320. Memorandum From Jack Matlock of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • CIA Analysis of Soviet Arms Control Policy and How to Prepare for the January Talks

I believe that the CIA report prepared for the SACG is basically sound in its analysis of the Soviet attitude toward specific issues, and also in its description of the basic thrust of Soviet policy.2 However, I believe it is weak on the predictive side for two basic reasons:

—By treating Soviet arms control policy largely in isolation from other issues confronting the Soviet leadership, it neglects the possible impact of internal Soviet factors on overall arms control policy.

—While describing accurately the Soviet reaction to past U.S. proposals, it does not really address the question of the role any future U.S. proposals might play in the Soviet decision-making process. (An understandable omission since we have not yet decided what sort of proposals we will make.)

Domestic Factors and Soviet Arms Control Policy

While the Agency is doubtless right in observing that no Soviet leader is likely to see it in his interest to push for policies agreeable to the U.S., and also that economic considerations have not in the past had a noticeable impact on Soviet arms control policy, both of these issues deserve more searching examination.

—It seems clear that, important as the military is to the Soviet leadership, its overriding priorities at the moment are issues related to the succession and issues related to management of the domestic economy—and society as a whole. They are doubtless struggling over [Page 1145] resource allocation for the five-year plan beginning in 1986, are working to revise the Party statutes for the first time in decades, and must have a Party Congress by February, 1986.

—It is difficult to predict exactly what impact new U.S. proposals would have on the debates on these issues, and on which issues various aspirants in the succession struggle would choose to use. Major changes in the past—for example, Khrushchev’s anti-Stalin speech3—have never, to my recollection, been predicted by foreign intelligence agencies, including our own. While I do not profess an ability to make such predictions myself, experience tells me that it is not wise totally to discount the possibility in advance.

—Certainly, no Soviet leader will wish to appear pro-U.S., nor will any argue that necessary military expenditures give way to non-military ones. These are truisms and require no particular insight to state. There may well be an argument over which military expenditures are necessary, however. And if we suppose that the issues are discussed not simply as pro or anti-U.S., or as necessary guns versus desirable butter, but in a much more complex policy-making environment, possibilities emerge. For example, what about an American proposal which offers the prospect of alleviating some of the pressing domestic concerns? Or the consideration that whatever the sacrifices they make, they may not be able to keep up with the U.S. technologically should there be no agreed restraint on U.S. options?

—Although the whole Ogarkov affair is still murky,4 it is very likely that it was related both to succession maneuvering and to resource allocation questions. Clearly the Soviets are wrestling with a very real dilemma. There is no way they can be sure we will not achieve a technological breakthrough which leaves them behind in some key area, and they are unable to do all things at once. There are, therefore, more potential Soviet incentives for a more controlled development of technological change than are apparent in the CIA analysis.

Impact of U.S. Proposals

One important factor which the CIA study could not address is the potential impact on Soviet policymaking of U.S. proposals. The “key judgments” in the paper might lead one to conclude that no responsible U.S. proposal is likely to be successful. This could be right, but it is not necessarily the case. For the fact is that our proposals, if offered in the proper way—confidentially and initially without publicity—will themselves be factors influencing Soviet policy decisions. If [Page 1146] there is something in them for the Soviets, then there will be those tempted by them, not because they want to do us a favor, but in their own self interest.

For this reason—and a number of others—I believe we should take Art Hartman’s observations seriously (TAB I).5 As he points out, the resumption of negotiations by the Soviets will require us to present proposals which ultimately are defensible both at home and among the Allies. Otherwise we risk losing the high ground we have occupied for the past year.

Unfortunately, I do not see emerging from the interagency process the sort of comprehensive thinking that will be required for this. The sort of proposals State is toying with seem to me simultaneously too much and too little: too much in the sort of specifics which could handicap us in future negotiations, and too little as regards definition of what our overall objectives are. So far as DOD and ACDA are concerned, I have noted even less in the way of realistic ideas. I believe it is clear that the interagency process cannot produce the sort of proposal we need. Even if it miraculously should, the ideas would probably leak before we took them up with the Soviets, which would militate against serious Soviet consideration.

What We Need for Geneva

We need to engage the Soviets in a frank discussion of the objectives of our arms reduction efforts over the next four years. The purpose would be to develop the “road map” the President spoke of in his UNGA address.6 The initial step should be to try to get some general agreement on where we want to arrive; mapping the course over the terrain could be a job for the umbrella talks to follow. One of our objectives in the initial meeting should be to get Soviet agreement on these talks by special representatives of both sides.

This will require, in the first instance, decisions by the President of what our objectives are, and then decisions regarding the best intermediate steps to achieve them and finally, the way our initial proposals should be formulated to attract serious Soviet attention. It will be imperative to develop these plans with a very small circle of advisers with absolute security against leaks.

Given the long history of negotiations on many of the separate issues and the relatively frozen attitudes which have developed on both sides, our effort will have a better chance of success if we can come up with an innovative conceptual framework: one that will allow [Page 1147] both sides to claim a fresh start. For us, this would have the advantage of accentuating the specific Reagan stamp on our approach; for them it could provide the means to finesse (at least initially) some of their more persistent hang-ups with our proposals up to now. This, of course, cannot be done simply by fiddling with proposals now on the table (though these of course involve real issues which must be addressed). It will require, at a minimum, recasting our approach in a framework which at least looks different. We need an approach which does not look like a return to 1972 detente; they need an approach which does not look too much like a return to the Geneva of 1983.


For obvious reasons, we normally give more thought to substance than to modalities and tactics. However, I cannot stress too much the vital role that appropriate modalities play in successful implementation of a sound strategy. In the past, the U.S. has frequently handicapped itself by using tactics which doomed its proposals to failure—or had the effect of diluting them and delaying implementation.

The Carter-Vance proposal of March, 1977, is a classical example of using counterproductive tactics.7 There were two basic mistakes in the tactics used then: Carter went public with his new proposals before they had been discussed with the Soviets; and the proposals were suddenly presented to the Soviets without any advance discussion. The combination of these two factors (plus Soviet annoyance at a noisy human rights campaign) caused immediate, emotion-laden Soviet rejection, and doomed the deep cuts idea for the balance of the Carter Administration. (One of our major achievements, by the way, has been to gain Soviet acceptance of the idea that there must be substantial cuts in the future.)

We should absorb the lessons of the past and make sure the mistakes are not repeated. This means, in regard to our upcoming talks, the following:

—We should not actually name publicly our special representative for the umbrella talks until the Soviets have accepted the idea and have been informed of the person involved. (Since this will be a form of diplomatic negotiation, we should go through a quasi “agrément” process in advance, to make sure both representatives are acceptable to both sides.)8

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—We should take extraordinary steps to make sure that our proposals do not leak before they are presented to the Soviets, or even thereafter for a reasonable period of time (say, a couple of months).

—We should make some effort to convey to the Soviet leadership, entirely privately and informally, the drift of our thinking, in advance of submitting formal proposals. Unless we develop a mechanism to do this, it is more than likely that we will soon find ourselves in an acrimonious public dispute which will greatly complicate our ability to manage Congress, the Allies and the Soviets simultaneously.

—We should not expect to be able to work out agreed approaches in a series of meetings of the foreign ministers. These meetings may well be desirable for a number of reasons, but unless they are supplemented by informal, preparatory discussions—both by special representatives on arms control issues and by broader informal discussions—progress will be slow, if it occurs at all.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, USSR Subject File, Arms Control—USSR (3). Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information. In a December 1 covering note to Shultz on another copy of this memorandum, McFarlane wrote: “George: Attached is a very thoughtful memo from Jack Matlock. I must ask that you protect Jack on this and not share the memo with others. As an aside Jack is truly one of the most thoughtful men I have ever met on the Soviet Union. I agree with Jack’s views with the exception of one idea on the last page [see footnote 8, below]. But I send this along in the hope that after you have read it we might be able to discuss whether/how we might try to implement some of his ideas. Bud.” (Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Box 21 (2 of 4).
  2. The CIA report was not found. See Document 323.
  3. A reference to Khrushchev’s February 1956 “secret speech” which denounced Stalin’s harsh policies and tactics and led to uprisings in Hungary and Poland.
  4. See Document 270.
  5. Tab I is not attached. See Document 318.
  6. See footnote 7, Document 267.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980, Documents 156 and 157.
  8. An “X” appears in the margin on another copy of this memorandum, indicating the point McFarlane disagreed with. See footnote 1, above.