52. Memorandum From William Stearman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)1


  • U.S.-Soviet Summitry

We can expect continuing pressure for a Reagan-Andropov Summit from State, our allies and others. So far, the President has wisely resisted a summit until the Soviets demonstrate better intentions through concrete, positive actions. He should continue to hold the line for reasons explained below.

The President is, in a way, emulating Eisenhower’s wise example. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Eisenhower stated he would go to a summit if the Soviets agreed to: A German Peace Treaty, an Austrian State Treaty or significant arms control measures. The Soviets agreed to the Austrian Treaty in 1955 and a summit took place in Geneva a few months later. The resulting “Spirit of Geneva” reinforced a Soviet detente campaign which was beginning to weaken NATO until detente ended with the Hungarian Revolution. At least Eisenhower made the Soviets pay a price for the summit.

The record of U.S.-Soviet summit meetings would indicate that they should be avoided altogether. With one exception, Camp David in 1959, these summits have ranged from being merely unnecessary to being nearly disastrous. For example, I have long believed that the 1961 Vienna summit (in which I was involved) convinced Khrushchev that Kennedy could be pushed around, and the result was the Berlin Wall and later the Cuban missile crisis. Camp David, on the other hand, bought us valuable time needed to toughen our position on Berlin.

[Page 173]

The 1961 Vienna summit illustrates a principal danger in summitry. There is bound to be an unbridgeable gulf between the mind-set of a Soviet leader and that of any American President. This compounds the danger of misunderstandings and miscalculations. This danger is further compounded by the fact that summits are perforce short and rendered even shorter by the necessity of translation; therefore, the serious and complex subjects, which are usually on the agenda, can be only superficially discussed.

The Soviets presently feign disinterest in a summit; however, they would probably leap at one were it offered. Summits help them promote detente and “peace” campaigns, provide a convenient propaganda platform, and are regarded by the Soviets as necessary reaffirmations of their co-equal status as a “super power.” U.S. participation in a summit may temporarily buy the Administration some domestic and foreign political advantages, but can also backfire when unrealistic expectations are dashed by the usual absence of concrete results—for which the U.S. may be blamed as much as the Soviets (or even more). Of course, this would not be the case if a summit only ratified agreements already concluded—which is the only circumstance under which I feel a summit is warranted at all.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (06/19/84–06/27/84); NLR–748–25A–5–7–7. Confidential. Sent for information. A copy was sent to Lenczowski. Poindexter wrote in the top margin: “President has seen. JP.”