40. Information Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Staff (Solomon) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Advancing U.S. Interests in Eastern Europe Meeting, Secretary’s Office, March 5, 4:30 pm

SUMMARY: In preparation for Wednesday’s2 meeting on Eastern Europe, I thought it would be useful to try to clarify the main issues [Page 136] raised by Ambassadors Salgo and Ridgway in their recent memos.3 I think it is important for us to be clear about our own assumptions and to distinguish between what we would like to happen in Eastern Europe and what probably can happen.

The task we face in Eastern Europe is not only to support strivings for autonomy. We also need to find ways to deter or dissuade the Soviets from crushing renewed bids for autonomy when they occur. Therefore, I believe the following issues merit attention in the meeting:

the effect that increased trade and political dialogue with Eastern Europe will have on Soviet perceptions and policies;
the relationship between our efforts to foster long-term change and our pursuit of short-term objectives such as combatting terrorism and increasing U.S. exports;
the trade-offs we face in pursuing policies that give us leverage over East European regimes, but that also could bolster these regimes and thus help to maintain Soviet hegemony over the long run. END SUMMARY.

The question you posed to Ambassador Ridgway during the flight from Belgrade4—how to make it more difficult for the Soviets to turn the screws on the East Europeans—seems to me to go to the heart of the matter. There can be little doubt that the East Europeans would like greater autonomy from the Soviet Union and more latitude to shape their own internal political and economic systems. The history of the postwar period offers many examples of the East European peoples and governments pressing for change.

But history also shows that in the final analysis, East European strivings for autonomy have been largely unsuccessful. Romania has carved out an autonomous foreign policy role, and Hungary has cautiously charted a reform at home. These achievements are by no means negligible, and our differentiation policy should continue to support them. But these achievements should not obscure the fact that more ambitious East European bids for autonomy—in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and most recently in Poland—have all been crushed by Soviet intervention or Soviet-supported internal repression. The main problem for us is therefore not how to encourage East European opposition to the Soviet Union. If anything, the East Europeans often have been ahead of us on this score, and we have been surprised repeatedly at how quickly anti-Soviet movements can erupt in Eastern Europe. Rather, the problem for us is what, if [Page 137] anything, we can do to deter or dissuade the Soviets from crushing renewed East European bids for autonomy when they arise—as they are certain to do irrespective of the policies we adopt. I therefore believe our discussions should focus a bit more on how we can influence decision-making in the Kremlin, and somewhat less on what we can or should do “on the ground” in Eastern Europe.

While it is true that opposition to Marxism-Leninism is growing in Eastern Europe, it is also true that the Soviets have had increasing success in using indirect methods to defeat challenges to their control. In 1953 and 1956, Soviet troops were involved in bloody clashes with East German and Hungarian freedom fighters. In 1968, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies bloodlessly crushed the Prague Spring. In 1981, the Soviets watched from the sidelines as the Polish police and militia crushed Solidarity. After all these episodes, the Soviets and their East European allies pressed, with varying degrees of success, for rapid “normalization” on Soviet terms.

I assume we do not want to go back to the 1950s and to encourage violence and direct Soviet intervention in Eastern Europe. But we do need to find ways to make it more rather than less costly for the Soviets to crush movements for autonomy in Eastern Europe. To some extent we have already had some success in this effort. The Soviets were reluctant to intervene directly in Poland, not only because they feared military clashes with the Poles, but because they knew that direct intervention would deal a heavy blow to U.S.-Soviet and Soviet-West European relations. After the crackdown on Solidarity, we made clear that indirect Soviet intervention was also unacceptable. But we need to do more to close off the indirect option and to discourage other East European leaders from playing the part of a Husak or a Jaruzelski in a future crisis.

In cases where it serves our concrete interests (e.g., in combatting terrorism, promoting human rights, or increasing U.S. exports) we should expand our political and economic relations with Eastern Europe. But to raise the costs of maintaining Soviet rule in Eastern Europe in the face of popular resentment, we should do nothing to legitimize leaders who do the work of the Soviets. In 1956, Kadar came to power as a Soviet puppet. Over a period of many years, he made peace with and even came to be admired by his own people. Then—and only then—did he become a desirable interlocutor for Western governments. To provide other East European leaders with short-cuts to the same international acceptability will only encourage the Soviets to believe that by finding reliable surrogates in Eastern Europe they can reap the benefits of empire without paying its costs.

In addition to withholding our prestige from leaders who, whatever their personal motivations, are in effect helping the Soviets to [Page 138] maintain their empire “on the cheap,” we of course need to look for positive steps that could increase Soviet-East European strains and raise the costs of empire for the Soviets. We should encourage developments which would heighten Soviet uncertainty about the reliability of their Warsaw Pact allies in a conflict situation (an issue Harry Rowen5 of Stanford has been exploring).

One possibility would be to work the SRINF issue. The Soviets irritated their East European allies by placing new short-range missiles in Eastern Europe after our INF deployments. Eliminating SRINF from Europe is one issue on which we, the West Europeans, and many East Europeans can agree, and on which the Soviets are potentially isolated.

Another possibility is to focus on the question of East European support for Soviet policy in the third world. East European contributions to the USSR’s global empire lower the net cost of maintaining Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. We should pressure the East Europeans to cease these contributions—to choose, in effect, between better relations with us and continued support for the Soviets. By pressing them to make this choice, we can increase strains within the Soviet bloc and encourage Soviet leaders to reevaluate the benefits they derive from maintaining tight control in the region.

Against this background, I believe the issues that are likely to figure prominently in the discussion include the following:

the effect that increased trade and political dialogue with Eastern Europe is likely to have on Soviet perceptions and policies
the relationship between our efforts to foster long-term change and our policies geared toward immediate objectives such as combatting terrorism and increasing U.S. exports
the dilemmas we face in pursuing policies that give us leverage over East European regimes, but that can also bolster these regimes and thus over the long run help to maintain Soviet hegemony.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, Sensitive and Super Sensitive Documents, 1984–1989, Lot 92 D 52, ES Sensitive, March 1–12, 1986. Secret; Sensitive. Solomon signed “Dick” next to his name in the “From” line. Drafted by John vanOudenaren (S/P). Platt initialed and dated the top of the memorandum on March 5.
  2. March 5.
  3. See Documents 38 and 39.
  4. Presumably a reference to Shultz’s trip to Belgrade to meet with Prime Minister Planinc, Foreign Affairs Secretary Dizdarevic, and President Vlajkovic December 17–18, 1985. See Documents 235 and 236.
  5. Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.