231. Note From the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs (Ridgway) to Secretary of State Shultz 1
Gorbachev’s speech yesterday was the latest and most pronounced sign of a Soviet leadership that is feeling beleaguered and inclined to [Page 956] draw inward.2 The formula of the speech was that used by Soviet leaders many times before—an appeal to the Soviet people to pull together in the face of a campaign by their external adversaries to exploit Soviet difficulties. The symptoms are reminiscent of the Soviet mind-set after the KAL shootdown and INF deployments of 1983.
The trend toward defensiveness was evident even before Chernobyl—in their reluctance to engage us at the political level, their implicit attempt to find an alternative to a summit here, their propagandistic arms control schemes, and their complaints about other U.S. actions since Geneva. The result is that the Soviets are rapidly becoming immobilized and unable to climb out of the trap they have built for themselves.
It won’t be easy for us to help them out of this fix, but I think we should try.3 A Soviet Union retreating to its bunkers does not help our interests, either in moving ahead with the agenda set at the Geneva summit, or in dealing over the long haul with our European and Asian allies.
In my view, the situation is ripe for the President to take the initiative and encourage the Soviet Union to reengage. The Soviets have stressed the importance of atmospherics as well substantive results. A statesmanlike speech which recounted the value of last year’s summit and spelled out what could be accomplished at the 1986 and 1987 summits could go far to get the process moving again, on our terms. A Presidential letter to Gorbachev could set the stage for the address. Jack Matlock is on board for this kind of approach.
I have asked my staff to look at the content and tactics of an effort to get things off dead center. I will send you some specific ideas in the next few days.
- Source: Department of State, Ambassador Nitze’s Personal Files 1953, 1972–1989, Lot 90D397, May 1986. Secret; Sensitive; Summit II.↩
- See Document 230. In telegram 8240 from Moscow, May 15, the Embassy reported on Gorbachev’s address on Chernobyl, noting: “Gorbachev praised the heroism of those coping with the problem, fuzzed the timing issue, and thus far at least found no domestic culpability. He kept options open, however, by noting the investigation was incomplete.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860377–0785)↩
- A handwritten note in the right-hand margin, possibly by Nitze, reads: “Why? If we help them they will just stick it to us later—or at least try!”↩
- Ridgway signed “Roz” above her typed signature.↩