238. Telegram From the Delegation to the Nuclear and Space Talks to the Department of State1

5248. Eyes Only for S/S Nick Platt. Subject: Kampelman June 5 Message to Poindexter.

I am sending you for the Secretary a copy of the message I have sent to Poindexter at the NSC (with a copy to Linhart). Please share also with Paul Nitze, Allen Holmes and Roz Ridgway.

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Dear John:

You will recall that during the first two rounds of our negotiations, Bud or you telephoned me weekly to get my judgments on where the Soviets were heading. This pattern stopped as we both realized that the process here would be a long one. Instead, I occasionally met with Bud or gave him a memorandum of my personal observations, and you and I recently had one such lengthy exchange in your office.

In that spirit, I am sending you the following memorandum of my reactions to the most recent developments in Geneva. The newspaper leak was regrettable and has created, in some cases, erroneous impressions. I hope the following summary of my analysis, which I am back-channeling to you, will be helpful. I am sending a copy to Bob Linhart. I will also share this with George Shultz.

Begin text.

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1. On May 29 the Soviets formally presented us with what appeared to be the first substantive change in their position in the Defense and Space negotiating group since the talks began.2 There had been informal soundings in a similar vein since early in the negotiation. Their most recent plenary statement of June 3 has cast some doubt on the significance of their move. But on balance, I continue to believe the move is important. We are still analyzing these recent developments, but I wanted to let you know my own thinking and my thoughts on how we should proceed.

2. There were two parts to the formal Soviet proposal of May 29. First, they called for a commitment—to be embodied in a protocol to the ABM Treaty—not to withdraw from the ABM Treaty for an agreed period of time (i.e., 15–20 years, with indications of some flexibility). Secondly, they proposed that we reach agreement on definitions of terms related to the treaty’s prohibition (in Article V) on the development of space-based ABM systems and components.

3. In return it was suggested, with varying degrees of specificity, that U.S. agreement would open the way to radical reductions. The plenary statement used such a formulation. Two Soviets (one in response to a direct question) said explicitly that acceptance of this new Soviet proposal would make possible fifty percent reductions in strategic offensive forces. You will recall that Karpov had told me much the same thing at lunch the previous week.

4. In our post-plenary discussions the following week, the Soviets were much more evasive about what would be required for radical reductions. While some denied they had ever said strengthening the ABM Treaty would be sufficient to bring these about, Karpov privately reaffirmed it to me.

5. As it stands, the Soviet proposal of May 29 is far from the answer to our dreams. The net effect of the new Soviet-proposed definitions would be to constrain SDI activities even more closely than the “restrictive” interpretation of the ABM Treaty. They differ significantly from those discussed in the ABM Treaty negotiations. In effect, they amount to amendments to the treaty. In addition, the Soviet non-withdrawal proposal would preclude us from going beyond the treaty for that period, even if SDI research demonstrates that effective defenses are feasible.

6. The potential significance of the proposal lay in the implicit hint that a “strengthening” of the ABM Treaty might replace a comprehensive ban on “space-strike” arms as a prerequisite for substantial reductions in offensive arms. This was the implicit indication, too, from [Page 976] my earlier conversation with Karpov. However, the June 3 plenary withdrew whatever hint had been dropped the previous week. The Soviet statement of that date decomposed its longstanding ban on space-strike arms into two components: a ban on space-to-earth weapons and a ban on ASATs. These were lumped together with the May 29 proposal for strengthening the ABM Treaty as the steps necessary to prevent an arms race in space, with only the most desultory reference to reductions.

7. In short, the Soviets have pulled back at least for the formal negotiating record. Several explanations are possible:

—There never was a change in the Soviet position. The May 29 proposal was merely a cleverly packaged feint to reflect Karpov’s May 19 luncheon conversation with me but primarily aimed at the Senate observers group who were here at the time and who quickly seized on it as significant.3 I do not accept this.

—The move was real, but for tactical negotiating reasons the Soviets are trying to shroud it in ambiguity (to prevent our pocketing the move, to oblige us to show interest before they proceed further, to cover their tracks if the move leads nowhere).

—The initial move was real, but Moscow had a change of heart and ordered the pull-back (possibly reflecting broader policy considerations or as a response to the President’s interim restraint decision).4

Only time will tell. Nonetheless, I am inclined to think that the May 29 proposal was significant and that the Soviets have shown us the shape of what they would be willing to accept at an “end game” as the price for substantial reductions. (We should note they did not publicize the May 29 proposals.) There is, of course, a long road still to travel.

8. Leaving aside the larger question of whether the approach outlined by the Soviets could be reconciled with our broader strategic objectives, there is no question that the Soviet proposal as it now stands is not acceptable. The new definitions proposed by the Soviets in their May 29 statement are intolerably restrictive. However, the Soviets, in my opinion, will be flexible on this point at the end game. They do not put down their final positions at this stage of a negotiation. Ten days before tabling this proposal, Karpov told me at lunch that he personally did not disagree with the 1971 Brown statement, which established the distinction between “research” and “development” and [Page 977] which forms the basis for the “restrictive” interpretation of the treaty.5 Similarly, the 15–20 year time-frame is clearly outlandish, contrasts with Kvitsinskiy’s statement to me in the second round of “at least 10 years,” and is not the Soviets’ last word.

9. If the Soviets follow up this ABM Treaty initiative with a more serious approach in START which meets our requirements—and only under this condition—we might in the end be able to find an accommodation, especially if—as my conversations with Senate observers strongly suggested—SDI funding will be significantly below administration requests for some time to come, with an inevitable impact on the pace of the program’s progress.

10. Moreover, as the President has indicated, the United States has a national security interest in hanging on to the ABM Treaty for the near term, provided the Soviets bring their activities into compliance, negotiate seriously toward a 50 percent reduction, and our SDI exploratory activities are allowed to continue. The Soviets have near-term advantages in deployable land-based ABM systems, which, while presumably less effective than the systems under consideration in SDI, could be available much sooner. Also, if an accommodation results in significant START reductions in our interest, the job of defending against nuclear weapons in the future might well be made easier and safer.

11. These are long-term considerations which would come into play only in a situation which does not yet exist, that is, if the Soviets make us a START offer which it is in our interest to accept. We are not there yet, and in my view our task over the short term must be to make clear to the Soviets that we could consider their approach in D&S (not its substance) only if the inducement in START were sufficiently great—and even then not in the specific terms which they have proposed. We also, of course, cannot forget that Krasnoyarsk must be dealt with. In the meantime, however, it is very important not to close the door.

12. My specific thoughts for now are the following:

—We should not reject the Soviet proposal, either publicly or privately. Publicly, we should stick to the line that we are studying the Soviet proposal and avoid characterizing it. Avoiding the presumption of a negative U.S. response—particularly to a reaffirmation of the ABM Treaty—will be especially important to the Congress and in Europe, coming on the heels of the U.S. decision on interim restraint.

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—Privately, we in Geneva should, at least for the remainder of this round, confine ourselves to asking questions and seeking clarification. We should focus on the May 29 proposal, while remaining critically noncommittal on its merits. My existing instructions are adequate for this purpose. I neither need nor want new instructions for now.

—We should continue to press the Soviets on START, as Ron and the START group have been energetically doing. With respect to the proposed strengthening of the ABM Treaty, we should state that the dismantling of Krasnoyarsk and other steps to bring Soviet activities into compliance would do that. A no-withdrawal commitment and new definitions (which we should not hesitate to call amendments) are something which the Soviets want but for which we do not see a need. We should contrast our own treaty-compliant activities with Soviet violations. We should also make clear that it is up to them to demonstrate why the Soviet approach should be in our interest—and to make it worth our while.

—Once again, it will be important to make the START point to our allies and the Congress that there has been no change in the Soviet START position. (The Senate observers were in Geneva when the proposal was made.) The Soviet proposal may well generate the usual pressures on us to show flexibility in response. We need to stress that the Soviets have shown no flexibility on the central issue of fifty-percent reductions and that, even if the May 29 proposal is reaffirmed, unless the Soviets tell us more clearly what they are prepared to offer in START, we would be buying a pig in a poke (and an expensive pig at that).

—Finally, the President may wish to think about an early private communication to Gorbachev designed to keep some momentum going. In addition, some public statement which, in effect, makes points for us with the Congress and allies might also be considered.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, N860006–0230. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 236.
  3. Telegram 5105 from the NST Delegation, June 3, sent a summary report of a congressional delegation, led by Senator Ted Stevens (R–Alaska), from May 28 to 31. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D860428–0532)
  4. See footnotes 2 and 4, Document 236.
  5. Reference is to former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown. His 1971 statement has not been identified, but see footnote 2, Document 147.