In his mind, President Reagan did not consider his order to move ahead with plans and preparation for the Kola Peninsula offensive to be final. The first US Marine would not come ashore for forty-eight hours. Reagan intended to exhaust every effort in bringing the war to a conclusion before then. The morning’s NSC meeting confirmed he had a bit of time to play with. Two days could be enough time to at least lay the foundation for a permanent political settlement. By then no Warsaw Pact forces would remain on West German or Danish soil. The pre-war boundary lines between NATO and the Warsaw Pact will have been reestablished. Except for Thrace, where Soviet and Bulgarian forces continued to control a portion of Greek and Turkish territory. In the big picture though, Thrace was not significant. West Germany was the prize.
After lunch, Reagan convened a smaller meeting in the Oval Office. Secretary of State George Schultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and National Security Advisor Frank Carlucci attended in person. Vice President George Bush was present physically, although he attended via speakerphone from Mount Weather. Since the nuclear exchange four days before, the Vice and Speaker of the House remained outside of Washington. Bush was at Mount Weather for the moment and Speaker of the House Jim Wright was in the bunker underneath the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.
The reason for the meeting was to formulate the US strategy for the next forty-eight hours. Namely, the shape and size of diplomatic efforts to achieve either a temporary or permanent ceasefire. The president had his own ideas on how to bring it about and wasted little time before laying them out. First and foremost, this was not to be a NATO venture. It was coming directly from Washington and the United States government. Brussels, Bonn, Paris and London were on the outside for now and yielded no influence. If a temporary ceasefire and talks were agreed to by Moscow then this was going to change. “Until then,” Reagan stressed. “The ball is ours entirely.”
“I have no issue with that,” Secretary of State Schultz said. “But I’m sure some of our NATO allies will have something to say about it.”
Reagan grinned. “I’ll take that up with the Brits later today. I’m hoping our friends in London won’t mind running interference for us between now and Sunday.”
The special relationship between the US and Great Britain remained firm through July, 1987. This was due in large part to the close friendship between President Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. There had been one or two missteps and consequently ruffled feathers to smooth over, yet through it all, Washington and London remained in lockstep.
“We may want to think about reaching out to Chancellor Kohl too,” Vice President Bush advised over the speakerphone.
“That can wait,” Weinberger commented rather gruffly. SecDef was not at all thrilled with SACEUR having to slow the NATO counteroffensive down just to allow West German brigades to get organized and move forward simply to be among the first NATO units to reach the IGB. He understood the political reasons for doing this, however, Weinberger was more concerned with the unnecessary casualties the temporary halt would bring on.
“Next,” Reagan moved on, beginning his next point with a question. “Regarding a ceasefire, will the Soviets be on the same page as us?”
The Oval Office went quiet for a full minute as the men present considered Reagan’s query delicately. Finally, Reagan grew impatient. He spread his hands out and, in an attempt to break the ice, said, “Well, don’t answer all at once.”
“A ceasefire offers them a way out,” the National Security Advisor placed his hat in the ring. “Let’s be honest. The war is not going too well for Moscow. We’re almost back to the pre-war borders in Germany and crossing the nuclear threshold has backfired on them tremendously. Romanov is a hardliner, true. But he is also a realist. I believe he sees the writing on the wall and will jump at the chance to end this thing before NATO tanks and soldiers set foot in East Germany.”
Carlucci’s appraisal made sense. Logically speaking, there was no advantage for the Soviet government in continuing to prosecute the war. The Red Army was in no condition to resume offensive operations in Central Europe anytime soon and the bulk of Soviet naval power was sitting at the bottom of the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Norwegian Sea. Much of the Warsaw Pact was disintegrating, with Poland in open revolt, East Germany refusing to involve itself in the war further and the Czechoslovakian government simply standing on the sideline and hoping the Pact collapse came before the clock ran out. Logic dictated that the best choice for Moscow was to pick up its remaining tanks, soldiers and warplanes and go home.
Unfortunately, outside of the lecture hall and laboratory, logic is susceptible to a multitude of circumstances and components. They latch onto the body logic and transform it into a barely recognizable object. A shadow of its former self. As a result, Carlucci’s assessment was in no condition to pass muster. Examining the choices available to the Soviet government from the Western mind and making decisions based entirely on that was a recipe for disaster.
At least one other man in the Oval Office either understood or suspected this to be the case. “Frank makes a good point,” Secretary Schultz sniffed. “The problem is that Soviet leadership might see the situation differently. In Romanov’s eyes, his army has had its teeth kicked in and the walls appear to be crumbling. Right now, there are US Army tanks approaching the Inner-German Border. Barbarians at the gate. And our naval forces in the Norwegian Sea look ready to either land US Marines on a beach in Russia or maybe start going after the missile sub bastions. Or, given that lot of folks in the Kremlin already believe you’re certifiable, Mr. President, Romanov could presume your next move is to order an attack on the subs, drop Marines on Soviet soil and send NATO forces into East Germany.
“If that’s the case,” Schultz warned. “We have to start thinking about how to defuse the situation before Romanov decides nuclear weapons must be used in order to save the Soviet Union from complete collapse.”