301. Memorandum From Ronald Lehman, Sven Kraemer, and Robert Linhard of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • The Timing of Arms Control Decisions

Purpose. This package has two objectives:

(1) It recommends a specific course of action and pace for decision making related to arms control.

(2) It provides reading material that we feel it would be useful for you to have with you for your immediate reference as needed during the upcoming California trip.2 This includes:

- Tab A: a copy of NSDD 148 and the previous SACPG tasking memorandum referenced in the NSDD;3

- Tab B: a copy of the various cables and reports provided on the recent Shultz-Dobrynin/Gromyko-Hartman discussions;4 and

- Tab C: a short package of summary reading material on the Umbrella Talks concept and how it could be implemented.

The Current Status of Arms Control Issues. NSDD 148 (Tab A) provided sufficient basic guidance on the Umbrella Talks concept to carry us forward until additional SACPG work is completed. It directed that further elaborations of the US position on this and related arms control initiatives not be made pending the completion of the work program currently in progress. The SACPG is scheduled to conduct what amounts to a mid-term review of our arms control positions and [Page 1086] options, beginning with its next meeting on November 20.5 A major Intelligence Community assessment of Soviet force structure and arms control objectives is already in progress to support this review, and it will be completed by November 15.6

Considerations for US Movement. The Shultz-Dobrynin/Hartman-Gromyko meetings have just recently taken place. The reporting record on those meetings is provided at Tab B. It appears that in the Gromyko-Hartman meeting, Gromyko may have left an opening for the US to explain its ideas more fully. Some are likely to argue that we should move on this opening rather quickly by providing to the Soviets the details of our Umbrella concept or even details supporting a new initiative like the State proposal that we offer an ASAT moratorium coupled to an interim agreement on offensive forces. However, NSC staff feel that there are compelling reasons why we should not go into details on this until we have properly laid both the substantive and political groundwork. We should be able to address the substance of a US response during the planned SACPG review. Some may also argue that there will be a special window of opportunity for progress with the Soviets immediately after the election and that we need decisions made now to be in a position to exploit it. However, even if this were the case, the Soviets will likely first want to determine if the President’s position of the past year, elaborated in his UNGA speech and in the meetings with Gromyko, will still hold after the election. While NSC staff feel that (1) we do need to decide how and what type of signal to give the Soviets promptly on this score after the election, and (2) the President should use certain themes in his post-election remarks to begin sending appropriate signals, NSC staff feel that such a signal need not, and should not, involve making immediate decisions on substantive policy choices.

What we should not do. No immediate events (not even the recent Gromyko comments) should force premature White House decisions on issues of either form or substance. NSC staff feel that we need the scheduled SACPG activity in the last two weeks of November to conduct as fundamental a review and staffing of options as desired. We [Page 1087] do not have to rush into difficult and controversial choices before they are needed (e.g., who would be a US arms control “special envoy” before the Soviets have even bit on the idea of Umbrella Talks or the implied format for such talks). Nor do we need to press the pace of interaction with the Soviets literally the day after the President’s reelection (e.g., to draft a hurried response to the potential opening offered by Gromyko to Hartman). On the contrary, such precipitous moves (1) would reduce the quality of the policy review, (2) would limit US flexibility on future options, and (3) could, if leaked, create lightening rods for criticism of particular choices made even before these choices could be implemented in dealing with the Soviets.

What we should do. We should take certain definite actions:

1. Start sounding the themes of US bi-partisanship and the desire for progress with the Soviet Union on peace/stability issues. It is important that, at the earliest opportunity, we set the new Administration’s tone towards its relationship with the Soviet Union and towards the way it will approach the national security policy development process. Therefore, we should begin immediately to weave three principal themes into whatever remarks the President has the opportunity to make following the election:

a. bi-partisanship, especially on national security matters (“Let us move forward together”);

b. a balanced, long-term program involving (1) offensive force modernization as needed, (2) research into the increased contribution of defenses, and (3) equitable, mutual and verifiable arms reductions—all designed to work together to enhance stability now and into the next century; and

c. a renewed offer to the Soviets to join with us in building a better foundation of understanding upon which a more stable peace at lower levels of nuclear arms can be built.

We can begin sounding these themes in a coordinated fashion and with an air of quiet resolve (which would also signal seriousness of purpose) in post-election Presidential statements. We can then build gradually and effectively to a crescendo in the State of the Union address.

2. Protect a range of options for the President’s decision at the appropriate time. Among the options that should be protected are the following:

a. the creation of a Presidential Board on Strategic Stability (bipartisan, but along the lines of the PFIAB model without Congressional confirmation) chaired by a distinguished figure and chartered to advise the President on strategic programs and arms control—with special attention to SDI, MX, the offense-defense relationship, the Umbrella Talks, and related issues;

b. Presidential meetings with key Members of Congress, supported by comprehensive Administration briefings to members (which the NSC [Page 1088] staff is now coordinating), to both demonstrate and implement his desire to rebuild the bipartisan basis for our foreign and national security policy;7

c. if the Soviets bite on the Umbrella Talks, the appointment of a distinguished figure as ambassador or special envoy reporting to the President through the National Security Advisor and guided/supported on policy issues out of the White House via a modified SACPG chaired by the National Security Advisor (the National Security Advisor in effect becoming the policy “czar”);8

d. modification of the GAC, providing for overlapping terms, but ensuring that its role in the arms control process is clearly defined;9 and

e. some reorganization of the arms control policy generation process within the Executive Branch with greater responsibility for management and direction of the process moving back to the White House through the SACPG and the NSC staff. (This reorganization, as well as all the other options listed above, should be cast in a positive light as a step to unite and build upon our strength, and not as a repudiation of any individuals or past policy.)

3. We also must anticipate possible alternative scenarios:

a. The Soviets could accept the Umbrella Talks idea in concept and request specific details on the agenda and timing of the US proposed Umbrella Talks and who would negotiate for the US. (In this case, we would accept, focus on the arrangements for beginning the talks, but withhold any discussion of the substantive details until we complete the work now in progress, and with no additional new US initiatives—if any—being presented before the talks actually begin.)10

b. The Soviets could repeat their June 29 proposal that we meet to discuss the prevention of the militarization of space, but avoiding reengaging us on a debate about preconditions. (In this case, we should probably promptly accept and accelerate work on a strategy to both exploit the opening and move the discussion in the direction of the Umbrella Talks concept.)11

c. The Soviets could make a concerted effort to press us for more details on the “example” used by the President and Shultz/Hartman of an interim agreement covering both ASAT testing and offensive forces. (In this most dangerous case, until we can complete our anticipated review, we should respond that such details would be presented only once formal discussions are underway and use this as a lever to move the Soviets towards implementing the US Umbrella Talks proposal.)12

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As indicated above, anticipating these scenarios should not, however, require us to take immediate decisions. Instead, it should provide a context for refining our existing options and developing others as needed.

The “Bottom Line”. With the exception of the items cited above, what we most need to do right now is to keep our options open while we implement our gameplan and strengthen our position.13

—We need to keep in mind that a clear picture of what we want should be developed before we take decisions on how we go about getting it (e.g., desired output should drive selection of input, substance should drive form).

—We now need to take the time we have to ensure we understand fully the desired output and to take whatever time we need to refine the options we have developed or generate new ones as needed. We must ensure that we start the next four years on a sound basis. Serious mistakes now could cause exceptional damage to US interests for the next four years and well beyond.

—We must stay flexible and agile. On most issues, taking immediate decisions would be unnecessary, premature, and counter-productive.


That you:

(1) counter arguments for premature decisions and support the course and pace of action outlined above;

(2) read carefully the summary material provided at Tab C; and

(3) keep the other material provided in this booklet available for immediate reference as needed.14

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Ronald Lehman Files, Subject File, Geneva Talks—Reference 09/17/1984–11/17/1984. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. Lehman signed “Ron,” Kraemer initialed “SK,” and Linhard signed “Bob” above their names in the “From” line. None of the tabs is attached; however, they are attached to a copy in the Reagan Library, Ronald Lehman Files, Subject File, Umbrella Talks 10/24/1984–11/04/1984.
  2. McFarlane traveled with Reagan to California. According to Reagan’s diary, after several campaign stops on November 4, he went to Sacramento, California. After a stop in Los Angeles on November 5 and 6, he remained at his ranch until returning to the White House on November 11. (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, pp. 394–396) According to McFarlane: “In keeping with the permanent requirement that the administration be at all times prepared for nuclear attack, I accompanied the President wherever he went.” (McFarlane, Special Trust, p. 285)
  3. See Document 298. This tasking memorandum was not found, but see footnote 6, Document 305.
  4. See Documents 296 and 300.
  5. Draft minutes of an SACG meeting held on November 19 (rescheduled from November 20) are printed as Document 314. On November 3, Hill forwarded four papers to McFarlane entitled: “SACPG Follow-Up: Tactics and Strategy” dated November 1, “US-Soviet Exchange of Defense Plans” dated November 2, “Exchanges of Observers at Exercises and Other Military Locations” dated November 2, and “Nuclear Testing Initiative” dated November 2. In a covering memorandum dated November 3, Hill wrote: “In response to your October 12, 1984 memorandum to the Senior Arms Control Policy Group, an ad hoc interagency group has developed four papers following-up specific initiatives cited in the President’s UNGA speech.” (Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Arms Control File, Proposals)
  6. Not found.
  7. McFarlane put a check mark in the margin beside this paragraph.
  8. McFarlane put a check mark in the margin beside this paragraph.
  9. McFarlane wrote in the margin: “Use GAC if it can be done.” Above this in the margin, he wrote: “Pls find specific proposals now.”
  10. McFarlane wrote “agree” in the margin.
  11. McFarlane put a check mark in the margin beside this paragraph.
  12. McFarlane wrote “agree” in the margin.
  13. McFarlane put check marks next to this paragraph and each of the three points below.
  14. McFarlane initialed his approval of these recommendations and put a check mark in the margin next to recommendations one and two.