117. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • US-Soviet Diplomacy on European Security
[Page 353]

Our dealings with the USSR on European issues, at least in recent years, are not strictly speaking analogous to our talks with them on the Middle East or arms control questions. On these latter matters we have had sustained negotiations either culminating in an agreed document (arms control) or revolving around such a document (Middle East). Since 1959, we have not really had this type of negotiation on European matters.

Rather there have been a series of long-range artillery duels via public declarations (usually, though not exclusively, issued by our respective alliance groupings), interspersed with occasional, random and disjointed bilateral conversations at various levels.

We have, by and large, been scrupulous in not making ourselves the Western negotiating agent on Europe; even if we had wanted it otherwise, it is not now likely that our allies would let us. If, on the other hand, we wanted to begin dealing with the Soviets on European questions, without the blessing of the allies, the effect on NATO would almost certainly be chaotic. In this connection, it is of interest that Gromyko has now come forward with the suggestion to Ambassador Beam that there should be bilateral US-Soviet talks on a European security conference. Dobrynin’s strongly reiterated insistence on a direct US reply to the Soviet démarche of November 192 is undoubtedly also related to this.

Diplomacy in this area has also been complicated by numerous side-shows—not unnaturally, since the interests of a great number of states, East and West, are involved. A review of US and Soviet exchanges therefore does not provide a complete picture—although it does provide the essence. The present paper does not attempt to include the mass of exchanges, public and private, among individual European states, nor our own occasional exchanges, notably with the Poles and Romanians who, while supporting Soviet and Warsaw Pact positions, do so for reasons and with accents of their own.

It should also be noted that some US-Soviet negotiations while ostensibly or mainly on matters other than regional European ones, have profound impact on Europe. This was true of the test ban negotiations3 in several different ways, profoundly true of the NPT negotiations and will be even more true of SALT. We have not tried in the present paper to analyze these interrelationships.

Finally, European security, broadly construed, includes economic and technical matters, in addition to political and military ones. While [Page 354] these have not recently figured in US-Soviet exchanges, they have done so at various times in the past and they remain very prominent in intra-European contacts on East-West issues. (Eastern Europe’s relationship to the European Communities is a problem complex of increasing weight if and as the Communities develop and may in the middle run outweigh most if not all the other East-West issues in Europe.) In any case, we do not get into this entire area in the present paper.

Basically, despite the huge volume of documents and the smaller, though considerable volume of private talk, the fact is that European issues have not been ripe for concrete negotiation between ourselves and the Soviets. Even today, with the volume of private talk picking up, the issues have been largely procedural: do we or do we not have a conference; how should it be prepared, etc. (For the Soviets, admittedly, this has substantive interest since the mere convening of a conference is of advantage to them.)

The one real substantive subject, that of our and Soviet troops, has not been talked about seriously since Khrushchev and LBJ exchanged pen-pal letters in 19644 (Note: this is not generally known), when we rejected the idea of mutual cuts. While Dobrynin has now responded to Elliot Richardson’s prodding by indicating that the Soviets would give serious consideration to a NATO proposal, it is far from clear that serious US-Soviet negotiations on this matter will (or should) be undertaken.

Other potential negotiating issues relate to Germany. You will recall that the President in his letter to Kosygin last April5 offered bilateral soundings on Berlin, and the Soviets have shown some interest. But we are probably well out of the bilateral channel on this one since (a) the subject hardly promises to be productive for us and (b) we should do nothing to undermine allied cohesion on this subject.

In sum, when all is said and done, direct US-Soviet negotiations on Europe which would in any sense be directed at changing the status quo would at present be either (a) artificial and contrived, or (b) not in our interest, or (c) not in the Soviet interest. At the same time, while the status quo is not all that bad right now for us, at least when compared to other status quos, it is not desirable, or feasible, to seek US-Soviet negotiations which would sanctify it. Of all the Western powers we should be the last one to underwrite Moscow’s free hand in Eastern Europe (especially since we are in process of developing a special relationship with Romania); and we certainly have no interest in negotiating the disruption of the Western alliance with Moscow.

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This would not rule out conversations with the Soviets to see what if anything of substance they want to talk to us about on Europe; but we should do so with the utmost caution and take meticulous care that the Allies are kept informed.

This paper includes the following parts:6

  • Part I—A resume of the issues that have figured in US-Soviet exchanges, public and private (Tab I)
  • Part II—A chronology of major statements by both sides (Tab II)
  • Part III—A comprehensive selection of documents (Tab III)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 667, Country Files, Europe, European Security Issues, U.S. and Soviet Diplomacy. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. Sent under a January 9 covering memorandum from Haig to Kissinger.
  2. See Document 102.
  3. Reference to the negotiations that culminated in the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
  4. Khrushchev’s message is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIV, Soviet Union, Document 36.
  5. See Document 40.
  6. All three attachments were attached but are not printed. A handwritten comment next to the last one reads “held in Washington.” The first two were dated January 8.