260. Paper Prepared in the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs1


So many variables affect East-West relations that it is difficult to do a paper of this sort. These variables include: the staying power of our economic recovery; the degree of Congressional support for big defense and covert action programs; the level of instability in critical regions like the Middle East and Central America; various imponderables on the Soviet domestic scene like Chernenko’s health. So predicting the context for US-Soviet relations over the next four years is genuinely “looking through a glass darkly.” That said, we have taken our best shot.

I. Introduction

In this administration’s first four years, we have begun to establish a sounder foundation for dealing with the Soviet Union. We have moved to rebuild US economic and military strength, repair relations with key Allies and friends, and restore US confidence. Moreover, we [Page 905] have seized the diplomatic initiative at a time when the Soviet leadership is locked in a rigid policy matrix of its own making. But while we have been successful in gaining the respect on the part of the Soviet leadership and reinforcing its caution, our reviving strength, our policies, and sometimes, our rhetoric have had the effect of creating a new truculence in Moscow. In short, we have succeeded in halting the erosion in the balance of power, but our dialogue remains sticky on the small issues and sterile on the big, and the Soviets are in a generally nasty mood.

The challenge over the next four years will be to sustain the momentum of Western resurgence, and to translate it into greater progress in our dialogue with the Soviets, so that we can put East-West relations on a stable footing for the long haul. “Strength” and “dialogue” are mutually reinforcing. The former may well be as difficult as the latter in the years ahead, especially if economic stringencies, allied pressures, and Congressional meddling in arms control policy-making increasingly constrain our freedom of action. Therefore, as we look for ways to move forward in our dialogue with Moscow, it is essential that we continue to give top priority to maintaining our overall strength.

In considering US policy, it is important to appreciate the Kremlin’s view of its domestic and external situation. While our knowledge is far from perfect, and there are so many unpredictable variables that preclude making solid predictions, we have attempted to make informed judgments about how the next four years look from Moscow’s perspective, and whether continuity or change will be the dominant feature in Soviet policies.

II. The View From Moscow, 1985–1988

If the bulk of Leonid Brezhnev’s eighteen years in office witnessed a shift in the world “correlation of forces” in Moscow’s favor and the achievement of unprecedented domestic stability, his last few years and the two years since his passing have been a period in which the Soviet Union has found itself on the defensive in many parts of the international arena, and mired in a protracted and, thus far, inconclusive succession process at home.

To be sure, none of the USSR’s problems have reached crisis proportions, and the leadership has shown that it is still adroit enough to exacerbate serious problems for the United States in specific areas, as well as to tweak a mini-rebound out of the Soviet economy. But the Soviet leadership has clearly lost some of the buoyancy with which it used to confront major challenges. Barring the sudden demise of a large number of the older men still at the top, next January it will still be an amalgam of unimaginative seniors and the younger men waiting to succeed them.

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A. Muddling through at home

Domestically, the Soviet leadership will confront two principal challenges over the next four years: modernizing the country and revitalizing itself. The response in both cases will likely be cautious and incremental, reflecting a large measure of continuity.

When Andropov entered office in November 1982, he stimulated high expectations for change. But despite a more candid recognition of the country’s problems, Andropov focused his energies on consolidating power, rather than embarking on major reforms to revitalize the country’s faltering economy. His rapid incapacitation, demise and replacement by an even older man, one who made few pretensions to being a promoter of reform, may have exacerbated concerns within Soviet society over whether the system is capable of renewing itself.

Yet the domestic outlook may not seem as hopeless to the top leadership as Western optimists and Soviet pessimists have forecast, and these rays of hope are important to it.

On the economic front, Soviet GNP in 1983 and early 1984 has grown at an annual rate of about 3% (contrary to CIA estimates of 2% growth for the remainder of the decade).2 The growth spurt reflects the somewhat better harvest in 1983, increased production capacity, and the effects of Andropov’s labor discipline campaign. Growth could slow again, of course, particularly in the event of more bad harvests by a failure to deal with the impending decline in oil production. But looking to the 1985–88 period, growth rates appear sufficient to reinforce the view that no drastic economic reforms are necessary, and that steady growth in military spending is possible without a shift of resources from the civilian economy.

Thus we can expect a continued “muddle-through” economic strategy, with some modest expansion of the present experiments in decentralization, a continued discipline campaign, and more exhortations to greater productivity. The USSR’s present favorable hard currency position is likely to continue, although the long-term outlook is less certain given the problems the Soviets face with oil, their main hard-currency earner; oil production has apparently peaked, and huge investments will be required just to maintain output at the present level.

Hence, we can expect the Soviets to remain interested in trade with the West to obtain the technology needed to modernize their economy. Although they will try to avoid becoming too dependent on the US, they will be interested in American oil and gas technology which cannot be obtained elsewhere. Even with access to Western technology, [Page 907] however, the USSR will continue to have problems absorbing and reproducing new techniques and equipment, and confront an ever-widening “technology gap” with the West.

What does this quick survey of Soviet economic prospects indicate about their capacity for military spending? Even at the present 2% annual rate of growth in military outlays, the momentum of Soviet weapons programs and the level of military R&D (twice that of the US in recent years) will enable them to keep pace with likely US and Allied spending increases. Thus, they probably will not face any unmanageable guns-versus-butter conflicts in the near term. It is possible they may even increase the rate of growth to 3% if the US sustains its present levels of annual increases and/or if the Soviet economy continues to grow at the present rate.

In any case, we can expect steady modernization in both nuclear and non-nuclear forces. In the strategic area, the Soviets are now testing several new types of ICBMs, SLBMs and cruise missiles, as well as the Blackjack bomber and modernized versions of current missile systems—all of which are likely to be deployed in the next four years. Ironically, the major trends—toward increased reliance on survivable systems (mobile ICBMs, SLBMs) and on primarily second-strike systems (bombers, cruise missiles)—are those that our START proposals have sought to encourage (albeit to a greater degree). In theater forces, we can expect a sustained Soviet build-up in SS–20s (probably surpassing 450 missiles, with close to 300 in or in range of Europe), deployment of a Soviet GLCM, and continued modernization of shorter-range ballistic systems—many of which will be billed as counters to US LRINF.

Soviet R&D in the area of strategic defense technologies will also remain active: prototype tests of lasers can be expected, but an operational Soviet space-based ABM capability is more than a decade off; the Soviets are not expected to overcome the changing threat posed by US bombers and cruise missiles, particularly those with Stealth techniques. Soviet capabilities for conventional and chemical warfare will also continue to receive a sizeable share of investment, both in procurement and R&D, in order to preserve Soviet advantages and to keep pace with the new US technologies highlighted by Ogarkov in his May 9 interview.3

Are there offsetting domestic political problems which could constrain the Soviets and turn them inwards?

One of the biggest potential challenge is separatist tendencies among their nationalities. But while nationality problems will continue to grow (such as assimilation of the burgeoning Muslim population, [Page 908] rising anti-Russian sentiment in the Baltics and Ukraine), over the next four years they are unlikely to pose a major threat to the Soviet system or to affect foreign policy calculations to a significant degree.

A continuation of current repressive policies is likely with regard to human rights as well, and there is little likelihood of any real challenge to the regime’s authority on the part of dissident groups. Soviet authorities have been successful in their efforts to cut activists off from each other and from supporters abroad, and have shown themselves willing to accept the isolation and damage to the USSR’s international reputation that result. Moreover, no potential successor to Chernenko has displayed a more moderate attitude on human rights, and at least one, Romanov, has established a reputation as liberal only in his use of repression.

Perhaps the one significant potential area for change on the domestic front will be within the leadership itself. Since the death of Brezhnev in November 1982, the Soviet leadership has been undergoing a period of instability and change unprecedented in the post-World War II period. At present, many observers see considerable consensus in the top leadership around a lowest common denominator seeking a breathing space to come up with solutions to tough problems. Others believe the balance of forces on the Politburo is more precarious at present, and that even relatively minor shifts could lead to wholesale changes in the top-level lineup.

What might these changes be? In the long run, of course, the Soviet Union faces the hurdle of generational turnover, when the senior members of the Politburo (Chernenko, Tikhonov, Gromyko, Ustinov, Kunayev, Grishin, Ponomarev) retire or die and are replaced by younger men who may have significant differences in outlook. Unlike the older men, the new generation will not have spent its early career surviving (or carrying out) Stalin’s purges. While there appear to be substantial differences in background and outlook among the younger men now in the top leadership, on the whole we suspect that ideology will be less of a living force for them, that they will believe more in technology and cost/benefit analysis. At the same time, we suspect they will be even more susceptible to resurgent Russian nationalism, and more sensitive to slights and real or imagined challenges to Soviet “equality.”

Of course, it is perfectly possible that in 1988 we may still be awaiting the formal succession of the new generation. The Old Guard can be expected to hang onto their perks and power until the last breath, and it is not impossible that Gromyko, Chernenko and Ustinov might all still be in power four years from now. If so, we can expect a perpetuation of the present delicate situation in which Chernenko leaves much of the decision-making in the foreign and defense fields [Page 909] to Gromyko and Ustinov, while concentrating his efforts on building personal support among the party cadres by stifling needed personnel changes and reforms. If Chernenko remains healthy and succeeds in this consolidation, we may eventually see his personal stamp on foreign policy.

If the Old Guard does not continue in power for very long, there will be a chance for substantial changes in Soviet policies, though not necessarily to the liking of the US. The most likely candidates to succeed Chernenko are thought to be unofficial “Second Secretary” Mikhail Gorbachev and ex-Leningrad Party boss Grigoriy Romanov.4 The conventional wisdom is that Gorbachev is the more moderate candidate from the US viewpoint, and less insular in outlook than most of his Politburo colleagues. Romanov, in contrast, is reported to be strikingly ignorant of the internal workings of the US, and his past domestic performance gives little indication he possesses the talent or flexibility to manage an improvement in US-Soviet relations.

Given the Soviet record of leaders adopting the policies of their defeated opponents, however, it would be unwise at this point for us to set much store by these characterizations, or to divide the new men into hawks and doves. After all, Khrushchev’s policies of destalinization and peaceful coexistence surprised everyone, and Romanov could turn out to be the Soviet equivalent of Richard Nixon should he inherit Chernenko’s mantle.

In any of the possible scenarios, moreover, it should be recognized that the prevailing Soviet view of US policy will be one of extreme distrust, verging in some instances on paranoia, and that the road to more flexible, constructive habits in dealing with us will be long and uphill. The new “1930s generation” will resemble the departing seniors who brought them along in many essentials: basically bureaucratic, wary of reforms and other “harebrained schemes,” still—after two-thirds of a century—inclined to see themselves as a guerrilla regime facing a hostile populace and a hostile outside world, immensely proud of Soviet power, and acutely sensitive about the “equality” they believe they have earned by virtue of the USSR’s attainment of strategic parity with the US.

The role of the military in high-level policy-making is likely to continue to remain prominent over the next few years. Transitional periods [Page 910] in Soviet history have always witnessed an increase in the military’s influence, and since 1964 the military has had a major voice in decisions on resource allocation, as well as playing the decisive role in the formulation of Soviet positions in arms negotiations. Moreover, notwithstanding evidence of periodic disagreements between civilian and military leaders on individual issues, Soviet military leaders share the same political background and world view as their civilian cohorts.

B. Continued Challenges on the External Scene

The foregoing suggests that continuity will be the watchword in domestic affairs over the next four years, with or without generational turnover in the top leadership. The same can be said in general terms with respect to Soviet foreign policy.

The achievements of the Brezhnev era left the Soviet Union with the military might of a superpower, and a strong desire to compete with the US on the basis of an asserted equality. The two years since Brezhnev’s death have seen small improvements in some areas, but on balance the record of Soviet foreign policy has been negative. Not only has Moscow suffered an historic policy defeat on the specific issue of INF; it has also witnessed an impressive consolidation of Western alliances on a broad range of political, economic and security questions, and an erosion of Soviet positions in several areas of the third world competition. Overall, the Soviets have been forced to reappraise their high hopes of the 1970s—that the “world correlation of forces” was making rapid progress toward irreversible Soviet advantage.

The Soviets’ biggest challenge, of course, will be how to deal with the United States. Since January 1981, Moscow has seen itself up against an Administration that is, from the Soviet perspective, the most unequivocally anti-Soviet since the 1950s, unwilling on principle to accept what Moscow sees as a new historical reality: the USSR’s attainment of “superpower” status and the right to pursue Soviet expansion, particularly in the Third World, while maintaining “détente”-like relations in privileged sanctuaries like Europe or bilateral ties. This perception was progressively reinforced by the Administration’s defense build-up, by the push to deploy INF, by the ideological rhetoric employed by US officials, by our continuing emphasis on human rights, and by the presence in high USG positions of individuals reputed to be philosophically opposed to US-Soviet cooperation and arms control.

Moreover, from the Soviet point of view our record of backing up our commitment to correct the imbalances that emerged in the 1970s is not unimpressive. We have proven our capacity to stake out tough bargaining positions in arms control and manage pressures for unilateral concessions; to compete in regional contexts and to drive up the costs of Moscow’s adventurism; to introduce US forces in support [Page 911] of regional security objectives, even where there are risks of direct engagement with Soviet personnel (Lebanon); and to intervene decisively to overthrow Soviet client regimes (Grenada).

We have not always been successful, and the returns are by no means in with regard to the Mideast, Central America, essential rearmament programs and a score of other issues. Moreover, the Soviets take a long view of their competition with us, and we should not exaggerate the degree of pressure they are feeling or the degree of pessimism with which they face the future.

On balance, nevertheless, the Soviets see ample reason to remain nervous about US intentions, and wary of the President’s political strength and his dexterity at seizing the diplomatic initiative from Moscow. The paranoid side of the Soviet mind probably fears that a reelected President Reagan could be even more hard-nosed in his approach to arms control talks, and more willing to compete in the developing world and to intervene militarily to defeat Soviet clients. Moreover, they are probably apprehensive that the US will use its technological edge in pursuit of military superiority. US space-based defense technologies seem to be of particular concern, since these threaten to negate the strategic advantages Moscow arduously built up over the past two decades. The Soviets may also fear that the US, in addition to expanding its global reach, will exploit technological breakthroughs in conventional forces to neutralize traditional Soviet conventional superiority in Central Europe.

If Soviet leaders are likely to feel pinched concerning the overall US-Soviet balance of power, they also cannot be especially sanguine about the prospects on the USSR’s perimeter:

—Political instability still bubbles beneath the surface in Poland, the East Germans are getting excessively friendly with the FRG, and economic stagnation continues to plague much of Eastern Europe. Moscow’s continuing dilemma will be to find the proper balance between continued repression to enforce the political status quo, and tolerance of economic reforms and political liberalization to relieve underlying social tensions.

—In Western Europe, the Soviets have been seriously set back by the failure of their anti-INF campaign to block initial deployments, and they have so far been unable to revive the peace movement or to reestablish much credibility with the major allied governments. On the other hand, Moscow will continue to fuel public anxieties and attempt to exploit the attachment of European governments and publics to détente and arms control to drive wedges between the US and Europe—and will doubtless enjoy success on some issues. The Soviets’ prospects for success in this respect will grow if left-wing parties who have broken with the NATO defense consensus come to power in the UK, [Page 912] Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and/or the FRG (a real possibility over the next four years).

—In the Far East, the Soviets have achieved some improvements in bilateral cooperation with China, but these have been modest due to Soviet inflexibility on all the obstacles identified by Beijing, and the tone has recently turned harsher. At the same time, they have watched our relations with China improve, and may see expanding Sino-US military cooperation as the first step toward a virtual military alliance. Moreover, while Japan poses no serious present-day military threat, the Soviets must be apprehensive about the long-term prospects, especially as Japan’s GNP is about to surpass the USSR’s, and as Sino-Japanese ties continue to expand. Thus far, however, Moscow shows no sign of changing its bullying tactics toward Tokyo, but rather has sharpened threats, raised historical antagonisms and rejected any discussion of the Northern Territories.

—The Soviets remain bogged down in Afghanistan. Their recent more aggressive tactics in the Panjsher valley did little to alter the stalemate, and the Kabul regime’s authority continues to extend no further than the range of Soviet artillery. Moreover, Pakistan has remained stalwart in resisting Soviet pressures to negotiate directly with Kabul and to curtail aid to the rebels.5 At the same time it is important to remember that the Soviets see Afghanistan as a long-term geopolitical gain for them, and may believe time will wear down the resistance as in Soviet Turkestan in the 1920s.

The balance sheet in other regions is somewhat more favorable to the Soviets, but still likely a source of concern:

—In the Mideast, they do not discount our major assets, but view our setback in Lebanon as a significant gain for them. Their strategy has long been to fuel instability in order to decrease US influence, and gradually to expand their own. They have achieved some successes in their efforts to expand their ties (exchanging Ambassadors with Egypt, arms deals with Jordan and Kuwait). They may also be encouraged by Arab and European support for their proposed International Conference. But their fortunes in the region remain largely hostage to the actions of Syria and a fragmented PLO, and moderate Arab states remain unconvinced that they have a positive role to play in Mideast diplomacy.

—In the Persian Gulf, the Soviets are apprehensive about the possibility of US military intervention to protect the flow of oil. But they appreciate that the US has little influence with Iraq and none with Iran, whereas they have been successful in using their arms relationship [Page 913] with Baghdad to induce Tehran to seek better ties (viz: the recent Sadr visit to Moscow).

—In southern Africa, the Soviets have suffered a setback with US diplomatic efforts to achieve a modus vivendi between South Africa and Mozambique and Angola. But here again they may be more relaxed about our long-term prospects; moreover, they are striving to ensure that the Cubans and they remain in an MPLA-dominated Angola and that an independent Namibia will be dominated by SWAPO. In the longer term they probably nurture the hope that racial conflict in South Africa will ultimately explode in race war, and that in the interim they will benefit from continuing racial tensions.

Central America now offers the Soviets an opportunity to make fairly serious trouble for the US at relatively low risk and cost. They recognize the possibility we may take fairly decisive action after the elections to defeat Soviet-backed forces in El Salvador, and perhaps even to topple the Sandinista regime. But they probably believe that the chances are better than even that Congress will prevent this. They are continuing to ship significant levels of arms—while withholding from Nicaragua the jet fighters (and Cuban troops) we have termed “unacceptable”—and clearly hope both to tie us down there and to gradually expand their beachhead on the mainland of the Western Hemisphere.

In sum, the Soviets confront a mixture of threats and opportunities on the external scene. Although a retrenchment remains possible, it does not appear likely that the Soviet leadership will feel compelled in the next four years—either for political or economic reasons—to pull back systematically from its global commitments. The “burdens of empire” are not all that great (in fact, many of their third-world arms relationships generate sizeable hard-currency revenues), and the Soviets can be expected to continue to take advantage of whatever openings appear in order to gain influence at our expense—albeit in their characteristically cautious, low-risk fashion. At the same time, top priority will remain shoring up their power position along the Soviet periphery.

III. US Policy toward the USSR, 1985–1988

A. US Objectives

The objectives set forth in NSDD–75—to counter Soviet expansionism, to do what little we can to encourage greater liberalism and pluralism within the USSR, and to reach mutually beneficial agreements with the Soviets—remain valid.6 Sticking to them will also keep [Page 914] our policy approach consistent and predictable, and that in itself is an advantage after the pendulum swings of the last decade and a half. But the late 1980s will present new challenges and opportunities for US policy, both in the Soviet external environment and on the Soviet domestic scene, and we must take them into account in pursuing the overall objectives set by the President.

B. A US Agenda, 1985–1988

The US Agenda for 1985–88 should be a balanced one, continuing our policy of handling arms control, regional, human rights, and bilateral issues as coequal parts of one overall approach. While arms control perforce will remain of central concern, we will want to add more content in the other areas as well. It is important that we be, and be seen by the rest of the world to be, in regular and systematic contact with the Soviets on important issues across the board.

Our foregoing analysis suggests that the most likely Soviet course for the next four years is continuity, but this should not mean we forsake the tools diplomacy gives us to shape their decisions. We will want to send signals to the current and future leadership, while they are wrestling with the major problems we have outlined, that appropriate behavior on their part is in their own long-term interests. We will also want to position ourselves so that, if the next generation comes to power soon and attempts major changes, we can have some hope of influencing their direction.

We will thus want to use our own greater internal confidence as a basis for a more creative and active diplomacy toward the Soviet Union designed to achieve what we can on the merits of a particular issue and to improve our chances to effect changes in the future. We will need to refine what we believe is possible for the relationship and then work actively to bring it about. In this context, more negotiations, contacts, and exchanges can be vital tools for achieving our long-term goals.

The suggestions that follow will enable us to deal adequately with the Soviets whether they pursue continued self-isolation or serious substantive engagement with the United States. But they are designed to encourage the Soviets to choose the latter course.

1. Defense and Arms Control

Substantial US and Western rearmament, with new stress on conventional weapons and greater Allied contribution to out-of-area capabilities, will remain a necessary component of any sound US policy vis-à-vis the USSR. Arms control will remain an essential complement for two reasons: as a way of slowing the Soviet build-up in certain specific areas (although we should continue to recognize that the results [Page 915] are likely to be modest); and, above all, because a plausible US negotiating program will continue to be the sine qua non for continued rearmament: western publics will not pay for an adequate deterrent unless they are convinced we want the lowest possible level that can be negotiated.

If during this Administration’s first four years we achieved political support by advancing extraordinarily ambitious proposals, over the next four years allied and public support will hinge increasingly on whether our strategy yields results. Thus, negotiability will become a more important criterion in designing arms control proposals. Should economic recovery slow and support for defense increases decline, a convincing negotiating program will be all the more necessary.

In addition to adopting more negotiable positions, we must be increasingly prepared to take the initiative. Experience has shown that it is more difficult for the Soviet system to produce meaningful proposals of its own than to respond to US ideas. This is even more of a factor today, with the Kremlin leadership picture so uncertain, and with the Soviets determined not to validate US predictions that INF deployments would compel them to negotiate. In the past, monopolizing the initiative has worked to our advantage, as we have been able to structure the agenda around US proposals.

Maintaining a stable nuclear balance with the Soviets will continue to be the most important security issue for us in political and military terms, and hence a priority area for a US arms control initiative. Moreover, 1985–1986 will be an especially critical juncture because, without careful management on our part, we could witness the unraveling of the existing nuclear arms control regime: 1985 is the last year SALT II would have been in force and we can expect pressures—fueled by legitimate concerns over Soviet noncompliance—to abandon our “interim restraint” policy; at the same time, Soviet ABM programs and our own SDI will put increasing strains on the ABM treaty as the 1987 Treaty Review approaches.

The Soviets, despite their current intransigent stance, still view nuclear arms control as “central” to the relationship, and they will retain a genuine interest in limiting US programs, as well as a qualified willingness to limit some of their own programs in return. Negotiations will be difficult, and we must in the current situation avoid moves that would appear to reward Soviet intransigence. But ultimately a well-conceived US nuclear arms proposal, presented quietly, could succeed in providing tangible evidence to a skeptical Soviet leadership that we are prepared to address their concerns on the basis of equality, in talks involving give-and-take between serious interlocutors.

What form that initiative should take will be determined to some extent by the outcome of our current effort to engage the Soviets in [Page 916] “September talks” dealing with START and INF as well as ASAT. If we are successful, we may have both the forum and the signal we need to begin discussing the complex trade-offs required to achieve an agreement that meets our criteria in this field. If the Vienna talks do not come off, or if we are unsuccessful in broadening their agenda, we will need to focus on early steps to reintroduce the topic on the bilateral agenda.

In the latter case, one possibility might be a letter from the President to Chernenko on November 7 (or January 21) setting forth a genuinely new and negotiable nuclear arms initiative. Especially if it came on the heels of a sound US ASAT proposal in Vienna, it could help open the sort of private, exploratory channel we have been suggesting to the Soviets, to no avail, over the past year. Some Soviets have, in fact, recently suggested that establishing a serious negotiating process on ASAT could serve as the “bridge” for a Soviet return to nuclear arms discussions in some forum.

Whether broached in Vienna or in private diplomatic channels, the more promising area for a US nuclear arms initiative would appear to be START rather than INF, where the sides’ differences on fundamentals proved irreconcilable. However, neither the Soviets nor our Allies may find agreeable the prospect of limits on strategic forces while INF systems run free. The Soviets themselves have already laid the groundwork for merger in their START position, and thus we may want to focus attention on developing an initiative that would more closely integrate strategic and intermediate-range forces under a single “offensive nuclear arms” umbrella (perhaps extended to encompass defensive systems as well), while offering a trade-off between Soviet proposals to aggregate missiles and bombers and US proposals for special restrictions on the more destabilizing silo-based MIRVed ICBMs.

Our acceptance of the Soviet June 29 offer on ASAT and the link we established to START and INF ensure that space arms control will remain another top-priority item at least for the near future. The public and Congress will remain fascinated; the Soviets, while they have played propaganda games with their June 29 proposal, may be genuinely interested in the longer term because of potential US technological breakthroughs in space weaponry; and the topic has multiple ramifications within our own rearmament effort. As noted, the first step is to come up with a solid ASAT position by fall.

2. Regional Issues

With the Soviets somewhat on the defensive, we have an opportunity to shift the global balance of power in our favor through increased and more highly concentrated efforts in third areas. We should keep up and consolidate our relationships with friends and associates on [Page 917] the front line of Soviet/proxy expansionism: Pakistan, ASEAN, Nicaragua’s neighbors. But beyond continuing these efforts, we should also move toward a more forward and opportunistic US policy, designed not only to counter Soviet expansionism and reduce regional instabilities that hurt us, but to exploit those that hurt the Soviets and actually roll them back in some areas. Two types of new policy efforts are called for.

First, we should bring a new activism to US policy vis-à-vis the Soviet borderlands: Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Northeast Asia:

—In Eastern Europe, previous Soviet leadership transitions in 1953–56 and 1964–68 produced some latitude for local options, albeit with mixed results, and the next four years could witness both opportunities for the West and instabilities that absorb much of the East-West agenda. Firm commitment to our differentiation policy will be more vital than ever, and we will need new, sustained efforts in two directions. First, we (like the Soviets) have fewer economic resources with which to compete in Eastern Europe, and we will have to work harder to field them. Second, for that reason, we will need to mobilize better for political competition, for ideological struggle aimed both at governments (through more frequent and intensive consultations) and at peoples (through the radios and through exchange programs of all kinds).

—In the Middle East, for reasons independent of the Soviet angle, we may well want to pursue a renewed US initiative in Arab-Israeli diplomacy. Moreover, the Soviets have, as noted, embarked on a diplomatic offensive of their own in the region; while their ties with Damascus militate against any major inroads with moderate forces, they could exploit a continued lack of momentum in US diplomacy to build support for their unwieldy international conference proposal. As we pursue our own initiatives, we will want to maintain a diplomatic channel with the Soviets on Middle East issues, if only to dispel any misconceptions about US intentions in the area and to minimize the risks of miscalculation in the event of renewed hostilities.

—In the Persian Gulf, including Afghanistan, there is no guarantee that the Soviets will remain as prudent as they have been recently. During the first term we bolstered our relationships with the friendly states of the area, and we should continue to do so. We should also raise the ante on the ground in Afghanistan to increase the pressure on the Soviets, promote unity among opposition forces, and provide military help as needed to our friends to protect against the possibility of greater Soviet risk-taking. And we should also continue to discuss the region in our dialogue with the Soviets—to induce caution and avoid miscalculation, as well as to make clear our readiness to facilitate a political settlement as soon as the Soviets are ready to discuss troop withdrawal within the framework of the UN-sponsored talks.

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—In Northeast Asia, sound relationships with the three area countries—China, Japan, South Korea—should provide us all the leverage we need to help the area deal adequately with both Soviet blandishments and Soviet intimidation. A consultative process with the Chinese and Japanese that covers an expanding gamut of topics could prove particularly important, but assistance to China on non-offensive weaponry, closer economic and cultural ties and careful management of the Taiwan issue are key.

Second, we should actively apply our multifaceted approach to regional issues not just where we are vulnerable, but where the Soviets are vulnerable, and where diminishing Soviet influence would further our broader objectives in the region. For example, the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia may be vulnerable [less than 1 line not declassified], and this could lay the basis for displacing the Soviet/Cuban presence. India may be interested in modest steps to diminish its economic and military dependence on Moscow. And we should also be prepared to act, as in Grenada, where the Soviets are over-extended and the balance is clearly in our favor: increased pressure on Nicaragua is an obvious possibility.

A forward strategy of this sort will require creativity, active diplomacy and, to the extent possible, enhanced resources in military, economic and covert-action terms; it will require close coordination with regional allies like Pakistan and ASEAN; to reduce misunderstanding and miscalculation, it will also require increased consultations with the Soviets on regional issues. It will involve risks, but the payoff—more freedom for the people involved, reduced Soviet influence—may make them worth taking.

3. Human Rights and Bilateral Cooperation

We must also continue our efforts on human rights and work on the day-to-day issues of our bilateral relationship. Our human rights policy stems from deeply-held values and is both morally right and essential for public support. On occasion, it also pays off in human terms for the individuals involved. The bilateral tone of our relationship is to a large extent driven by overall US-Soviet political ties. Here our emphasis should remain on creative attempts to improve and expand working-level contacts under the various bilateral agreements, to use our ties to increase our influence on the Soviet leadership and to penetrate more directly to the peoples of the Soviet Union, and ensure that a maximum level of reciprocity and correctness is maintained.

4. Summitry and other Symbols

Our ability to bring the Soviets toward a more responsible role in world affairs will depend not only on the substance of US initiatives [Page 919] in arms control, bilateral and other areas, but also on whether we can affect the psychology of the Soviet leadership. To a far greater extent than we may have appreciated, our early ideological attacks—which seemed to deny the legitimacy of the Soviet regime, and by extension, its claims to superpower status—and seemingly minor slights such as the handling of Gromyko’s plane prior to the 1983 UNGA,7 have left scars that have not been healed by this year’s more conciliatory tone.

Relatively low-cost steps—such as inviting Gromyko to the White House during his UNGA visits, encouraging high-level parliamentary exchanges in both directions (inter alia, to try to establish relations with such potential next leaders as Gorbachev and Vorotnikov), easing restrictions on social contacts with Soviet diplomats—could help to dissipate some of the Soviets’ accumulated hostility toward the Administration.

But we should also rethink further our position on a summit. Simply holding a summit confers the highest form of legitimacy on a Soviet leader, and a serious US summit offer after the elections might well be received positively in Moscow. Now that we have told the Soviets the President would like to meet with Chernenko but would also like the meeting to be a good one, we should consider the idea of quietly proposing to the Soviets in November, without any publicity, that our Presidents agree to meet, say, six months into the Administration’s second term, and that our dialogue in the interim be focused on preparing as full a summit agenda as possible. Indeed, a properly-handled summit offer could favorably influence the Soviet reaction to any accompanying US proposals in arms control. And, of course, proposing a summit would be hailed by our Allies, who will be getting increasingly nervous the longer the apparent stalemate in high-level US-Soviet contacts persists.

One natural opportunity for a summit next year is provided by the heads-of-state meeting in Helsinki on the tenth anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, which the Finns are promoting. Such a meeting would, of course, have to be weighed carefully, but this or other such meetings would give a clear sense that we are in close contact with the Soviets including at the highest level.

Over the longer term, we should consider using a mid-1985 summit as the beginning of a series of regular, annual meetings at the highest level. This would help “demystify” the whole summit question, and over time serve to lower public and allied expectations in regards each [Page 920] summit meeting. By the same token, the prospect of an annual summit could help galvanize decisions on arms control and other East-West issues in the slow-moving policy-making bureaucracies both here and in Moscow.

In sum, the next four years are likely to call for new US activism on both the competition and cooperation tracks of our approach to the USSR. We should continue to rearm; and we should target Soviet vulnerabilities abroad for change to our advantage. But we will also need a more convincing arms control negotiating program. This new two-track activism can provide the basis for a somewhat better relationship with the USSR, whether under old or new leadership, recognizing that the basic relationship will remain adversarial for the foreseeable future.

No matter how fast the pace of leadership change, we should not attempt to play favorites, any more than in the recent past. We will not have the information to do so skillfully in any case, and being tagged as “the US candidate” will be the kiss of death in leadership competition. Rather, we should continue to deal with the leadership that is before us, on the basis of substantive issues, but with an awareness that there are or soon will be new men to preside over the country’s fortunes into the 21st century.

The next four years will therefore be a time of continued testing for the Soviet leadership. We will not be offering the breathing space they would prefer, but by our conduct, we will be telling them that we recognize them as a superpower and expect them to act like one, responsibly.

IV. Policy Implications

The prerequisites for an effective approach to Soviet affairs over the next four years are the same as the prerequisites for the restoration we have effected over the last four: steadiness and patience; continued economic recovery; steady growth and modernization of our military forces, and the will to use them; and solid alliance relationships and international friendships.

None of these factors can be taken as a given; in fact they may well be harder over the next four years than over the past four. Budget deficits and impatience with the pace of arms talks will likely lead to increased Congressional pressure on key rearmament programs; economic stringencies will also make it more likely that we will have fewer rather than greater resources with which to compete for influence in areas where the Soviets are vulnerable; the inherent tensions between the need for secrecy and Congressional oversight will continue to inhibit our ability to carry out covert action; and we very well may have to cope with renewed transatlantic strains over fiscal and technology [Page 921] transfer policies, and perhaps over security issues as well (particularly if the SDI or a protracted hiatus in nuclear arms talks leads to a comeback by the peace movement). Indeed, the endless challenge of managing problems such as these may make it difficult to keep relations with the Soviets near the top of the list of the Administration’s priorities during a second term.

In view of the many constraints we will face, sustaining momentum on both the competitive and negotiating tracks of the US-Soviet relationship will depend on bringing about improvements in the formulation and management of our East-West policies:

—On the domestic front, we will need to do a better job of explaining and generating public support for the competitive aspects of our policy—building a consensus behind a realistic, well-focused program of covert action; securing the modest increments in economic and military aid needed to enable us to make inroads on the Soviet borderlands and other regions where Moscow’s position can be challenged. This will require more work with Congress and, in particular, continued Presidential involvement.

—In dealing with Allies and friends, we will need not only to sustain the process of frequent and candid consultations we have established, but to devise new consultative mechanisms to deal with what is likely to be a less compartmentalized arms control agenda.

—In dealing with the rest of the world community, we should broaden our efforts to get the U.S. message across to world opinion and to strengthen democratic political institutions by improving the quality of the radios and of USIA’s informational programs, and by creatively promoting democratic institutions through the National Endowment for Democracy and similar programs.

In the final analysis, our ability to build and maintain domestic and allied support for the competitive aspects of our Soviet policy will depend increasingly on our success in achieving results on the negotiating track, especially in arms control. Small steps in bilateral relations have brought us to a point where both sides have gained confidence that the other is, after all, able to negotiate about some things; we should continue to take such steps. But they cannot of themselves carry the overall relationship much further: arms control results will be needed to keep both tracks going.

Here the biggest challenge will be to find a way of alleviating the interagency strife that has hampered the development of US positions throughout the first four years. This will require not only continued White House leadership in senior-level decision-making groups, but a stronger lead from the NSC at the middle and working levels as well.

One additional device for imposing greater discipline on the policy-making process would be to move toward the idea of annual summits [Page 922] noted earlier. By imposing fixed deadlines on the policy-making process, regular meetings at the highest level could help facilitate quicker decisions than have been the norm these past four years.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Ronald Lehman Files, Subject File, Vienna Talks 08/04/1984–08/27/1984. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Vershbow and Simons; cleared by Palmer and Burt. In a covering note to Shultz on a July 25 draft of this paper, Burt wrote: “Attached is our long-awaited paper that attempts to analyze the context of East-West relations over the next four years, and sets forth a strategy for dealing with the Soviets.” (Department of State, EUR Records, Records of Ambassador Thomas W. Simons, Jr., (Chrons), Lot 03D256, July–August, 1984) In an August 1 memorandum to Shultz, Rodman provided a “status report on the Looking Ahead exercise and the preparation for the August 7 meeting,” noting that “EUR is doing a redraft of its paper on ‘East-West Relations: The Next Four Years.’ The July 25 draft, which you already have, was subjected to the constructive critique of the Seventh Floor ‘Looking Ahead’ Wise Men on Tuesday. EUR will now refine the paper, which we will get to you later this week.” (Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Executive Secretariat Sensitive (08/01/1984–08/05/1984) In an August 6 memorandum to McFarlane, Sestanovich provided a summary of the paper, commenting: “This analysis may be correct, but with so few specifics it’s hard to judge. If our entire policy depends on arms control (to win domestic support) and could crumble on its own, what terms will Moscow accept? And can we really combine arms control so easily with tough policies elsewhere? Maybe, but it’s a much bigger challenge than EUR admits. Finally, regular summits may be possible if we make progress; they don’t produce progress.” (Reagan Library, Ronald Lehman Files, Subject File, Vienna Talks 08/04/1984–08/27/1984) In an August 7 PROFs note to Matlock, Poindexter wrote: “This morning you received a Sestanovich paper that forwarded to Bud an EUR long range planning paper. Please consider that a privileged paper for your eyes only. Don’t acknowledge that you have seen it. Don will be meeting with you soon on the long range planning process.” (Ibid.) The paper was used for the August 7 meeting held at Shultz’s residence in Palo Alto, California, to discuss “Looking Ahead in Foreign Policy.” See Document 262.
  2. The estimates were not found.
  3. See Document 226.
  4. In telegram 192685 to USNATO, June 29, the Department reported: “As second-ranking Party Secretary, Gorbachev (53) is the Soviet leader best positioned to succeed Chernenko. But Gorbachev’s fortune could change sharply before Chernenko leaves office. Romanov now looks like Gorbachev’s strongest rival for the succession, and he is accruing power in domestic and national security.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840420–0678)
  5. See footnote 4, Document 255.
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January 1983, Document 260.
  7. In the aftermath of the KAL shootdown in 1983, the governors of New Jersey and New York unilaterally decided not to grant landing privileges to Gromyko’s plane for his attendance at the UNGA. (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph p. 371)