off. If we don’t move now to anticipate this, I’m afraid our deployment schedule will be in real trouble.

7. I remember vividly how the INF debate and ultimate decision developed between 1977 and 1979. The origin was Western Europe’s fear that, without U.S. weapons in Europe to respond to the SS–20, the U.S. might hesitate to defend a Europe threatened by the SS–20. The [Page 8] decision to deploy GLCM’s and Pershing–II’s was not primarily a military decision (after all, we had the military means to respond to an SS–20 attack; we had our whole strategic arsenal). The decision to deploy was primarily a political decision: to give the Europeans confidence that we would treat a nuclear attack on them as if it were an attack on ourselves. As I remember it, there was no great sanctity about the numbers in INF. The number 572 was chosen because (1) 572 was less than the projected SS–20 warhead arsenal (to equalize the SS–20’s was considered “de-coupling” since the nuclear exchange could then take place solely in Europe) but (2) 572 was enough to establish U.S. credibility in defending Europe.

8. I recall all this history to make the point that the double decision was perceived on both sides of the Atlantic primarily as a means of strengthening U.S. credibility in Europe and, therefore, strengthening the Atlantic alliance. However we come out on INF, we should keep that objective firmly in mind: we want a solution that strengthens—or at least doesn’t weaken—the alliance. The security of the U.S. is less dependent on the number of intermediate-range missiles we can deploy on European soil than on the cohesion of the alliance and the credibility of our commitment to defend our allies against an attack.

9. The greatest danger in the current INF debate is the threat to alliance unity. One thing is becoming clear: our holding to zero-zero much longer will imperil that unity. Zero-zero (like the 1979 decision itself) was an alliance, not just a U.S., decision; if our allies begin to come off it—as I believe to be happening—then alliance unity itself is called into question. For their part, the Soviets will not accept zero-zero; they are not about to dismantle their entire SS–20 force, even at the price of NATO’s carrying out some or all of its INF deployments. That would not be all bad if we could be sure our deployment would go ahead on the basis of Soviet rejection of zero-zero. But will the Germans, or even the British, permit deployment without our seeking to narrow the negotiating gap? While I’m not dealing with those countries anymore, I strongly doubt it. George Bush should get a feel for this during his trip.5 If they don’t agree to the deployment, we are then faced either with a crisis with our two major allies or with a face-saving “delay” in deployment while negotiations continue (which will guarantee that the missiles are never deployed). Either way the Soviets win.

10. I therefore believe we must put flexibility into our negotiating position while there is still some credibility in our deployment option. [Page 9] We should come forward with a formula which provides more flexibility than zero-zero. In fact, we might produce different formulas at different stages—doing some onion-peeling ourselves for European public opinion. Our aim should be to present alternatives which are so reasonable that our allies can have no plausible excuse for non-deployment if the Soviets reject them. Whatever our formulas, zero-zero can and should remain our stated ideal solution and ultimate objective. If we get an agreement on the basis of our new approach, we will have reinforced alliance unity, reduced the SS–20 program, and created a catalyst for movement in other areas of the U.S.-Soviet relationship.

11. On the question of when to offer a new U.S. approach, I leave it to the experts. The Soviets might not remove another layer of the onion until after the German election. Thus, we can probably wait till then. There may be German reasons for waiting, too, since a U.S. move before March 6 might strengthen those in the FRG who are least committed to the double decision. In any case, I think we should not delay much beyond March 6, since at that point will begin the period of maximum Soviet propaganda activity.

12. Movement along the lines I have proposed can provide a good basis for the accelerated bilateral dialogue that we discussed several weeks ago. If we move on INF, your next talk with Gromyko—whether here or elsewhere—could be the occasion for introduction of the idea or—if already tabled in Geneva—for emphasis to Soviet leaders of the significance for the whole relationship of an early INF agreement. The question of whether to come to Moscow would depend on the weight we attach to getting directly at Andropov. After such a round we could better determine where to take the process next.6

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (01/28/1983–02/02/1983). Confidential; Immediate; Nodis. Clark forwarded and summarized the telegram in a memorandum to the President on January 29. Reagan initialed the memorandum, indicating he saw it. (Ibid.)
  2. In a speech on November 18, 1981, Reagan first proposed the zero option on intermediate-range nuclear forces: “The United States is prepared to cancel its deployment of Pershing II and ground-launch cruise missiles if the Soviets will dismantle their SS–20, SS–4, and SS–5 missiles.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, p. 1065) In his January 25, 1983, State of the Union address, Reagan said: “For our part, we’re vigorously pursuing arms reduction negotiations with the Soviet Union. Supported by our allies, we’ve put forward draft agreements proposing significant weapon reductions to equal and verifiable lower levels. We insist on an equal balance of forces.” He continued: “In the case of intermediate-range nuclear forces, we have proposed the complete elimination of the entire class of land-based missiles. We’re also prepared to carefully explore serious Soviet proposals. At the same time, let me emphasize that allied steadfastness remains a key to achieving arms reductions. With firmness and dedication, we’ll continue to negotiate. Deep down, the Soviets must know it’s in their interest as well as ours to prevent a wasteful arms race. And once they recognize our unshakable resolve to maintain adequate deterrence, they will have every reason to join us in the search for greater security and major arms reductions.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1983, Book I, p. 109) The 1981 and 1983 speeches are in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Documents 69 and 139, respectively.
  3. For information on the December 12, 1979, dual-track decision, see the Department of State Bulletin, January 1980, pp. 16–17. Documentation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. V, European Security, 1977–1983.
  4. The West German election was scheduled for March 6.
  5. Vice President Bush visited various European capitals from January 30 to February 10 to discuss INF issues with NATO allies. (Telegram 3038 to Berlin, January 6; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D830007–0977)
  6. For Dobriansky’s critique of Hartman’s position, see Document 5.