246. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane) to Secretary of Defense Weinberger1


  • Responding to Chernenko

Further to our conversation at breakfast this morning concerning how we respond to Chernenko’s latest letter (Tab B),2 I enclose at Tab A a draft which has been prepared based upon specific guidance from the President.3

I draw your attention to two points—one involving tactics for the talks and the other more fundamental long-term arms control strategy. The first arises in paragraph four on page one in which the President offers to let the Soviets go first. This is designed to make clear to the Soviets that we are willing to hear them out. The risk we face, of course, is that having made their case on ASAT and SDI, they would walk out if we began to talk about offensive systems. Our strategy would be that after their presentation, we would open by asking questions about their ideas over a prolonged period. During this period, however, we would weave in the obvious relationship between weapons in space and offensive systems leading to a full-blown presentation of why negotiations on offensive systems must be resumed.

The second issue in my mind is more fundamental. It concerns the President’s wish to state to the Soviets that our experience during the past 15 years reflects that we have focussed on the short to mid-term programs which have an inexorability which has led us to making gestures at the margins while future systems are ignored. In a rational world in which the Soviets approached arms control as we have, such a proposal is eminently sensible. But it has two risks. First, the Russians do not approach arms control as we do. They negotiate to weaken us. In this Administration we have reflected this reality by acting in our self-interest to deal with anticipated Soviet programs. Our focus on exploring SDI reflects this realism. The second risk is one of public diplomacy and opportunities we may give the Soviets to charge us [Page 876] with raising new issues and either introducing “preconditions” or at least proposing such fundamental new directions as to make clear that we are not serious. As defensible as our position would be on the merits, we could receive substantial criticism from the cult of arms control writers who believe we should not alter the existing framework for discussion.

I have discussed these reservations with the President and I must say that he was very emphatic in his view that we can deal with such criticisms as we may face and that at bottom the importance of getting to these longer term issues requires that we proceed as he proposes. With some impatience he accepted that we might introduce the last paragraph on page two with the phrase “Looking beyond the matter of talks in September. . .” so as to relieve suspicions that we are introducing either a precondition or insisting on a short-term focus on this broader concept. He was supported by the Vice President and Ed.4 Jim shared my reservations.5

The President wants strongly to send a reply today. Could I ask you to review the draft letter and let me know your views. I intend to try to get time on his calendar this afternoon to discuss this further and will invite you to attend.6 Many thanks.

Robert C. McFarlane7
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Fred Ikle Files, 1984—Arms Control. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. Tab B is not attached. The letter is printed as Document 240.
  3. The draft letter from Reagan to Chernenko with revisions suggested in the text and margins is attached but not printed. The final version of the letter, sent on July 18, is Document 247.
  4. Reference is to Edwin Meese.
  5. Reference is to James Baker.
  6. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Weinberger, McFarlane, and Baker met with Reagan from 3 p.m. until about 4:12 p.m. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) No substantive record of the meeting was found.
  7. McFarlane signed “Bud” above his typed signature.