226. Memorandum From Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • Soviet Military Priorities

Jeremy Azrael has called my attention to a most interesting interview which appeared in Red Star, May 9, by Marshal Ogarkov, Chief of the Soviet General Staff.2 He prepared a memorandum for Secretary Shultz, a copy of which is attached at Tab I,3 and I believe you will find his observations of interest.

[Page 822]

First, Ogarkov’s comments on nuclear war are entirely consistent with our conviction that the Soviet General Staff is not fearful of an imminent U.S. first strike.4 Although the interview is directed at a military audience, and therefore would be expected to convey an air of confidence, his categorical statements that nuclear war makes no sense comes very close to an explicit endorsement of MAD. It is particularly interesting in this regard that he does not dwell on the alleged threat of the Pershing II’s and GLCM’s in Europe.

A second striking feature is his treatment of ET.5 The emphasis he gives it implies that he sees developments along these lines as his greatest future worry.

It would be foolhardy to attach too much significance to a single statement. But this one is indeed food for thought. As Jeremy points out, one of the questions it raises is whether we may not have more leverage in vigorous pursuit of ET in the conventional area than in the strategic nuclear area. Going somewhat further afield with speculation, one can also read in Ogarkov’s treatment a recognition that the Soviet economy cannot support competition across the board and may have to make some agonizing decisions on priorities. This could mean that the Soviet military may not be as rigid in opposing strategic arms reduction as many assume. Even if this should be the case, however, we should understand that the most likely reason will be a desire to have more resources available for ET.

I have asked the Agency to be alert for any further commentary in Soviet military literature which reiterates or supports Orgakov’s themes.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron June 1984 (06/15/1984–06/20/1984). Confidential. Sent for information.
  2. For an extract of the interview, see Documents on Disarmament, 1984, pp. 391–394.
  3. Tab I is attached but not printed. In a covering note to Shultz on a Department of State copy of the memorandum, Rodman wrote: “I believe you will find the attached memorandum from Jeremy [Azrael] well worth reading. Among other things, it highlights a number of questions that you might want to take up at a ‘Saturday seminar’ on Soviet affairs.” Per Shultz’s request on June 26, a slightly revised version of this memorandum was sent to Weinberger, Casey, and McFarlane on July 2. (Department of State, S/P, Memoranda/ Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff, Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons PW 6/16–30/84)
  4. See Document 221.
  5. ET: emerging technologies.