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


  • Engaging the Soviets on Regional Issues

Summary. While fresh thinking is always useful, EUR’s memo on engaging the Soviets on regional issues—which I first saw Monday morning—strikes me as just the wrong way to go.2 I have serious reservations about each EUR proposal. I also question some of EUR’s [Page 803] underlying assumptions about the purpose of the exercise, and am not persuaded that our interests and objectives have been rigorously thought through. End Summary.

The EUR memo proposes to move beyond the current phase of our regional discussions with the Soviets—in essence an exchange of views—to a second more active phase, that would engage us or at least move us toward a negotiating process with the Soviets. The current phase of exchanging views has been useful in providing regional content to the US-Soviet relationship and to some extent in clarifying Soviet views. Despite some anxieties beforehand, it has neither impeded nor hindered the pursuit of our regional objectives and could be safely continued for a round or two more.

However, moving to a negotiating phase is a major step with more wide-ranging substantive implications. We must be certain that the potential gains outweigh the potential costs. The potential gains are presumably twofold: first, the advancement of our regional objectives and second, the construction of a more realistic and solid US-Soviet relationship. EUR is understandably more concerned with the latter objective. I am not persuaded that even this requires the kind of negotiation EUR advocates; but in any case, improving US-Soviet relations should not necessarily take precedence over our regional relationships and posture.

While each region has its own specificity, certain conditions must be met before we engage substantively with the Soviets:

—There must be a chance that diplomacy will succeed. This requires that the Soviets themselves have an incentive to negotiate. The costs of a given policy must exceed the prospective gains or outweigh the Soviet interests at stake.3 I see no region at present where we can realistically state this to be the case. Moreover, the present state of US-Soviet relations offers no bilateral incentives to Soviet cooperation; the potentially harmful effect of Soviet regional policy on the overall US-Soviet relationship is not the powerful argument it has been at other times in the past.

—As a corollary to the above, the cards we hold must be roughly equivalent to the Soviets’.4 Again, this situation obtains in none of the regions discussed except Central America, where there are other arguments against involving the Soviets.5

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—There must be clear advantages to us in taking the lead, as well as compelling reasons for a US-Soviet negotiation other than the fact of our presence in a given region. Conversely, we should weigh carefully the risks of being out front in certain areas (for example, on Cambodia where we have been content to let the ASEAN countries take the lead, or on Afghanistan where any US initiative always risks unnerving the Paks) as well as of increasing the Soviet role in a region where they have not been active (e.g. Central America).

Under certain circumstances, US-Soviet negotiations on regional issues can succeed. Opportunities have existed in the past and may well ripen in the future. But at the present moment, a US-Soviet negotiation strikes me as either premature or inappropriate for each of regions discussed in the EUR memo.

Finally, I would argue that improving the US-Soviet relationship and preparing for the next summit do not require us to move beyond the present phase of our regional discussions with the Soviets. It is unquestionably important that the relationship have a regional dimension (as well as arms control, bilateral and human rights components). It is less clear—absent a real hope that diplomacy can produce results—that the regional dimension need be dynamic or continuously forward moving. In sum, I am not persuaded that we need at this stage to move beyond a periodic exchange of views.

As an alternative to the regional initiatives proposed by EUR, I would recommend that we pursue our efforts with the Soviets in areas of importance where a bilateral effort is both appropriate and needed, such as the Berlin air corridors and Soviet and GDR behavior toward Allied Military Liaison Missions in East Germany, issues which have festered for months without real progress.6 (Why should Europe be excluded from the regional dialogue?!) Some fresh input from us, perhaps at a higher political level than heretofore, might produce results.


EUR’s suggestions on Afghanistan pose a number of problems. On the military side, EUR suggests confidence-building measures that would create many more difficulties for our side than for the Soviets. We would be opening ourselves to Soviet requests to reduce our military supplies to the Mujahedin and to curb the resistance in some areas of the country—something neither we nor the Afghan resistance movement itself can accomplish.

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Different resistance groups are strong in different areas; in some regions there is an overlapping military presence. Designating regions for possible ceasefire arrangements could evoke havoc within the fragile Mujahedin alliance.

As for political measures, it will simply not work to encourage the Soviets to bring representatives of the Mujahedin into a government headed not by Karmal but someone “less tainted but still enjoying the Soviets’ confidence.” First, none of the principal Mujahedin leaders appears willing to participate in a government headed and dominated by Marxist-Leninists, especially while Soviet troops are still in Afghanistan. Secondly, even if a few resistance leaders agree to participate in such a coalition government dominated by Soviet-oriented communists, the result will almost certainly be serious conflicts within the resistance movement. Those who stay out of the coalition will be characterized as opposing a “political settlement.” None of this would serve our interests. There is a danger that we might fall in the same “coalition” trap which Moscow used with success in Eastern Europe after WWII.

In our discussions with Soviets, we should make suggestions that test Moscow’s seriousness and will not unravel the alliance between the Afghan partisans and Pakistan.7 For example:

—We should stress to the Soviets the importance of engaging the Mujahedin Alliance in the negotiating process. We should argue that without this development a lasting political settlement will be unlikely. This is important in order, among other things, to avoid widespread bloodshed in Afghanistan after the Soviets withdraw.

—We should convey to the Soviets that their insistence on direct negotiation between Pakistan and the Kabul regime is impractical and indicates to us that Moscow is not serious about a political settlement.

—We should emphasize to the Soviets that their agreement to the Cordovez-proposed draft on guarantees and provision of a short timetable for withdrawal would be important steps in enhancing the prospects for a settlement.

—We should express a willingness to discuss mechanisms for monitoring a possible political settlement.


An adroit US policy might succeed in reducing Soviet influence in Southern Africa. Unfortunately, this is not the right moment for direct US-Soviet talks to this end.

The Soviets now enjoy a relatively advantageous position, particularly in Angola. They have in place 35,000 Cuban proxies and have massively escalated their military support and even direct military involvement in the Angolan civil war. It is true that Dos Santos has [Page 806] recently cut off some of his more pro-Soviet colleagues, but it is still a Marxist government very much in Moscow’s camp.

The Soviets’ support of a military solution in Angola is not a high-risk strategy for them at present. The only way to make them “reassess the dangers of a war-winning strategy” is to tip the balance of forces on the ground and raise the risks that the Soviets run. Thus, strengthening UNITA should be our first order of business8—on an urgent basis, before the next offensive against Savimbi. An initiative with the Soviets will be fruitful only after the inevitable next test of military strength between the two sides in Angola—and, frankly, only if Savimbi does well.

The stronger Savimbi is, the more our diplomatic leverage.9 If Savimbi begins to look like a loser, all of Chet’s valiant diplomacy goes down the drain. The Soviets will have nothing but contempt for us, and it would probably be advisable for us not to engage with them in those circumstances.


In Southeast Asia, our strategic interest is to limit the growth of Soviet influence and promote regional unity against Moscow. Since our departure from Indochina, this has been an uphill fight and the terrain remains unfavorable. Raising the possibility of Soviet participation in a Cambodian settlement would unduly promote a Soviet role in the region.

We have built our policy on a foundation of unity with ASEAN and of cooperation with China.10 This achievement sends a message of reliability and responsibility to our partners around the world. China, in particular, has kept pressure on Vietnam while making the occupation of Cambodia one of its “three obstacles” to improving political ties with Moscow. Should Beijing come to suspect the US is working toward a condominium with the USSR on its southern borders, it would cause the Chinese to have profound doubts about our reliability as well as our judgment. We have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by launching such gratuitous experiments on an issue so vitally sensitive to the Chinese. Staying in step with the Chinese on the “three obstacles” is fundamental to the solidity of the US-Chinese relationship.11

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Ironically, we believe that EUR’s proposal would not help divide Moscow from Hanoi, but would have the contrary effect of strengthening the Soviet position in Vietnam. By posing as a broker to a settlement with the US and ASEAN, the Soviets can improve their grip on Cam Ranh Bay and otherwise enhance their strategic and regional objectives.

Tactically, we would be handing the Soviet side an advantage by proposing talks at a time when our side is at a low point.12 Last year’s dry season offensive and disputes within the non-communist resistance have forced the Thai and the guerrillas to regroup. The Soviets could quite reasonably interpret this proposal as a US search for a face-saving way out of a bad situation. It would confirm their smug assertions of inevitable Vietnamese victory and prompt them to start thinking about intimidating Thailand into opening some distance from the United States.

Elements within ASEAN who favor accommodation to Vietnam’s aggression would use the notion of a reconvened International Conference on Kampuchea (ICK) to reopen fundamental issues. As local leaders jockey for advantage, Soviet and Vietnamese officials could find themselves more welcome in the region’s capitals, despite our comparatively successful efforts in recent years to keep them out.

Our best course is to continue to show firmness regarding Cambodia by backing ASEAN’s policy. ASEAN leaders have wanted us to carry their message to the Soviets for some time to demonstrate that the weight of the US is behind them, not to open yet another channel for talks.

In positive terms, we should stage a display of unity with ASEAN at Bali before the next Soviet-US summit,13 perhaps in conjunction with renewed commitments to support the non-communist resistance. Our aim should be to show that despite our problems, the US and ASEAN believe that time, justice and world opinion are on our side.14 We should also be trying to show that Soviet and Vietnamese efforts to divide the Chinese from the US and ASEAN will not work.


Our policy in Central America has been based on strong support for a regionally negotiated solution emphasizing the importance of internal reconciliation to any stable, long-term solution. Central to our position has also been insistence that the Nicaraguans come to terms [Page 808] with their neighbors. We have accordingly steadfastly refused to “deal over the heads” of our friends and allies in the region, especially El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica.

The Contadora process was torpedoed by Nicaragua last Fall because the pressure to sign an agreement that would be unacceptable to the GON was becoming intense. The so-called Caraballeda declaration was an effort by the Contadora and Contadora support countries, in part well-meaning, to revive the effort. However, its terms are extremely vague and open to wide interpretation. For example, Nicaragua and Mexico are taking the view that the call for renewed dialogue and reconciliation leaves entirely up to governments how such a dialogue should be managed and with whom it should take place.15 Nicaragua and some others may take the view that Caraballeda is an entirely new negotiating process separate from Contadora, which could lend itself to being spun out indefinitely. It is clear that the only reason the GON agreed to sign the Caraballeda declaration at all was fear that the Administration may secure military assistance for the Contras from the Congress.

The EUR proposal would accomplish at a stroke what we have strongly resisted since the beginning of the Administration—admitting a legitimate role in Central America for extra-regional powers, especially the Soviets and the Cubans.16 The Soviets would be delighted to be invited in, the only price of admission being to pay lip service to vague concepts of dialogue and internal reconciliation.

Once they got their nose into the tent we would never get it out, and they would be in a position to provide direct diplomatic support to their clients. Similarly, resuming direct negotiations with the Nicaraguans would play into their hands, contrary to our present position of stressing the internal dialogue.

One can argue that our regional strategy seeks concessions from the Sandinistas they can hardly be expected to accept. However we should not back into the major revision of a strategy that has served us reasonably well as a holding action, and which has had some positive results. We should certainly not do so for the sake of a marginal and probably transient tactical advantage in our dialogue with the Soviets.

At the present moment, we should limit our discussions with the Soviets over Central America to (a) exchanges about our respective positions, (b) calls for the Soviets to stop supplying guns and other [Page 809] military equipment to the Sandinistas and (c) pledges of non-interference in the affairs of Nicaraguans and its neighbors.17


I note there is nothing in the EUR paper on the Middle East, though, as far as I know, talks on the Middle East will be included in the series.

These may be the trickiest of all. So far, the Soviets have been rather clumsy, e.g., in not even raising the issue at the Summit. They were criticized for this in the Arab world. I would expect that they will be cleverer next time. As discussions of an international conference progress, as Hussein goes further in sealing his Faustian bargain with Asad, and as the Soviets get their Party Congress out of the way, we could see some aggressive Soviet maneuvering to get into the game.

Usually the Soviets act as the champion of the maximum Arab position, rather than as a moderating force. (This is one reason we don’t want them in the game.) But in the current fluid diplomatic environment, they could well stake out a claim for a role that puts us on the spot. We will have to be well prepared to do some defensive maneuvering of our own.18 The next US-Soviet bilateral talks on the Middle East may be rather exciting—and also of crucial importance for the fate of our Middle East strategy.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, 1986 Arms Control Meeting. Secret; Sensitive; Summit II. Drafted by Bohlen, Khalilzad, Kontos, Hewitt, and Paal; cleared by Ledsky.
  2. January 27. Not found.
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