185. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Poindexter) to President Reagan 1


  • Background Material on Responding to Gorbachev

General Secretary Gorbachev wrote you on January 14 about a plan for the elimination of nuclear weapons through a three phase schedule by the year 2000.2 He also went public with this plan shortly thereafter and, although the publicity to date has been relatively mild, [Page 796] we face a significant challenge in formulating an appropriate response. The Soviet plan has a large measure of propaganda, but its broad nature and defined timelines have optical appeal which must be handled carefully in formulating our response.

The Arms Control Support Group prepared a lengthy paper on optional approaches which served as the agenda for a Senior Arms Control Group meeting on the subject last Thursday.3 Since that meeting three general approaches have emerged. OSD favors not altering our current positions while discrediting the Soviet plan. The State Department would be far more forthcoming in adapting to parts of the Soviet plan and putting forth new US positions in Geneva this round. Others are between these two approaches. Since this subject will be addressed at an NSC meeting next week, I am forwarding for your background an Executive Summary of the longer paper at Tab A.

Tab A

Paper Prepared by the Arms Control Support Group4

OWL 21: Responding to Gorbachev’s January Proposals (S)

Purpose: This executive summary has been generated from the Arms Control Support Group OWL 20 paper on the subject in order to familiarize the reader with the decisions involved with choosing a US response to the January 14, Soviet initiative. At the heart of the Soviet proposal (summarized at Annex A) is the proposed “plan” for achieving the total elimination of nuclear weapons by the end of the century.5 The overriding decision will involve our basic reaction to the concept and details associated with this “plan” within which the Soviet proposals are embedded. In this regard, the most charged internal USG discussion will focus on the extent to which we can join in a call for the elimination of nuclear weapons by the relatively near-term date of [Page 797] 1999 or accept that goal without caveat. Three alternative approaches are under consideration: (S/O)

Approach 1. Express reservations about the Soviet “plan”. Explore new elements of the Soviet proposal in the appropriate negotiating fora. (S)

Approach 2. Protect our option to advance, at the appropriate time, a US proposal which reframes the core of the Soviet plan accepting some basic elements, (e.g., a commitment to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons but with no specific timeline and agreement that the initial step should be US/USSR reductions), but rejecting any discussion of subsequent phases or the details associated with such out-year phases. (S)

Approach 3. Go beyond approach 2 and propose substantive changes to all three US NST positions (START, INF and DST) during the current round. (S)

Each approach would immediately criticize elements of the Soviet proposal that have previously been offered and rejected by the US and the unrealistic details and linkages proposed in Soviet phases 2 and 3. Each would also attempt to maintain the focus on keeping priority on executing the mandate given at the last summit to pursue areas of common ground—50% reduction in nuclear arms appropriately applied, and an interim INF agreement. (S/O)

Discussion: Certain elements of the Soviet “plan” reflect positions offered by the US to the Soviets over the past 5 years. For example, the US is on record as calling ultimately for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Further, in response to questions about how the US would propose handling the issue of British and French forces, we suggested to the Soviets that we should take the first important steps bilaterally in moving to 50% reductions (as we define them) and then involve not only the British and French but the PRC as well. We have also repeatedly stressed the need to go beyond National Technical Means (NTM) as required for effective verification. (S/O)

On the other hand, the US has always made it clear that the elimination of nuclear weapons must be accompanied by certain criteria that allow us to move safely to a world where we can maintain our security and commitments without nuclear weapons. For example, either the causes of conflict must be reduced (e.g., regional and ideological differences resolved), or alternative means of protecting US and allied vital interest must be found (e.g., SDI, improved conventional forces, or a reduction in Soviet conventional force advantages). (S/O)

The Soviet “plan” narrows the focus on the total elimination of all nuclear weapons by 1999, making that a goal in itself. It does not address the corresponding deterrence and stability rationale for weap[Page 798]ons or the associated mechanisms including equitable reductions, compliance and SDI, that will be needed either to eliminate these underlying security requirements or replace the contribution now made by the nuclear weapons. It offers no schedule for the resolution of existing regional conflicts and differences and, in the process, sets up a situation in which, if the elimination of nuclear weapons by that date were taken as a serious possibility, it undercuts US and allied nuclear modernization. (S/O)

In short, as the Soviets have often tried to do, this attempts to set an unfair public focus and agenda. It’s a heads-they-win, tails-we-lose situation. If we simply eliminate all nuclear weapons by 1999, without taking actions by the same date, the Soviets gain a real advantage. If we reject their offer as framed, we look bad. Without a balanced and more comprehensive focus (which includes both a plan/schedule for the elimination of nuclear weapons and a plan/schedule for either eliminating or handling in some other way the security requirements for these weapons), it is questionable whether the US and NATO could go much beyond agreeing to the general overall goal. In evaluating the concept that the Soviet Union has proposed, we must keep in mind certain key national security considerations, which are summarized at Annex B. (TS/O)

The Soviet “plan” also calls for us to accept many unacceptable elements of the Soviet approach to reductions during the first phase, front-loading the deal in order to get certain alleged benefits in subsequent phases. Even then, however, many of the “benefits” (e.g., the early total elimination of tactical weapons) promised in subsequent Soviet phases play largely to public opinion. (S)

We face a serious problem in reconciling planned national security and defense spending (in the DoD, DoE and State budgets) with the realities of deficit reduction and Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.6 We must consider how our response to the Soviet “plan” will affect the debate in this area. (TS/O)

We must also consider the potential relationship to the upcoming summit. Some believe that we could use this Soviet proposal to reach some limited general agreement about the elimination of nuclear weapons, and if this agreement were framed in a manner so that it could be finally decided at the summit and protect our positions and interest in focusing on offensive reductions, that this could be useful to the United States. Others believe that if we pursue this approach, it will cause the summit to become, in effect, a deadline for reaching some [Page 799] agreement with the Soviets, and, therefore, it will be much more difficult to deal with the Soviet proposal, protect our interests, and pursue our agenda. (TS/O)

If Approaches 2 or 3 were chosen, the substantive steps in implementation are as outlined in Annex C.7 Beyond the central issue of framework, there are specific elements of the Soviet proposal which some believe may represent opportunities for the US; these are summarized below and contained in the matrix of options at Annex D.8



In Geneva, the Soviet delegation has said that the Gorbachev proposal does not involve any changes in their previous START position. We should challenge the Soviets to show their good faith and demonstrate we can get on schedule for a 1999 date by dropping their onesided preconditions and getting down to serious negotiations on reducing ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. (S)

Others believe (Approach 3) that we should go further to adjust the period of dismantlement to coincide with the 8 year period cited in the Soviet proposal and revisit the issue of whether to ban single RV mobile ICBMs. (S/O)

B. INF (U)

The Gorbachev package combines an important shift in INF that is both potentially encouraging and potentially troublesome with some familiar and unacceptable elements. (Their “interim” proposal—allowing 100–120 US GLCMs to remain in Europe—is apparently still on the table, according to the Soviet NST Delegation). Some believe (Approaches 2 and 3) a prompt US response should be considered. Its key elements as part of a first step package could be as follows: (S)

—Elimination of US and Soviet LRINF in Europe west of Novosibirsk (and therefore, Barnaul); (S)

—“Significant” reduction in SS–20s in central and eastern Asia; at least 50 percent cuts (though the US would restate its “zero-zero” preference for their total elimination); (S)

—A global LRINF missile warhead ceiling. The US would have a legal right to global equality, i.e., to match any Soviet SS–20 warheads remaining outside Europe with US systems in CONUS or elsewhere outside of Europe; (S)

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—Soviet LRINF systems which are reduced would be destroyed. US systems based in Europe could be withdrawn to the US unless, or until, they were in excess of the equal global ceiling, in which case they would be destroyed (while protecting a right to convert the PIIs to PIBs). (S)

—Equal SRINF ceiling at current Soviet level or freeze SRINF at both sides December 31, 1982, levels. (S)

—The reductions and limits would involve US and Soviet systems only; there would be no agreed constraints on UK and French systems. (S)

—Introduce key elements of verification regime as an integral part of this proposal. (S)

—Reaffirm November (summit) joint statement to move ahead on INF agreement without linkage to Defense and Space issues. (S)

In the second step of an overall program we could envision the completion of LRINF reductions to zero-zero. (S)

C. DST (U)

The parts of the new Soviet proposal that address matters in Defense and Space neither advance the negotiations nor offer anything positive to which we could respond. The Defense and Space Negotiating Group should continue to follow the agenda defined in the DST instructions for Round IV,9 and should indicate to the Soviets that, if anything, their new proposal is a demonstration of lack of seriousness on their part to pursue a businesslike dialogue. (S/O)

Some believe (Approach 3) that the U.S. delegation should propose that neither side seek amendment of the ABM Treaty during the first phase and that we seek to resolve compliance issues associated with that Treaty and agree to do nothing further to erode confidence in it. (S/O)

D. Other Areas

With regard to verification, risk reduction centers, chemical weapons, CDE, nuclear testing and MBFR, the Soviet proposals are, on balance, not sufficiently forthcoming, and do not require a change in the current US position.

[Page 801]

Annex B

Paper Prepared by the Arms Control Support Group10

Annex B—National Security Implications
of Eliminating Nuclear Weapons by 1999

Our current national strategy depends, to a great extent, on the contribution of offensive nuclear weapons (both strategic and non-strategic). While we are committed to the ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons, we have always noted that translating this into reality will take a long time since we will either have to change the international situation to the point that the contribution of nuclear weapons is no longer needed (e.g., ideological and regional tensions resolved) or alternative means of maintaining security are in place. Any commitment we make to a detailed plan for the elimination of nuclear weapons must be viewed as an extremely serious step which we must be sure we can execute and safely live with because, once made, it may generate pressures (budgetary, arms control, political) which could force the US unilaterally toward such a course. (TS/O)

We are equally committed to NATO strategy (14/3) which also depends heavily on the contribution of both strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons.11 NATO 14/3 is, in many respects, a somewhat fragile, political strategy—but absolutely essential to maintaining alliance cohesion. In the context of the SDI debate, for example, the FRG offered the principle (which we endorsed) that unless and until an alternative to current strategy is found and agreed upon, it is essential that full support be provided to 14/3. Any commitment to a schedule such as that proposed by the Soviets would immediately call into question the future of 14/3. Once again, this would be a most serious step, and one that would require extensive Allied consultation. (TS/O)

If the current regional imbalances in conventional forces are not resolved, there would be little to deter hostile powers from pursuing their interests to the potential detriment of US interests. Significant political, economic, and military commitment would be required to equal the deterrent potential of relatively inexpensive nuclear weapons. Furthermore, elimination of nuclear weapons by the current nuclear [Page 802] powers could place them at risk from those that have not acknowledged possession, but may in fact possess, or gain access to, such weapons. (S/O)

The direct impact of the Soviet plan would be to derail Western modernization. Some of the provisions, by simply being given the status of real “possibilities”, could achieve the same result. For example, if the elimination of British and French systems is roughly 8 years away, why should the UK invest its limited resources on the Trident D–5 missile? Similarly, if tactical systems are also going to be gone in the same time frame, why should NATO pay the fiscal and political costs of modernizing these systems? Why should the US (or the US and its allies) waste precious funds and take the political heat of continuing with SDI? And why pay for systems like MX, MIDGETMAN and the TRIDENT D–5? (TS/O)

The President has committed the US ultimately to eliminating nuclear weapons. These observations are not intended to undercut this goal. But, to point out the dangers we face if this goal is pursued in isolation as proposed by the Soviet “plan”. Total elimination of nuclear weapons must be accompanied by actions which obviate the requirements for those weapons, including resolution of regional differences, the correction of military asymmetries, and a fundamental change in orientation and ambitions of the Soviet leadership. (S/O)

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Donald Fortier Files, Subject File, Gorbachev/Soviet Policy/etc. 01/25/1986–01/31/1986; NLR–195–5–2–1–7. Top Secret; Sensitive; Owl. Sent for information. Prepared by Wright and Linhard.
  2. See Document 177.
  3. January 23. In a January 22 memorandum to Poindexter, Wright, Linhard, and Kraemer provided a detailed outline for the January 23 meeting, with attached papers and talking points. (Reagan Library, Ronald Lehman Files, Subject File, NSTGorbachev Disarmament Plan: 01/20/86–01/22/86) No formal minutes of the meeting were found; however, the handwritten notes of Linhard are in the Reagan Library, Robert Linhard Files, Arms Control Chron, ACSG (Arms Control Support Group)—01/15/1986, Soviet Proposal (2).
  4. Top Secret; Sensitive; Owl.
  5. Attached but not printed is the undated “Summary of the Nuclear Aspects of the Soviet Proposal.”
  6. P.L. 99–177, Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, or Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, was signed by Reagan on December 12, 1985.
  7. Annex C is not attached.
  8. Annex D is not attached.
  9. See Document 176.
  10. Top Secret; Sensitive; Owl.
  11. NATO adopted MC 14/3 on December 12, 1967. It provided “an overall strategic concept for the defense of the North Atlantic Treaty Area.” The report is available on the NATO website.