65. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Hill) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)1


  • Gromyko’s and Chernenko’s Recent Speeches

Dobrynin told the Secretary on Saturday that Gromyko’s June 16 speech to the Supreme Soviet dealt with US-Soviet relations to an “unprecedented” degree, and that Chernenko’s June 14 plenum speech on ideology should be taken as an important indicator of Soviet leadership attitudes toward the United States.2 The two speeches do, in fact, [Page 211] convey the impression of a Soviet regime that sees itself the target of a concerted U.S. campaign to weaken the USSR militarily and discredit it politically. This can be seen as the context for Dobrynin’s plea that we try to put ourselves in their shoes and see the situation as it looks from Moscow.

Gromyko’s Supreme Soviet Speech

While by no means unprecedented, the largest portion of Gromyko’s speech was, indeed, a comprehensive and polemical critique of U.S. policy toward the USSR, with particular emphasis on the security and arms control aspects. Gromyko reaffirmed Moscow’s desire for “smoother” relations with Washington; but he was typically pessimistic about the prospects for US-Soviet relations, implying that confrontational U.S. policies have been the norm since World War II, with détente an aberration.

Gromyko’s speech struck us as defensive in tone. He conveyed the impression that the Soviets see themselves as under assault by the United States on several fronts:

—rearmament in pursuit of military superiority;

—efforts to wage economic warfare against the USSR and its allies;

—destabilization of Eastern Europe and an ideological crusade aimed at the rollback of socialism; and

—an aggressive public-relations campaign designed to put the onus on Moscow for lack of progress on arms control.

Gromyko came out swinging on all counts. He assured his Soviet audience that the Soviet leadership will take all necessary steps to defend the USSR and its “socialist gains” at home and in Eastern Europe. He rebutted U.S. allegations about the Soviet Union’s arms control positions, and sought to discredit U.S. proposals as unbalanced and unserious. Most striking were his denunciations of U.S. nuclear doctrines that are allegedly based on the “admissability of nuclear war.”

On specific substantive questions Gromyko broke little new ground. The most noteworthy aspect was his adoption of the harshly critical Soviet press line on the President’s new START proposals—he described them as the “facelifted U.S. position” that was “fully tailored to suit the current further expansion” of U.S. programs. He endorsed the concept of a nuclear freeze, but did not specifically foreshadow the Supreme Soviet’s subsequent call for a multilateral freeze among the USSR, US, UK, France, and China.3 He also called for resumption of the CTB trilaterals and ratification of the TTBT and PNET.

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Gromyko was especially disparaging of our CBMs proposals, alleging that we seek nothing more than information exchange, whereas the USSR supposedly favors real limits on military activity designed to preclude the development of crises. Gromyko also insisted, defensively, that the USSR is for “universal and complete” verification of arms agreements.

Gromyko treated the FRG quite gently (no threats of the dire consequences that will attend INF deployments), perhaps in deference to Kohl’s forthcoming visit. He directed harsh language against the Japanese, however, for their having joined in the U.S. “strategy of confrontation.” There was also familiar fare about U.S. efforts to force agreements on the Lebanese “at gunpoint” and to pressure the Syrians, as well as denunciation of our “aggression” in Nicaragua.

Despite his bleak assessment of the US-Soviet relationship, Gromyko concluded on a confident note. He asserted that the USSR’s international position remains solid, that the tide of history is rolling in socialism’s favor, and that it is a well recognized fact that “not a single serious question of world politics can be solved, and in practice is not solved,” without the USSR’s participation. “That is how it should be,” Gromyko boasted, implying that US-Soviet relations can improve only if the U.S. accepts the USSR as an equal superpower.

Chernenko’s Plenum Speech

The main event of last week was, of course, the Central Committee Plenum. The focus of published leadership speeches (Chernenko and Andropov) was on internal rather than foreign problems.4 Chernenko did touch on US-Soviet relations, however, in calling for efforts to counter the U.S. ideological offensive. His remarks were harshly critical of Administration policies and he seemed to be adopting the same defensive tone as Gromyko in explaining Soviet policies.

Chernenko stated that the United States and its NATO allies are following an extremely dangerous course (a possible reference to INF deployment) and that the President has announced a new crusade against Communism. In calling for a new propaganda counteroffensive against the West, Chernenko seemed to convey the sense of the Soviet Union at disadvantage.

Chernenko’s June 14 delivery of the main plenum speech is of interest in Soviet domestic political terms. That Chernenko gave the speech indicates that the Politburo and Secretariat member is holding [Page 213] his own in the leadership—at least for now. He retains at least some of the ideological portfolio formerly held by Suslov.

From our perspective, however, the more interesting statements on internal matters last week were made by Andropov in his concluding speech. Andropov referred on several occasions in his speech to a new Party Program—suggesting that this might be his vehicle to set a new policy direction, not yet proclaimed. On economic topics, nonetheless, Chernenko was of interest precisely because he echoed themes previously sounded by Andropov: frank, if vague, admission of past shortcomings, together with an emphasis on the need for discipline and order. He also downplayed incentives to spur productivity.

Chernenko did keep the door open for some kind of economic reform by urging more fresh thinking from Soviet academics and think tanks. Andropov is believed to be interested in economic reform, and Chernenko’s remarks could signal a developing leadership consensus to move ahead. There is no evidence, however, that the leadership has agreed on the scope and timing of economic change.

Chernenko’s speech had a strong orthodox cast that moves him closer to Andropov on ideological issues as well. He called on various Soviet ideological organizations to be more aggressive and repeated the standard call for a vigorous struggle against such chronic problems as drunkenness, theft and bribe-taking. Chernenko called for better attention to Soviet public and social concerns—a theme that has gained currency among the leadership since the 1980 disruptions in Poland, and one on which he has spoken out in the past.

Charles Hill5
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC Country File, Europe and Soviet Union, USSR (06/19/83–06/24/83). Secret; Sensitive. This memorandum is based on another, undated, from Burt through Eagleburger to Shultz. (Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S, Special Handling Restrictions Memos, 1979–1983, Lot 96D262, ES Sensitive June 9–16 1983)
  2. See Document 64. Excerpts of Gromyko’s speech were printed in the New York Times, June 17, 1983, p. A8. Regarding Chernenko’s speech, see footnote 5, Document 62.
  3. For the text of the June 16 Supreme Soviet resolution containing a proposal for a freeze on nuclear weapons, see Documents on Disarmament, 1983, pp. 499–501.
  4. The Central Committee Plenum took place June 14–15. Andropov’s speech focused on economic matters. (Dusko Doder, “Andropov Makes Decisive Break With Past Policies,” New York Times, June 19, 1983, p. A11)
  5. McManaway signed for Hill above Hill’s typed signature.