7. Information Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Rodman) to Secretary of State Shultz 1


  • Gorbachev’s Debut: Tough Talk from Moscow

Gorbachev’s initial moves have shown the world a tough face to match the appearance of smoothness and efficiency earlier displayed in London.2 His warnings to Zia over Afghanistan3 and his bullying of Tindemans,4 together with Karpov’s threat to “blow up the talks” in Geneva,5 are clear signals to the West that we are dealing with a more assertive and muscular Kremlin policy. Despite the denials by Menshikov and the uncertain sources for the story, Dusko Doder’s report in the Saturday Washington Post on an Afghanistan/Nicaragua linkage is disturbing (see attached),6 particularly in light of recent reports that Soviet forces plan to step up the military pressure on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is important, in my view, that Gorbachev get the message forthwith that there are no easy pickings. We need to make clear that exploiting the current moment of opportunity in US–Soviet relations also requires responsible Soviet behavior.

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The Pakistan Angle

If the U.S., Islamabad, and Beijing stand firm, we should be able to deter any Soviet threats against Pakistan:

—A Soviet effort to take a whack at Pakistan would be very dangerous, but would lead to a strong reaction in the United States as Afghanistan remains a popular cause in the country and on the Hill.

—It would destroy in a stroke Gorbachev’s “good guy” image and head off any euphoria over prospects for a new US–Soviet detente.

—It presumably would undercut severely the improvements in Sino–Soviet relations.

A Soviet threat to link Afghanistan and Nicaragua would be even more hollow. Ron Spiers doubts the Soviet capacity to stir up Baluchi insurgency in Pakistan (as Doder reported the Soviets might do in response to U.S. pressures in Nicaragua). Nor could Moscow do much more to affect the Central American situation, except by supplying heavy armaments; and that would open the door to a more decisive U.S. policy on Nicaragua.

All this said, however, we need to move out smartly on several fronts:

—Some reassurance is clearly in order with the Paks. I believe it would be useful for the President to send a letter of support directly to Zia and release the letter to the press.7

—The Soviets will need some straight talk so their fresh leader does not miscalculate. You should make this point to Dobrynin in your next meeting with him.

Gorbachev’s threatening language may be turned to our advantage in dampening public expectations at home, and allied hopes in Europe, and in Japan where Nakasone is seeking to score some political points on the Soviet front. You might send a letter to allied Foreign Ministers, stressing both our intention to seize the current “moment of opportunity” and our determination to hold Moscow to higher standards of constructive behavior. We should convey the need for all allies to hold together in case a vigorous new Soviet leader seeks to test our nerve in Geneva or elsewhere in the world.8

The Chinese Angle

Since the Arkhipov visit, the Chinese have adopted an increasingly uncertain posture on the “three obstacles”; they have also moved toward party-to-party relations with Moscow, and have not been above unhelpful comments on U.S. policies from Europe to ANZUS to Central [Page 21] America.9 I believe this Chinese posturing is unhealthy, and, at a certain point, could begin to erode Sino-American relations. Fortunately, I also believe Deng and the top Chinese leadership are unlikely to ignore a real Soviet threat to Pakistan. Their actions in Southwest and Southeast Asia still seem to be fairly firm, even if their rhetoric is softening.

Nonetheless, I have suggested to Mike Armacost that he note to the Chinese that the Soviets have adopted this threatening posture. The Chinese would be well advised to bear this in mind as they pursue their new detente with the Soviets.


None of this is to predict that we are heading into a period of crisis with the new Gorbachev regime. However, whether due to Soviet internal political considerations, a Soviet eagerness to be more assertive abroad, or a desire to exploit the Western yearning for progress in Geneva, we could be facing a first test of American will.

It may well be that these new signals of toughness stem from a desire to overcome what Gorbachev and other Soviets see as the humiliations of the last four years and to reassert the Soviet position in the world. In a sense, Gorbachev may be seeking to do for the USSR what President Reagan did for the U.S. (in an obviously different context) after America’s introspective post-Vietnam era. (Dobrynin told Bill Beecher last week about the “new sense of dynamism and activism” in Soviet foreign policy.) If this hypothesis is correct, it has important implications, both in terms of moving quickly to turn off a potentially sharper thrust of Soviet policy and in terms of building the basis for a reasonable US–Soviet accommodation based on reciprocity and respect for each other’s legitimate interests.

Meanwhile, in the period immediately ahead, our declaratory policy should continue to accentuate the positive: moment of opportunity, summit, arms control, etc. But we also should make it very clear and plain that being the new top boy in Moscow does not accord Gorbachev special privileges to bully others on the world stage.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/P, Memoranda/Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff, Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons PW 3/1–31/85. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Kaplan. Copies were sent to Chain, Wolfowitz, Burt, Murphy, Nitze, and Rowny. A stamped notation reading “GPS” appears on the memorandum, indicating Shultz saw it.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 3.
  3. In an attached but not printed article, Dusko Doder wrote that Gorbachev “has issued Moscow’s sternest warning to date to Pakistan for its support of Afghan rebels.” (Doder, “Gorbachev Warns on Afghan Aid,” Washington Post, March 16, 1985, p. A1)
  4. In telegram 3269 from Moscow, March 16, the Embassy reported that in his meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Tindemans after Chernenko’s funeral, Gromyko “resorted to some thinly veiled bullying on the eve of the Belgian deployment decision” on INF weapons. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850181–0579)
  5. In his opening statement at the Nuclear and Space Talks in Geneva on March 14, Soviet Ambassador Karpov emphasized that “if the United States moves toward the militarization of space, this would ultimately blow the negotiations apart.” (Telegram 2281 from NST Delegation in Geneva, March 15; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850178–0274)
  6. See footnote 3, above. The article noted reports that the Soviet Union was considering “unspecified actions” against Pakistan if Reagan continued U.S. military pressure on Nicaragua.
  7. Not found.
  8. Not found.
  9. Soviet First Deputy Premier Ivan Arkhipov went to China in late December 1984, a notable visit because Arkhipov was the highest-ranking Soviet official to visit China since the Sino-Soviet split 15 years prior. According to telegram 24020 from Beijing, December 26, 1984, he met with Premier Zhao and Politburo member Chen Yun. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D840822–0928)