Archive (Reagan Library)

Cold War: Gorbachev to Reagan (SALT II) [declassified 2000]

Document type: Declassified documents
Venue: Kremlin
Source: Reagan Library (Head of State File)
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2,072 words
Themes: Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)

Translation from the Russian

His Excellency
Ronald W. Reagan
President of the United States of America
Washington, D.C.

June 22, 1985

Dear Mr President:

In connection with your letter of June 10, in which you outline the U.S. Government's decision on the SALT II Treaty made public the same day, I deem it necessary to express the viewpoint of the Soviet leadership on this matter.

I shall start by stating that your version of the past and present state of affairs in the key areas of Soviet-American relations, that of the limitation and reduction of strategic arms, cannot withstand comparison with the actual facts. Evidently, it was not by chance that you chose 1982 as your point of reference, the year when the American side declared its readiness to comply with the main provisions of the SALT II Treaty, unratified by the United States. Unfortunately, however, it was not this that determined the general course of your administration's policy and its practical actions with regard to strategic armaments.

It is hard to avoid the thought that a choice of a different kind had been made earlier, when it was stated outright that you did not consider yourself bound by the obligations assumed by your predecessors under agreements with the Soviet Union. This was perceived by others, and in the United States too, as repudiation of the arms limitations process and the search for agreements.

This was confirmed in practice: an intensive nuclear arms race was initiated in the United States. Precisely through this race, it would seem, and began to see and continues to see to this day the main means for achieving “prevailing” positions in the world under the guise of assuring U.S. national security.

In this sense, the few steps of the American side that you mentioned that went in a different direction and took account of the realities of today's world, are they not just temporary, “interim?”

It is not for the sake of polemics, but in order to restore the full picture of what has occured, that I would like to return briefly to what has been done by the United States with regard to the current regime for strategic stability.

DECL: OADR [end p1]

One cannot dispute the fact that the American side created an ambiguous situation whereby the SALT II Treaty, one of the pillars of our relationship in the security sphere, was turned into a semi-functioning document that the U.S., moreover, is now threatening to nullify step by step. How can one then talk about predictability of conduct and assess with sufficient confidence the other side's intentions?

It is difficult to evaluate the damage done to our relationship and to international stability as a whole by your administration's decision to break off a process of negotiations that the USSR and the U.S. assumed a legal obligation to conduct. Such an obligation is contained in the very text of the SALT II Treaty, as well as in the accompanying “Joint Statement of Principles and Basic Guidelines for Subsequent Negotiations on the Limitation of Strategic Arms.”

The chain ensuring the viability of the process of curbing the arms race, put together through great effort, was consciously broken.

Today it is especially clear that this caused many promising opportunities to slip by, while some substantial elements of our relationship in this area were squandered.

The United States crossed a dangerous threshold when it preferred to cast aside the Protocol to the SALT II Treaty instead of immediately taking up, as was envisaged, the resolution of these issues which were dealt with in the Protocol. Those issues are of cardinal importance — the limitation and prohibition of entire classes of arms. It is no secret as to what guided the American side in taking this step: it wanted to gain an advantage by deploying long-range cruise missiles. As a result, already today one has to deal with thousands of such missiles. The U.S. sought to sharply tilt in its favor the fine-tuned balance of interests underlying the agreement. Now you see, I believe, that it did not work out this way. We too are deploying cruise missiles, which we had proposed to ban. But even now we are prepared to come to an agreement on such a ban, should the U.S., taking a realistic position, agree to take such an important step.

The deployment in Western Europe of new nuclear systems designed to perform strategic missions was a clear circumvention, that is non-compliance, by the American side with regard to the SALT II Treaty. In this, Mr President, we see an attempt by the United States, taking advantage of geographic factors, to gain a virtual monopoly on the use weapons in a situation for which our country has no analogue. I know that on your side the need for some regional balance is sometimes cited. But even in [end p2] that case it is incomprehensible why the U.S. refuses to resolve this issue in a manner which would establish in the zone of Europe a balance of medium-range missiles, whereby the USSR would not have more missiles and warheads on them than are currently in the possession of England and France. Such a formula would not infringe upon anyone's interests, whereas the distortion caused by the American missiles in Europe is not a balance at all.

In broader terms, all these violations by the United States of the regime for strategic stability have one common denominator: departure from the principle of equality and equal security. This and nothing else is the reason for the lack of progress in limiting and reducing nuclear arms over the past 4–5 years.

However, I would like you to have a clear understanding of the fact that, in practice, strategic parity between our countries will be maintained. We cannot envisage nor can we permit a different situation. The question, however, is at what level parity will be maintained—at a decreasing or an increasing one. We are for the former, for the reduction in the level of strategic confrontation. Your government, by all indications, favors the latter, evidently hoping that at some stage the U.S. will ultimately succeed in getting ahead. This is the essence of the current situation.

Should one be surprised, then, that we are conducting negotiations, yet the process of practical arms limitation remains suspended? It would probably not be too great a misfortune if this process simply remained frozen. But even that is not the case. The “star wars” program—I must tell you this, Mr President—already at this stage is seriously undermining stability. We strongly advise you to halt this sharply destabilizing and dangerous program while things have not gone too far. If the situation in this area is not corrected, we shall have no choice but to take steps required by our security and that of our allies.

We are in favor, as you say, of making the best use of the chance offered by the Geneva negotiations on nuclear and space arms. Our main objective at those negotiations should be to reestablish the suspended process of limiting the arms race and to prevent its spread into new spheres.

The SALT-II Treaty is an important element of the strategic equilibrium, and one should clearly understand its role as well as the fact that, according to the well-known expression, one cannot have one's pie and eat it too. [end p3]

Your approach is determined by the fact that the strategic programs being carried out by the United States are about to collide with the limitations established by the SALT II Treaty, and the choice is being made not in favor of the Treaty, but in favor of these programs. And this cannot be disavowed or concealed, to put it bluntly, by unseemly attempts to accuse the Soviet Union of all mortal sins. It is, moreover, completely inappropriate in relations between our two countries for one to set forth conditions for the another as is done in your letter with regard to the Soviet Union.

I am saying all this frankly and unequivocally, as we have agreed.

One certainly cannot agree that the provisions of the SALT II Treaty remain in force allegedly as the result of restraint on the part of the United States. Entirely the contrary. The general attitude toward the Treaty shown by the American side and its practical actions to undermine it have given us every reason to draw appropriate conclusions and to take practical steps. We did have and continue to have moral, legal and political grounds for that.

We did not, however, give way to emotions; we showed patience, realizing the seriousness of the consequences of the path onto which we were being pushed. We hoped also that sober reasoning, as well as the self-interest of the U.S., would make the American side take a more restrained position. That was what in fact happened to a certain, though not to a full, extent. And we have treated this in businesslike fashion. Without ignoring what has been done by the American side contrary to the SALT II Treaty, we nevertheless at no time have been the initiators of politico-propagandistic campaigns of charges and accusations. We have striven to discuss seriously within the framework of the SCC the well-founded concerns we have had. We also have given exhaustive answers there to questions raised by the American side.

Unfortunately, the behavior of the other side was and continues to be utterly different. All those endless reports on imaginary Soviet violations and their publication did not and cannot serve any useful purpose, if one is guided by the task of preserving and continuing the process of arms limitation. Why mince words, the objective is quite different: to cast aspersions on the policy of the Soviet Union in general, to sow distrust toward it and to create an artificial pretest for an accelerated and uncontrolled arms race. All this became evident to us already long ago. [end p4]

One has to note that your present decision, if it were to be implemented, would be a logical continuation of that course. We would like you, Mr President, to think all this over once again.

In any event, we shall regard the decision that you announced in the entirety of its mutually-exclusive elements which, along with the usual measures required by the Treaty, include also a claim to some “right” to violate provisions of the Treaty as the American side chooses. Neither side has such a right. I do not consider it necessary to go into specifics here, a lot has been said about it, and your military experts are well aware of the actual, rather than distorted, state of affairs.

One should not count on the fact that we will be able to come to terms with you with respect to destroying the SALT II Treaty through joint efforts. How things will develop further depends on the American side, and we shall draw the appropriate conclusions.

The question of the approach to arms limitation has been, is, and will be the central issue both in our relations and as far as the further development of the overall international situation is concerned. It is precisely here, above all, that the special responsibility borne by our two countries is manifested, as well as how each of them approaches that responsibility.

In more specific terms, it is a question of intentions with regard to one other. No matter what is being done in other spheres of our relationship, in the final analysis, whether or not it is going to be constructive and stable depends above all on whether we are going to find a solution to the central issues of security on the basis of equality and equal security.

I would like to reaffirm that, for our part, we are full of resolve to strive to find such a solution. This determines both our attitude toward those initial limitations which were arrived at earlier through painstaking joint labor, and our approach to the negotiations currently underway in Geneva and elsewhere.

I wish to say this in conclusion: one would certainly like to feel tangibly the same attitude on the part of the United States. At any rate, as I have already had a chance to note, we took seriously the thought reiterated by you in our correspondence with regard to a joint search for ways to improve Soviet-American relations and to strengthen the foundations of peace.


M. Gorbachev