15. Editorial Note

On March 4, 1969, President Nixon invited Congressional leaders to the White House to brief them on the results of his trip to Western Europe. In the course of the briefing, Nixon discussed the defense of the Western alliance and his inclination to rely upon a “flexible response.”

“The President now discussed two different theories of Western strategy, which have been adopted at one time or another by Western leaders.

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“The first is the theory that any conflict in Europe between East and West will inevitably result in a nuclear exchange, and thus all that is needed in the way of American forces there is a ‘trip wire,’ a ‘few battalions.’ This has some strong proponents, the President said (although using the argument he did not refer it as ‘massive retaliation’). However, ‘would an American President’ deliver a nuclear strike on the Soviets if they moved into West Berlin, he said. Let’s assume they did move in and occupy Berlin. We may want a ‘flexible response.’ The existence of conventional ground forces could have some military effect there, for us—but an ‘enormous political effect.’ There is even a question of whether we need to have more options available to us militarily in Europe than we now have, the President said.

“(To sum up briefly, it appeared to this observer that the President quite clearly had rejected the notion of massive retaliation, even should the Soviets move in force into West Berlin. He had opted instead for a ‘flexible response’ for a range of weapons which we might employ. One of the advantages of having our troops in Germany was thus military options, but more important was the enormous political effect they provided.)

“However, the President noted, it was simply a hard fact that the American military commitment of five-and-a-third or six divisions or whatever it is cannot continue ad infinitum. We did not threaten the Europeans with any withdrawal, but we did make clear the above fact.” (Notes on the meeting prepared as a March 4 memorandum to the President by the President’s Special Assistant Patrick J. Buchanan; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 77, Memoranda for the President, Jan 21-Apr 6, 1969)

According to the President’s Daily Diary, eight Senators and nine Representatives attended the bipartisan briefing. Agnew, Laird, Rogers, and Helms also attended, as did Kissinger, Ehrlichman, Harlow, and Klein of the White House staff. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary)