30. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

Unnumbered. With recent crescendo of Soviet attacks on MLF, I have given considerable thought to long-range implications of current Soviet posture, particularly with regard to likely Soviet attitude toward non-dissemination agreement in various predictable situations. Moscow [Page 65] must itself be undergoing some soul-searching on this question with eye particularly on China. I assume Department is also taking hard look at policy prospects, not only with regard to Soviet and Chicom attitudes but also FRG posture in event MLF failure. Following thoughts may be useful to Department in its own contingency planning:

As suggested Embassy telegram 104,2 the Soviets can be expected to be actively hostile to MLF during its formative period, particularly if they suspect it may fail. Current tactic, as reflected by differential emphasis in July 11 notes,3 is to peel off support for the project with the aim of reducing its participants to point where project likely to abort.
In opposing MLF, Moscow is reacting in familiar Pavlovian fashion to Western defense measure. I believe, however, that Soviets are also probably genuinely concerned that MLF will only hasten the day when FRG becomes a nuclear power. While July 25 TASS statement on US–NATO nuclear agreement represents familiar effort to tar US as insincere in support non-dissemination, it also probably reflects tendency read agreement as merely one of successive steps making FRG “finger on nuclear trigger” eventually inevitable. Embassy notes with interest Tsarapkin’s veiled warning on this question (Geneva telegram 1982).4 MLF would obviously give rise to problems of military nature for Soviet strategic planners, but I am inclined to think Soviets are even more concerned with political implications. Specifically, they probably fear effect of possession of nuclear weapons on West German political stance, particularly toward Central Europe. They may also feel that they will be called upon to share their nuclear monopoly in some fashion with their allies—if only to give positive content to their warnings of need for appropriate counter-measures and to prove they have equal confidence in their own allies.
Given popular appeal of non-dissemination agreement, and concern over possible West German acquisition of nuclear weapons, it is natural that Moscow should imply strongly that creation of MLF will end Soviet willingness sign non-dissemination agreement. Propaganda leverage aside, however, Soviets must ask themselves seriously whether non-dissemination agreement would continue to be in their interest (a) if MLF becomes reality; (b) if it fails and pressure for an independent European or Franco-German nuclear deterrent grows; and (c) after China explodes its first device. Central question for Soviets (as well as for US) is [Page 66] at what point does the expansion of the nuclear club undercut the whole rationale for non-dissemination agreement and even require that Moscow leave itself the option of supplying, or threatening to supply its allies and friends with nuclear weapons.
It seems to me that Moscow has even more reason to fear an arms race involving nuclear weapons than the West, and accordingly will continue to have more compelling reasons to press for a non-dissemination agreement. There are many more states in non-Communist world with capacity to build and maintain nuclear weapons than in the Bloc. Also, we obviously have less qualms about acquisition of nuclear weapons by our allies than Moscow has about weapons in the hands of an anti-Soviet Polish or Rumanian Government, or nervous, belligerent Pankow. Should nuclear arms race escalate and fear spread, Soviets might in addition be subjected to pressure for aid or at least extension of nuclear shield to such self-assertive, anti-Western states as Indonesia and UAR. Moscow would have serious reservations about acceding to such requests with the attendant risks that such “friends” would follow policies inviting Soviet involvement in nuclear holocaust. Moscow might decide, therefore, to opt for non-dissemination policy, even with MLF, in order to avoid or postpone moment of dangerous escalation in nuclear arms race and anguished decisions which it would pose. Such a decision would be the more likely if MLF were accompanied by guarantees against FRG national production, possession or control nuclear arms (see paragraph 7 below).
Possibility that Communist China will explode nuclear device in the relatively near future provides more immediate and compelling reason for Moscow’s pressing non-dissemination agreement. Soviets can have no expectation that Chinese would enter an agreement which would require them to forego nuclear capability. Non-dissemination agreement which secured the almost universal support of nuclear have-nots would serve, however, like TB agreement, to dramatize which states “are for peace and which for war.” Soviets will expect Chinese to exploit acquisition of nuclear weapons to enhance their power and prestige in Asia. (“See what backward Asian people can achieve in face opposition of both imperialists and revisionists.”) Implicit in Chinese criticism of Moscow’s efforts to share “nuclear monopoly” with “imperialists” is also suggestion that Chinese would share nuclear secrets with their N. Korean, and even Indonesian allies—posture which Peiping can easily assume when it lacks bomb. In this phase of heightened rivalry, particularly in Asia, Moscow has obvious interest in finding new cudgel with which to flog Peiping and an issue which can become focus of organization drive by pro-Soviet elements and criterion by which to separate friend from foe within communist movement.
Ban on nuclear weapons for nuclear have-nots is more complicated issue to manipulate, however, than TB agreement. Soviets are obviously sensitive to danger that they may themselves enhance impression and corresponding fear of Chinese power by making too much of an issue over possession of nuclear weapons. Hence steps taken, notably last autumn, to emphasize cost of constructing meaningful arsenal, including means of delivery. Similar concern may explain curious citation in June 15 note to CCP of US statements that Chinese follow “moderate” policy in deeds in contrast to militant words.
Moreover, non-dissemination agreement would be effective weapon to isolate Chinese only if it is signed by overwhelming majority of states. To persuade states with nuclear potential like FRG, Sweden, Israel to participate, agreement would presumably need to be phrased in general language of desirability rather than absolute ban, and include escape clause along lines existing proposals.
Soviets would certainly seek additional guarantees as condition their abandonment of opposition to MLF in event MLF should become or seems about to become reality. As minimum they would require FRG adherence to non-dissemination agreement commitments not to receive weapons. Might also demand broadening of FRG’s WEU commitments to include USSR, possibly in form of agreement to which GDR would be set up as signatory. While such pledges could pose problems vis-a-vis the FRG, they not necessarily undesirable from our point of view. (I would appreciate Bonn’s comments on FRG reaction to such gambits, as well as generally on FRG attitude toward non-dissemination in event MLF failure.)
We obviously cannot be categoric in projecting Soviet behavior. It seems to me, however, that Moscow must find itself at present pulled by opposing policy considerations. On one hand, it seeks to use maximum propaganda leverage against MLF. At same time, it may wish to move to get campaign against dissemination of nuclear weapons underway before Chinese explode first device. Moscow cannot move on a non-dissemination agreement until it chooses to overlook US policy of promoting MLF—for any effective worldwide campaign must be founded on US-Soviet cooperation. One could argue that the longer Moscow persists in its anti-MLF campaign, the more serious we must take its claimed fear that MLF will open door to FRG acquisition of nuclear weapons. Once anti-MLF phase in Soviet policy is past—for one reason or another—we may find ourselves forced to decide whether our own long-term policy interests dictate that we should assist Moscow in its anti-Chinese campaign by pressing non-dissemination agreement if only as final, perhaps futile effort to avoid facing up to world in which nuclear weapons have truly become conventional.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF(MLF). Secret; Limdis, Repeated to Bonn, London, and Paris for USRO.
  2. Dated July 11. (Ibid.)
  3. For text of the July 11 Soviet note protesting the mixed-manning demonstration of the missile-bearing destroyer U.S.S. Biddle, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 476–478; for the August 28 U.S. reply, see ibid., pp. 483–484.
  4. A mistaken reference since telegram 1982 concerns the World Health Organization. Semen K. Tsarapkin was the Soviet Representative to the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee.