262. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Looking Ahead in Foreign Policy


  • Secretary Shultz, Robert McFarlane (NSC), Michael Armacost (P), Charles Hill (S/S), Peter W. Rodman (S/P), John Chain (PM)

[Omitted here is the material unrelated to the Soviet Union.]

2. US-Soviet/Arms Control.


S/P: This category includes the Eastern European issue: (e.g., the evolution of East Germany and the question of improving relations with individual countries). We should be clear about the criteria by which we differentiate or by which we measure the appropriateness of better relations. We cannot regard every Eastern European country as a candidate for wooing (Bulgaria is not), but in the case of East Germany we should look at the centrifugal forces that might give the East a “German problem.” We should, however, carefully assess how our interests would be affected by a free-wheeling Germany in the center of Europe. Other issues in this East-West topic include arms control, geopolitical competition, and the role of negotiation generally.

P: What is our strategic choice in East-West relations? We can concentrate essentially on the geopolitical competition, looking for further means of bolstering our position, courting weak links in the Soviet camp, building our defenses, seeking to isolate the USSR, etc. Alternatively, we can attempt major adjustments in our approach to key arms control and regional issues with a view to seeking a modus vivendi or revisiting detente. The bargaining situation has some appeal. Can detente be revisited without hyperbole? If we go this route, we will probably have to consider trading something in SDI for major Soviet reductions in offensive systems.

NSC: Arms control has to be a central element of the discourse, partly because of feelings here and partly because of the Russians’ fear. We should seek a “zero-based” examination of the past 15 years and of the next 15 years in arms control: Arms control has unfortunately [Page 926] been a placebo/substitute for sensible strategic thinking. We need to engage the Soviets in a fundamental discussion on how we view stability, how we view the relation between offense and defense, and what’s in it for them. But we cannot do so in our present bureaucratic system. The Soviets are also too suspicious. However, the Soviets might respond to an agenda of fundamentals at the first of the year. There would be value in laying out our ideas. We could send them two or three of our most knowledgeable, thoughtful people: e.g., Scowcroft, Nitze, Wohlstetter.2 They would seek to reinspire an agenda of serious arms control talks. In addition we must demythologize arms control in the US, although it is better if private groups (not USG) do it. A bipartisan board is needed.

S/P: The Soviets take strategic defense seriously. They don’t accept the idea that defense is immoral as do our critics.

PM: On arms control in general we must (a) Get our own house in order. Some on our side are opposed to arms control. Top-down guidance is needed; (b) We need a wise men’s group to talk to the Soviets and provide the core for a future agenda that would not separate SDI from START, (c) We must look at the Soviet and US strategic balance in the 1990’s and develop a master mosaic. PM is now working on what a balance would look like that would be tolerable to both sides.

P: It’s time to review all aspects of the US-Soviet relationship. Arms control should not be abstracted from other issues. It must be related to competition on geopolitical issues and our bilateral political relationship.


—We should focus on the Secretary’s meeting with Gromyko in New York.3 The Secretary may be able to do nothing more than foreshadow our approach, but his instructions for that meeting will be important.

—Linking arms control with Soviet behavior on regional issues is a dubious exercise. Any arms control agreement should stand on its own feet as advantageous for us. Swapping concessions in and out of the arms control field will not work. Our problem is how to get a [Page 927] sustainable relationship with them while conveying that we will respond appropriately to outrageous behavior.

—We need to get a Presidential decision on guidance to the arms control community. The community must work from the same basic concept. The cast of characters must be changed.

—The notion of a grand, “zero based” look is desirable, both to get our own thinking together and then to engage them in a broad conversation. This will require our best people, who can dedicate themselves to it over 2–3 years. Possible participants would be Kampelman, Wriston,4 and Wohlstetter. This group might have a bipartisan advisory commission attached to it, including members of Congress. We need to focus on how such a group would tie into the Presidency and its relationship to the JCS, State, and the NSC.

—The Eastern European issue should be examined further. Perhaps have Roz Ridgeway look at the relevant papers, come back to Washington for consultations, and lead a discussion of the issues.

—We need to reevaluate the issue of discussions with the Soviets on regional issues: What is the concept that lies behind it? How does it relate to other things we’re doing? P will coordinate.

—We should set forth our conceptual approach clearly: McFarlane’s Commonwealth Club speech and the Secretary’s Rand/UCLA speech5 offer special opportunities.

[Omitted here is the material unrelated to the Soviet Union.]

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Box 18, 1984 Aug. 13, Mtg. w/ the Pres. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted on August 10. There is no other drafting information on the memorandum of conversation. This meeting took place at Shultz’s residence.
  2. Albert Wohlstetter was an influential expert on U.S. nuclear strategy. He and his wife, Roberta, were both awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Reagan in 1985 for their “great contributions to the security of the United States.’ Mr. Reagan said Mr. Wohlstetter had been ‘influential in helping to design and employ our strategic forces.’” (See his obituary, “Albert Wohlstetter, 83, Expert on U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Dies,” New York Times, January 14, 1997, p. B8)
  3. Shultz and Gromyko were scheduled to meet during the UNGA session in late September.
  4. Walter B. Wriston served as Chairman of the President’s Economic Policy Advisory Board and was Chairman and CEO of Citicorp.
  5. In his memoir, Shultz wrote: “I was invited to address the opening of the new RAND/UCLA Center for the Study of Soviet International Behavior on October 18. I used my speech to develop the larger conceptual issues that faced us in managing U.S.-Soviet relations over the long term and to make an important conceptual point: I put aside the Nixon-era concepts of ‘linkage’ and ‘détente,’ and set out a new approach that I hoped would prove more effective and that reflected the reality of what we were in fact doing.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pp. 487–488) The full text of the speech is in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 209.