255. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rodman) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Soviet “Hard Ball”

I believe you will be interested in and disturbed by the possibilities that Jeremy conjures in the attached memorandum.


Memorandum Prepared in the Policy Planning Council2


I am extremely concerned that the Soviet “cancellation” of the Vienna talks marks the beginning of a more active effort to embarrass the President and discredit the Administration’s policies.3 More particularly, I am apprehensive that Moscow’s predictable denunciations of our continuing “intransigence” will be followed by “retaliatory” actions—actions that will demonstrate that there are limits to Soviet “patience.” I do not anticipate the sorts of “adventures” that would mobilize support for the President and invite a confrontational U.S. response. What I fear are less provocative, “grey area” challenges that put our credibility on the line but are difficult for us to counter without seeming to overreact.

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My most immediate concerns center on what I see as the increasing likelihood of escalating cross-border operations against Pakistan4 and the transfer of military jets to Nicaragua.5 Failure to react strongly to either of these contingencies could jeopardize important U.S. regional interests and cast serious doubts on the effectiveness of our overall foreign policy.

Provided the cross-border operations were “limited” to air strikes against Afghan encampments and the planes transferred to Nicaragua were “only” trainers, the adoption of strong countermeasures would stimulate sharp domestic controversy and could contribute to the President’s electoral defeat. In either case, the Soviets could hope to reap significant benefits while running only minor risks.

The intelligence assessments I have seen tend to downplay the likelihood that either of these contingencies—let alone others of equal or greater moment—are likely to materialize. However, my reading of the underlying evidence makes me far less sanguine. At a minimum, I think there is enough evidence to be urgently making serious contingency plans and, above all, for us to be considering possible measures of deterrence. Unfortunately, some of the options that come to mind in this regard would be extremely controversial in their own right—e.g., the deployment of AWACs to Pakistan, the reenforcement of our air and naval forces around Cuba and Nicaragua. But this is not the case with other options such as demarches to the Nicaraguans, Cubans, [Page 896] or Indians or other, more ambitious, political and diplomatic undertakings. Even in the case of our more muscular options, moreover, managing the attendant controversy may be preferable to dealing with Soviet faits accomplis.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/P, Memoranda/Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff, Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons PW 7/15–31/84. Secret; Sensitive. Not for the System. Shultz’s handwritten initials are on the memorandum, indicating he saw it, and McKinley’s handwritten initials are in the upper right-hand corner, indicating he saw it on July 27
  2. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Azrael.
  3. TASS released a statement on July 27 alleging that the United States was “engaged in deceitful play over the question of the Soviet-proposed talks on the prevention of militarisation of outer space and was not going in fact to enter into such talks.” (Documents on Disarmament, 1984, pp. 549–550)
  4. According to a weekly situation report on Afghanistan, the Soviets had increased efforts to seal border crossings in the Paktia region: “The extensive military convoys observed in Kabul on the Jalalabad road have evidently been on their way to Paktia province, where fighting reportedly continues to be heavy. There have been reports that Soviet and DRA troops are massing in the Ghazni area for an early move to Paktia and Paktika. According to our sources, the aim of their operations will be to try and seal off border crossing points between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This jibes with other reports we have had that the regime is actively trying to buy off local tribesmen in an effort to seal the border. Regime media, which claimed on July 22 that Pashtun tribesmen are refusing to permit ‘counter-revolutionaries’ to cross their areas tend to support the proposition that the Soviets/DRA may be putting new emphasis on trying to prevent border crossings.” (Telegram 1074 from Kabul, July 23; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840469–0336)
  5. In telegram 3740 from Managua, July 10, the Embassy reported: “The Soviet Political Counselor [Vladimir Burovlev] told PolCouns July 9 that a Soviet commitment in principle to supply fighter aircraft to the GRN has existed for some time. However, its implementation remains a matter ‘to be discussed at an appropriate time.’ PolCouns warned that such a step would be regarded with gravity by the U.S. Burovlev said the Soviet side understood that. He later said the Soviet Union did not want Nicaragua to become a sore point in U.S./Soviet relations, and would welcome a negotiated solution to Nicaragua’s problems.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840440–0375)