319. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (Burt) and the Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Chain) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Strategy for Your January Meeting with Gromyko

We have sent you separately a paper describing the approach we recommend the United States adopt next year on nuclear and space arms control.2 This step-by-step approach—which you originally approved in preparation for the never-held September meeting in Vienna—remains, we feel, the most effective means of interrelating our various arms control and defense objectives in these fields.

Securing Soviet acceptance to such a new framework for US-Soviet negotiations will obviously require more than the two-day session between yourself and Gromyko currently scheduled for Geneva. In [Page 1138] this memo we thus address preparations for the conduct of a succession of encounters with the Soviet Union on these issues. In addition, we have attached talking points for your use with the President that set forth the rationale for our proposal.3

The Soviet Approach to Geneva

The Soviets have so far only consented to discuss the subject and objectives of new negotiations, and they remain extremely skeptical about our intentions. As Gromyko’s meeting with Art Hartman demonstrated,4 the Soviets are suspicious that we are only interested in the appearance of an arms control dialogue. It is likely that they will want to ascertain whether the U.S. has serious, substantive ideas that could plausibly be the basis for an agreement before they agree to resume formal negotiations. The Soviets are unlikely to commit themselves to a continuing dialogue unless they are convinced that we are prepared to address seriously the full range of their concerns, including limitations on space weapons. Gromyko’s objective, therefore, will be to secure some measure of agreement regarding the priorities and objectives for new arms control talks.

We therefore expect Gromyko to pursue in Geneva certain familiar Soviet themes. Specifically, he is likely to seek:

—some modification in NATO’s INF deployment program, if not a total withdrawal of all cruise and Pershing II missiles, then at least a moratorium on future deployments;

—U.S. agreement that the object of ASAT negotiations should be a ban, as opposed to limits on ASATs, as well as a U.S. commitment to cease ASAT testing upon the opening of negotiations;

—a U.S. commitment to negotiate limitations on the SDI that reinforce or go beyond those contained in the ABM Treaty, as well as on ASAT systems; and

—more broadly, an agreed formulation on the principle of “equality” which bolsters the Soviets’ claim for compensation for the capabilities of U.S. allies.

The U.S. Approach

As the Geneva meeting approaches, we will be under growing political pressures from many quarters. There will be rising public and Allied expectations of early results, while other pressures will intensify [Page 1139] for the Administration to “hang tough” on our existing positions. The best way to deflect such pressure is by putting forward serious, concrete ideas from the outset that offer the basis for an agreement with the Soviets that would be in our security interests.

We should look at the Geneva meeting as the kickoff for a renewed negotiating effort. We will want to demonstrate that we are indeed serious about negotiations on these issues and are ready to move forward toward a mutually-acceptable agreement. Thus, we will want to describe for the Soviets the implications of what we have in mind—not only conceptually, but in terms of its concrete impact on the two sides’ forces and programs.

Specifically, we will need to illustrate for the Soviets the possibilities inherent in our step-by-step approach: a first-stage accord limiting ASAT testing for three years and beginning reductions in offensive nuclear arms; to be immediately followed by negotiations on longer-term arrangements in both these areas. Such an approach should have several attractions for the Soviets:

—The proposal for a first-stage accord on nuclear arms—designed as the President told Gromyko, to “begin the process of nuclear arms reductions”—is a clear signal that we will not, in this initial stage at least, seek the major restructuring of Soviet strategic forces that characterized our START proposal.

—The offer of a temporary halt on testing of current ASAT systems, tied to this first-stage nuclear arms accord, is evidence that we are willing to negotiate meaningful limitations in the space area.

—U.S. expressed readiness to include INF systems in the package (either as an integral element or as part of some parallel arrangement) would demonstrate U.S. flexibility on this most neuralgic of Soviet concerns.

—Making the relationship between offensive and defensive forces a topic for consideration in the second stage of negotiations holds open for the Soviets the possibility of substantive negotiations over SDI at some future point.

Despite its attractions, we must also recognize that a new U.S. approach along these lines will require substantial revision in the way both sides have traditionally approached these various issues. Thus, we must not expect that the Soviets will be prepared to react immediately to our thinking on the inter-relationships among these issues.

Tactics for Geneva

Optimally, you would like to gain Gromyko’s agreement in Geneva on a mandate or an agenda for formal negotiations, to begin shortly after the Geneva meeting. More realistically, however, the Geneva discussions should be viewed as the first in a series of ministerial meetings that will lay the groundwork for formal talks. These follow-on sessions could best be held in Moscow and Washington. In the [Page 1140] former you could expect to have access to Chernenko. In the latter, the President could again participate directly in the dialogue.

You raised the question of the composition of your party for the Geneva meeting. In our view, it would be a mistake to include representatives from all the other agencies. This would set a bad precedent for meetings with Gromyko, and would risk turning the Geneva session into the sort of sterile set-piece exchanges that have characterized the START and INF talks to date. There is, of course, a precedent for including an NSC representative among your party, and if Bud McFarlane wants to send Ron Lehman in addition to Jack Matlock, this would be acceptable. If a special representative has been named by the President by the time of the Geneva meeting, he could be a member of your party as well, just as U.S. SALT negotiators participated in meetings with Gromyko in the past. But otherwise, we strongly recommend that you not go beyond the traditional support from within the Department.

In the longer term, we will need to consider whether a series of meetings between yourself and Gromyko could be usefully supplemented by discussions between specially-designated representatives. So far the Soviet reaction to the term “umbrella talks” and to the concept of special negotiators has been skeptical and generally negative. There are probably several reasons for this: They may be concerned that once we achieve the appearance of negotiations we will lose interest in substance. In addition, Gromyko wants to control both the pace and content of our dialogue, and to communicate as directly as possible with key U.S. decision-makers. Moreover, the Soviets’ experience with U.S. negotiators in recent years has not led them to believe that such individuals can either shape U.S. policy in important ways, or even necessarily represent it in an authoritative and reliable manner. Finally, they may reserve their position until they know who the U.S. envoy would be.

It seems likely, therefore, that the Soviets will continue to put off any definitive decision on the designation of special representatives until they gauge the results of one or more meetings between yourself and Gromyko. Thus, while we may want to include our representative among your party for Geneva, we should recognize that the Soviets may not agree to appoint a counterpart until a concrete negotiating agenda is agreed upon.

Preparing for Geneva

As noted above, we should seek to be in a position at Geneva to set forth our step-by-step negotiating framework in conceptual terms, and to lay out the specific elements of our first-stage proposals for reductions in offensive forces and limits on ASAT testing. While you [Page 1141] would not, of course, reveal our bottom line in your presentation to Gromyko, the goal would be to give the Soviets a clear understanding of the impact of the constraints we have in mind. Thus, we would want to have internal USG agreement on our specific objectives by the time of the Geneva meeting.

Although the President briefly raised with Gromyko the concept of an interim agreement,5 our approach remains highly controversial with the interagency community. Indeed, members of the NSC staff have asserted that U.S. policy in this area is undecided, and have told us that no special weight should be attached to these remarks by the President to Gromyko.

The Geneva meeting is still six weeks off, but some of this time will be occupied by your trip to Europe, and the Christmas holidays. We may want to consider whether it would be desirable to notify the Soviets in advance of our intentions. This would allow for a more considered reaction by Gromyko in Geneva. Given the time constraints, however, and the formidable bureaucratic hurdles we confront, this may not be possible.

In the forthcoming interagency discussions we can expect the following positions to emerge:

OSD will strongly oppose our step-by-step approach, probably arguing that all we should do is go back to the Soviets with, at best, slightly modified versions of our current positions on START and INF. They may, alternatively, argue for an approach to Geneva focused upon securing Soviet agreement to a broad set of principles for arms control. These principles will be the same as those which shaped our START positions, and will thus not be especially attractive to the Soviets. OSD will oppose any limitations whatsoever on ASAT as well as SDI. Finally, if they perceive the President moving toward our approach, OSD may well come forward with some new, attractive, plausible, simple but wholly non-negotiable proposal for nuclear and space weapons, akin to the “zero option.”6

ACDA is also likely to oppose agreements that would place meaningful limits on space weaponry, and thus will be hostile to State’s overall approach, although ACDA’s views on strategic arms may parallel our own. We must also expect ACDA to come forward with some [Page 1142] version of “arms control without agreements”7 in the INF and ASAT fields.

JCS may be sympathetic to elements of the State position and perhaps to the approach as a whole. We should not, however, expect visible support from the Chiefs, especially given the certain opposition to our ideas by OSD.

—The NSC staff is already arguing that we need to base new US-Soviet arms control negotiations upon a mutual recognition of the inevitability of a shift from an offense-dominated to defense-dominated strategic environment (a highly questionable assumption on technical grounds alone, at this early stage of the SDI). Once the Soviets accept the inevitability and, indeed, desirability of strategic defenses, a new arms control framework for the 1990s can be designed. Your task in Geneva, according to this view, will be to begin the process of Soviet conversion. (In reality, the Soviets have not the slightest incentive to “legitimize” our SDI program, and will not therefore accept it as a premise for arms control. Any such effort with them will prove to be a sterile waste of time, at best, and could undercut our ability to engage the Soviets in serious bargaining over offensive arms reductions.)

Presenting the Case for Our Approach

There are several strong arguments you can use in arguing for our proposal with the President, and subsequently with the Allies and public. Above all, we will want to emphasize the important military benefits flowing from even the first-stage accord we envisage:

[Page 1143]

—In addition to forestalling the accelerating erosion of the existing arms control regime, our first-stage accord would, for the first time ever, actually reverse the nuclear arms buildup.

—It would limit the number of strategic warheads to below current levels, and reduce the number of Soviet missiles and bombers by 30 percent.

—It would cut the number of Soviet heavy ICBMs by 20 percent and overall missile throw-weight by 25 percent.

—It would represent a reduction by 20 percent from the Soviet warhead level projected for 1988 and 50 percent from that projected for 1995 (in the absence of any constraints).

—The proposal would not adversely affect SDI research, and protect long-term options; indeed, without constraints on warhead growth, the task of defending against a Soviet ballistic missile attack will be even more formidable.

—It would allow all ongoing U.S. strategic modernization programs to continue, subject to the numerical ceilings of the first-stage accord.

—The three-year ban on ASAT testing would impede Soviet development of systems that would pose a significant threat to high-value U.S. satellites, while leaving open our longer-term options in the ASAT field.

In presenting our new step-by-step approach to the Soviets, we will want to stress the less ambitious initial cuts it implies for their strategic forces and the trade-offs it embodies between areas of relative advantage. In order to highlight the positive and significant nature of the initial accord we are seeking, we might begin speaking of these as the “START I” negotiations.

We also believe that we should consider seeking agreement with the Soviets that our common objective should be to conclude a first-stage accord in 1985. Such a timetable is feasible. Committing to it publicly will, or course, put pressure on both sides. But the history of arms control and US-Soviet relations over the past twenty years suggests that results seldom come, and accords are seldom achieved, except under the pressure of such deadlines.

Clearly we have our work cut out for us. In addition to arguing our position through the interagency process over the coming weeks, it will be important for you to continue your discussions on these issues with the President. In these discussions we believe you should argue that early progress toward a new arms control regime is urgently needed, in view of the erosion of existing arrangements, and that such progress is possible if the U.S. offers concrete proposals at the Geneva meeting. Indeed, given Chernenko’s uncertain physical and political health, the period during which progress can be made, before a new succession crisis hits the Soviet Union, may be brief.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Sensitive and Super Sensitive Documents, Lot 92D52, November 1984 Super Sensitive Documents. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Tefft, Vershbow, Dobbins, and Markoff (PM/SNP) on 11/24; cleared by Pascoe, Palmer, J. Gordon (PM), A. Kanter (PM), W. Courtney (P), and Timbie. Vershbow initialed for Dobbins, Markoff, Pascoe, Palmer, Kanter, Courtney, and Timbie.
  2. See Document 267.
  3. The talking points are attached but not printed. On the afternoon of November 28, Shultz met with Reagan to discuss these issues. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) Reagan wrote in his diary for that day: “Met with Geo. S. re the upcoming arms reduction talks. We agree that since Chernenko has talked as I have of total elimination of nuclear weapons that should be our goal in the negotiations.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 401)
  4. See Document 313.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 289.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 2.
  7. In a November 8 memorandum to Reagan, Adelman advocated for “arms control without agreements.” He wrote: “in simple terms, under this approach, we and the Soviets would take measures to enhance the strategic stability and reduce nuclear weapons in consultation with each other, without necessarily consummating them in a signed agreement. Those measures could be enunciated as national policies and could be confirmed in mutual understandings or exchanges.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Sensitive and Super Sensitive Documents, Lot 92D52, November 1984 Super Sensitive Documents) Adelman outlined his position in the The Wall Street Journal on November 12 (David Ignatius, “Reagan Official Stresses ‘Basics’ In Arms Talks,” The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 1984, p. 29), and in more detail in the Foreign Affairs Winter 1984/85 issue. In a November 13 memorandum to Shultz, Burt argued: while “some informal steps are potentially very useful,” “Ken’s approach would be seen and, in fact, would become an excuse for not even attempting to achieve negotiated agreements. This would not only endanger prospects for arms control in areas where agreements are possible. It would also risk throwing away past agreements and negotiating history, including very important agreed definitions and understandings.” (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Sensitive and Super Sensitive Documents, Lot 92D52, November 1984 Super Sensitive Documents) In his memoir, Shultz explained that Adelman “had shown me an article he had written and proposed to submit to Foreign Affairs, and I had told him that would be ‘very unwise.’ This was a topic for internal discussion. He went ahead and published it anyway. It was outrageous that one of the president’s appointees should argue in public for a major policy shift without putting it first to the president. This was a presidential-level decision, and the article sent an erroneous signal that the president was not interested in arms control negotiations.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 496)