180. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Holmes) to Secretary of State Shultz1

Mr. Secretary,

Gorbachev’s “comprehensive” proposal is both good propaganda and aggressive substance.2 By challenging the President head-on on the abolition of nuclear weapons, and by shifting a number of long-standing Soviet positions on other questions, he has positioned himself more strongly, either for potential serious negotiations or for a continued political attack on the US position, particularly SDI. At the same time, the framework he has presented, and the substantive moves it contains, offer us an opportunity to shape the arms control agenda in accordance with US and allied interests, if we move forcefully ourselves.

I like the basic structure of Paul Nitze’s suggested approach. I would, however, propose a slightly different treatment of some of the elements.3

The details of first-stage reductions are crucial, since it is the part of the package with the greatest chance of implementation. Gorbachev’s suggestions for first-stage reductions are highly one-sided and, except for INF, are along the lines of current Soviet NST proposals.

As Paul, I believe we should base our first phase proposals on our NST position. In INF, however, I believe we might introduce a nuance, which we will want politically to demonstrate movement equivalent to the Soviet dropping of their long-standing demand for numerical compensation for UK and French forces. Simply restating our demand for global elimination of LRINF in phase one is likely to be a non-starter. However, we might indicate that, within the context of an agreement to eliminate all LRINF globally, we would be prepared to see reductions taken disproportionally in Europe in the early years. Thus, for example, in the first three years of the period, LRINF might [Page 785] be eliminated in Europe, but only cut 50 per cent in Asia. It would then be eliminated in Asia in the remaining years of phase one.

Gorbachev’s proposal fails to deal with SRINF in phase one. I believe we should call for a global limit on SRINF missiles at the level of Soviet SRINF on Jan. 1, 1986, which would cap Soviet forces and allow the U.S. to retain the right to deploy P–Ib during the first stage.

With regard to SDI, I do not believe we should agree at the outset to an open-ended commitment to refrain from developing, testing, or deploying strategic defense systems so long as offensive reductions are being made. Rather, I believe we should enter into such a commitment limited to phase one. I would leave open the possibility that both sides could agree in subsequent stages to develop, test, or deploy strategic defenses. Paul’s blanket ban on development, testing, or deployment as long as reductions in offensive forces continue runs counter to our claim that strategic defenses could have positive benefits to both sides even with reductions in offensive forces. The leverage which SDI has given us in bringing the Soviets to negotiate could be undermined, and it could become more difficult to sustain the SDI program on the Hill. We will want to preserve our long-term options until the results of our SDI research and the Soviet reduction commitment are known.

We face a very serious problem with regard to conventional weapons. The Germans have already awoken to the fact that the Soviet proposal poses the same putative threat to nuclear deterrence that they feared from SDI, and thus the same requirements for redressal of the conventional balance. No conceivable MBFR or CDE agreement will improve European security sufficiently to offset the political, psychological, and military loss of the nuclear deterrent threat. Thus, if we are to pursue the objective of the elimination of nuclear weapons, as I believe we must, we must simultaneously speak frankly with the allies about their conventional defense requirements.

Specifically, I would propose the following response to the Gorbachev proposal:

US welcomes Soviet acceptance of goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, and accepts concept of three-stage program to be completed by 1999.

First stage (5–8 years)

START: US reiterates U.S. November 1 proposal

INF: US welcomes Soviet move toward US proposal of zero-zero for LRINF missiles, but emphasizes need to complete reductions on a global basis in phase one. In scheduling reductions, priority could be given to reductions in Europe (e.g., 100%, then 50% in Asia during first three years) as long as all LRINF missiles were eliminated on a global basis by the end of the first stage.

SRINF: Cap forces at level of Soviet SRINF on Jan. 1, 1986. US retains option in this stage to deploy P–Ib.

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—Defense and Space: US agrees for duration of phase one to observe ABM Treaty limits on development, testing, and deployment in conformity with present US policy, i.e. restricted interpretation; US opposes any limits on research.

—Nuclear testing: US proposes that an annual limit would be placed on the number of nuclear tests conducted by each side, and indicates that the limit would be decreased in stages in proportion to the reduction in nuclear arsenals. (NB: Currently 25–30 percent of our nuclear tests are SDI related. In the course of negotiating the particulars of nuclear test reductions, we may want to consider eliminating Excalibur in return for the Soviets’ giving up nuclear ABM systems such as Golosh. In a context of radical reductions in nuclear weapons, nuclear-driven defensive systems would be politically difficult to defend. I do not, however, believe we should focus attention on this or any subgroup of nuclear tests at this time.)

MBFR: US welcomes Soviet move toward Western December 5 proposal.

CDE: US welcomes Soviet willingness to drop insistence on covering independent naval activities and urges progress on concrete CBMs, projecting conclusion of agreement by summer 1986.

—Chemical weapons: US welcomes Soviet acceptance of on site inspection of CW production facilities, and reaffirms urgent importance of negotiations on comprehensive ban.

—Other nuclear powers: US makes clear it cannot negotiate for others, nor will it accept interference with its security relationships with its allies (e.g. the US-UK Trident program, which is an obvious target of the Gorbachev proposal for a UK-French freeze commitment and tight non-transfer provisions.)

US agrees to Gorbachev points on need for working out D&D procedures, schedules, etc.

US pockets Gorbachev commitment to OSI and other (unspecified) cooperative measures.

Subsequent stages: One of the most difficult questions for us in agreeing to a specific timeframe for the global elimination of nuclear weapons is the requirement it creates for us to take a position now that the UK, France, and the Chinese, would have to join the process at a later stage. It would clearly be much easier if we could continue to defer the issue and rely on the general policy statements by the concerned countries. We will therefore want to be particularly careful at this point in addressing the question of the second and third stages. We will have to acknowledge the necessity for other nuclear powers to participate in future phases of reductions if the goal of total elimination of nuclear weapons is to be reached. But we will not want to give this point any more salience than absolutely necessary, and we will want to underscore the total independence of other sovereign actors.

The annual number of nuclear tests would continue to decline in parallel with the continued reductions in offensive arms; and, as indicated above, the sides would discuss whether or how strategic defenses could be employed to mutual benefit. As the US phased out its nuclear [Page 787] weapons in Europe, Soviet agreement to redress the imbalance in conventional forces in Europe would be of overriding importance.

H. Allen Holmes4
  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Executive Secretariat Sensitive (01/16/1986–01/17/1986); NLR–775–15–7–5–3. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. See the attachment to Document 177.
  3. Nitze sent Shultz a draft letter, under a January 16 covering memorandum, writing: “Attached is a draft Presidential letter (with synopsis) responding to yesterday’s initiative from the Soviets. I worked with Roz Ridgway’s people to produce this initial draft and have provided copies to Jim Timbie and Allen Holmes.” Nitze’s synopsis of the response to Gorbachev proposed accepting the “concept of three-stage program and goal of completion by 1999” and then outlined steps for each of the three stages. (Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, 1986 Arms Control Mtg)
  4. Holmes signed “Allen” above his typed signature.