199. Letter From Secretary of State Shultz to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Poindexter)1

Dear John,

I have written to Cap Weinberger to let him know that I share his concerns about American official attendance at Soviet Armed Forces Day receptions this year.2 Thus, the Department earlier this month instructed all diplomatic and consular posts that sanctions against attending Soviet Armed Forces Day receptions remain in effect, and that no civilian or military personnel should attend.3

At the same time, I want to share with you and Cap my strong belief that we should make a distinction between acceptance of invitations to highly visible events in honor of the Soviet military, and other contacts with Soviet defense officials that can increase our understanding of Soviet military doctrine, policies and practices—and give them a better understanding why we view them as the threat they are.

A hallmark of the Administration’s policy towards the Soviet leadership is seeking a realistic dialogue. As a result of the Geneva summit, we are working actively to expand our contacts with the Soviets in diverse fields. Several of our Cabinet colleagues have already had beneficial exchanges with Soviet cabinet-level counterparts. With regard to defense contacts, at the UNGA in October 1984, and again in Strasbourg in May 1985, the President personally endorsed a policy of greater exchanges between American and Soviet military officials. [Page 853] I believe it is in our national interest to begin working to implement this policy without further delay. Senior defense officials play a key role in the Soviet Union, just as Cap and his colleagues do here. I believe it is of great value to be talking with them every appropriate chance we get.

At our breakfast on February 12, you, Cap and I discussed the pros and cons of high-level exchanges with Soviet defense officials.4 I would like to revisit with you and Cap ways in which we might best implement the President’s policy. Such exchanges would be an important element of our overall effort to improve our understanding of the perspectives of the top Soviet leadership, which is critical to our picture of Soviet policy-making.

An additional consideration is the delicate trilateral relationship with China. You are of course aware that the Chinese Defense Minister, Chief-of-Staff, and the heads of all their respective services have already visited the United States. Although the character of these visits differs markedly from any prospective Soviet exchanges, it is in our interest not to lose sight of the trilateral ramifications.

Thus, I would like to suggest that a meeting between Cap and Soviet Defense Minister Sokolov would be in our foreign policy interest. This could be followed up with a meeting between Admiral Crowe and his Soviet counterpart, Marshal Akhromeyev. We could begin working toward an agreement at this year’s Summit to exchange visits by defense ministers and military chiefs-of-staff between the 1986 and 1987 summits. Alternatively, Cap and Admiral Crowe could invite their Soviet counterparts to Washington during this period.

My staff stands ready to work together with yours and Cap’s on this matter.

Sincerely yours,

George P. Shultz5
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Jack Matlock Files, Chronological File, 1980–1986, Matlock Chron March 1986 (3/8). Secret; Sensitive. A copy was sent to Crowe. Poindexter initialed the first page of the letter.
  2. Not found.
  3. In telegram 45754 to all diplomatic and consular posts, February 13, the Department provided guidance that, as in past years, “there will be no attendance at Soviet Army Navy Day receptions.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860114–0108) In telegram 1982 from Moscow, February 5, Hartman had advised the opposite: “It is time to end this sanction and to allow normal attendance by military and civilian invitees. The boycott on attendance has made its point. The President has met with Gorbachev and will see him again this year in the United States. Contacts by senior officials and congressmen are increasing apace. We will look as if we do not have a coherent, united policy if we continue the boycott in the military area. I recommend that we try a different approach to moderating Soviet behavior—one which will also allow us to develop scarce information on the Soviet military. All restrictions on attendance at Armed Forces Day functions should be lifted, but attaches and others who attend should be encouraged to raise the invasion of Afghanistan, the Nicholson murder, the KAL shootdown as examples of Soviet behavior which we find unacceptable and uncivilized. Let’s try talking to them as a means of influencing their outlook. The cold shoulder approach has outlived its usefulness.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860094–0917)
  4. No record of the discussion was found.
  5. Shultz signed “George” above his typed signature.