50. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
- Memorandum to the President on Soviet Developments—Comment on our Policy
Attached, pursuant to your instruction, is a memorandum to the President on Soviet developments (Tab A).
In this general connection, I understand that the President at the May 21 NSC meeting2 made a series of negative decisions on East-West trade issues. I have only been intermittently involved in the preparatory work for the NSC meeting, so that I am not familiar with the factors and considerations that led up to this rather major decision in the area of East-West relations.
But I consider it unfortunate that the Executive appears to have surrendered a flexible instrument of policy vis-à-vis the East. I have never believed that our trade (and cultural) policies will have more than marginal impact on the evolution of Soviet policy. On the other hand, I find it surprising that we should want to let the Soviets (and, for that matter, the North Koreans and North Vietnamese) control our policy toward all the Communist states of Eastern Europe. I believe that the policy of treating different Communists differently, if pursued without [Page 161] illusion and grandiose expectations, is a wise one. But there is little, if anything, that we can do in practice to implement it if we deprive ourselves of just about the only instrument we have for doing so.
If the intention is to hold out lush vistas of trade as an incentive for the Soviets to cross the threshold of “sufficient progress” it is doubtful that we will be successful. The Soviets are unlikely to consider the potential economic benefits of sufficient interest to warrant political concessions; and since our present policy supports their own efforts to rebuild a monolith in Eastern Europe, they will hardly be inclined to pay us in order to get us to give it up.
More fundamentally, I find disturbing the apparent decision, as I understand it, to withhold a “generous” Eastern trade policy until there is “sufficient progress” in our “overall relations” with the Communists.
It seems to me that this implies a concept of our relations with the Soviets that can lead us into serious difficulty. The notion that there is some definable threshold between insufficient and sufficient progress—between confrontation and negotiation—is unrealistic. The prospect is for a highly mixed relationship with elements of both. The attached paper attempts to sketch some of the reasons why this is so.
If we think of our relations with the Soviets in terms of milestones and thresholds, we run the risk of arbitrarily proclaiming great new eras of cooperation—much as President Johnson did for subjective reasons of his own in connection with the most marginal housekeeping agreements or with a summit of the most dubious achievement—when in fact little that was fundamental had changed. We should not forget President Eisenhower’s experience with his speech of April 16, 1953,3 in which he established certain litmus paper tests for Soviet good behavior. After the Soviets had met some of them (like the Austrian peace treaty) it nevertheless turned out that we were small, if any, distance farther along in improving “overall relations.”
In sum, rather than conditioning our minds and hopes to a vision of a relationship with the Soviets that is moving in one consistent direction of progress, we should anticipate that SALT and pepper will mark these relations for a long time to come. If the past is any guide at all, the landmarks we are likely to pass will not be ones of progress in overall relations as much as lines we draw in our own imagination for reasons and purposes and at moments of our own choosing. And the path along which these kinds of landmarks are posted is likely to lead to disillusionment or worse.[Page 162]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 710, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. V. Secret; Sensitive.↩
- A NSC meeting on U.S. trade policy toward Communist countries was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House from 10:26 to 11:30 a.m. on May 21. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No record of this meeting has been found. On May 28, National Security Decision Memorandum 15 on East-West trade was issued as a result of this meeting. For NSDM 15, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume IV, Foreign Assistance; International Development; Trade Policies, 1969–1972, Document 299.↩
- Eisenhower’s address, “The Chance For Peace,” was delivered before the American Society of Newspaper Editors. (Public Papers: Eisenhower, 1953, pp. 179–188)↩
- Secret. Kissinger sent this memorandum to Nixon on May 24, suggesting that the paper “points up the many conflicting strands in current Soviet behavior.” A note on Kissinger’s covering memorandum reads, “9/15, Ret[urned] and no indication that Pres has seen.”↩
- Lin Pao was Minister of Defense of the People’s Republic of China and Vice Chairman of the CCP Central Committee (Politburo).↩
- The Brezhnev Doctrine applied in the West to the Soviet justification for its occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. In a speech on November 11, 1968, Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev declared that a threat to Socialist rule in any state of the East European bloc constituted a threat to all and therefore “must engage the attention of all the Socialist states.”↩
- Gustáv Husák was First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party.↩
- Warsaw Pact nations issued the Budapest Appeal on March 17, calling for cooperation among all European countries and a conference on European security. For text, see Documents on Disarmament, 1969, pp. 106–108.↩
- French President Charles de Gaulle resigned in April 1969.↩
- George Pompidou succeeded de Gaulle as President of France in April 1969.↩
- Le Duc Tho was a member of the Politburo of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and Special Adviser to the DRV Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam.↩