297. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane) to President Reagan1


  • Decision Paper on Next Steps in the US/Soviet Nuclear Arms Reduction Process


Should the US, for the time being, continue to pursue a more general approach to the “umbrella talks” or should the US now (perhaps in the context of the Shultz-Dobrynin and Hartman-Gromyko meetings) supplement the “umbrella talks” proposal with an additional, more specific initiative?

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On June 29, the Soviets proposed that we meet with them in Vienna to discuss the prevention of the militarization of space. Shortly thereafter, a special interagency group was tasked to develop US options for such a meeting. Various options were developed. While intended as approaches to handling a Vienna meeting, these options also framed the major schools of thought concerning where the US should go next in pursuing progress in major nuclear arms reductions.

One of the interagency options developed was a proposal that the U.S. offer the Soviets a comprehensive proposal involving two phases. The first phase would be an interim accord involving both (1) a 3 year moratorium on ASAT interceptor testing, and (2) an interim limitation on offensive forces (which could take the form of a Vladivostok-type agreement on subsequent negotiating objectives). The second phase would involve (1) a long term ban on ASAT testing and deployment requiring the dismantlement of the existing Soviet system, (2) an “Incidents-in-Space” agreement, and (3) major reductions in offensive forces with consideration of limits on defensive systems based upon progress in negotiating offensive force reductions. This option was strongly supported by the State Department, but opposed by all other agencies and by Ambassadors Rowny and Nitze.

After evaluating the three interagency options, an alternative, more general approach was developed. Under this approach the U.S. would propose that U.S. and Soviet representatives meet for “Umbrella Talks” designed to provide a new forum for discussing issues of concern to both sides. For its part, the U.S. would indicate that it is prepared to begin discussions aimed at exploring mutually acceptable approaches to initiating negotiations on the limitation of the anti-satellite capabilities of both sides and the more general topic of the militarization of space, and to resuming negotiations on the reduction of offensive nuclear arsenals. The U.S. would also indicate that it is prepared to discuss the nature and purpose of the US Strategic Defense Initiative and Soviet ballistic missile defense programs, and the relationship between the limitation of offensive and defensive capabilities.

The U.S. would also keep open the option of regularizing these talks. If held on a regular basis, these talks would complement ongoing negotiations and activity in regular diplomatic channels by providing an additional forum to discuss issues which are not yet at the stage at which substantive negotiations could begin; to bring such issues to the point where formal, substantive negotiations could begin with some likelihood of success; and, to assist when existing formal negotiations have broken down. In short, it would provide a mechanism for us to sit down with the Soviets and discuss broader strategic concepts, and, on this basis, lay the foundation for more concrete negotiations on specific issues.

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Your UNGA speech and follow-up meeting with Gromyko reflected this more general “umbrella talks” approach. However, some (Department of State) feel that we should now supplement the “umbrella talks” proposal by also offering to pursue the specific initiatives suggested by the State Department-supported option described earlier but strongly opposed by all other agencies and Ambassadors Rowny and Nitze (i.e., a 3 year moratorium on ASAT testing associated with an interim agreement on offensive arms and a commitment to further progress in a second phase of arms reduction activity). State has suggested that we use the upcoming Shultz-Dobrynin, Gromyko-Hartman meetings for this purpose.


It is highly unlikely that the Soviet Union will embrace any new, substantive initiative offered by the US at this time. This being the case, we must continue to husband carefully our limited negotiating leverage with the Soviets for a time when it can be used with substantive effect. But beyond this, the Soviet Union is well aware of the current, unique US domestic political situation. We must assume that the Soviet Union will assess this situation and use it to its maximum advantage.

If the Soviets choose to make the proposed additional US initiative suggested by the Department of State public, it will likely generate questions and intense partisan domestic debate on the elements of the proposal. For example:

—Is the proposed interim agreement a freeze? If not, why not? Will it be at SALT II levels? If so, why not just ratify SALT II?

—How does this track with the Administration’s START/INF positions? Doesn’t this argue that the Administration approach over the last three years was wrong?

—Does the proposed interim agreement on forces merge START and INF? If yes, why? If no, why?

—Does the proposed temporary ASAT moratorium reward Soviet intransigence in START and INF? Why is the ASAT moratorium temporary? What made the Administration flip-flop on the ASAT moratorium now?

Such debate will cause us to negotiate these elements with ourselves, doing the Soviets’ work for them, with the Soviets silently watching, and with the Soviets gaining in the process by the corresponding loss of US negotiating capital on the issue without any cost to them. This strongly argues that it would be unwise to supplement your “umbrella talks” proposal with another, more specific initiative at this time.


We have recently tasked the Senior Arms Control Policy Group (SACPG) to begin the longer lead time interagency staff work necessary [Page 1077] to support a rather fundamental assessment of the US approach to the arms reduction process to begin during the first weeks of the next term. The staff work now in progress focuses on a reevaluation of Soviet military force and arms control goals, and an assessment of how current Soviet leadership perceives corresponding US goals. We believe that it would make most sense to continue to pursue a more general approach to the “umbrella talks” proposal and not to supplement it with additional specific initiatives at least until we have the benefit of that review and have moved beyond the pre-election political environment.

A draft NSDD which reflects this recommended course of action is attached at Tab A for your consideration.


That, pending further Soviet reaction to your “Umbrella Talks” proposal, and review of additional work recently tasked to the Senior Arms Control Policy Group, the US not offer to the Soviets the additional specific proposals suggested by the Department of State as described above.2

That you review and approve the draft NSDD attached at Tab A.3

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC National Security Decision Directives (NSDD): Records, 1981–1987, NSDD 148 [The U.S. Umbrella Talks Proposal]; NLR–751–7–33–2–2. Secret. Sent for action. Prepared by Linhard, Lehman, and Kraemer (see footnote 5, Document 291). A stamp on the memorandum reads “signed.”
  2. Reagan approved the recommendation.
  3. The draft NSDD is attached but not printed. Reagan approved the recommendation and signed the NSDD. See Document 298.