60. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Burt) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • The Political Context of US-Soviet Dialogue Over the Next 18 months

From the beginning of the Administration, and particularly during your recent series of meetings with Dobrynin, we have been able to conduct an intensive and comprehensive dialogue with the Soviet Union despite increasing tensions in East-West relations. While concrete results have not been impressive, we have demonstrated to Moscow the durability of our basic approach (e.g. realism, strength, and negotiation). Additionally, the process of dialogue has been to some extent insulated from the impact of political events beyond the parameters of the US-Soviet bilateral relationship.

However, this period is rapidly coming to an end. Our dialogue with the Soviets will be profoundly affected by a number of events over the next 18 months—most importantly our INF deployments and the Soviet reaction to them;2 the handling of the summit prospect by both sides; and the onset of the Presidential political season in the U.S. We foresee the following pattern: a period of opportunity from now until mid-fall; a period of relatively high tension and low prospects for new movement in US-Soviet relations as INF deployments begin; a second possible interval of opportunity in the spring of 1984; and decreased chances for progress as the U.S. Presidential campaign goes into high gear next summer.

If we are to exploit the creative possibilities inherent in the dialogue we have worked to establish, we must recognize how the emerging political context will establish the limits of possible progress in the US-Soviet bilateral relationship. But we must also move now to put ourselves in a position to take advantage of whatever possibilities may emerge by creating incentives for the Soviets to behave with restraint and engage us in the give-and-take of real negotiations on the agenda we have established.

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The Emerging Political Context of US-Soviet Relations

1. The INF Factor

We have long recognized that, from the Soviet perspective, our INF deployments later this year are and will remain the preeminent issue of East-West relations. In the period remaining before deployments begin, the Soviets will pull out all the stops in a last-ditch effort to derail the NATO decision and prevent the political and military recoupling of the U.S. and Western Europe. At the same time, the Soviets have no doubt absorbed the full implications of the displays of Alliance unity on INF at Williamsburg and Paris and may well have concluded that deployments will actually begin later this year.

Should deployments go forward, Moscow will have no choice but to make good on its repeated promises to respond, although the Soviet leadership probably has not yet made a final determination of the extent and shape of its response. Thus, during the final quarter of this year and the first quarter of 1983, movement in the overall US-Soviet relationship will become increasingly difficult as our deployments begin and the Soviet response takes shape.

This suggests that we may have only a period of few months in which to test seriously Soviet willingness to address our concerns before an inevitable period of increased tension begins. If we are able to use this “window” to establish a credible posture of readiness to explore possibilities for progress in other key areas of the relationship, such as START, the Soviets may have some incentive to attenuate their response to INF deployments. Indeed, this may be the only hope of heading off a severe Soviet rejoinder that would, in turn, force us to respond—an action-reaction sequence which would all but eliminate the chances of accomplishing any constructive results in our dialogue with the Soviets during this Presidential term.

If this analysis is on the mark, a possible trip by you to the Soviet Union in July or August takes on importance beyond that normally attached to a meeting between you and Gromyko.3 At a minimum it would be a useful U.S. analogue to the Kohl visit, thus reducing the impression (and reality) of West German isolation in high-level dialogue with Moscow this summer.4 Beyond this, a visit would provide the opportunity for you to deliver a dual message—that INF deployments will go forward, but that we remain ready to explore the possibility of a more constructive relationship, including arms control, in the post-deployment period. Of course, if such a message is to carry any [Page 191] weight with a Soviet leadership already preoccupied with INF, it will have to be accompanied by concrete evidence of our readiness to address Soviet concerns on key issues, such as START. It will also require that you be in a position to speak authoritatively on another topic of potential interest to the Soviet leadership—a possible US-Soviet summit.

2. The Summit Factor

As we head into the homestretch of the “year of the missile,” pressures will inevitably grow for a US-Soviet summit. From the Soviet perspective, a summit before INF deployments begin could be attractive as a means of building European pressures on us for further concessions in the negotiations or possibly even for a delay in the deployment schedule. It is also conceivable that Andropov might be attracted to a summit as a means of consolidating his position within the Soviet leadership. Moreover, the upcoming UNGA session and Prime Minister Gandhi’s call for Heads of State to meet in New York gives Andropov a ready-made opportunity to create the prospect of a meeting with the President without having to become the demandeur.

In my view, a summit before INF deployments begin would be highly undesirable. Beyond giving the Soviets a golden opportunity to pressure us on the INF issue, a premature summit would forfeit the opportunity for the President to meet his Soviet counterpart in a much stronger position once deployments have actually taken place. Thus, from the perspective of U.S. interests, a much more advantageous period for a summit would be the spring of 1984 when INF deployments will have commenced, our own economic recovery will be more advanced, and we will have had more time to solidify the emerging domestic consensus on strategic forces modernization and arms control.

Of course, we cannot control the Soviet decision about Andropov’s possible trip to the UNGA. If such a visit does materialize, we will have to assess the situation at the time and determine a course of action that will minimize the possible adverse consequences for INF deployments. If it does become necessary for the President to meet with Andropov under such circumstances, I believe strongly that we should move quickly to keep expectations here and in Europe in check by keeping the meeting as short and as non-substantive as possible.

In these uncertain circumstances, a trip by you to Moscow this summer could help us manage the summit prospect. If you were able to present Andropov and Gromyko with a realistic scenario for a substantive summit in 1984, the Soviet incentive to exploit the UNGA opportunity for a premature and essentially meaningless Reagan-Andropov meeting might be substantially reduced. Such a presentation might include the prospect of an invitation to Gromyko to meet with the President during the UNGA if such a meeting appeared justified in light of events at the time.

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A serious effort to encourage a responsible Soviet approach to the summit issue would require that your substantive presentations during a July visit convey a credible prospect of U.S. readiness to engage in a real give-and-take on issues of critical importance to Moscow. If you could accomplish this, there is at least a reasonable chance that the Soviets would prefer a well-prepared summit with real prospects for concrete accomplishments in the spring of 1984 to a hastily organized and inevitably disappointing meeting in New York this fall.

3. The Presidential Political Factor

One more limiting factor on prospects for US-Soviet dialogue over the coming 18 months should be mentioned—the onset of the 1984 Presidential campaign season in the U.S. If by the beginning of summer next year we have not registered some concrete achievements in our dialogue with the Soviet Union, the incentive for the Soviets to hunker down and wait out the results of the November balloting will be overwhelming. This would be particularly true if the Soviets conclude that the election will be close and that, by denying the Administration any success in US-Soviet relations, they could damage the President’s prospects for reelection.

Even if Moscow were convinced that the President would be reelected, we would find it difficult, if not impossible, to respond to any Soviet interest in forward movement in the midst of the Presidential campaign. Thus, unless we are in a position to have registered some important concrete accomplishments in US-Soviet relations by the spring of 1984, we will probably not again be in a position to do so until January 1985.


If the above analysis is correct, the remaining 18 months of the President’s first term break down into two periods of possible movement and two periods of likely stasis in US-Soviet relations. From now until the middle of the fall, we have an opportunity to engage in a serious dialogue with the Soviets before INF deployments begin. While INF deployments and the Soviet response will put prospects for progress on hold for a period of several months, it is possible that seeds planted in the coming three or four months could survive this “winter of discontent” and emerge as the substance of a substantive summit in the spring of 1984. A trip by you to Moscow this summer could be a crucial factor in using this likely cyclical pattern of US-Soviet relations to best advance U.S. interests.

We have no illusions that this process will be easy. It could be derailed at any point—by Soviet intransigence, an unrestrained Soviet reaction to INF deployments, or both. But it could also be stillborn if we are not able to introduce enough new substance into our dialogue [Page 193] to give the Soviet Union some incentive for restraint in its behavior and flexibility in its negotiating positions. In short, if we are going genuinely to test Soviet willingness to work with us, and lay the groundwork for a substantive summit, we must begin to do so soon.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Executive Secretariat Special Caption Documents, 1979–1989, Lot 92D630, Not for the System Documents, June 1983. Secret; Sensitive. Not for the System. Forwarded through Eagleburger.
  2. The United States was scheduled to begin the deployment of INF missiles to Western Europe in November.
  3. Shultz did not travel to the Soviet Union during the summer of 1983.
  4. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl went to Moscow for discussions with his Soviet counterpart in July.