54. Telegram From the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva to the White House1

361. To: Admiral Dan Murphy, Office of Vice President, White House. From: Amb Rowny, Chairman, US START Delegation. Subject: Meeting of VP Bush with Amb Karpov, 4 FEB 83.

Summary: VP Bush (accompanied by several of his staff and Ambassador Rowny) met with Ambassador Karpov (accompanied by two of his delegates) for 45 minutes Friday afternoon, FEB 4. The VP said he was not in Geneva to negotiate but to express the President’s sincere interest in reductions and reaching agreement on an equal and verifiable agreement. He said we should focus first on the most destabilizing systems: the ICBMs. He said we are serious about reaching agreement on CBMs to reduce the risk of nuclear war. Karpov, in a 40-minute response, said the US is asking the Soviet Union to reduce by 2500 ballistic missile warheads but plans to increase by 5000 cruise missile warheads. Karpov said the the US plan would leave the US with close to 600 heavy bombers vice 150 for the USSR and thereby give the US a 1.5 advantage in overall number of launchers. Karpov disputed that ICBMs are more destabilizing than cruise missiles. He [Page 201] characterized the Soviet position as one which would reduce to 1800 systems and at the same time “block all channels of the arms race.” Karpov confirmed that Soviets were interested in CBMs but said that US ignores CBMs of interest to USSR. The VP closed by emphasizing US interest in an agreement which reduces the most destabilizing systems, and said that the Soviets should pay attention to our concerns and that we would be ready to reciprocate. He said he welcomed the Soviet interest in CBMs. Verbatim record of conversation follows.


  • US

    • Vice President Bush
    • Ambassador Rowny
    • Admiral Murphy
    • Mr. Richard Burt
    • Commander Dennis Blair
    • Mr. Muromcew, interpreter
  • USSR

    • Ambassador Karpov
    • Mr. Osadchiyev
    • Mr. Obukhov
    • Mr. Borovskiy, interpreter

Time: 3:40–4:30 p.m. Place: US Mission, Geneva

Date: 4 February 1983

Vice President Bush greeted Ambassador Karpov and his party and thanked him for accepting his invitation to come to this meeting to discuss various topics of interest. Karpov replied that he was very glad to have the opportunity to meet the Vice President and to discuss various items of mutual interest.

Bush stated that he wanted to discuss several items, but as it was publicly announced, he was here not in the role of a negotiator, he only wanted to discuss issues pertaining to INF and to START. He assured Karpov that the President of the United States was sincerely committed to arms control, especially to reductions in the strategic area. He added that Ambassador Rowny, whom Bush had known for a long time, enjoyed the President’s and his full support on a wide front. Bush recently met with the President, who outlined two fundamental criteria of interest to the United States, namely, the criterion of equality and the criterion for a verifiable agreement, which were most important to the United States. The US side was encouraged to hear that the Soviet side was also interested in reductions; however, the President and Vice President felt it important to focus attention on the most destabilizing systems, namely, on land-based ICBMs, because of their devastating power. Another point Bush wanted to bring up was confidence-building measures in which, as he understood, the Soviet side was also interested. He assured Karpov that the US side was very serious and wanted to come to an agreement on confidence-building measures and, in thanking him for coming to this meeting, expressed his readiness to listen to the Soviet side’s views.

[Page 202]

Karpov thanked the Vice President for this opportunity and wanted to start with the topic closest to his heart, namely, his talks with Ambassador Rowny here in Geneva. They were now in the third round and ready to come up with an appraisal of these negotiations. Karpov would also like to answer all of the Vice President’s questions. Karpov stated that, in his view, the results of the negotiations were truly saddening. He wanted to speak first about the essential shortcomings of the US proposal. He felt that the first deficiency of the US proposal was that it would not stop the arms race, but would actually provide a plan for continuing an arms race. To be exact, the US proposal called for a reduction to 2500 warheads for ICBMs, but put no limits on heavy bomber with their armaments, and would not even consider cruise missiles. Karpov knew that there were plans to deploy 5000 long-range cruise missiles and, by doing so, there will be twice as many warheads on the long-range cruise missiles as the level of reductions proposed by the US called for. It was also noteworthy, by the way, that the US proposal does not even touch on such strategic programs as Trident-II, MX, or cruise missiles. At the same time the Soviet Union was expected to limit and reduce its weapons, which would mean the dismantling of Soviet strategic potential. If one would accept the US proposal on ICBMs, then only 100 modern Soviet ICBMs would be left and the rest would have to be destroyed. In the US proposal the concept of equality is often mentioned, but Karpov suggested that if one took a closer look at it, it would mean that the Soviet Union and the United States would get 850 ballistic missiles each. It is well known that the US has about 600 heavy bombers, while the Soviet Union had only about 150 such bombers. As a result, the US will find itself with a ratio of 1.5 times more means of delivery than the Soviet Union. To Karpov, in a word, this meant inequality. Thus, even after the reductions the US would still have more warheads and means of delivery than the Soviet Union. It was not enough just to proclaim equality, it was necessary to demonstrate it. The embodiment of this principle should not give one side an advantage in weaponry at the expense of the other side.

Karpov reminded the Vice President of his desire to focus on land-based ICBMs because the US considers them the most destabilizing systems. From the US point of view, there were certain advantages to this approach, as Karpov would try to demonstrate. The US proposal to reduce the number of land-based ICBMs would mean the destruction of the Soviet strategic potential, because the Soviet potential consisted of 70 percent land-based ICBMs. Meanwhile, 80 percent of US strategic potential consisted of SLBMs and heavy bombers. Thus, the US proposal was selective, namely, being aimed at Soviet ICBMs. At the same time, however, the US was going to deploy new ICBMs, such as the land-based MX. To say that land-based ICBMs are the most destabiliz [Page 203] ing weapons, Karpov continued, would not stand up to criticism. Main characteristics of ICBMs were: short flight time, great throw-weight, constant readiness and the ability to hit hard targets. These characteristics, however, were not at all unique to ICBMs for the following reasons: while the flight time for ICBMs was 30 minutes, the new Trident-II SLBMs could reach targets in the Soviet Union in half that time. As for cruise missiles, although they were slower than ICBMs and SLBMs, they were highly accurate and could penetrate undetected to the chosen targets. It was not the flight time, but the warning time that was the decisive element. A cruise missile would give no warning time at all, because it could approach undetected and hit a target with high accuracy. Karpov could present other elements in detail, but the point was that the cruise missile was very accurate, the Trident-II will equal the MX in accuracy. Therefore, these characteristics would equalize the greater yield of ICBMs, but Karpov did not want to bore the Vice President with all these details. All it meant was that ICBMs were not all that unique. Other developments were no less dangerous to the balance in the strategic relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States.

What worried Karpov a great deal were US weapons programs, especially US strategic land-, air-, and sea-based systems that could be used as first-strike weapons. Therefore he had discussed these issues with Ambassador Rowny, but the US side chose to ignore these issues, the solution of which would stop the arms race without harming the security of the sides and would lead to a true reduction of strategic weapons. It was unacceptable to have a reduction in one place and a buildup elsewhere.

What does the Soviet side propose? asked Karpov rhetorically. The proposal was to reduce ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and heavy bombers to the 1800 level for both sides. The Soviet proposal also required a simultaneous closing of channels that would foster competition in any area and to prohibit long-range cruise missiles, while destroying already deployed cruise missiles in a verifiable manner. The proposal also includes a ban on air-to-surface ballistic missiles. Taking it altogether, these measures would give the Soviet Union and the United States, by the year 1990, 1800 means of delivery of strategic weapons and not one more above that. At the same time, equal levels would be established for nuclear warheads that could be used on remaining carriers of the two sides.

Karpov then turned to confidence-building measures which the Vice President had mentioned earlier. Karpov said that CBMs were a Soviet proposal, going back to the first round. That proposal included measures to reduce the danger of a surprise attack, to lessen the danger of a nuclear war and would involve areas closed to aircraft carriers [Page 204] and to flight of bombers in regions adjacent to the borders of the given power, the establishment of zones on oceans and seas where anti-submarine activities would be prohibited, and also called for provisions for notification of imminent bomber flights and of missile launches. However, the US side failed to give this matter any serious thought; in fact, rejected it off hand. In spite of that, Karpov hastened to assure the Vice President, this Soviet proposal was still on the negotiating table.

In conclusion, Karpov asked the Vice President not to forget that the Soviet side was very serious about negotiations on the limitation and reduction of strategic weapons. The Soviet side was interested in reaching an accord, but such an accord will have to be based on provisions that would preserve the security interests of the two sides. He added that he could not say that the Soviet Union was more interested in these negotiations than the US. As long as the US maintained such a position, US security will not gain from it. Should the US continue its planned buildup, the Soviet side would take adequate measures to counter any new US advantages, which would mean a continuation of the arms race and general instability. But there was another path that the two sides could take, namely, the path proposed by the Soviet Union, involving a limitation and reduction embodied in a firm accord that would be subject to verification.

The Vice President thanked Karpov for the clear and eloquent presentation and asked him to convey to the Soviet leadership the sense of urgency with which the US side is viewing this matter. The Vice President agreed to convey Soviet views to the President. The Vice President said that it was important for the Soviet to pay attention to our concerns and that we would be prepared to reciprocate. Vice President Bush regretted the necessity to leave, saying that he could not be late to his appointment with the President of the Swiss Confederation.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, National Security Council: CABLE FILE: Records, 1982–85, Privacy IN (01/22/1981–07/26/1983). Secret.