National Security Decision Directive 75 (1983)




In January 1983, United States president Ronald Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive 75. This directive summarises the Reagan administration’s approach to US-Soviet relations – and, in many respects, its strategy for winning the Cold War. Directive 75 is a long and detailed document, covering policy with regard to Europe, Afghanistan, Cuba, China and the Third World. According to its preamble, US policy should aim “to contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism” while working towards “a more pluralistic political and economic system” within the Soviet Union:



“US policy toward the Soviet Union will consist of three elements: external resistance to Soviet imperialism; internal pressure on the USSR to weaken the sources of Soviet imperialism; and negotiations to eliminate, on the basis of strict reciprocity, outstanding disagreements. Specifically, US tasks are:

1. To contain, and over time reverse Soviet expansionism, by competing effectively on a sustained basis with the Soviet Union in all international arenas – particularly in the overall military balance and in geographical regions of priority concern to the United States. This will remain the primary focus of US policy toward the USSR.

2. To promote, within the narrow limits available to us, the process of change in the Soviet Union toward a more pluralistic political and economic system, in which the power of the privileged ruling elite is gradually reduced. The US recognises that Soviet aggressiveness has deep roots in the internal system and that relations with the USSR should therefore take into account whether or not they help to strengthen this system and its capacity to engage in aggression.

3. To engage the Soviet Union in negotiations to attempt to reach agreements which protect and enhance US interests and which are consistent with the principle of strict reciprocity and mutual interest. This is important when the Soviet Union is in the midst of a process of political succession.

In order to implement this threefold strategy, the US must convey clearly to Moscow that unacceptable behaviour will incur costs that would outweigh any gains. At the same time, the US must make clear to the Soviets that genuine restraint in their behaviour would create the possibility of an East-West relationship that might bring important benefits for the Soviet Union. It is particularly important that this message be conveyed clearly during the succession period, since this may be a particularly opportune time for external forces to affect the policies of Brezhnev’s successors.

[Military strategy]

The US must modernise its military forces — both nuclear and conventional — so that Soviet leaders perceive that the US is determined never to accept a second place or a deteriorating military posture. Soviet calculations of possible war outcomes under any contingency must always result in outcomes so unfavourable to the USSR that there would be no incentive for Soviet leaders to initiate an attack… In Europe, the Soviets must be faced with a reinvigorated NATO. In the Far East, we must ensure that the Soviets cannot count on a secure flank in a global war. Worldwide, US general purpose forces must be strong and flexible enough to affect Soviet calculations in a wide variety of contingencies. In the Third World, Moscow must know that areas of interest to the US cannot be attacked or threatened without risk of serious US military countermeasures.

[Economic policy]

US policy on economic relations with the USSR must serve strategic and foreign policy goals as well as economic interests. In this context, US objectives are above all, to ensure that East-West economic relations do not facilitate the Soviet military buildup. This requires prevention of the transfer of technology and equipment that would make a substantial contribution directly or indirectly to Soviet military power. [And] to avoid subsidising the Soviet economy or unduly easing the burden of Soviet resource allocation decisions, so as not to dilute pressures for structural change in the Soviet system…”

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