Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Ronald Reagan. This volume documents bilateral relations of the United States with the Soviet Union from March 1985 to October 1986. Due to the importance of U.S.-Soviet relations during the Reagan administration, the Reagan subseries includes an extensive examination of U.S. bilateral relations with the Soviet Union in four volumes: Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January 1983; Volume IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985; Volume V, Soviet Union, March 1985–October 1986; and Volume VI, Soviet Union, October 1986–January 1989. In addition, several other volumes in the subseries will provide the reader with a fuller understanding of how U.S.-Soviet relations impacted the global character of the Cold War and U.S. strategy during the Reagan era. For documentation on U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms control negotiations, see Volume XI, START I, and Volume XII, INF, 1984–1988. Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume V, European Security, 1977–1983, documents the NATO dual-track decision and TNF/INF negotiations. Documentation dealing with nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear testing, chemical and biological weapons, and space arms control, including anti-satellite systems, will be printed in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume XL, Global Issues I. The development of the Strategic Defense Initiative and ABM-related issues and other strategic considerations are addressed in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume XLIII, National Security Policy, 1981–1984, and Volume XLIV, Parts 1 and 2, National Security Policy, 1985–1988. For selected documentation on the human rights situation in the Soviet Union, see Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume XLI, Global Issues II.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, Volume V

This volume documents the development and implementation of the Reagan administration’s policies toward the Soviet Union from March 1985 to October 1986. The volume focuses on how the administration approached the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and his reform efforts; arms control negotiations at the Nuclear and Space Talks, which opened in Geneva in March 1985; and the Geneva Summit of November 1985 and the Reykjavik Summit of October 1986, as well [Page X] as various meetings among President Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, his replacement Eduard Shevardnadze, and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin.

Gorbachev’s rise to power did not immediately change the Reagan administration’s policies toward the Soviet Union or arms control. The basic four-part framework: arms control, human rights, regional issues, and bilateral relations, established in National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 75 on January 17, 1983, remained the fundamental approach in dealing with the Soviet Union. Administration officials, namely George Shultz, the President’s Assistants for National Security Affairs Robert McFarlane and later John Poindexter, and NSC Staff member Jack Matlock, worked toward implementing the four-part agenda in dealing with the Soviet Union. The documentation in this volume is a continuation of Foreign Relations, Volume IV, Soviet Union, January 1983–March 1985, and demonstrates how administration officials developed policies related to the four-part agenda, mainly in the National Security Council Staff and Department of State.

A new set of U.S.-Soviet umbrella arms control negotiations, the Nuclear and Space Talks (NST), began in Geneva on March 12, 1985. The NST addressed three tracks: Defense and Space, START, and INF. Throughout his administration, Reagan expressed an eagerness to reduce stockpiles of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons. Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a missile defense program announced in March 1983, the Soviet insistence that this program would disrupt the strategic nuclear balance and “militarize” outer space, and the ramifications of SDI for the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972, created a constant source of tension and frustration for U.S. and Soviet arms control negotiators, as well as in discussions between Reagan and Gorbachev.

The death of Soviet General Secretary Konstantin Chernenko and the ascension of Gorbachev into the Soviet leadership role in March 1985 coincided with the opening session of the NST. Vice President George H.W. Bush and Secretary Shultz met with Gorbachev in Moscow for Chernenko’s funeral services and quickly recognized that the new Soviet leader was different. Gorbachev was of a younger generation, more driven, ambitious, and showed passion and great energy during their meeting. This was a massive change in comparison to Leonid Brezhnev, Chernenko, and Yuri Andropov, who had been ailing during their tenures.

The Reagan-Gorbachev correspondence included in this volume reveals a willingness to be frank and attempt to move arms control negotiations forward to reduce nuclear weapons, while recognizing the strategic needs of the other side. The documentation related to the Geneva and Reykjavik Summits, as well as preparatory meetings between [Page XI] Shultz and Shevardnadze, clearly demonstrate a change in some Soviet positions and Gorbachev’s willingness to compromise when necessary to advance his larger reform efforts. In November 1985 at the Geneva Summit, Reagan and Gorbachev developed a rapport and were able to have candid, difficult conversations about how to make progress at the NST. The Strategic Defense Initiative remained a point of controversy. Reagan did not shy away from addressing human rights cases with Gorbachev. While no formal agreements were signed at the meetings, the Geneva Summit provided a starting point for these two leaders to move toward reducing nuclear weapons.

After Geneva, the NST floundered, giving Gorbachev the impetus to suggest a meeting with Reagan in order to break the deadlock. The October 1986 Reykjavik Summit provided some of the most dramatic moments of Cold War summitry, with the leaders presenting proposals to eliminate all Soviet and U.S. ballistic missiles. In the end, this hinged on limiting SDI research to the laboratory, and no formal agreements were reached. The Reykjavik documentation in this volume provides a full accounting of the meetings and preparations on the U.S. side.

All in all, the documentation in this volume seeks to provide a more nuanced understanding of the relationship that developed between Reagan and Gorbachev during this period, through their summits and correspondence. The volume also shows how the Reagan administration continued to adhere to the four-part framework it established in January 1983 in dealing with the Soviet Union, regardless of the new leadership of Gorbachev. Reagan, Shultz, McFarlane, Matlock, and other administration officials worked diligently to move the U.S.-Soviet relationship forward; the sustained level of understanding and cooperation they developed with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze played a major role in this endeavor.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of officials at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, especially Lisa Jones and Cate Sewell. A special thanks to the Central Intelligence Agency staff for providing access and assistance with Reagan Library materials scanned for the Remote Archive Capture project, and to the History Staff of the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence for arranging full access to CIA records. The editor wishes to acknowledge the staff at Information Programs and Services at the Department of State for facilitating access to Department of State records and coordinating the review of this volume within the Department of State. Sandy Meagher was helpful in providing access to Department of Defense materials. The editor also extends thanks to the family and executor of the Estate of former Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger for granting Department of State historians access to [Page XII] the personal papers of Secretary Weinberger deposited at the Library of Congress. Additional thanks are due to officials of the Library of Congress Manuscript Division for facilitating that access.

Elizabeth Charles collected, selected, and annotated the documentation for this volume under the supervision of David Geyer, Chief of the Europe Division, and Adam Howard, then General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. The volume was reviewed by Assistant to the General Editor Kristin Ahlberg and David Geyer. Chris Tudda coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Coordination Division. Kerry Hite performed the copy and technical editing under the supervision of Mandy Chalou, Chief of the Editing and Publishing Division.

Elizabeth C. Charles, Ph.D.