316. Information Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rodman) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • SDI and the Prospects for Arms Control

Nobody yet knows the full potential of the President’s SDI initiative. What we do know, is that the Soviets are concerned that U.S. technology in strategic defense could undermine the nuclear assets (and political influence) Moscow has purchased at great cost over the past twenty years. This Soviet apprehension may offer the best chance to restore a serious arms control dialogue. Eventually, of course, we will face tough decisions on whether to proceed with it or trade some limitations on it. In either case, however, it is essential in the meantime that we maintain a positive public posture on the merits of the potential contribution SDI can make to our security.

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I am concerned that we are at the beginning of a period of negotiating with ourselves over SDI. The Democrats in Congress are certain to oppose the program in every aspect. For now, the political attractiveness of fighting against the “militarization of space,” a new and expensive defense program, not to mention preserving the ABM Treaty, will be too strong for Democrats to resist. House Democrats, as well as Senate Democrats and many Senate Republicans, have only resisted the temptation to oppose all things military on those occasions when there has been overwhelming public support for a given initiative. Grenada, for example.

The Administration, therefore, should avoid making public statements that question the feasibility or desirability of SDI, or framing the issue publicly as one of using SDI only as a “bargaining chip.” Such statements will likely begin to erode public support for the program. They will only put us on weaker ground in the domestic debate. Congressional opposition will likely center on the technical arguments, i.e., how feasible is SDI, how many Russian missiles are too many, how much SDI is worth exchanging for a certain reduction in Russian missiles, etc. Conducting the debate on this terrain will likely open the door to a series of compromises of the Aspin/Pressler variety while the Soviets sit back and wait. The public, at best, will lose interest in this new, complicated issue, preferring to leave it to the “experts.” At worst, they will be persuaded by the cost/benefit arguments advanced by the Democrats, and the program will be undercut.

The best arguments we have going for us are the kinds of arguments the President has been making—for example in the second debate.2 These arguments have a strong public appeal.

It is not in the interest of arms control that the SDI program be undermined. Even from the point of view of those who may want to trade some limits on SDI, it is essential that the program survive or else the whole offense/defense bargain with the Soviets will collapse.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/P, Memoranda/Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff, Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons PW 11/15–30/84. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Kaplan and Kagan. Kaplan initialed the memorandum for Rodman. A stamped notation reading “GPS” appears on the memorandum, indicating Shultz saw it. McKinley’s handwritten initials also appear on the memorandum, indicating he saw it on November 19.
  2. Reagan and Mondale fielded several questions related to SDI during their October 21 Presidential debate. See Public Papers: Reagan, 1984, Book II, pp. 1601–1602 and 1606.