177. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1
- New Gorbachev Proposal
General Secretary Gorbachev has sent you today a letter containing a major new proposal. It sets forth a sequence of reductions leading to the total worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2000.
The Soviet proposal would be implemented in three stages:
First Stage (5–8 years)
—Reduce by 50 percent (to 6000) nuclear warheads capable of reaching the territory of the other side (i.e., the current Soviet START position).[Page 771]
—Ban on development, testing, and deployment of “attack space weapons.” (No mention of research.)
—Elimination of U.S. and Soviet medium-range missiles in Europe.
—No build-up of British and French nuclear forces, and no transfer of U.S. missiles to other countries.
—Cease all nuclear test explosions.
Second Stage (begins by 1990, 5–7 years)
—Britain, France, China freeze their nuclear forces.
—All nuclear powers eliminate tactical nuclear weapons.
—All nuclear powers cease testing.
Third Stage (begins by 1995)
—All powers eliminate remaining nuclear weapons by 1999.
Verification procedures for dismantling and destruction would be worked out, including on-site inspection.
Portions of this proposal reflect long-held Soviet positions, such as their traditional definition of strategic, the ban on space weapons, and the test ban. But there are new elements as well:
—The concrete plan for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
—Elimination of U.S. and Soviet INF missiles in Europe, with the British and French forces frozen.
—The participation of other nuclear powers in the later stages.
Gorbachev apparently plans to make a public statement on Soviet TV today. While this proposal contains many serious problems, it will be universally considered to be a major step and will raise hopes that your vision of the elimination of nuclear weapons may be realizable.[Page 772]
- Source: Department of State, Ambassador Nitze’s Personal Files 1953, 1972–1989, Lot 90D397, January 1986. Secret; Sensitive. Printed from an uninitialed copy. A typed notation in the top margin reads: “Original memo given directly to the President by the Secretary 1/15.”↩
- Secret. Printed from an unofficial translation. The text of the letter, translated from Russian, was provided by the Soviet Embassy. In his memoir, Shultz recalled: “On Wednesday morning, January 15, I talked with Ambassador Dobrynin, who was sending me an urgent message from Gorbachev. I looked it over quickly and phoned NSC adviser John Poindexter. ‘I have just received an extremely important letter to the president from Gorbachev,’ I said. ‘Dobrynin says that Gorbachev will go public with the content in Moscow in a few hours. This is very different from anything we have seen before and is a matter of high priority. I will have a restricted group take a look at it. A messenger will hand-deliver it to you for the president in five minutes.’” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 699) Gorbachev’s January 15 public statement outlining the Soviet proposal is printed in Documents on Disarmament, 1986, pp. 10–19. Reagan wrote in his personal diary on January 15: “Then a long meeting with Geo. S. & John Poindexter on our Khadafi problem, also our response to a letter from Gorbachev who surprisingly is calling for an arms reduction plan which will rid the world of nuclear weapons by yr. 2000. Of course he has a couple of zingers in there which we’ll have to work around. But at the very least it is a h—l of a propaganda move. We’d be hard put to explain how we could turn it down.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. II: November 1985–January 1989, p. 562)↩
- For the full text of the New Year’s messages of both Reagan and Gorbachev, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book I, pp. 1–3.↩
- An unknown hand wrote “yes” in the left-hand margin.↩
- Reagan’s December 24 letter to Gorbachev was not found. However, in a December 25 article, Michael R. Gordon wrote: “President Reagan has written to Mikhail S. Gorbachev proposing that experts meet to discuss improving the verification of agreements on underground nuclear tests, a senior Administration official said today. Officials said Mr. Reagan’s letter reiterated the longstanding position that improved verification would allow the United States to ratify two treaties signed in the 1970’s that would limit the size of the underground tests. Mr. Reagan also affirmed the United States’ refusal to join the Soviet Union in its current halt on underground testing, officials said. Moscow has said that its moratorium will lapse at the end of the year unless the United States joins in.” (“Reagan, in a letter to Gorbachev, Asks Technical Talks on A-Tests,” New York Times, December 25, 1985, p. 1)↩