182. Information Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Rodman) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Responding to the Gorbachev Proposal: Possible Pitfalls Ahead

SUMMARY: On Friday, I expressed various reservations about accepting the basic framework of the new Soviet proposal.2 I will not repeat what I said then, and I acknowledge that the approach outlined by Paul Nitze and Allen Holmes in their respective memos deflects some of the more objectionable elements in the Gorbachev proposal by frontloading our objectives into Phase I and making subsequent phases as fuzzy as possible.3 Nevertheless I still see some serious problems—particularly of Alliance management—coming down the road, sooner than some may think. The new Gorbachev proposal is a regression from where we stood after the Geneva Summit in the sense that it shifts the focus from the areas of common ground to a number of propagandistic themes; by engaging a negotiation in this new framework, we are committing ourselves to further battles on a more slippery terrain. In this memorandum, I will try to point out some of the larger pitfalls I see ahead. END SUMMARY.

Of the specific issues raised by the new Gorbachev proposal, the two most important are Alliance issues: the question of British and French forces presented in a new form, and European perceptions about the role of nuclear weapons in their security—a particular concern in West Germany. Thus we may be touching some raw nerves very broadly in Europe.

British and French systems: The new Soviet proposal drops the long-standing Soviet demand for numerical compensation for French and British forces—a potentially important concession which we will want to pocket quickly—but is guaranteed to remain divisive. Because reduced, the new Soviet demands—a ban on UK and French modernization in Phase I, a commitment to participate in negotiations and [Page 790] reductions at a future stage—will appear more reasonable to some publics in Europe. Moreover, the Soviet proposal purports to address all the French and British preconditions for participating in reductions: deep US and Soviet cuts, conventional balance through MBFR, ban on CW and no upgrading of strategic defenses.

More seriously, if we sign on to a formal scheme to eliminate all nuclear weapons, we must now acknowledge the logic of including British and French forces and their participation in multilateral negotiations at some stage—as we have never had to do for any arms control or reduction proposal before. Buying onto this framework in a U.S.-Soviet context will thus put us inescapably in the position of implicity pressuring the French and British to agree to this—or of being at odds publicly with their position, which is likely to be negative. This plays into the hands of the antinuclear movement just when both countries are undertaking major (and controversial) modernization programs. I agree with Allen Holmes that we should avoid emphasizing this issue or giving the appearance that we are speaking for the French and British. But I’m not sure we will get off so lightly: We cannot, for example, avoid telling the Soviets something of what we have in mind for Phase 2 and 3.

Nuclear weapons and the conventional balance in Europe: As you know, the Europeans are uncomfortable with our antinuclear rhetoric and will be extremely reserved about a US commitment to abolish nuclear weapons in fifteen years. This is already evident from the cautious reaction to the Gorbachev proposal in London, Paris, and Bonn.

I take only momentary pleasure from the fact that the Europeans will have been hoist on their own petard and will now act as a brake on our negotiations instead of constantly badgering us to do more. European nervousness about nuclear issues is deep-seated and reflects the precariousness of European opinion on the whole question of being “caught in the middle” between East and West. The belief that a Western nuclear deterrent is essential to maintain the balance in Europe is deeply held by all European governments and large sectors of the public—and they have defended this doctrine courageously against decades of Soviet and neutralist pressures.

Moreover, what they mean by maintaining the balance is not merely offsetting the huge Soviet conventional superiority in Europe but in effect protecting Western Europe against the inherent and uncorrectable weakness that flows from its lesser size and military power, its geographic location under the shadow of the Soviet Union, and its long distance from its main protector, the United States, with its isolationist history and volatile domestic politics. Any US action which tends to deemphasize the US nuclear element is therefore seen as decoupling—i.e., as a form of U.S. withdrawal. This is especially true [Page 791] in West Germany. Conceivably this prospect could have the healthy effect of stimulating more intra-European defense cooperation, but it could also stimulate resignation and a drift toward accommodation with the Soviet Union. Unlike Central America or certain other arms control issues, the issue of our nuclear presence in Europe is central to the European perception of their own security.

Accordingly, two recommendations seem to me to be in order:

We should avoid defining at this stage our requirements for the conventional balance—that is, under what conditions we would be prepared to give up nuclear weapons altogether. In particular, we should avoid encouraging the notion that an MBFR agreement even on our terms will create a conventional balance or that the conventional imbalance can be “fixed” through arms control agreements. I agree with Allen on this point but would go further and argue that even MBFR/CDE plus conventional defense improvements are probably not enough. In any event, we should remain vague on this point for now.

Because our nuclear weapons in Europe are central to our European strategy and to the Gorbachev proposal, our consultations with key Allies on a response to Gorbachev must be more than perfunctory. Before the President responds to Gorbachev, we should be prepared to meet with them—at the Foreign Minister level if necessary—and discuss the problems posed by the Gorbachev proposal frankly, while both listening to their views and making clear in which direction we want to go. This makes sense on the merits and would be good public diplomacy in Europe. Some profound issues are being raised here and should not be treated casually.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Executive Secretariat Sensitive (01/18/1986–01/21/1986). Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Bohlen and Ledsky. Ledsky initialed the memorandum for Rodman.
  2. January 17. In his memoir, Shultz wrote: “How should we proceed diplomatically? The naysayers were hard at work, even in my own building. Peter Rodman said that the elimination of nuclear weapons meant a neutralist Europe, the end of our NATO strategy, a disaster for the West. No one could accept the thought of a world moving toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 701)
  3. See Document 180 and footnote 3 thereto.