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


  • U.S.-Soviet Relations in 1983

George Shultz forwarded you a memorandum (Tab A) outlining how to handle U.S.-Soviet relations in 1983.2 His memorandum sets forth a strategy for “countering new Soviet activism by using an intensified dialogue with Moscow to test whether an improvement in the U.S.-Soviet relationship is possible.” George posits that a “process of dialogue” (Depts./Desks, Ambassadors, Ministries, Summitry) would help us gauge the seriousness of Andropov’s proclaimed intentions to improve U.S.-Soviet relations, and could permit us to seize the high ground domestically and internationally, and foster Allied unity.

Specifically, he argues that the Administration should continue its present arms control policy, resume a dialogue with the Soviets on regional issues (Afghanistan, Africa, Middle East), and continue to seek improved Soviet human rights behavior. On economic and bilateral issues, the Administration should pursue careful and controlled forward steps—no dramatic expansion, only carefully paced positive change. Lastly, he suggests that the whole dialogue process would lead to a summit if relations warrant.

While there may be some initial public relations benefit to explore the possibility of “across the board” improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations, I believe that we should have no illusions about the nature of the Andropov regime. Thus, I have serious reservations about the [Page 11] proposed timing and method of implementation in State’s memo.3 I am specifically concerned that the U.S. would soon be forced to dissipate its leverage by making piecemeal concessions in bilateral negotiations which would not result in any meaningful Soviet response, but which would further intensify rather than mollify domestic and Allied pressures to do more. In sum, this course of action would be sure to arouse even more public expectations and would make it difficult for us to maintain a firm policy vis-a-vis the Soviet Union; moreover, Soviet activism is largely in the field of public propaganda. This is difficult to counter through dialogues which normally remain private.

Instead, I suggest that we use existing channels to smoke out real Soviet intentions and their willingness to be flexible on critical issues before embarking on a campaign to improve our bilateral relations. The private Shultz-Gromyko exchanges should continue to concentrate on eliciting concrete Soviet views on how military, political and economic aspects of U.S.-Soviet relations can be specifically improved. Right now, I do not see any important areas for give in our basic positions: in arms control, any signal of readiness for compromise on INF would be interpreted by the Soviets as a sign of weakness—a sign that we fear we will be unable to deploy our missiles in Europe; on regional issues, we might be willing to reach some small compromises on individual issues, but we would not make major changes in our positions on Afghanistan, Central America or the Middle East. Since there is no basis for major reciprocal deals, I, therefore, do not see the justification for undertaking a major effort to intensify the dialogue.

If it appears that there is real possibility for progress, then we can respond accordingly. However, if, as is probable, the Soviet positions still offer no room for genuine breakthroughs, it is essential that we be able to maintain firm policy positions and intensify our efforts to portray the USSR as an obstacle to peace. Creating false expectations of progress in U.S.-Soviet relations might buy us some time and temper domestic and Allied pressure in the short term, but in the long term, [Page 12] public expectations would pressure us for more and more concessions making it exceedingly difficult to sustain a firm and resolute course.

I have grave reservations not only about the overall thrust of the proposed strategy for “improving U.S.-Soviet relations”, but I also disagree with some of the specific policy initiatives set forth.

1. On regional issues, State sees the possibility of new Soviet flexibility on Afghanistan and proposes tabling a bold framework for a comprehensive settlement. There actually seems to be little willingness to compromise in the Soviet position and a proposed settlement by us could lead to negotiations which would take the heat off the Soviets and erode U.S. credibility with Pakistan.

2. Bringing Moscow into renewed bilateral discussions on Namibia/Angola as State proposes has pitfalls which we should avoid. I suggest that we continue to deal with the problems of Cuban presence in Angola through the frontline African states.

3. State recommends the restoration of government to government economic contacts through the Joint Commercial Commission (JCC). This proposal would send a dramatic signal of changed trade policies and procedures to the business community and would seriously hinder our efforts to forge Allied consensus on East-West economic relations. Any unilateral actions at this time would be counterproductive as the East-West Economic Study is not completed. Instead, trade should continue to be conducted through private channels. Restoration of the JCC can only be seriously contemplated if meaningful improvements in U.S.-Soviet relations appear imminent.

4. In accordance with the terms set forth in NSDD 75 (U.S. Policy Toward the USSR), a U.S. dialogue with the Soviets should address the full range of U.S. concerns about Soviet internal behavior and human rights violations and not just arms control.4 However, in addition to what State mentions, arms control—without becoming the centerpiece—should be addressed in these discussions with the expressed purpose of gauging Soviet seriousness of purpose on reductions, equality, verification and compliance. That is, Soviet behavior in INF and their willingness to fundamentally alter their present negotiating stance offers an excellent litmus test of true Soviet intentions vis-a-vis the U.S. If the Soviets are not prepared to relinquish the current clearcut nuclear superiority they enjoy in the European theater, no modicum of dialogue or even of piecemeal agreements in the political/economic sphere would decrease the Soviet threat to Western security.

[Page 13]

5. A “process of dialogue” at all levels (Departments/Desks, Ambassadors, Ministries, Summitry) would not be fruitful but counterproductive, as it would serve primarily Soviet interests. We should seek a better balance between contacts through Dobrynin and our Ambassador in Moscow.

6. Finally, a summit meeting is envisioned by State as the ultimate objective of the dialogue proposal. I see little point in summitry until the Soviets have made a major move which clearly demonstrates a willingness to reduce threats to us and the rest of the free world.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (01/28/83–02/02/83); NLR–748–23–40–9–9. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Drafted by Dobriansky. Printed from an uninitialed copy; however, next to his name in the “From” line, Clark wrote: “Could we discuss this with George before he leaves for China? WPC.” Reagan responded: “Yes. There is merit in much of what he proposes. RR.” In a memorandum to Clark on January 22, Dobriansky forwarded a draft of Clark’s memorandum and noted that Blair, Kraemer, Robinson, and Stearman not only strongly concurred in her assessment, but also “made significant contributions to the critique of Shultz’s memorandum.” (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (01/19/83–01/21/83))
  2. Tab A is attached; printed as Document 1.
  3. On an attached routing slip, McFarlane commented: “Judge—The staff’s memo would have you take a position almost 180 degrees against that of the Secretary of State. If you are going to do that, it is not unreasonable that you have a program of your own. The paper doesn’t really give you that. I think we have to bear in mind that Shultz is saying—like the President—now we have built the leverage, now let’s see if we can use it. It’s just that our staff (with good cause) believes that State will mess it up.” He concluded: “On the whole, I would think this is the kind of paper which is better discussed in person than acted upon after reading. Recommend that you send both memos to the president with yours unsigned but with a note on the top to the effect ‘Could we discuss this with George before long?’ Bud.” According to Shultz: “Shortly after my paper reached the White House, Bud McFarlane let me know that the NSC staff over there was ‘fly specking’ it. ‘There are so many ideologues around here that they are picking it to pieces,’ he said.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 162)
  4. Dated January 17; see Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January 1983, Document 260.