227. Telegram From the Department of State to Secretary of State Shultz in Tokyo1

Tosec 80491/141349. Eyes Only for Hill From Timbie. Subject: Arms Reductions, SDI and Containing Soviet Power.

1. Text follows of a Nitze-Timbie revision of your paper.2 Begin text:

Arms Reductions, SDI, and Containing Soviet Power

—Stripped of its superior military capabilities, the Soviet Union would be an unimpressive power.

• Its political and socio-economic systems are relics of the past.

• A heavy industry nation in an “information age.”

• Its vast conventional forces have been of limited effectiveness in Afghanistan.

• Losing ground to a modernizing China.

• Despised in Eastern Europe.

• No longer a model for all but small groups of conspiratorial leadership groups in the Third World. Much of the Third World is turning or would like to turn to the West.

—But Moscow has one big area of comparative advantage: The ability to build and deploy big land-based strategic nuclear weapons systems. Because of our congressional, environmental, budgetary, etc., [Page 946] constraints. The Soviets will continue to be much better at this than we ever will be.

—So it is in our interest to get a handle on this. An unconstrained world would not favor U.S. interests.

—President Reagan’s initial arms reduction proposals were said to be not serious—because he called for radical reductions aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.

—But today the Soviet Union is talking along the lines of the President’s agenda.

—Given the reality of the situation, it is unwise to denounce in sweeping terms past treaties and agreements, even though expired or unratified, and it is equally unwise to argue that we should not seek further agreements. The right kind of treaty constraints with reasonable means of compliance and verification are to our advantage.

—Therefore we should resist domestic pressures to break out of SALT II by exceeding numerical limits at least through 1986. The cost of trading in older systems is low and the Soviets are better positioned to expand their forces than we are.

—And we should devote ourselves for the rest of this year to getting a deal that furthers American interests.

—The deal: In order to get useful offensive strategic reductions along the lines of our START proposal we will have to agree to some kind of a handle on SDI deployment. One approach might be to seek new understandings under the ABM Treaty, clarifying the status of permitted testing and including some near-term understandings on non-deployment. (Perhaps a policy statement that we would not contemplate withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in less than three years from prior notice of intent, or an agreement that the process of reductions would be contingent on continued commitment to the ABM Treaty.) We would also seek INF and nuclear testing components in the deal if possible.

SDI therefore would:

1. Be recognized formally as a continuing research program. This would lock it in as a legacy to the next President, ensuring that he will have the information needed in the 1990’s to make an informed decision whether to proceed with such large-scale defenses.

2. Serve in the meantime—because of its potential deployability—as continuing leverage on the Soviets to remain in compliance and keep strategically significant reductions coming.

—In working out this agreement, we would test the Soviet professions of a new attitude toward verification.

—Our defense modernization and arms control programs work hand in hand. The success to date of our defense program puts us in [Page 947] a stronger position to negotiate our efforts to reach agreement on reductions and continuation of our interim restraint policy enhance public, congressional, and allied support for continuing our defense program in a difficult budgetary environment.

—If by early next year our effort to work out the basic elements of a new agreement for Summit II produces no progress. Then the cost of continued adherence to the current regime could outweigh the benefits. This should be handled so as to maximize our changes for getting things done in a positive way.

End text.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Records, Top Secret/Secret Sensitive Memorandum, Lot 91D257, Eggplant II, Eggplant Travel Kit 1985–1986. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Timbie; cleared by McKinley and Talcott; approved by Timbie. In a meeting with Reagan on May 14, Shultz reiterated the points addressed in this paper. As Shultz recalled in his memoir: “I talked to the president at some length the next day. ‘The Soviets,’ I said, ‘contrary to the Defense Department and the CIA line, are not an omnipotent, omnipresent power gaining ground and threatening to wipe us out. On the contrary, we are winning. In fact, we are miles ahead. Their ideology is a loser. ‘They have one thing going for them: military power,’ I said. ‘But even there they have only one area of genuine comparative advantage—the capacity to develop, produce, and deploy accurate, powerful, mobile land-based ballistic missiles.’ I elaborated on this point, which I had made to President Reagan many times: ‘There’s only one thing the Soviet Union does better than we do: that is to produce and deploy ballistic missiles. And that’s not because they are better at engineering. They’re not. Our political system resists basing ballistic missiles on our own territory. But their ballistic missiles threaten our security directly. Not since we beat the British at the time of our revolution has anything threatened our country like the ballistic missile does. ‘So we must focus on reductions in ballistic missiles,’ I said. ‘Reductions are the name of the game. The only way to achieve reductions is through negotiations. The negotiation of large reductions in strategic missiles is the most important objective for the security of the United States. We have a tremendous amount to gain by bringing the number of strategic missiles down. We must start in 1986.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, p. 716)
  2. Reference is unclear.