187. Memorandum From Secretary of State Shultz to President Reagan1


  • Responding to Gorbachev’s Arms Control Proposal

Gorbachev’s proposal goes directly to the fundamental issue you raised with him in Geneva—whether our two nations can agree on a plan that will let us break the 40-year cycle of steadily growing nuclear arsenals. We should see this as an opportunity to transform Gorbachev’s concept so that it matches your own vision for achieving a non-nuclear world. Our response should elaborate our own concept for a process leading to the elimination of nuclear arms, concentrating on the bilateral reductions necessary in the first stage of that process, and positing the conditions that must be met to go further, including intrusive verification, redress of conventional imbalances, a chemical weapons ban, and the need for bold steps towards resolving regional tensions.

Your response should encompass each of the three Geneva negotiating groups, in order to keep the focus on our arms control objectives, not the Soviet agenda. It should provide a framework for deep reductions in offensive nuclear arms, while easing the way to Soviet acquiescence to our SDI program. At the same time, it should position you to best capitalize on whatever answer Gorbachev gives—either to move forward in negotiations if he is interested in a constructive process, or to counter Soviet efforts to manipulate public opinion if he is not. I believe Option 3 best serves your purposes in a way the others do not.

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Option 3 is front-loaded in our favor. It contains constructive moves on START and INF, within the context of our current position, which would fulfill U.S. and Allied objectives. It would represent a demonstrable step on your part to meet Gorbachev’s stated concerns about your near-term intentions for SDI and the ABM Treaty, but it would also enable the SDI program to continue as now planned and it would protect the option of a cooperative transition to greater defense reliance. The first stage is designed to be fail-safe. The continuation of SDI would provide us leverage to ensure Soviet implementation of offensive reductions. Likewise, the British and French would be excluded; their systems would also give us a kind of insurance—the only way for the Soviets to enter negotiations on them would be to carry out the first stage reductions. Our proposal would not be an open-ended commitment that would delegitimize nuclear weapons. Rather, it envisions a continued role for an effective deterrent until the conditions exist where we could contemplate the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Some will argue that Gorbachev’s initiative is cynical propaganda and that any substantive response on your part would somehow be “rewarding his intransigence.”2 Who knows. While Gorbachev is, of course, out to protect his own interests, he has at the same time made concrete proposals to advance the personal dialogue the two of you began in Geneva. A response based on our option would enable you to build upon that dialogue, take the initiative in setting the agenda for Gorbachev’s next meeting with you, and challenge him to seize this potentially historic opportunity.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, 1986 Soviet Union Jan. Secret; Sensitive. In a covering memorandum to Shultz, drafted by Teftt, Burton, Dunkerley, and Stafford on January 29, Ridgway wrote: “At Tuesday’s [January 28] SACG meeting John Poindexter asked each agency to provide by COB Wednesday a brief memorandum recommending the appropriate response to Gorbachev’s January 15 arms control initiative. The memoranda will serve to brief the President in advance of an NSC or NSPG meeting scheduled for Friday, January 31.” The NSPG took place on February 3; see Document 188. Ridgway continued: “We have prepared with Paul Nitze’s staff the attached memorandum from you to the President explaining the rationale for the State Department proposal (option 3). We have written the memo to take into account the arguments made against option 3 by Fred Ikle, Richard Perle and others at yesterday’s SACG. Paul Nitze, Allen Holmes and Jim Timbie all approve of the memo.” Ridgway recommended that Shultz sign the memorandum. A typed notation at the top of the covering memorandum indicates that it was sent to the White House by special courier at 4:30 p.m. on January 29.
  2. In his memoir, Shultz wrote that on January 18 “I talked with Paul Nitze and Richard Perle. Perle insisted that Gorbachev’s letter was not serious, just propaganda. ‘We must not discuss it as though it was serious,’ he said. The worst thing in the world would be to eliminate nuclear weapons. ‘You’ve got a problem,’ I said with a laugh. ‘The president thinks it is a good idea. Don’t worry, we can say “fine” to the three-stage approach and then front-end load our program in the first stage. Gorbachev’s language makes the INF zero option operational; all else is a transition to it.’ We could, I felt, design a first stage that would convert Gorbachev’s language into our own proposal to eliminate INF missiles and achieve deep reductions in strategic arms.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 701)