284. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Shultz-Shevardnadze Plenary on Arms Control


  • U.S.

    • Secretary Shultz
    • Ambassador Nitze
    • Ambassador Ridgway
    • Ambassador Hartman
    • Ambassador Matlock
    • ASD Richard Perle
    • DAS Tom Simons
    • Robert Linhard, NSC
    • Mark Parris, Director, EUR/SOV
    • Dimitry Zarechnak (Interpreter)
  • U.S.S.R.

    • Foreign Minister Shevardnadze
    • Deputy FM Bessmertnykh
    • Ambassador Dubinin
    • Ambassador Karpov
    • Minister-Counselor Sokolov
    • T.G. Stepanov (Soviet MFA)
    • S.P. Tarasenko (Soviet MFA)
    • V.A. Mikol’chak, Deputy Chief, USA and Canada Division, MFA
    • P.R. Palazhchenko (Interpreter)

The Secretary started by noting that the purpose of the meeting, as he understood it, was to take stock of where the two sides stood in the various areas of the relationship. We should record agreement where it exists and identify differences where it does not. We should discuss those differences, and possibly give our negotiators in whatever forum some help to move forward.

In planning for the meeting, it was the Secretary’s understanding that agreement had been reached to start with arms control. We could then discuss regional issues, humanitarian problems, and bilateral questions, winding up with a Saturday afternoon summation of the discussions.2 If that approach corresponded to the Foreign Minister’s understanding, we might begin the arms control discussion directly.

Shevardnadze accepted the scenario outlined by the Secretary, and agreed that the Secretary should make the initial presentation.


As he and Shevardnadze were meeting on September 19, the final day of the Stockholm CDE conference, the Secretary felt it would be [Page 1141] appropriate to begin there. We understood from our delegation that progress was being made—albeit slowly—in the final hours of the conference. The U.S. believed that a successful conclusion was important. We were working in that spirit, had told our negotiators so, and assumed the Soviets had done the same. It seemed likely that, by the time the present meeting broke up, our negotiators in Stockholm would still be working. So we should keep track of their progress, and be in a position to give them an impulse as necessary.

Shevardnadze felt it was “proper” to begin the conversation with a negotiation where positive results seemed about to emerge. The Stockholm conference was an example of both sides wanting to make progress and cooperating in a manner to make it possible. This was true not just for the Soviet and American delegations, but between the countries of NATO and the Warsaw Pact in general. While Shevardnadze’s information was probably not as “fresh” as the Secretary’s, as of the day before Shevardnadze had felt there was reason for hope that the conference could end with positive results. If so, it would be because our two delegations had played some role. The two heads of delegation had maintained businesslike relations; this had been important, especially in the concluding stages of the conference.

On a more general plane, Shevardnadze continued, the negotiation was a complex one of fundamental importance. It could end with a positive result, opening up possibilities for expanded cooperation in European security and for the development of the CSCE process. Stockholm could lay a good groundwork for the Vienna Review Conference, and for success in that subsequent meeting. The Soviet Union attached importance to the Vienna meeting; of that there should be no mistake.

As for the Stockholm meeting, it had proven that countries from different political/military organizations could find sufficient common ground to enhance European security. The complexity of the areas under discussion, whether having to do with arms control, inspections, or other issues, had not prevented this. Thus, one could be optimistic with respect to the ultimate result, if all went according to plan. A successful outcome was possible “if nothing snaps today or tomorrow.”

The Secretary ran through the outstanding issues, as he understood them, recognizing that it was not up to him and the Foreign Minister to act as negotiators.

On verification, we felt strongly that the levels the Soviet side was insisting upon were too high. They would exclude important exercises. A level of 14,000 for notification and 18,000 for observation was too high. We believed that a 10,000 man level for notification, and a 15,000 level for observers would make agreement meaningful.

On inspection, we had been forthcoming on the nationality of aircraft. For observer missions to be meaningful, however, the observ[Page 1142]ing side needed to have its own cameras and navigation equipment. The observing side needed to have someone on the flight deck with communications with inspectors on the ground. There needed to be communications with people on the ground. There had to be a choice between various modes of inspection: helicopters, fixed wing aircraft. And there had to be a provision for inspection within thirty-six hours of a challenge. Acceptance of these modalities would give the concept of inspection meaning. We also wanted the inspected state to have the choice of being inspected by either its own equipment or by equipment of a third, neutral state.

In short, the Secretary concluded, we felt we had taken some significant steps. We hoped it would be possible to come to grips with the remaining, important details and finish the matter in Stockholm.

Shevardnadze commented in responding that the situation the Secretary had described struck him as having already been overtaken by events. Verification thresholds, for example, had been discussed the day before (September 18). The Soviet position had been accepted, Shevardnadze believed, by most countries in the conference, especially the neutrals and non-aligned. With respect to inspections, the discussion had similarly concluded, or was about to conclude—at least on the main issues. The question of third-country aircraft was an “artificial” complication. Most countries at the conference shared the Soviet view that use of inspected countries’ aircraft was the most practical approach to the problem. Any other created thousands of technical complications. As to the question of ground inspections, Shevardnadze did not think the problems involved could not be resolved.

Thus, the Foreign Minister was encouraged by the information available to him. As to the question of which side had been most forthcoming in presenting compromise proposals, it would be better not to begin a debate. Shevardnadze would only note that there was not a single issue on which the Soviets had not introduced new proposals—compromise proposals. This had been particularly difficult for Moscow on the question of opening up its territory for inspection. This was easy for the United States, whose territory would be excluded. Shevardnadze acknowledged the Secretary’s interjection that the U.S. could not be indifferent to inspection of the territory of its allies, on some of which U.S. forces were based. Shevardnadze insisted, however, that this was “not the same thing” as opening up one’s own territory for inspection. This had been a significant decision for Moscow.

Overall, therefore, while it was still impossible to tell what would happen during the day in Stockholm, Shevardnadze said he believed the conference there had resulted in businesslike treatment of some complex questions. There was a chance to end with positive results. He emphasized that our two delegations had cooperated well in pursuit of this end.

[Page 1143]

The Secretary suggested that he and the Foreign Minister get an update on progress in Stockholm after the current session. They might want to give their respective delegations a push to help get things settled.

Shevardnadze noted the Secretary’s earlier remark that the U.S. was giving its delegation instructions to work for a constructive outcome in Stockholm. The Soviets, for their part, were doing so several times a day. The two sides should work for the logical completion of some very substantial, very important work. Unfortunately, there were too few fora of which this could be said. Surveying the reactions on the U.S. side of the table, Shevardnadze remarked jocularly that Amb. Nitze did not seem to agree.


Turning from the Stockholm conference, the Secretary indicated he would like to start an expanded discussion of arms control issues with START. This was a logical departure point since both sides had agreed in Geneva and in subsequent exchanges on the importance of radical reductions in offensive strategic arms. This was a field, moreover, in which the two sides had many years of experience. We understood the issues well. Now was the time to take practical steps.

The Secretary said the U.S. had noted the steps suggested by the Soviet experts two weeks earlier, and said he was certain the Soviet side had a report of the new proposal Ambassador Lehman had made in Geneva yesterday. The Secretary said his remarks would be based on the summer discussions, because from what was being said by the Soviets in Geneva, it seemed as if the summer discussions had never taken place.

The Secretary recalled that 18 months ago when the Nuclear and Space Talks had begun, the Soviet side had been talking about strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (SNDVs) and “charges,” whereas the U.S. had been talking about warheads and throwweight, and there was very little common ground. We had come a long way, to the point where we are closing in on a substantial START agreement. He noted that this was no small achievement, to which both sides have contributed. Our job was to accelerate this process.

The heart of the matter, the Secretary continued, was the constraint on ballistic missile warheads. These represented the majority of strategic weapons on both sides, the primary threat to stability. If we are to reduce substantially, and do so in a manner which enhances stability, we must focus on missile warheads.

The Secretary recalled that, at the Geneva summit, our leaders had agreed to the concept of 50% reductions. The U.S. had proposed a level of 4500 ballistic missile warheads, roughly half the current number on both sides.

[Page 1144]

The Secretary noted that the Soviet experts had made a suggestion that would in effect place a ceiling of 6400–6800 on ballistic missile warheads. He acknowledged that Soviet recognition of the need for constraints on this category of weapons was a constructive step, but, he said, 6400 was too high.

In response to the proposal the Soviet side had made at the last round in Geneva, the President made clear in his letter to Gorbachev that he is prepared to consider reductions less sweeping than 50%, as a step toward 50% and below. In particular, the U.S. can accept in this context a limit of 5500 ballistic missile warheads.

The Secretary said that if the two sides could agree on this ceiling on ballistic missile warheads, we could then build the basic elements of an agreement around this core. There should be sublimits to deal with special concerns, such as warheads on heavy ICBMs and heavily MIRVed ICBMs because they pose the greatest threat to stability.

The Secretary said missile throwweight should also be reduced; 50% is a figure that both sides have used. Throwweight in a sense measures the potential number of warheads, so it makes sense to reduce throwweight in a predictable way as we reduce warheads.

The Secretary noted that the Soviets had for some time made a major issue of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). He went on to say that the U.S. did not accept the Soviet contention that these missiles are particularly troublesome. They take hours to reach their targets, and are good primarily for retaliation and deterrence. The U.S. deploys them only because Soviet air defenses threaten the ability of our bombers to reach their targets. The U.S. is not impressed with the Soviet arguments.

But, as part of a package sharply reducing ballistic missile warheads, the Secretary said, we are prepared to constrain ALCMs.

So in the context of agreement on 5500 ballistic missile warheads and the sublimits Amb. Lehman proposed yesterday in Geneva, the Secretary said we had suggested an aggregate ceiling of 7500 ballistic missile warheads and ALCMs. This is a major step the U.S. was prepared to take to meet Soviet concerns.

Secretary Shultz recalled that past Soviet proposals had dealt with “nuclear charges”, which introduces two additional elements, bomber weapons and SLCMs. Again, bombers take hours to reach their targets, so they do not pose the counter-force first-strike threat of ballistic missile warheads, and they face vast, unconstrained air defenses, which are being modernized. It makes no sense to equate bomber weapons with ballistic missile warheads. But, he said, in the context of reductions along the lines discussed here, the U.S. could consider a limit on the number of bombers. As a practical matter, this would bound the number of bomber weapons which can usefully be carried.

[Page 1145]

So, the Secretary observed, we are putting together the structure of an agreement that meets both sides’ concerns. In the context of the limits and sublimits the U.S. proposes on warheads, we could accept the Soviet-proposed aggregate ceiling of 1600 on ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers. This could be the basis of a significant agreement to reduce offensive forces and enhance the stability of the strategic balance.

The Secretary said that if the two sides could work out such a tremendous achievement, it should not be held hostage to progress in other areas.

The U.S. side was prepared for intensive work in the coming weeks to produce an agreed package along lines of those basic elements. We would still have much to do. But an agreement along these lines would be major step forward. The Soviet side could also contribute with a prompt and positive response to the U.S. proposal in Geneva.

Summarizing, the Secretary said these were our ideas and suggestions on how to resolve the difficulties. He said he would be interested in the Soviet side’s reactions.

Shevardnadze prefaced his response by observing that he would start “from the other end of the question.” The proper point of departure, he thought, was the “well-known statement” the Secretary and former Foreign Minister Gromyko had agreed to in January, 1985, and the joint statement issued by the President and General Secretary Gorbachev in Geneva. These important documents had emphasized the idea that the various components—space, strategic offensive arms, and medium-range nuclear weapons—constituted a single “complex,” a whole. The current task was to prevent an arms race in space and to end unrestrained competition in nuclear arms on earth. The two concepts could not be separated.

It was the Soviet impression that the U.S. sought to pull out individual elements from the complex. The U.S. claimed, for example, that Soviet ICBMs were the most destabilizing factor in the equation. In fact, the most destabilizing factor was the U.S. program to develop “space-strike weapons”—the so-called SDI.

But the Secretary, Shevardnadze continued, was an experienced man. He knew the record. If one looked back to the seventies, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. had been moving toward agreement on arms limitation. There had been many differences, many complaints, but many questions had been resolved. There had been concrete agreements: the SALT I interim agreement; the ABM Treaty; the SALT II accord; agreement to ban nuclear testing in three spheres. Thus there was progress not only toward limiting nuclear armaments, but toward their reduction.

A problem arose, however, with the decision of the U.S. to implement a system of ballistic missile defense. This had become the most [Page 1146] destabilizing factor in the relationship. Admitting that he might be wrong, Shevardnadze opined that the most important task for the moment seemed to him to be how to deal with the ABM Treaty. Gorbachev’s letter to the President (NOTE: he did not specify which one) mentioned this problem. It had been raised before by the General Secretary in Geneva and in subsequent correspondence with the President. Strengthening the ABM regime was the most important question facing us.

Shevardnadze did not mean to say that there were no glimmers of light. The President’s most recent letter had spoken of a certain timetable with respect to an obligation not to withdraw from the Treaty. Moscow saw the context of such an obligation differently from Washington. The U.S. seemed to want a timetable to weaken gradually that obligation; the Soviets wanted to strengthen it.

The President’s inclusion of a timetable was nonetheless a positive element. The President had spoken in terms of seven and a half years; Karpov had presented in Geneva a Soviet proposal for fifteen to twenty years. The letter Shevardnadze had given the President earlier in the day had referred to a pledge not to withdraw from the Treaty for “up to fifteen years.”3 This should provide a basis for the two delegations to look for a mutually acceptable solution.

If it were possible to agree on measures to strengthen the ABM Treaty, Shevardnadze continued, it would be possible to deal with the question of reducing and moving toward elimination of offensive weapons, including ballistic missiles. To a degree, the Soviet side saw this as a “precondition”—a “demand.” In the absence of measures to strengthen the Treaty, any discussion of limiting offensive armaments such as ballistic missiles was simply not realistic. This was not caprice on the Soviets’ part; their security demands it. They would not allow the U.S. to implement its “star wars plan.” That was the first general point Shevardnadze wanted to make.

The second would be no surprise: the Soviet Union was categorically against the testing and deployment of space strike weapons. One could use different terminology to describe such systems: space strike weapons; weapons of mass destruction in space, etc. They amounted to the same thing.

The Soviets had made serious compromise proposals in Geneva in this regard, Shevardnadze said. Within the confines of laboratories, work on all aspects of ballistic missile defense—including space-based systems—might proceed. Laboratory work would not be limited. The [Page 1147] U.S. used to complain that the Russians wanted to stop basic research. This argument could no longer be used.

The Soviets had noted what might be an important formulation in the President’s July 25 letter: that the U.S. would be prepared to examine the question of banning—non-development and non-deployment—in space of weapons of mass destruction for use against targets on earth. Soviet experts had sought in discussions over the summer with their American counterparts to determine the significance of this language, to see if there was anything in common between the language of the President’s letter and Soviet proposals. There had been no definitive answer. If, however, there were something in common between the President’s formulation and the Soviet view of space strike weapons, it would create favorable conditions to move forward, Shevardnadze said.

Soviet experts during the two summer sessions had also proposed an effort to define the line between permitted and prohibited activities under the ABM Treaty with respect to ballistic missile defense components. There appeared to be fundamental differences in the two sides’ positions on this issue. The Soviets would therefore like to have special groups work on this question: what is permitted; what is banned?

The Secretary asked Shevardnadze to repeat precisely what the Soviet side was proposing be examined.

Shevardnadze said the subject would be “work on components of ballistic missile defense: what would be permitted; what would be banned in the framework of the ABM Treaty.” The Secretary thanked Shevardnadze for the clarification.

Shevardnadze continued that this was a complex but fundamental question. But without solving it, we could not talk about limiting offensive nuclear weapons. The important thing, he emphasized, was to strengthen the ABM Treaty regime.

With respect to the proposals the U.S. had just made in Geneva on START, it would be relatively easy for our delegations to find common ground—even on the problem of ballistic missiles—if it were possible to clarify the main questions he had just mentioned. There were, of course, differences in a number of areas on the offensive side: SLCMs were a problem; the percentage by which nuclear weapons would be reduced was another. Shevardnadze did not rule out that the new U.S. proposals contained positive elements (although he had not detected any particular enthusiasm from Karpov upon being briefed about them). They certainly deserved careful study. But the main task was to clarify the fundamental issues Shevardnadze had addressed. Outer space and the ABM Treaty is the cornerstone, and we need it first. He did not think that fifty or a hundred warheads one way or the other was so important. These kinds of questions could be [Page 1148] dealt with by our negotiators if they had straightforward instructions. We had proved this in Geneva, when, although work had gone on past 1:00, problems which appeared no less difficult had been dealt with once our representatives received instructions to produce results. Shevardnadze invited Karpov to elaborate on his remarks.

The Secretary remarked that it was easier for the Foreign Minister than for Karpov to be flexible. Karpov was very tough.

Shevardnadze cracked that this may be the first time the Secretary had been exposed to Karpov in the flesh. Shevardnadze was seeing Nitze for the fourth time. Nitze also didn’t give ground easily.

The Secretary pointed out that he had met Karpov in Geneva. This was the first time, however, he had seen him smile.

Shevardnadze admitted that Karpov might have his “sins,” but felt they were no more than Nitze’s.

The Secretary asked to comment on Shevardnadze’s remarks, which he welcomed. He hoped that Shevardnadze’s reference to “fifty or a hundred missiles” meant that, under the right circumstances, Moscow might be able to accept the new situation outlined in the START proposal we had just made. Whether one linked something with something else or not, it was important to see what progress might be made. Karpov would recall that, in January 1985, the Secretary and Gromyko had left the linkage question to be dealt with when there was agreement on something. We were proceeding in this spirit. What the Secretary wanted to do for the moment, however, was to step back from the details and make a more general statement. The Secretary hoped to give Shevardnadze some sense of the President’s thinking in his July 25 letter on how to integrate reductions in offensive ballistic missiles with strategic defense.

The Secretary said the President had listened to the concerns the Soviets had expressed about the U.S. SDI program and had sought to take them into account in his proposal of July 25 to General Secretary Gorbachev. The Secretary wanted to explain the underlying concept behind the President’s proposal and why he believes it offers a constructive way forward that would enhance the stability of our strategic relationship in a manner that would leave both sides more secure at every stage, while diminishing the burden we are both assuming in the continuous modernization and expansion of strategic offensive missile forces.

The Secretary went on to say that the President’s proposal entails careful management of a transition to force structures in which there is a stabilizing balance between offensive and defensive weapons. It would in fact lead to the total elimination of offensive ballistic missiles. It would accommodate Soviet concerns, as expressed. It would carry [Page 1149] forward a process in which each new stage would be safer and more stable than the one that preceded it, beginning now.

The Secretary noted that Soviet concerns appeared to fall into two categories.

First, the Soviet side had suggested that our defenses might be used offensively to attack targets on Soviet territory. The Secretary assured Shevardnadze that they are not being developed for that purpose. If our program were aimed at the development of space weapons of an offensive nature we would be foolish to divert considerable technical and financial resources away from such a development to work in defensive systems. Nothing now limits our freedom to develop offensive weapons in space except the Outer Space Treaty; and that only applies to weapons of mass destruction. So why would we develop sensing, tracking, battle-management, computer and lethal devices competent for defensive purposes if our requirement were for offensive purposes? Such an approach would be so inefficient that the U.S. was puzzled as to what offensive systems the Soviet side had in mind when it expressed the concern that SDI could be used for offensive purposes. The Secretary said he had heard the argument that the SDI program would inevitably lead to the development of broad areas of technology that will be found to have offensive applications. But the quickest, surest and most effective way to develop offensive technology is to do so directly. Counting on offensive spin-offs from a defensive program makes no sense.

Second, the Secretary recalled the Soviet suggestion that the U.S. might launch a first strike against the Soviet Union and use its defenses to defeat a Soviet retaliatory strike. Mr. Gorbachev had also said this in Geneva. This is just another way of saying that certain force configurations made up of both offensive and defensive systems could be used in combination to defeat an opposing deterrent force. That is not the U.S. objective. The Secretary noted, however, that Soviet concern on this point had led the President to propose that we sign a treaty now that would lead to the elimination of all offensive ballistic missiles. If neither side had offensive ballistic missiles then defensive weapons would have no targets. They would add nothing to our ability to defeat the Soviet deterrent, or the Soviet ability to defeat ours, both of which would be made up of other, more stable weapons. The defenses the U.S. would possess under the President’s proposal would reinforce the stability that we would have achieved by the elimination of offensive ballistic missiles. And they would protect both sides against cheating or the ballistic missiles of third countries.

This, the Secretary said, was the strategic logic of the President’s proposal: eliminate the offensive missiles and render the defensive ones irrelevant to the strategic balance between us. The issue of a [Page 1150] combination of offensive and defensive forces giving one side or the other an advantage would not arise. We would both have eliminated those weapons which can strike in a matter of minutes and which cannot be recalled. We would have ended once and for all the instability that results from fears of a disarming missile strike. And we will have relieved both sides of the need constantly to improve and enlarge its missile forces to keep pace with developments on the other side. At present the U.S. is driven to respond to each improvement in the Soviet missile forces with new and improved offensive systems on our side. And perhaps the Soviet side is driven similarly.

What the U.S. is seeking, the Secretary said, is the replacement of offensive ballistic missiles with defensive ones in a phased manner that provides greater stability at each stage in the disarmament process. And we are prepared to go so far as sharing the fruits of our defensive research in conjunction with the elimination of ballistic missiles by agreeing now to a Treaty that would provide for both sides of the equation: elimination of offensive ballistic missiles and their substitution with defensive weapons. When we started discussions of this within the U.S. Government, the implications for substance were seen as of such importance that those present took their breath in a couple of times. This is a bold initiative, quite parallel to the General Secretary’s January 15 program for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

The Secretary pointed out that, obviously, if the two sides agreed to the elimination of all offensive ballistic missiles, the level of defenses required to sustain the stability of the greatly altered strategic relationship that would then exist would be relatively modest. As the third country threat would likely be small—perhaps it too, could be negotiated away—and the insurance needed to give both sides security against it, or against cheating, would also be small, we would not need massive strategic defenses. Thus, the nature and scope of the defenses would look very different than if we are deploying defenses in the face of massive missile forces of the sort that exist today.

Equally obvious, the Secretary said, would be the need to curtail significantly those other strategic weapons, bombers and cruise missiles, on which we would rely for deterrence. In a sense we would be returning to the situation that existed before the rise of ballistic missiles, in large numbers, as the central elements of our strategic forces.

The Secretary pointed out that neither bombers nor cruise missiles are suitable for surprise attack. Deterrent forces based on these weapons would be far more stable than the current situation in which the technical possibility of instantaneous launching of ballistic missiles causes such understandable concern.

The Secretary said he was reminded of Gorbachev’s declaring to the President that there was a great pile of strategic missiles that needed to be eliminated. The President had now responded.

[Page 1151]

The Secretary noted that important issues of timing and phasing needed to be considered. The Foreign Minister had mentioned them in his presentation. The Secretary assured Shevardnadze that the principle on which we would engage on those issues would be an equitable search for stability at every stage.

In conclusion, the Secretary said he realized this was a bold step that would require much new thinking and serious negotiation.

The Secretary apologized for speaking at such length, but the problems he had been discussing were central. He had sought to give some sense of how the President’s proposal in a single breath incorporated Soviet suggestions for elimination of nuclear weapons, as well as the linkage between offense and defense. We would reflect on the concrete statements the Foreign Minister had made. Finally, we would welcome any comments he might have on the new ideas we had outlined for the START negotiations, although, from what Shevardnadze had said earlier, there may be none.

Shevardnadze responded that the Soviets would have to think over the new American Geneva proposals before giving any evaluation. He appreciated the detailed explanation the Secretary had provided of U.S. positions. All the material on our most recent proposals would be carefully studied, especially that which had emerged from the Moscow and Washington meetings of U.S.-Soviet arms control experts over the summer. Shevardnadze had read the statements made by all the U.S. representatives—and especially those by Mr. Perle—with great attention.4

The Secretary speculated that the reason for that was that, if Perle agreed, anyone would agree. Shevardnadze replied that Perle was well known to be an expert in his field. He had also spoken in Moscow in conceptual terms, which the Foreign Minister had found interesting. The Secretary said that he had asked Perle to participate in today’s meeting as a means of illustrating that, despite so many reports of arguments within the Administration, we had assembled a unified delegation. And besides, if Perle disagrees with anything the Secretary said, the Secretary would knock his head off.

Shevardnadze said his own reference to Perle did not mean that he found the remarks of any of the other members of the U.S. team which had visited Moscow—Amb. Nitze, for instance—less interesting. But he had asked his experts to comment on what Perle had said there. Karpov had confirmed that Perle’s remarks were not something that had been said before. The Foreign Minister at the time had suggested in reply that perhaps the Soviets had fallen a little behind. Maybe there [Page 1152] was something reasonable here. It would be important to retain a positive attitude. After all, in such matters, we were responsible not just to our own generation, but to the next, to the generations of the next century. This was a crucial time.

Shevardnadze continued that he did not rule out that the President believes that SDI can save the U.S., perhaps even the world. But, on the other hand, one had to look at the facts. These inescapably led to the conclusion that SDI had become the most destabilizing factor in the strategic equation.

Thus, when the U.S. spoke of developing a “modest” ballistic missile defense system, the scope of the effort, the resources being invested, one had to conclude that, no matter how one might try to see the program as innocent, it meant the right to strike first with impunity. The debate on SDI among America’s allies and among its own scientists testified to this. The problem came down to this: it was impossible to predict the future; the development of a system such as SDI could ultimately not be controlled. This could lead to a catastrophe.

Shevardnadze noted that the Secretary had said the President’s letter had responded to some of Gorbachev’s concerns. But what did the President’s letter say? Over a five-year period the two sides would do research, development and “testing.” Then they would test. Then there would be negotiation. Then either of the two sides would be free to deploy. That was all. These facts nullified the assurances the Secretary had given about the innocent nature of SDI.

The Secretary interjected that it was hard to see how defensive systems could be used for a first strike if ballistic missiles had been eliminated, as the President had called for. What would be left was the need for an insurance policy to deal with slow systems. But if one could get rid of ballistic missiles, the world would be a safer place. It frankly took the Secretary’s breath away to consider giving up, for example, our SLBMs, which we had always considered essential to our defense. Yet that is what the President had proposed.

Shevardnadze, allowing that he might be looking at the problem from too simple a vantage point, said he still did not understand why defensive systems were necessary. It seemed to him that, if one were serious, one would abandon any attempt to develop such systems. Instead, one could eliminate all offensive nuclear weapons—long and medium range—as the Soviets had proposed in January. There would be no need for defensive systems if there were no offensive systems. If one did not believe it was realistic to eliminate offensive systems, that was a different matter. But the Soviets had put forward a program for the abolition of offensive systems, taking fully into account the interests of both countries. Shevardnadze doubted the seriousness of alternative approaches.

[Page 1153]

On a broader scale, Shevardnadze continued, the U.S. appeared to be trying to eliminate any constraints on armaments. It was not important whether constraints were good or bad; the U.S. wanted to remove them, building both offensive and defensive weapons.

Shevardnadze did not question the Secretary’s sincerity, but things sometimes changed. George Shultz was meeting with the Soviet Foreign Minister today; but George Shultz could be replaced. Someone with different views, different ideas might take his place. It was not enough just to have someone’s word. The President’s letter, for example, had indicated that in seven and a half years a decision to deploy would be made. But even if the Soviets agreed to scrap all offensive weapons during that time frame, it would be physically impossible.

The Secretary observed that, with all due respect for both the Foreign Minister and himself, matters such as these could not be handled on the basis of sincerity. As for restraints, the Secretary read from the President’s May 27 statement to make clear what the U.S. had in mind:

“As we modernize we will continue to retire older forces as our national security requirements permit. I do not anticipate any appreciable numerical growth in U.S. strategic forces. Assuming no significant change in the threat we face, as we implement the strategic modernization program, the United States will not deploy more strategic nuclear delivery vehicles than does the Soviet Union. Furthermore, the United States will not deploy more strategic ballistic missile warheads than does the Soviet Union.”5

In short, we were prepared to be constrained by whatever the Soviet Union did.

Shevardnadze might have a more legitimate concern with respect to the possibility of a turnover of personnel in this country in the next five years. That was why the President was willing to negotiate a treaty now, while he was in office, to commit us in the future to eliminate ballistic missiles.

With respect to the Foreign Minister’s comments on achieving the goal of total elimination of offensive nuclear weapons, all the Secretary could say was, “let’s go.” We had called for the elimination of a whole class of such weaponry—LRINF. The Soviets had since proposed similar steps. We had proposed more radical reductions in START. If the Soviets wanted to move even faster, we were ready. But there was no doubt that ballistic missiles were destabilizing and had to be dealt with.

[Page 1154]

The Secretary recalled how he had said to Bessmertnykh, during the latter’s July visit, that we should be sobered by the Chernobyl accident.6 Leaving aside blast effects, the secondary effects of a single nuclear warhead would at least be comparable to those of Chernobyl, and perhaps more significant by one or two orders of magnitude. So the President’s idea of eliminating ballistic missiles should be taken seriously. As the Secretary looked at the levels which the two sides had proposed for reductions of strategic offensive weapons, of LRINF, of SRINF, the U.S. figures were lower. We would be delighted if Moscow wanted to leap-frog our proposals and suggest even lower levels.

In the meantime, an insurance policy would be needed: both for an end game if we were successful in drastically reducing offensive forces; and because of the formidable size and capabilities of the current Soviet missile force. The more the Soviets were ready to talk about drastic reductions of missile forces, the more they would find us ready.

Shevardnadze noted that the U.S. was very concerned about Soviet ICBMs. For their part, they did not distinguish between our ICBMs and U.S. LRINF in Europe, which could strike the Soviet Union. All were strategic as seen from Moscow.

But the President’s letter had said that defensive systems were necessary to deal with third countries which might launch a nuclear attack. The Soviets agreed there should be an insurance policy, but if we were serious about having no nuclear arms, we need an international control regime, as with chemical or biological weapons. The Soviets took this problem seriously. Some means of verification would be necessary to ensure that no state was capable of launching such an attack.

The Secretary said we agreed. This was a consideration in our common interest in NPT and ability over the years to work effectively in this field, despite our differences. Implementation of a program such as the President had proposed would strengthen our common position vis-a-vis countries which had resisted accepting the NPT regime on grounds that it deprived them of a sovereign right. It would also help to make possible implementation of the Soviet January proposal to abolish nuclear weapons once and for all. We were in complete accord that we needed to set up an assured regime with strong verification.

Shevardnadze, noting that the conversation was a free-wheeling, conceptual one, speculated that it would be possible to: (a) foreswear a ballistic missile defense; (b) eliminate nuclear weapons; and (c) develop a cooperative system which would rule out the emergence of any threat from third countries. This was a realistic approach. Shevard[Page 1155]nadze agreed that some countries had not adhered to the NPT due to the possession by other countries of nuclear weapons. If nuclear weapons were abolished, it would strengthen the NPT regime.

Shevardnadze emphasized Moscow was not calling for an end to research. Laboratory work, even the development of mock-ups, could go on as insurance against the contingency that a madman might some day appear. The potential to deal with such an eventuality would remain. Like the U.S., the Soviets were thinking in terms of the end of this century.

So what did the Soviets propose? They felt it would be possible for our delegations in Geneva to move in a number of areas.

—First, they should seek to bring our positions closer together on the obligation not to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

—Second, with respect to space-based weapons. Shevardnadze noted that the Soviet term was “space-strike weapons”; the President’s letter had referred to “weapons of mass destruction in space which might be used against targets on earth.” Would the U.S. sign an agreement to ban offensive weapons from space? If so, we might look at the possibility.

—Third, with respect to strategic offensive arms, a compromise approach seemed to be emerging. The Soviets would like to see more ideas from the U.S. It looked to Shevardnadze as if 30% was the most realistic figure for the moment in terms of reductions, although 50% could be considered.

Shevardnadze felt that, if our delegations were given clear instructions, they could search for agreements in these areas. He was not for the moment referring to INF, but he was prepared to. Or perhaps the Secretary would prefer to go first.

The Secretary said he would be glad to, but wanted first to make a few points. With respect to space-based systems which could inflict mass destruction upon earth targets, both sides were party to an agreement in this area. We would be prepared to explore further the questions posed by such weapons.

Shevardnadze interrupted to note that the most important thing was an agreement on all aspects of the ABM Treaty.

The Secretary called Shevardnadze’s attention to that portion of the President’s letter in which he called for an initial five-year period in which research, development and “testing, which is permitted by the ABM Treaty.” We had noted Shevardnadze’s comment that the Treaty might be extended for “up to” fifteen years and would think about it. For our part, we hoped the Soviets would consider the deep meaning of the President’s proposals, and especially how closely they relate to the objectives Shevardnadze and the General Secretary had stated.

[Page 1156]

Shevardnadze recalled that the Secretary had referred to the President’s May 27 statement. Shevardnadze had read that statement carefully and with respect. Shevardnadze believed that the President had spoken with authority and for the whole Administration. But no statement could substitute for an agreement. For this reason, the May decision had been a severe and—especially after the Geneva summit—an unexpected blow, a powerful and unjustified blow. Regardless of how it might be described, regardless of what one might say about abiding by it in the future, the President’s statement was only a statement. It could not be compared to a treaty, which has the force of law. It affects U.S. statements about the ABM Treaty.

The Secretary observed that, from the U.S. vantage point, the Soviets were currently in violation of SALT II, while we were in conformity. It was not possible to observe treaties which the other side was not observing, no matter how much we might like to. The Secretary did not want to get onto a side track in making the point, but he wanted Shevardnadze to understand our thinking on the matter. The Secretary invited some of his arms control advisors to comment, as time was running short.

Shevardnadze interrupted Amb. Nitze’s attempt to speak by indicating he would like to address the violation question. Shevardnadze could understand why those who wanted to continue to build weapons, or propagandists, would speak of Soviet violations of arms control agreements. He did not believe it was justified for the Secretary to do so. The Secretary knew there was a specialized body of experts (the SCC) capable of addressing possible violations and establishing where the truth lay.

But even if it were determined that one side had committed a violation, the important thing was for that violation to be corrected. In this regard, the U.S. had claimed that the radar being constructed in Krasnoyarsk—which the Soviets had said was for space-tracking purposes—was a violation. The Soviets had said that, if the U.S. really believed this, the Soviets cared most about their relations with the U.S., about the confidence and trust necessary to the relationship. In this context, the Soviets had expressed a willingness to halt construction on the Krasnoyarsk radar, and put it in mothballs, if the U.S. were prepared to do the same with the radar it was building in Thule, Greenland. The Soviets had made this proposal several times, and were prepared to renew their offer today, if it would remove suspicion on the U.S. side. It would be good if the President and General Secretary could agree to remove areas of concern.

The Secretary remarked that he was glad to hear this, and could accept half of the Soviet offer. The problem, he continued, was that the Krasnoyarsk radar was a new installation. We could not judge its [Page 1157] use until it began operation. It was identical to radars used for ABM purposes elsewhere in the U.S.S.R. And the ABM Treaty explicitly required that radars used for ABM be on the periphery of the parties’ territory. Thus, Krasnoyarsk was a clear violation of the Treaty.

Thule, on the other hand, was operational when the ABM Treaty was signed. The Treaty explicitly allowed modernization of such facilities. That was what we were doing at Thule. So there was no violation.

But the Secretary was glad that Shevardnadze had responded. As we discussed new things in the arms control field, we could not lose sight of the importance of the need to verify any commitments, or what it might mean if compliance was not honored. Nothing threatened prospects for arms control more than the sense that agreements signed in the past had failed to work as envisaged. We need to build in a very strong verification regime.

Shevardnadze observed that, during his first meetings with the Secretary, when the Secretary had made a point, Shevardnadze had not been able to argue. That was no longer the case.

What the U.S. had had in Thule when the ABM Treaty was signed was different from what it had there now. It was not the foundations of the site, but its function and capabilities which were important. Thule’s current function and capabilities were incompatible with the ABM Treaty.

But the more important point was that, where suspicions exist, they should be removed. It had not been an easy thing for the Soviets to decide to offer up the Krasnoyarsk radar. A substantial investment had been made there. Karpov could attest to the vigor of the debate. But, Shevardnadze emphasized, mutual trust had to be assured on these matters.

The Secretary recalled a sign he had often seen in small business establishments throughout the U.S.: “In God we trust. For all others, cash.” We want trust but need cash with respect to arms control verification. Noting that time was running out, the Secretary asked Amb. Nitze if he had any comments.

Amb. Nitze disputed Shevardnadze’s characterization of the SCC. The body had never been conceived as an impartial board. Its members reflected the views of their governments. Moreover, we had repeatedly raised the Krasnoyarsk radar in the SCC. We had never been given a satisfactory answer to the questions we posed. Thus it was incorrect to suggest that the SCC could serve as a mechanism for resolving questions of this type. Nitze’s second point addressed the function of the Thule radar. At the time the ABM Treaty was negotiated, he pointed out, Thule’s function was recognized to be early warning. That had not changed. Thule’s capabilities had certainly been improved, but [Page 1158] such improvements were provided for by the modernization permitted by the Treaty.

Asst. Sec. Perle added that the main problem with the Krasnoyarsk radar was that it was identical to radars the Soviets admit are being used for ballistic missile defense under the ABM Treaty. A second problem was that Krasnoyarsk’s technical characteristics, its angle of inclination, for example, were not only incompatible with a tracking mission, but were different from radars the Soviets used for tracking. Moreover, there had been no Soviet objection to Thule until after we raised the Krasnoyarsk radar. Our efforts in the SCC and elsewhere to get satisfactory answers on these points had proved futile. Perle noted that there was no disagreement on the points he had made among scientific opinion in the West.

With respect to the Soviet proposal for a trade-off of Krasnoyarsk for Thule, Perle noted that work to improve Thule was only beginning. Krasnoyarsk, on the other hand, had been under construction for some time; so far as mothballing was concerned, Krasnoyarsk was externally complete and could be turned on at anytime. We had examined the installation from the standpoint of every possible explanation of its role and location. The only argument that made any sense was that it was designed for ballistic missile defense.

Shevardnadze interrupted to note that the Soviets had made their proposal in order to enhance trust. If the U.S. was not willing to accept a trade, they could wait until Krasnoyarsk became operational. Then it would be clear that the radar was not for ABM purposes. What Perle wanted was for the issue not to be resolved.

Perle replied that that was incorrect. He pointed out that the Soviets could help resolve our questions on such issues as Krasnoyarsk’s angle of inclination if it were prepared to provide sufficient information. We would welcome a fuller description and not having to wait to see the radar on the air. We had not, however, obtained the quality of information we needed through the SCC. We certainly would like to have a more useful conversation on these kinds of issues. Perhaps special technical groups could be created for this purpose.

Shevardnadze replied that the U.S., for its part, could not prove that Krasnoyarsk could not be used for space tracking. But if the U.S. was not getting sufficiently authoritative responses in the SCC, why not raise the level of discussion. There was a need for some kind of body to remove sources of suspicion. Maybe it would be profitable to find a way to improve the SCC.

Nitze observed that the question was one of intent versus externally visible characteristics. It had been a cardinal principle of arms control since its inception that only externally visible characteristics were a valid basis for judgments as to the function of specific systems.

[Page 1159]

Karpov acknowledged that the Thule radar site existed prior to the signing of the ABM Treaty. But it was neither a phased-array radar at the time nor was it as powerful as at present. When the Treaty was signed, these kinds of radars existed only in the U.S. and U.S.S.R. But there was an understanding at the time that neither country should deploy additional early warning radars except on the periphery of its own territory. Now, instead of the old radar, the Soviets faced a new, phased-array complex inconsistent with the ABM Treaty. This could not be considered simple modernization of an old complex; the foundations were the same, but the station was new. Thus, Thule was a violation.

As for Krasnoyarsk, the U.S. had no means of determining the radar’s characteristics, as it had not been put into operation. Once this had occurred, it would be clear that the radar served no early warning function. Its technical characteristics were totally different. Its inclination angle is different. It will work in the meter, not decimeter range. This would be clear. To eliminate any misunderstanding, the Soviets were willing to dismantle Krasnoyarsk. But the U.S. was in violation of the ABM Treaty in Thule and Fylingdales as well.

Nitze replied that what Karpov had said did not change the fact that the enhancement of Thule’s capabilities was a modernization as permitted by the Treaty. As for Krasnoyarsk, Karpov had not explained why the Soviets refused to answer the questions we had put to them in the SCC.

In response to Shevardnadze’s question as to what questions the U.S. felt had not been answered, Perle noted that a review of the SCC proceedings would show that the U.S. had repeatedly sought a plausible explanation for a variety of anomalies between Krasnoyarsk’s location and configuration and its avowed purpose. There was a lot of concrete at Krasnoyarsk—why a protected radar if there was no military purpose? We had never received satisfactory answers. We would be pleased to get them. Perle suggested that it might be possible for the Soviets to assuage our concerns on this matter. A good technical discussion could be useful. He urged Shevardnadze to put us to the test by answering the questions we had asked.

Shevardnadze said that the Soviets had proposed a simple, reasonable solution to the Krasnoyarsk problem: both sides should stop construction on their radars. There was thus a way out, if the U.S. was interested.

The Secretary indicated that the U.S. wanted an equitable way out. He nonetheless believed that the present discussion had gone farther than in the past in addressing this issue.

Beyond that, he had nothing to add, except that he would expect the Foreign Minister and his party for dinner at 7:00. Given the length [Page 1160] of the remaining agenda, the Secretary suggested that they allow plenty of time in their discussions the next day.7 If they found by late Saturday that there was still important work to do, they could just keep going.

Shevardnadze indicated that this was acceptable, and the meeting concluded.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, 4D, 1986 Soviet Union September. Secret; Sensitive. There is no drafting information. Cleared by Davies and Pascoe. An unknown hand initialed for Pascoe. The meeting took place at the Department of State. For the records of the morning and afternoon meetings of Shultz and Shevardnadze, and the Reagan-Shevardnadze meeting, see Document 283.
  2. September 20.
  3. See Documents 280 and 283.
  4. See Documents 263 and 275.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 236.
  6. See Document 257.
  7. See Documents 286 and 287.